Becoming Iowa: Upper Mississippi: A Wilderness Saga by Walter Havighurst

2021 marks the 175th anniversary of Iowa’s statehood. On December 28, 1846, Iowa became the 29th state admitted into the Union. Commemorative publications, programs, and other events are planned by the Iowa Department of Culture Affairs and communities across the state.

In conjunction with the festivities, we will be blogging about different areas of Iowa history and culture through books and novels written about Iowa throughout the year. We will be exploring the book, Upper Mississippi: A Wilderness Saga by Walter Havighurst and illustrated by David and Lolita Granahan. It was published by Farrar & Rinehart Incorporated in New York. Originally published in 1937, the book was later reissued in 1944.

Portrait of Havighurst
Image from

Walter Edwin Havighurst was born in Appleton, Wisconsin on November 28, 1901, to Freeman Alfred Havighurst and Winifred Aurelia (Weter) Havighurst. According to the 1910 and 1920 United States Federal Census, his siblings are Robert, Alfred, James, and Miriam. He attained his education from multiple institutions including Ohio Wesleyan University, the University of Denver, Boston University, Kings College at the University of London, and Columbia University.

From an obituary published in the Cincinnati Enquirer on February 6, 1994, he married Marion Boyd in 1930. They were colleagues in the English Department of Miami University in 1928. They visited Europe in 1938. According to the Passenger List of a ship arriving in the port of New York from Oslo, Norway on September 1st, 1938. It states that Marion Margaret Boyd was born in Marietta, Ohio on January 6, 1894, to William Waddell Boyd. According to her obituary published in Xenia Daily Gazette on February 25, 1974, she was a noted author who wrote her first book in 1923.

Walter and Marion Havighurst were active participants in the communities. Above are images of Walter during his career at Miami University from the school’s yearbook.

According to his World War II Registration Card, Walter registered for military service on February 15, 1942. According to his Indiana State Department of Health Certificate of Death, Walter died on February 3, 1994. The newspapers across Ohio published many versions of this illustrious man who inspired many students and colleagues who worked with him and were educated by him. Miami University houses his collections and information about his life and works.

Known through their own skill and prolific artworks, David and Lolita Granahan illustrated the Upper Mississippi: A Wilderness Saga. According to the United States 1910 Federal Census, David Milton Granahan was born to John Granahan and Josephine E. “Josie” Smith in Litchfield, Meeker County, Minnesota on July 31, 1909. His spouse, Lolita Katherine Granahan was born on March 3, 1908, to Erik and Jennie Wadman according to the United States Evangelical Lutheran Church in America specifically the Swedish American Church Records. David and Lolita married on May 27, 1934, in Hennepin County, Minnesota found in the Minnesota Official Marriage System. In 1991, David passed away on March 28th and Lolita passed away on August 3rd according to the Social Security Index.

1928 St. Cloud Technical High School Yearbook fro David Granahan.

David was a well-known artist in the midwest who garnered a number of accolades including a commission to paint a mutual for the St. Cloud Post Office during the depression as well as many other local and national awards. A fun fact from the Minnesota Historical Society is that they are known also for designing and printing their own Christmas cards for 40 years. The University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society hold materials relating to this artistic couple.

The Upper Mississippi: An Wilderness Saga was one of the titles that comprised the landmark series of books combining geography, history, and folklore called the Rivers of America Series. From information found in an online exhibit created by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the series was one of the most successful in the 20th century. It was planned, started, and edited by Constance Lindsay Skinner. In his article, “An American Rivers Saga“, published on his website, Nicholas Basbanes states that “what truly distinguished The Rivers of America Series was Skinner’s inspired conviction that the books be written by novelists and poets and illustrated by professional artists.”

From our research, we found a number of book reviews about Walter Havighurst and the Granahans’ addition to this magnificent series. They are from newspaper publication from Iowa and Ohio.

The book uniquely captures the characteristics of the Mississippi and the people who lived along its shores. In addition to the illustrations highlighting different aspects of American life, the text showcases the intertwining subjects that make up the river’s history.

From newspapers in St. Cloud, Minnesota, we see announcements for illustrator signings for David Granahan at Atwood’s Bookstore.

The newspaper clippings below entice potential readers by including illustrations in with their announcements about the book.

Below are digital reproductions of the book from our collection. Explore this book the next time you are in the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center. The book briefly covers the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities region, but Iowa has over 300 miles of land bordering the majestic river that has its own story to tell.


Basbanes, Nicholas. “An American Rivers Saga.” Nicholas A. Basbanes. 2, no. 7 (July 1997): unpaginated. Accessed October 7, 2021.

(posted by Kathryn)

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