Fans of late-night television icon Johnny Carson will soon be able to tour his Iowa birthplace — possibly as early as Memorial Day.
The Johnny Carson Birthplace Society hopes the single-story house at 500 13th St. in Corning will be open as a museum by the end of this month.
“We are just trying to put some final touches on it and are redoing some floors,” said Roger Sorensen of Corning, the society's president. “We don't know exactly (when it will open). At this point we are still a little weather-dependent.”
A grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony will come later in the summer or early in the fall.
Carson, who was host of “The Tonight Show” for 30 years, was born in the front bedroom of the roughly 800-square-foot house on Oct. 23, 1925. Corning, with a population of about 1,600, is about 85 miles southeast of Omaha, in Adams County.
The Carson family stayed in Corning for three years, then moved around, living in the southwest Iowa towns of Clarinda, Red Oak and Avoca before settling in Norfolk, Neb., when the future comedian was 8.
Carson, who graduated from the University of Nebraska and began his broadcasting career in Omaha, died in 2005.
The Corning house was built in 1905. The Carsons were followed by a series of renters over the years. By the time the house was brought for the society in 2005, it was dilapidated.
The roughly $160,000 project to restore the home to its 1925 look began late last year. A restoration crew used old photos to try to get the look just right, Sorensen said. And the wiring needed to be modernized, the vinyl siding removed and period furniture found.
“We have had to change the outside appearance and, of course, the inside as well,” Sorensen said. “We redid the foundation and the roof and the siding and the windows.”
The work was done by Nineteenth Century Restorations of Lawrence, Kan.
Dan Riedemann, the company's owner, said houses like the Carson birthplace are too small for 21st century Americans to want to live in. The bedroom where Carson was born is only 9 feet by 10 feet, he said.
“It's a great way to make sure these little gems are saved,” he said.
It's also a way to put Corning on the map, the society hopes. On a cruise through Scandinavia last year, Sorensen said, most people he met didn't know where Iowa is, but their eyes lit up when he mentioned Johnny Carson.
“We were in Sweden. You can go anywhere, and you mention his name, and it strikes home,” he said.
The society hopes to eventually build a visitors center nearby honoring Carson and other successful Midwesterners.
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