If people had just listened to Ted Townsend, heir to the Frank-O-Matic automatic sausage-linking machine fortune, one of the manmade wonders of the world would be in Coralville, Iowa (Pop. 20K). Picture this:
A glass dome a sixth of a mile long and 20 stories tall buffers a lush canopy against the windswept winters. Beneath it free-roaming bonobos, toucans, sloths, and piranha, shanghaied from the jungles of Central and South America, form a free-wheeling menagerie among ferns and vines and hundred-foot-tall-trees reaching towards the expansive sky.
That is what Townsend wanted, what some big thinkers back east wanted, and what the U.S. Senate thought might be crazy enough to work. But as his decade-long effort to realize his dream stalled out, Townsend sunk his money and his reputation into ground better suited to corn than orchids. But failure doesn’t make the effort less interesting or meaningful. The Iowa rainforest project attracted top architects, federal lobbyists, and local scorn. Derided as an extravagant pork-spending project, it was intended to give the state a landmark while helping researchers study vanishing ecosystems. Instead, the state wound up with a new hotel, some outlet stores, and — remarkably — a small city in the middle of a economic resurgence.
This is the story of the doomed rainforest project, told by people who fought over that ultimate white elephant.
Read on via inverse.com