The Legend of the Kraken

A Story of River Monsters and Re-invention

The Muscatine River Monster is a dynamic, multi-site inflatable sculpture installation. The purpose is to amaze and delight the people who see it – and to tell Muscatine’s incredible and ongoing story of innovation. To show that the Midwest can be a great place for artists and creative business people.



Beginning in Muscatine, Iowa, a Giant River Monster emerges from the Mississippi River and moves to a series of buildings which it appears to devour from the inside. And a legend shows that the River Monster has a special significance for Muscatine…and wherever it goes!

(Note: Many people ask about the inspiration and motivation for the Muscatine River Monster – here’s an article with more of the story: Inspiration for The Kraken – Enjoy!  ~ Andrew)


The Legend

A worker discovered a mysterious book in the attic of the Jayne house as it was being moved from Mulberry Avenue in 2010.   The book seemed to detail a giant squid like river monster, a Kraken, which had appeared in Muscatine, near theriver, at key times in our city’s history. Specifically, when Muscatine was growing from one stage of industry to another. Could there be a connection between the giant river monster’s visits and important steps in Muscatine’s story?

According to legend, the Kraken first appeared around 1838. In an early morning display, the beast churned up the water in the slow moving bend on the Mississippi river right where the old high bridge would later stand. A lone observer was there to see it. He was so scared out of his wits that he only told people about it on his death bed. 1838 was the year the first sawmill was built in the city. This was the dawn of a lumber industry that would first put Muscatine on the map.

During the summer of 1891, the Giant River Monster was seen again – this time just a little further upstream, where the Bell Bridge crossing into Illinois sits today.

Few knew of the earlier appearance of a giant river beast. Those that did were reluctant to talk about it. It was simply too fantastic – and they were afraid their sanity would be questioned.

So the river monster’s second visit came as a total surprise to the folk of the bustling river town – and no one suspected any significance. But by the late 1890’s it was clear that the local lumber empires would fully give way to a rapidly growing pearl button industry.

In the hot summer of 1911 the Kraken was back.
By then, enough people knew the legend to foresee that change was about to come to their town. And come it did.

It came in the name of Plastic. As beautiful as they were, mother of pearl buttons were no match in speed or price of the new plastic buttons.

Perhaps inspired by the legend of the Kraken, shrewd business owners recognized that there was a greater future in the businesses that supported the button industry – than those that made the little round shell buttons themselves.

These practical visionaries shifted their business focus. They skillfully built empires of manufacturing: Office fittings, mechanical pumping equipment, ingenious rebuilding of the round shoe that runs our nation – the tire.

Was it the Kraken’s appearance that heralded the change? Did the Kraken spark that insightful shift in Muscatine business owners?

Muscatine continues to reinvent itself in each era: Lumber, Mother of Pearl Buttons, a city of Manufacturing Powerhouses. At each stage, the shift was gradual. Even today we have button factories in Muscatine (and you should really see them – it’s an amazing process). Manufacturing is here for the long haul. Our growing workforce is just what manufacturers need.


But there is more to our city.

And the Kraken is about to appear…



What does the coming of the Kraken mean for Muscatine this time?

You could say ‘Who Knows?’

But like the wise business owners of yesterday, we DO know some of it!

‘WE’ are the ambitious, smart, mobile, creative, and enthusiastic Midwestern natives who are building the next generation of businesses in our nation.

We want to live and work in creative, inspiring environments. Places where innovation and exploration are expected. We want to work in a town were we’re going to run into an engineer, an architect, a writer, a movie maker, a designer, a chef, and a lawyer, as long as its a cool lawyer, when we go for our coffee.

And we think that Muscatine is the right place. People here are ambitious.  There are rooms for rent. And warehouses. And we can smell the coffee.

So while cities up and down the river come and go, and rush to update their slogans for each era – We say what we’ve always said:

YOU Can Build It in Muscatine!


Only now we’re saying it louder and more clearly than ever. It’s started with a low rumble, like an oak laminate machine putting on the pressure, like the thunderous roar of high water spilling over lock and dam #16, and rising to the howl of every tornado siren in the city…we say: YOU Can Build It in Muscatine!



Who are these ‘Creatives’?
Some of us live in the Midwest now, many more of us are hunting for inviting, inspiring places to start our businesses, build our design labels, shoot our movies, and open our restaurants.

Most of us are from the Midwest. We like it here. Sure, there are cool things on the coasts, and in big cities throughout the country. But we like it here. We know things work here. And we can build things here.

While traditional manufacturing is in Muscatine for our strong workforce, another type of industry is growing up to support it and thrive along side it. We’re shifting to a knowledge and services economy and the workforce that drives that new economy is looking for inviting places to live and work. Muscatine is one of those places.


The Muscatine River Monster, aka ‘The Kraken’ is a multi-site inflatable sculpture installation and adventure saga created for Muscatine, Iowa by Andrew K. Anderson.

Additional development by: Jacob Lane, Ethan Anderson, and others.

The inflatable sculptures are of course inspired by the incredible tentacles made by Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas.


Have you experienced the Muscatine River Monster, in person or through photos?  We’d love to hear your thoughts!  Tell us what you think on the Comments page.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 License.

Image credits:,382,43,378