It is Christmas time again, and the Magi along Sheridan Road slowly make their way to the manger outside the Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts. This nativity scene is seen by, or at least passed by, hundreds of commuters to and from Chicago every day. I would like to draw your attention away from Chicago, and even the Land of Lincoln, to another popular, though perhaps more out-of-the-way, nativity scene.
Algona, Iowa, about 50 miles west of Mason City, is home to a unique nativity scene whose origins are sad, but enlightening. I first heard about the Algona Nativity Scene when I worked at the Camp Algona POW Museum over the summer of 2011. Camp Algona was one of some 500 base and branch camps that housed approximately 400,000 Prisoners of War in the US between 1942 and 1946. Unlike most World War II POW camps, Camp Algona is not forgotten, despite having no physical structures remaining. The memory of the prisoners and the camp is carried on by the museum, but those memories were maintained long before the museum opened its doors in 2004. The men held captive just outside town are remembered because of a gift left to Algona in 1946 by six POWs.