Quite some time ago, a college fraternity brother, a journalism major from Dubuque, discovered that I was somehow related to Julien Dubuque; a familial connection that had also been suggested by a recent Ancestry DNA evaluation.
So, while planning a trip from New York to Seattle, I thought why not be a Dubuque visiting Dubuque? Probably a fairly common name there, but an out-of-towner Dubuque might make for a bit of additional fun.
I arrived at the Dubuque airport, where I was picked up by a Hotel Julien Dubuque (I just had to stay there) staffer.
I explained why I was visiting his city. He seemed to confirm that a namesake visit was no big deal by responding with an uninterested : “Uh huh.”
Check-in resulted in a bit more enthusiasm when the reception staff said, “Really? … “No, really?” In the really nice “special room” they happily assigned to me, something seemed odd. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I started my tour of Dubuque by walking past a statue of my presumed ancestor, Julien Dubuque, at the hotel entrance and out onto Main Street; the first stop: the Travel Dubuque Welcome Center.
True to its name the really, really, really nice staff at the center welcomed me, provided some must-see recommendations and asked me the reason for my visit. My explanation elicited comments including: “Wow,” “Great,” “I never met a real Dubuque “(as opposed to a Dubuquer), and “Glad you’re here.”
I began to think that maybe my name wasn’t so common here. I bought a mug with the cute slogan: “Rise and Shine Dubuque,” which might prove amusing to a morning-challenged relative.
I love old-time American main streets and Dubuque did not disappoint: the impressive clock tower, the fun Fenelon Place Elevator, the view of the city and Mississippi River from the bluff, a gold dome glittering under the bright blue sky, and some charming shops.
The latter included the Outside the Lines Art Gallery, where I had a warm conversation about art (I dabble), their offerings and my well–received connection to the city. I purchased a bit of local artistry.
Even better was a stop at the River Lights Book Store, where the charming booksellers and I talked about books, writing (I also dabble) and the reason for my visit, which elicited an even friendlier conversation.
I had left the store with a wide smile on my face when one of the staff beckoned me to return. She asked me to sign the back of one of their folding chairs — their tradition for visiting authors and dignitaries. I thought maybe I sort of qualified as the former but the latter seemed to be pushing it.
This wonderful gesture seemed to confirm that a visiting Dubuque is more notable than I had originally thought.
I continued walking, appreciating the lovingly restored buildings with their interesting architectural features, stained glass church windows, lovely parks and more inviting stores.
Then it was off to walk by the Shot Tower, the former Dubuque Star brewery and a real treasure: the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.
I enjoyed all the exhibits, from informative and colorful historical displays to river transportation modes and a log cabin restoration to animals (my favorite being the river otters, as I was on my way to an Earthwatch expedition in Seattle to study their cousins, the sea otters in Alaska) and to the Julien Dubuque facial recreation.
Of course, I was fascinated with his portrait and thought maybe there was a slight family resemblance. However, just when I concluded otherwise, another museum visitor said with conviction, “You know, you look like a lot like him.” I replied, “Maybe a little.”
I then strolled along the mighty Mississippi River flower-enhanced walk, chatted with some very friendly Midwesterners sitting on benches, and watched a very, very long train.
My day ended with a horse-drawn carriage ride with a delightful coachwoman. She and her cohort entertained me with the history and fascinating fun tales of Dubuque.
Dubuque clearly is a city with a storied past and an appealing future.
After a satisfying dinner, some homemade ice cream and more inquisitive conversation about my name — the servers read my credit card — I returned to my very nice but still odd room.
The next morning, over an incredibly large and delicious hotel breakfast, it finally dawned on me: There is no window in my room, only a skylight. “A special room,” I wondered. Why? Perhaps a skylight meant looking toward the future? Perhaps spotlighting a descendant?
I suppose I’ll never find out, but neighborly Dubuque, Iowa, was certainly worth a visit — with or without having the same last name.