Tourism gimmick in Iowa: Arrests in the name of tourism


KALONA, Iowa – A tourism gimmick in the southeast Iowa town of Kalona is giving new meaning to the phrase three hots and a cot.

Last week the town’s Chamber of Commerce and Washington County sheriff pulled over people with out-of-state license plates and offered them an all-expense paid visit — including free meals and a night’s lodging just as if they were really being arrested — to the town of 2,300, about 20 miles southwest of Iowa City.

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Thousands of vehicles pass through the county on U.S. Highway 218 each day, and last Thursday chamber member Larry Moeller and Sheriff Jerry Dunbar set out to find a tourist to “arrest.”

“We’ll go up to the car and ask them if they have about 20 hours to spend with us here in Kalona,” Moeller said.

Armed with binoculars and flashing red lights, the pair began looking for an unsuspecting passer-by.

The first car they stopped was allowed to leave because the people inside were on their way to the hospital.

Then, along came Ron and Cheri Cunningham of Sedalia, Mo.

“I was behind a truck that I’d followed for about 15 miles. I wasn’t speeding. I didn’t know what I could’ve possibly done,” Ron Cunningham said.

It didn’t take long before they were persuaded to take the detour into Kalona, where they were given a basket full of goodies from local businesses, toured the local attractions and met the town’s mayor.

They also were treated to dinner and even a night’s stay.

“It’s interesting, it’s fun. He probably pulled over the right people. We didn’t really have an agenda,” said Cheri Cunningham. “Everybody’s been so nice, so friendly, and the little downtown area here is darling.”

The Cunninghams were also given T-shirts promoting the town.

“And on the back it says, Ask me about Kalona, Iowa,” Moeller said.