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University of Iowa News Release


Aug. 29, 2011

Old Capitol Museum Hosts 'Life and Death on the Prairie' photography exhibit

The University of Iowa Old Capitol Museum, in conjunction with the UI Museum of Art and the UI Museum of Natural History, will host the photography exhibit "Life and Death on the Prairie" by Stephen Longmire. The exhibit opens Friday, Sept. 2 with a free public reception from 5-7 p.m. and will remain on display through Dec. 11.

Longmire is a photographer and writer whose work focuses on the politics and history of place. This exhibit, which focuses on Cedar County's Rochester Cemetery, features 38 photos taken from his book "Life and Death on the Prairie," published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Robert F. Sayre, UI professor emeritus and editor of "Recovering the Prairie," said, "This moving and sensitive photo essay captures both the beauty of Rochester Cemetery—one of the finest surviving prairie savannas in the whole United States—and its powerful meaning to the people of this tiny township in eastern Iowa as the resting place of their ancestors."

Rochester Cemetery, one of America's most biologically diverse and unusual prairie remnants, is home to more than 400 species of plants, 337 of which are native to the region. Among those plants that still grow on the thirteen and a half acre savanna are fifteen giant white oaks that would have witnessed the arrival of the first white settlers in the 1830s. Rochester is the last resting place for many of these pioneers and their decedents as burials continue to this day. The hills, which geologists consider sand dunes, scattered with graves and wildflowers, are all held in place by the deep roots of the plants and people that make this prairie extraordinary.

In the tug of war between people and place Rochester Cemetery prairie is a conservation conundrum. As an active burial ground with no formal preservation status, local volunteer organizations have been left to care for the grounds. It has become a source of local controversy that flares up almost as often as the shooting star wildflowers for which it is famous. Rochester Cemetery has become a pilgrimage site for botanists as well as a source of pride for local residents. Others in the community call it a weed lot and believe regular mowing would show more respect for the dead. To Longmire, Rochester is a place where the history of the Midwest is written on the land.

Longmire's previous book, "Keeping Time in Sag Harbor," explores the effects of the recent real estate boom on his hometown of Sag Harbor, N.Y. His photographs are in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Park Service, and Grinnell College's Faulconer Gallery. He has taught the history and practice of photography at Georgetown University and Columbia College Chicago.

For more information on the Old Capitol Museum visit


SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: John Logsdon, 319-335-1082,; Steve Parrott, 319-384-0037, Writer: Ryan Lindsay