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Salem: More than just a stop for RAGBRAI

  • 26 July, 2019
  • Zachary Oren Smith

Robin Mathews (left) and her father Gene Glover (right) watch the town fill up with cyclists from the shade of their maple tree.

Leaning in the sun against a orange safety cone marking the RAGBRAI route through Salem, Iowa, Gene Glover laughs politely to himself. Just 20 paces away, a long line of Lycra-clad cyclist wait to use the Port-o-John.

“Guess they aren’t sweating enough,” he laughs.

Glover turned 76 the day before. He says he and the rest of the town celebrated by getting ready for hundreds that would descend on Salem the following day.

Leaning at the intersection of Oak and Maple, he says he was amazed to watch them all come in. Already several hundred walked tacos round Salem City Park, and in the street, bikes curve in and out of each other’s way. He shakes his head and grins.

Gene Glover, 76, watches the route as bikers come to his hometown Salem, Iowa.

“This is the most people you’ll ever see in Salem, I’m sure,” he said.

Robin Mathews, his daughter, said her father is getting forgetful with the years, but he had no problem recalling the history of the town.

“They probably don’t know Salem was actually a stop in the Underground Railroad.”

Glover admits he’s not a Quaker but explains the town was founded as a community of Friends. While the population never created above 500, its proximity to Missouri line made it an stop for people hoping to escape southern slave states.

According to a newsletter from the Lewelling Quaker Museum, Salem Quakers were among the first stops through Iowa to help escaping People north.

Salem Quakers defying the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 divided the community. The anti-slavery Quakers said they would not go to Missouri to free enslaved people, but when people came to their houses, they believed it right to take them in, feed them and offer directions for help.

The Lewelling Quaker Museum, named after abolitionist Henderson Lewelling, is on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

“For them, it’s another stop on the road, but it was a stop on the way to freedom,” Glover said.

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