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McElligot’s Hole


Sturm and Drang have been popular summer destinations for local folk since the 1880s. Or should I say “has been,” since technically they are one lake—until late summer sun lowers the water level, exposing a sandbar and dividing it in two unequal parts. After 1910, access by Northwest Iowa Traction Company interurban cars attracted a larger audience from farther afield. Hal Holt’s book Summer People: a century at the shore tells the lake country story until 1980, perhaps the twilight of Sturm and Drang as a way of life. Hal was working on an update when he died in 2008.

A little over half way from Agincourt to Resort*, the road wiggles to avoid a sharp bend in the Muskrat River, a favorite swimming spot called McElligot’s Hole—a Norman Rockwellian gathering place unknown to the outside world until Theodor Geisel spent the summer of ’42 at Bagby’s Last Resort.

Oh, by the way, you probably know Ted Geisel as Dr Seuss.


“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor (channeling Ted Geisel)

McElligot’s Hole

A few miles from Fahnstock, the road to the lake / makes a series of turns that are shaped like a snake;

Where accidents happen and cars lose their way / at twilight or dawn; in the heat of the day.

The reason it wiggles, the cause of its course / is a bend in the river, an elbow of sorts;

The result of erosion, geology’s might / (unless Bishop Ussher’s calculations are right).

But the Muskrat ain’t mighty, despite what you’ve heard. / I mention this feature (no obligation incurred),

So you’ll think about stopping the next time you’re near / ’cause McElligot’s Hole is a place we hold dear.

I’ve been there myself, taken more than a dip, / (in swin trunks or nekkid), in mid-winter’s grip,

Though the summer’s far better for the shape of the hole / to concentrate coolness in its comforting bowl.

And the reason for going by night or by day? / The benefit got, going miles from your way?

It’s communion with Nature in a place free from junk, / from the making of dollars, or the hawking of bunk.

But McElligot ‘s more than a haven from stress. / It’s got history, mystery; a gateway no less;

A connection to time when we humans arrived; / a glimpse of our world when the animals thrived.

The whole of the hole? Well it hadn’t been seen / for thousands of years since the late Pleistocene,

Until someone noticed, when the water is low, / when the river is slack and there’s no undertow,

That the mouth of a cave can be seen ‘neath the glint. / That the short swim inside reveals drawings and flint

And bones from the dinners of diners and dogs, / the best they could do, lacking twitter and blogs.

It’s been said that on full moons, when stars stir our soul, / odd things bob to the surface at McElligot’s Hole.


With sincere apologies to Ted Geisel, an American Original.

*Resort is the name of a seasonal stop on the NITC route, also called “Station-Store” for the country general store that served the surrounding community.

1 Comment

  1. […] The whereabouts of the original country club is not a hotly contested question. Might be Boston; might be Philadelphia. But it was certainly in the 1880s or early 90s.As upper middle class enclaves for families without the substantial acreage of a country retreat, such clubs afforded their membership recreational opportunities unavailable in crowded cities—golf, tennis, swimming in a place more genteel than McElligot’s Hole. […]

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