Vintage Buses and Beer

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The bus travels through downtown Minneapolis

Over the past year or so, the Hennepin History Museum has been trying to raise its profile in the community with a series of evening Night at the Museum events featuring different themes and topics. After our romantic cookie exchange at the museum last year, Lindsay and I have attended some of them, which have always been interesting and full of fun activities and little known facts about local history. We toyed with the idea of robots, learned about bees, saw how the history of pets and bicycles affected the local culture. As I said in previous reports, the Hennepin History Museum is a hidden gem of Twin Cities museums, and each visit has been a treat.

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Interior of the vintage bus (before crowd fills it up)

This summer, the museum hosted, along with another local institution, the Minnesota Transportation Museum, a historical Vintage Bus Brewery tour of Minneapolis. Bringing together three of my interests, local history, public transportation, and beer, it was definitely a blast! One of the highlights of the summer, Lindsay and I boarded the 1950s era GMC Transit buses which served Metro Transit for some years during the ‘50s and ‘60s to be whisked around to several local breweries, all the while listening to interesting facts about the history of the area. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the history of the region’s public transportation fascinating- we were riding in the bus that replaced the streetcar lines across the Twin Cities in a shady bit of corporate grift. The bright colors and lines of the old city bus attracted the attention of passersby as it rumbled through town. The preservation of the vintage bus was immaculate, with its period advertisements and creaking seats, it was like traveling back in time.

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enjoying a beer at Boom Island Brewing

 

Our first stop was at Boom Island Brewing, close to the river. A Belgian-style brewery in North Minneapolis, Boom Island’s beers are earthy and powerful, with enough variety to please just about any beer connoisseur. I had not been there before, but it would definitely be one I’d like to visit again. I particularly liked the Brimstone Trippel and the Cuvee de Boom. While we were visiting, the brewery was hosting a Bayou Blowout Crayfish boil, which was a nice place for me to get my seafood fix along with a beer. Some crayfish fettuccine is just the thing I didn’t know I was craving before setting out!  

Reboarding the bus, the crowd a bit more in our cups than before, we trundled off to our next destination, a stroll across the Stone Arch Bridge. Along the way, we passed through Nicollet Island, our interpreter having to raise his voice a little to be heard over the reveling. Crossing the river, we strolled around the park, walking off some of the beer we already imbibed. St. Anthony Falls, the reason the city was here in the first place, was roaring, the wet weather making it more than twice as full as it would be that time of year on average. The river-scented mist billowing off of the falls dampened us as we watched it flow from the bridge. I also took the opportunity, like so many others on the tour, to capture a few new pokemon on the newly exploding Pokemon Go app. Yep, it was just like being on an actual bus! As for the app, well, that can be an entirely different conversation best saved for another entry.

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View of St. Anthony Falls from the Stone Arch Bridge- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Our last stop was Day Block Brewery, one of my favorite breweries in Minneapolis, a venue that, in addition to its great beers, offers some intriguing craft cocktails for Lindsay as well! After enjoying a few more libations, and a fairly delicious pretzel to help absorb the booze a bit, we got back on the bus and returned to the Hennepin History Museum. While there are no more tours being offered this year, I’m looking forward to trying out one of the vintage bus history tours of St. Paul breweries next year, and I’d definitely recommend it!

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Preparing to board, outside of Day Block

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Heading Past the Edge of the Prairie

 

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A stormy day on the prairie, Pipestone National Monument

In July, Lindsay and I went south, driving down to the prairies and farmland of southwestern Minnesota. It was a much different landscape than our trip to the Iron Range and the North Shore, and I was struck by the great range of terrain to be found throughout the state. We began by heading into some familiar territory for me, spending the first night in Mankato. Before getting there, though, we stopped off at what is becoming a popular Minnesota attraction, Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store at Jim’s Apple Farm, known locally as the Big Yellow Barn. A completely overwhelming expanse of treats, from the local to the global; local apples, all manner of obscure and international candies and sodas (or “pop,” as we prefer around here), and much more. We escaped with a few bottles of soda, a tray of nostalgic Runts, some organic popcorn, and a selection of British candy bars. Quite a chaotic scene, there was something weird everywhere you looked, from a talking bear head guarding the immense selection of honey, to Cthulhu mints!

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Minneopa Falls

Arriving in Mankato, my old haunt, we spent some time at Minneopa State Park, visiting the majestic Minneopa Falls, which tumbles forty feet into a rugged gorge tucked away into the Minnesota flatlands. After the wet season we’ve had, the creek was still a raging torrent, sending plumes of mist into the air and making for a great, refreshing place to relax on a hot summer day. Later, we saw some of the State Park’s herd of bison, reintroduced from the population at Blue Mounds State Park as part of the DNR’s Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd. It was pretty awesome to see these iconic North American animals roaming so close to home, where they used to thrive.

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Schell’s Brewery Deer- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The next afternoon, we stopped at the picturesque grounds of the August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. The second oldest family owned brewery in the United States, Schell’s Brewery is a pretty interesting place to make a stop, even if you aren’t particularly interested in beer (like Lindsay, sadly). After a lunch of a large pile of cheese and a few of Schell’s beers (hey, it was after noon) we explored the interesting museum chronicling the history of the company and the immigrant German family who started it back in 1860. The lush gardens and woods that surround the working brewery, the historic Schell family mansion, and other cool buildings  were picturesque, and inhabited by peacocks. These colorful birds, along with the company’s mascot deer, made for some surprises along the garden paths.

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A peacock- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We continued our journey across the plains, dotted with the looming white forms of the wind power generators rotating gentle in the prairie wind, soon arriving at our next destination; the unique and ancient Jeffers Petroglyphs, another location of the Minnesota Historical Society. The petroglyphs, images carved onto an outcrop of Sioux Quartzite, date from many periods from about 7000-5000 BCE and are important to indigenous cultures across the continent up to the present.

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A turtle petroglyph- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

It really is pretty breathtaking, these intricate carvings etched thousands of years ago on rock a billion years old, on a small ridge above miles and miles of prairie dotted with prickly pears, with constant wind buffeting and providing a welcome respite from the sun. Among the many symbolic and mythical, more concrete figures are seen among the petroglyphs as well, including the atlatl, a hunting tool predating the bow and arrow. The site offers visitors the chance to try out it on a model bison, flinging deadly spears at the effigy animal. After one husky gentleman failed to connect even once, I guess I’m probably a bit too proud to say I managed it! Again, as Historical Society members, we were able to visit the site for free. Definitely one of my favorite places in Minnesota!

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Trying out an atlatl- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

That evening, we pulled into our final destination, the town of Pipestone, Minnesota. We had reserved a room in the historic Calumet Hotel, reputed to be haunted. In fact, as soon as we parked, we could see that the little town was one that was, apparently, obsessed with ghosts. The Pipestone County Historical Society was offering a Saturday night Historic Ghost Walk, and we arrived just in time- after a quick, uninspiring dinner at the local Pizza Ranch, we lined up for the leisurely, informative walk around town to learn about the various ghost stories that have popped up around it. Hosted by a trio of storytellers dressed in Victorian garb, the stories were generally of a gentle, comical nature and rarely very horrifying or gruesome- the worst being the wife-beating confectioner who hung himself in a dumb waiter. Creepy! The stories of the mysteries of Pipestone were also very interesting, such as the missing statue of a nude woman carved and put on display by Leon Moore, a businessman and amateur sculptor who peopled his building with many strange gargoyles. No one knows where it went!

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The Moore Block, displaying a few gargoyles and the niche that, legend has it, formerly held a sculpture of a naked woman; too much for conservative Pipestone- photo of Lindsay Cameron

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Lindsay and I at the Calumet. Photos courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Amusingly, while we experienced no qualms with sharing with the tour the exact room in the Calumet Hotel we were staying in (I was both disappointed and relieved to find out we weren’t staying in the most haunted room, where a man died in a fire almost a century ago- not that Lindsay or I believe in ghosts), we were too embarrassed to volunteer the fact that we ate at the Pizza Ranch, which was also a haunted location! The Hotel itself was large and reasonably priced, though the room offered few frills aside from a light that flickered out mysteriously (or maybe the bulb was just old!)

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The next morning, after breakfast at a local institution, Lange’s Cafe, home of what Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood called the best sour cream raisin pie in the world (a fact the restaurant is obviously very proud of) we visited the second National Monument in Minnesota, Pipestone National Monument. The location where the hard red rock was quarried by many different indigenous groups over the centuries to carve peace pipes and other important sacred items, the monument is another breathtaking Minnesota landscape, rich in natural and historical importance.

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Winnewissa Falls

After some atmospheric thunderstorms sweeping in across the prairie, we hiked across the quartzite cliffs, examining the quarries from which the sacred stone is mined, viewing intriguing rock formations and Winnewissa Falls, also filled the brim. The prairie flowers filled the moist but cool air with a host of wonderful smells, and the lichen covered walls flowed with water. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

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The quartzite cliffs at Pipestone National Monument

A Voyage to the Northwoods

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Bear Head Lake on a rainy evening. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Having recently returned a few weeks ago from my family’s annual trip across state lines to Door County, Wisconsin (a first for my beloved), I thought I would write a little on the many adventures Lindsay and I have had this summer exploring the state of Minnesota, from the northwoods to the prairies, taking advantage of the state’s natural wonders and seeing some pretty interesting things.

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In early June, we drove up to the Iron Range and the Boundary Waters, the first time either of us had visited these famed regions. Taking no heed of the late spring rains, we pitched our tent at Bear Head Lake State Park. A beautiful near wilderness, Bear Head Lake appeared a little mysterious, wreathed in mist and rain as we drove and found our campsite, our first of the year. Lindsay purchased the state’s annual sticker, which we would make use of the rest of the summer and into autumn. Bear Head Lake felt like among the most isolated state parks I’ve visited, making it a good place to get a feel for the conditions of the northwood’s waterways and conifer forests before braving the Boundary Waters or the Gunflint Trail someday. A couple warnings as well for those looking to visit; at this time of year, the mosquitoes were pretty intense! Stepping into the forest, it did not take long for a swarm of whining assaulters to surround us, becoming a maddening cloud around our heads. During an atmospheric expedition to Raspberry Lake through a rolling landscape of billion year old rocks and tall pine trees, I  think we ended up with more than a hundred bites between us by the end. This was, at the time, the most mosquitoes I had ever seen. Strong bug spray is a must. Also, I found a deer tick as well, so always self check!

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What you can’t see are the mosquitoes. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

 

By far the highlight of the trip was our descent into the mine shaft at Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Burrowed nearly half a mile into the ancient metamorphic rock to extract the precious, remarkably pure iron ore, it is an amazing place to visit. The first source of iron on Minnesota’s eponymous Iron Range, the Soudan Mine opened in 1882 and began delving deep into the earth’s crust in 1892, thought of among miners as the best working environment in mining. Miners continued tunneling for iron ore until 1962, in almost complete darkness until the end. Taking a tour introduces you to the dangerous conditions miners encountered underground. In addition to incredibly poor lighting and uneven ground (with the occasional unprotected hole), miners were often organized in groups from different immigrant ethnicities, mutually unacquainted with each other’s languages to cut down on organization but also the ability to communicate danger.

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Soudan Mine elevator

The creaking, rattling elevator takes you and a dozen or so other visitors down to the 27th level, 2341 feet, a damp, chilly 51 degrees. Learning about the how the miners crammed into the same little elevator with only small personal lights to guide them through the treacherous maze of pits and tunnels was pretty mind blowing. However, the history aspect is only one of the tours available, though for the other one, you have to move fast!

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Half a mile underground! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

For decades, a portion of the 27th level has been utilized for an entirely different project- the Soudan Underground Laboratory. Instead of digging hematite out of the rock, the former mine was used to extract knowledge of the cosmos itself. As part of the University of Minnesota’s particle physics laboratory, the thickness of the rock prevents interference from the ambient cosmic radiation on the surface, allowing for physicists to search for exotic particles without contamination. Several experiments have been underway in the massive cavern, with its huge detector plate, designed to catch a variety of mysterious neutrinos and other Dark Matter being beamed through the earth’s crust all the way from Fermilab, outside Chicago. Taking the informative physics lab tour at the mine is a great way to experience a taste of the mysterious of the universe and how scientists are attempting to plumb them. Even for someone so lost by complex mathematical discussions as myself, the tour was entertaining and informative, simplistic enough to appeal to general visitors but packed with enough information about the various forms of neutrinos and other ghost particles to inspire awe. The mural painted on the wall inside the physics lab is also quite awe inspiring.

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The detector plate and mural, Underground Physics Lab. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

After twenty five years, though, the two experiments are wrapping up later this year, so people interested in seeing the Underground Lab as a working physics lab have only the next two months to make it up to Soudan to take the tour. We’d really recommend it!

In the nearby town of Ely, the “gateway to the Boundary Waters,” there are many local attractions celebrating the rich ecosystems of the conifer forests and the majestic wildlife that live there. We visited a couple that focus on some of the most popular and feared of the animals native to the region, the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. Whether you are a fan of gray wolves or black bears, both are worth a stop if you have any interest in nature and the environment, and in particular the effect of human interactions on these populations. While both present at least an official neutrality in regards to hunting as a means to balance populations, and each strive to present accurate information on these oft misunderstood creatures, they also each take a slightly different approach. Both rely heavily on the presence of their focus species to familiarize visitors with them and both contrast scientific studies with the folklore and culture surrounding them.

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Some sleepy wolves. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The International Wolf Center, though, had a more focused experience, centered around the gray wolves and their ambassador pack.  For the most part, they seem to let the pack alone to live as naturally as they can in their several acre habitat. If you don’t schedule your visit, the wolves might be in hiding from annoying human interaction. In the informative, interesting, and exhaustive displays, the wolf specimens were carefully noted as from wolves who died from natural causes or accident. At the North American Bear Center, though, the displays seemed more wide ranging, a little less organized. The bear specimens were often from record-breaking hunting trophies donated to the center, though they were also prepared in a style that minimized their perception of ferociousness. Here, too, the resident black bears (all rescues from situations that would make it difficult for them to survive in the wild) were given plenty of acreage to wander, but were presented with plenty of peanuts to entice them to approach the fences.

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A hungry bear. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We spent the next segment of our trip in one of Minnesota’s most popular vacation locales, Grand Marais. Situated between the North Shore of Lake Superior and the Sawtooth Mountains, Lindsay and I had some fun comparing Minnesota’s examples of “mountains” and coasts to her experiences as a Californian. It was a lovely little town, and a place to stay and read alongside the pounding surf of the world’s largest lake, an inland sea unto itself. Even as a driving wind came up off of the lake during our evening jog, making it feel closer to April than June, it was a relaxing stay. The Voyageur Brewing Company offered some tasty beers and good food, and the World’s Best Doughnuts lived up closer to its namesake that you might think.

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Lake Superior, just outside Grand Marais harbor. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We didn’t just enjoy the surf and sun, though, we also checked out one of Minnesota’s two National Monuments, Grand Portage. Some thirty five miles north of Grand Marais, it makes for a very interesting day trip. A fascinating recreation of the North West Trading Company’s 1802 post at the portage, where furs from across North America were traded between the Ojibwe and other indigenous peoples and European newcomers, becoming one of the major zones of interaction between the groups on Lake Superior. After viewing an entertaining and informative video, we explored the lovingly recreated buildings (including costumed living history interpreters who were happy to share all of their knowledge on the canoe technologies that connected the interior of the continent to Montreal and Europe via this bustling spot) and dock on the lake. Walking up the steep hiking trail to the summit of “Mount” Rose gave us a stunning view of the monument, Lake Superior, and the surrounding landscape.

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View of Grand Portage from the top of Mount Rose

On the way back to Grand Marais, we also took advantage of the lovely hiking trails at Judge Magney State Park. We hiked  along the Brule River, leading up to the beautiful Devil’s Kettle waterfall, which plunges a majestic fifty feet, spraying up impressive plumes of cool mist.

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Visiting the Devil’s Kettle! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Of course, before heading home to St. Paul, as we drove back along the North Shore towards Duluth, we had to stop by the most photographed location in Minnesota, the lovely Split Rock Lighthouse. I was so happy to stop by this Minnesota icon with Lindsay, who was visiting it for the first time. It is always worth a stop, especially when you have a membership to the Minnesota Historical Society as we do! It was definitely a great way to finish up a wonderful trip!

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Minneapolis Reading Time: Jazz Music at the St. Paul Public Library

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Rice Park’s statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald on a snowy spring day not unlike today. You know, Fitzgerald hated snow!

[Cross post with my Reading Rainstorm blog segment, Land of 10,000 Pages]

I attended a very interesting little event at the St. Paul Public Library a few weeks ago and have just gotten around to writing about it! Music of the Jazz Age was a relaxing, casual Sunday afternoon event held at the ornate Magazine Room on the third floor of the George Latimer Central Library. This was one of the first events by a new literary group in the Twin Cities, Fitzgerald in St. Paul, a nonprofit dedicated to celebrating the achievements of classic American author F. Scott Fitzgerald in his hometown of St. Paul.

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George Latimer Central Library, St. Paul

This is particularly interesting to me as I prepare to move in with my sweetheart into Fitzgerald’s very own neighborhood in St. Paul! Yes, I’m crossing the river and moving into the other Twin City! As was mentioned by the librarian in the introduction to the Music of the Jazz Age program, we were walking in the footsteps of Fitzgerald in at the George Latimer Central Library, and in my own daily life too! Of note, the Magazine Room also houses the F. Scott Fitzgerald Reading Alcove. It was a superb space to listen to some of the music of his time. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald themselves coined the term “the Jazz Age,” to refer to the era they lived in, and some very talented musicians were invited to perform some examples of the jazz that inspired the moniker.

Vocalist Connie Evingson, accompanied by Dan Chouinard on piano and Chris Bates on bass, performed some elegant renditions of some popular pieces from the 1920s, including some mentioned in a few of Fitzgerald’s stories. Three O’Clock in the Morning, one of the songs sung by Evingson, was mentioned in The Great Gatsby, for instance. A few excerpts from Fitzgerald’s works were read and one felt almost as though one had gone back in time, to when you were actually allowed to smoke in the library! Although Lindsay and I were among a handful of people under age 50 in the audience, I would recommend people of all ages keeping an eye on Fitzgerald in St. Paul, which will be offering a monthly series the first Sunday of every month at FitzFirst@Four. The next one, at Common Good Books, discusses Fitzgerald’s story The Rich Boy on April 3rd at 4 pm. Similar stories appear in one of the books I mentioned in my entry My Twin Cities Reading List, The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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153518Next, I think I’ll be reading this book, A Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul.l Perhaps, as I walk in the footsteps of the great writer, I’ll share more of my discoveries!

 

 

 

 

 

Madison Bound

 

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Stained glass, Winona County Historical Museum

Over the next few days, I will be tackling a small backlog of adventures I missed writing about back in February. The first adventure is a fun road trip for those times when you might require a change of scenery from the Twin Cities. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, Lindsay and I crossed state borders for a little trip to Madison, Wisconsin, a fun college town that makes a nice weekend getaway from the Twin Cities. Here are a few highlights and recommendations from the trip!

Taking the scenic route down the Mississippi from St. Paul, we stopped for lunch in the sleepy but interesting college river town of Winona, Minnesota. This is the town where my grandparents lived, so I spent a lot of time here growing up, but it had been awhile since I visited so it was fun to stop again, see how things changed, and introduce Lindsay to another weird Minnesota town.

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Riverboat exhibit, Winona Historical Museum (Courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

We had a delicious lunch at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, one of my favorite restaurants in the state. In addition to the yummy food and friendly, laid back artsy vibe, they share a space with a used and new bookstore, The Book Shelf, which always has good finds. We then explored the recently renovated Winona County Historical Society Museum, which I’ve found to be one of the best local historical museums in Wisconsin, displaying a variety of interesting artifacts from one of the oldest cities in the state. After climbing into a reproduction steamboat and marveling at some preserved storefronts, we then took the opportunity to explore some art in the collection of Winona’s ambitious and newest museum, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. It may seem like an unusual location for the collection, but Winona does have a historic port supplying lumber and flour for shipment down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. The Marine Art Museum explores the “historic human relationship with water,” an apt mission for a museum set on the banks of the Mississippi River. Featuring contemporary photography as well as work spanning the artistic movements from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, including such luminaries as Monet and Picasso, it is one of Minnesota’s hidden gem museums.

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Capitol District Madison being transformed into a skiing track.

Crossing the border into Wisconsin, we were in Madison by early evening, where we had a date to catch comedian and actor David Cross perform at the Orpheum Theater, located on State Street, the epicenter for entertainment in Madison. The humor of Cross, of Arrested Development fame among others things, was a great way to kick off the trip, especially when he upset the more religious portion of the audience.img_20160213_133136

Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin and home of the University of Wisconsin, is always an entertaining place to visit. Situated on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, with the Capital building sitting on top of a hill, it is a compact, walkable city that seems to pack a lot into a relatively small area. We were in town during the last big cold snap in the Upper Midwest, and it came just in time for the Madison Winter Festival, though a lack of snowfall required the city to haul in a layer of snow to surround the Wisconsin State Capitol building for racing cross country skiers. With folksy fiddle music playing on the loudspeakers and a few quirky little snow sculptures, downtown Madison became a wintery wonderland.  

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Spending the weekend exploring the isthmus area over the weekend was a fun and relaxing way to brave the cold and enjoy each others’ company. Particularly with the Winter Festival going on, parking was difficult downtown, but most things are in easy walking distance of each other. At the center of Capitol Square is, of course, the Wisconsin State Capitol building, a pretty impressive edifice of state government. They offer a free and quite informative tour throughout the building, visiting the executive, legislative, and judicial branches where we marveled at the ornate interiors and fossils embedded in the stone walls. It was pretty interesting to be standing right there behind the leather upholstered chairs where the Wisconsin state legislatures make laws (rather poorly, under current administration, eh?). The tour was full of the usual list of notable “bests” that Wisconsin’s capitol building can boast (taller than the US Capitol Building, largest granite dome in the world, etc.) Some of which seem a little questionable, perhaps, but now I am looking forward to touring the Minnesota State Capitol building, to see what we can boast!

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Wisconsin State Capitol building interior (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

In addition to the Wisconsin State Capitol, we also visited the Wisconsin History Museum and its entertainingly goofy exhibit on Wisconsinites in Hollywood. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is also a good place to check out, which hosted several fascinating collections, including a surreal and energetic collection of 1970s prints by Wisconsin artist Warrington Colescott inspired by Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. That’s one for the reading list! The exhibit goes on until April, so if you’re in town, stop in!

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Sculpture Garden roof of Madison Contemporary Museum of Art, enjoying the snow

Strolling along State Street, we stopped in a variety of charming boutiques and shops, either just browsing or in full shopping mode. Of course, the bookstores were where we found the most to peruse. Browzers Bookshop is a maze of used books, with plenty of weird things to look at and you’ll probably get quite the deal there too! At the venerable independent feminist bookstore A Room of One’s Own, one can browse a very wide selection of new and used books. This was a very nice bookstore to spend some time hanging out and picking out a new book or two (or, hell, more).

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Some of Wisconsin’s fine beers, at the Old Fashioned

 

Of course, nothing says Wisconsin like enjoying an alcoholic beverage and we certainly had our fair share, so leaving the car behind was a wise choice. The charming, quirky, and rowdy bars of State Street and the Capital Square serve up some tasty Wisconsin beers and delicious cocktails. The Old Fashioned, a bar and restaurant specializing in Wisconsin’s food and drink specialties is a good place to start. Offering more than a hundred Wisconsin beers and a half dozen versions of the Old Fashioned, along with cheese curds, cheese plates, and many other tasty treats, it is a good place to go to be overwhelmed by choices. Just arrive early, the place is packed to gridlock by 6 on weekends. Breakfast, though, is a more relaxing time to visit. We had a perfectly decadent Wisconsin breakfast: A rich cheese plate, giant (and affordable) apple fritter, a breakfast old fashioned, and a pint of Tyrena Brewing’s Devil Made Me Do It Coffee Imperial Oatmeal Potter.  

Paul’s Club, on State Street, is another good place to stop in for a drink. Where else can you go to a bar that has a full side tree inside of it, along with a good beer and cocktail list?The Great Dane Pub is a pretty cool place to stop by in the Capital Square area as well, a brewpub that offers a nice rotating selection of brews, including the Stone of Scone scotch ale. Also come for the shuffle boards (Wisconsinites are super serious about this game).

If you find yourself famished while shopping on State Street, a nice place to stop by for very filling Laotian and Thai cuisine is at Vientiane Palace Restaurant, which has a lot of delicious food for reasonable prices, including some very tasty pad thai noodles. My eggplant dish was also very tasty. Graze is a romantic and atmospheric choice for dinner. A new restaurant specializing in farm to table cuisine, we had a very lovely meal here and I would recommend it for a fancy evening out, with nice views of the Wisconsin State Capitol and very good food. Again, the cheese plate is highly recommended, as is the oyster plate.

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Some of the collection of the National Mustard Museum (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

On the way out of town, we stopped by one of Wisconsin’s many “quirky” attractions. Where else, for instance, could you visit a museum devoted entirely to a condiment? Located just outside of Madison in Middleton, Wisconsin, the National Mustard Museum is worth a stop for anyone with even a little appreciation for mustard. An exhaustive selection of gourmet mustard varities from across the world upstairs, and a tongue in cheek celebration of the history and art of mustard downstairs, it is a cool and funny place to stop to sample some tasty sauces. After picking up some mustard for upcoming gatherings, we left Madison for St. Paul. A quick stop in Osseo, Wisconsin, for some top notch pies at the Norske Nook  Restaurant and Bakery rounded out or trip (and our bellies). All in all, it was a great weekend sampler of a winter town in Wisconsin, and I am looking forward to returning.  

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Did you know Tony Shahloub was from Green Bay? Display at the Wisconsin History Museum (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

 

Cookie Exchange at the Hennepin History Museum

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So, last night I attended a new event in Minneapolis I haven’t done before and it was a really fun time! The Hennepin History Museum hosted, for the second time, a holiday cookie exchange, which is a great way to get to know some other people interested in baking and history and break away from that beginning of winter funk of avoiding people. The Hennepin History Museum, a cool, little known museum tucked away in an ornate mansion, the George Christian house, just across the the street from the Minneapolis Institute of Art is, I feel, one of the great hidden gems in Minneapolis. The Museum is currently raising its profile in the city, so expect more awesome events to continue!

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I had only been there once before, but I really enjoyed visiting again and I’d recommend people do too. Focusing on the rich social history of the county, there are always cool special exhibits hosted; currently, the seasonal exhibit explores the background of Hennepin County’s figure skating, which is something I hadn’t even thought of before! Hopefully we’ll be able to do that this year! Also, artifacts from history societies in the West Metro, specifically near Lake Minnetonka were on view as well, which, of course, was pretty interesting to me, given that’s where I grew up.  I’m trying to think of a good excuse for my next MNopedia article to visit again and stop by their exhaustive research library to glean some cool hidden stories of Hennepin County.

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The rules of the cookie exchange are simple; just bring three dozen of your favorite cookies and swap them with other people’s for a tasty, homemade treats. It is also a very Minnesotan type of event! I made some vegan pumpkin oatmeal cookies, which turned out only semi-successful, I feel. Next time I’d try a bit less molasses, and also know what to expect from my oven. The others look delicious, and it always great to have a pile of cookies to enjoy this time of year. Hopefully, the Hennepin History Museum will host again next year. It would certainly be a good choice for a date night!

Hennepin History Museum,  2303 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis

MSP Reading Time: new book Downtown Minneapolis in the 1970s launched at the Mill City Museum

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Mill City Museum at night

[Cross post with my Reading Rainstorm blog segment, Land of 10,000 Pages where I discuss some of my favorite nonfiction books discussing the 1970s]

One of my favorite attractions to suggest to visitors to the Twin Cities is the Mill City Museum. A cool and innovative space nestled inside the stony, almost medieval looking ruins of the Washburn A. Mill, the museum informs and illustrates the history of Minneapolis unlike any other place in the city, I think. Back in the day, the mill district was processing more wheat than any other location in the world, feeding people across the globe and of course, making tons of money for the gilded age mill barons. If you are a local and haven’t been there, it’s one of those cool local places that should be a must see.

It also makes an atmospheric place for events and last Thursday I attended one such free gathering, the launch party of the new Minnesota Historical Society Press book, Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s. Photographer Mike Evangelist was a suburban kid working downtown during the 1970s, and used his time off to take photographs all over downtown Minneapolis, capturing this period in which the modern, corporate city we know today was emerging from the body of the older Minneapolis. The IDS Center sprung up, skyways began to arch over the busy city sidewalks, while areas such as the Gateway District had been flattened for parking lots in previous years.

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Crowd at the Mill City Museum entranced by presentation of Downtown Minneapolis in the 1970s- 1970s skyline compared to today

The Mill City Museum made a very appropriate and atmospheric locale for this discussion and gallery, as the mill district was all but dead at the time, the milling having left for other places and this area of downtown was all but abandoned, a victim of the changing of the times explored in these photographs. The launch party presentation was fascinating as Evangelist and his collaborator on the book, writer Andy Sturdevant, discussed the background by the photos and the world that they came out of, along with a gallery of the original photographs to examine. This seems to be a particularly interesting period of the city’s history and I’ve found myself quite curious about the 1970s myself. While I was not alive in any part of the 1970s, my parents certainly told some stories about the period and it was great to see what has changed and what has remained the same. In particular, the common appearance of bicycles in these photos illustrate the place they had in Minneapolis even forty years ago, the first year that bicycles outstripped the sale of cars in the 20th century. We even learned some rare and hidden information, such as the current, secret location of all of those classic Nicollet Mall streetlamps prominent in these photos. I am looking forward to reading this book in more detail soon. Available currently at local bookstores, and of course, the Hennepin County LibraryMay need to wait a little while for that one, after the discussion on MPR the other day, the number of requests have jumped!  

Make sure to follow the Old Minneapolis Facebook page, for those of you who are into that whole social media thing. I just checked it out and there are all sorts of intesresting vintage photos and stories posted very frequently. Great for something to look at on a lunch break downtown!

We Have a State Photo?

The colored version, the kind that hung in my grandparent’s dining room, painted over by Eric Enstrom’s daughter Rhoda Nyberg

So, MNopedia, that great resource for Minnesota history online, has just posted my second article, and only today it was reposted by MinnPost as well, so I’m pretty well chuffed! This was an interesting (that well worn Minnesota term) topic for me to research. Watching the response the article online so far has been interesting too, so I’m posting a little bit of a personal reflection behind my research, stuff a tad too subjective for a peer reviewed article.

I first wrote on Grace, Minnesota’s official state photograph, for a class in Mythology in American History, and much mythology surrounds this “painting” after the ninety or so years it has existed. A quick and informative look at how myths operate in modern American culture can be seen in this episode of PBS’ Idea Channel. As a total agnostic coming from a Lutheran background, I had a distinct mixture of feelings as I delved into the history behind Grace. As I researched, I discovered that the story behind it, while ostensibly simple, was filled with rumors, hearsay, and myths. Like many, I associated the picture with relatives, in my case, my grandparents. Like many, it seems, I had taken the image to be an oil painting, rather than the skilled photograph it is. What does it say about us that this is Minnesota’s official photographic representation of who we are as a state?

It was, for years, a fixture at my grandparents place. The picture hung in a place of prominence on the dining room wall of their tiny, musty house in Winona, Minnesota. As the bluffs loomed over the Mississippi, the dingy old picture to us loomed over our grandparent’s lives. Like the squeaky guest beds and lefse for breakfast, the painting was emblematic of our visits to them; their favorite picture exemplified everything we understood about my grandparents. It was an extension of their personalities and a favorite topic of conversation for Grandma. Grandpa had less to say about it, but, then, he had less to say about everything. Still, it had to have meant something to him, as he had the final say in everything around the house. He had no doubt hung the painting there himself soon after moving into the old house. It remained in the same place for decades, beginning sometime in the sixties, it is certain, until my grandfather passed away in 2005. My Grandmother took it with her to her new apartment, where it again took prominence in the decor, hung above the dining table. It remains there today, slightly faded, a little the worse for the wear with scattered water damage from some unremembered spill but still a centerpiece in the room. Where did it come from?

The year was 1918. The United States of America had finally entered the Great War, what would only later, after yet another war, be called World War I. Even in the middle of the isolated northern forest the events occurring in the killing fields of Europe were striking close to home. In the village of Bovey, Minnesota, a mining town in the heart of the Iron Range far to the north of Winona, a Swedish born photographer name Eric Enstrom attempted to capture a picture for the time and end up creating an image of the Minnesota experience. Charles Wilden, an elderly, homeless man peddling shoe scrapers stopped by one day trying to sell his wares. Something about the weathered, bearded Swede trying to sell him orthopedic devices inspired the small town photographer, and he asked Wilden to sit for him with a few props. The resulting photo, which Enstrom later called “Grace,” captured the sentiments of the region. Something about it seemed to speak to the Midwestern soul. At least, this is the story as told be Enstrom himself, as other reports list the photo as not having been taken until 1920, two years after the end of the Great War. Still, the connection worked.

Enstrom, and his daughter, Rhoda Nyberg, painted over the original photograph to give it the classic look of an oil painting, which only increased its popularity. By 1926, Wilden had sold his image to Enstrom for the grand total of five dollars. Enstrom, in turn, sold the photograph to Augsburg Publishing House, the largest Lutheran publisher in the world, who printed hundreds of thousands of copies over the years. The photo is now in the public domain, but Augsburg, among other printers, continue to sell it. The eventual fate of the homeless Wilden remains, in this story, unknown.

During my childhood, I associated the picture with my grandparents alone, having little reason to think it existed outside of their lives. However, I began to see the same picture elsewhere; an old Lutheran church in Iowa, a small town restaurant in Wisconsin, the bookstore of a small religious college in Minnesota. Describing it to friends and acquaintances throughout Minnesota, it seemed that many people could recall that the same picture hung in the homes of many of their own parents and grandparents as well. What was it about this picture that seemed to appeal to several generations of Midwesterner?

It all came to a head in 2002, when the Minnesota State Legislature, under Governor Jesse Ventura himself, established Grace as the state’s official photograph. Like our state drink (milk) and our state muffin (blueberry), we would now have a state photo to represent us, and it was a photo of an old white man praying. I was surprised to find very little controversy regarding the choice, in spite of the overt Christian religious nature of the photograph, and a legislator said it was a simply a picture of an “elderly person showing his feelings.” I must admit, I am not entirely comfortable with the message this sends. It is obvious, after looking through the many comments in the social media accounts of the article, that for many Minnesotans, it remains an important part of their lives, a meaning that goes beyond the societal into the personal; they see their own families and their own history in this image. For many, including myself, the guy in the picture represents nothing less than their own relatives. Some, in fact, had the childhood impression that he actually was related to them or to someone close to them, a grandfather or a family friends’ uncle. 

Like all photographs, this one was setup to convey a specific feeling  The “Grace” picture was carefully crafted by Eric Enstrom to put forward a very specific type of feeling; a spirit of religious faith, thankfulness, and humbleness that many European immigrants to Minnesota wanted to present of themselves. Enstrom said “this man did not have much in the way of earthly goods, but he has more than most people because he has a thankful heart.” The rumors that surround Wilden himself, though, paint a different picture; that of a shiftless alcoholic, a womanizing petty criminal known for breaking up families from Moorhead to St. Paul. Perhaps an older version of the man with whom my great grandmother was supposed to have run away. Not exactly what you would call a “holy” man, but in fact homeless man who signed his very image away for the paltry sum of five bucks. Interesting how such a conflicted figure, a man known for such cruelty, living his life in poverty with substance abuse issues, has become so many people’s vision of Minnesotan faith. Now, he’s everyone’s grandpa.    

Honestly, I cannot say I ever liked the picture. While I wouldn’t have been able to express this during childhood, it always struck me as being rather depressing. On the other hand, it fascinated me, and it had an almost Medieval effect upon my mood. That old guy just sitting there alone at his table, eating what was no doubt stale bread and gruel, it was certainly lonely. Even in my church going days, such fervent prayer as evoked by this man was alien to me. What does it say about the culture of the state that this is now our official photograph, the official representative of our place and its people? We’re white, obviously, but also old. We’re devout and Protestant (I wonder if the picture has the same impact among Catholics that it does among Lutherans). We’re not fancy. In other words, humble. Even the few possessions we own, we give thanks for, because it could always get worse, you know.

Participate in an Archaeological Excavation in St. Paul!

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Welcome to Swede Hollow Park

It is not too often you find such an actual, real-life adventure to experience, but on Saturday morning I went over to St. Paul to participate in an actual, working archaeological excavation in Swede Hollow Park! When else could you have such a chance?

After hearing of the dig on MPR, I knew I would have to check it out, and it was really cool! I almost majored in archaeology in college, though I ended up pretty close in history, so I of course have always been fascinated by the archaeological process. This was the first time I witnessed an excavation first hand, let alone participated, so it was a great learning experience. I cannot think of a better way to learn more about the history, both uplifting and tragic, of immigration in the Twin Cities.

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Swede Hollow Park archaeological dig, August 1, 2015

Chatting with the University of Minnesota graduate students in charge of the dig, we were given a short history of Swede Hollow, a wooded area tucked away just outside of downtown St. Paul, nestled into a ravine. The hollow had a long history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as being the first home to many immigrant groups, who started as squatters on the unused land. Originally a home to Swedish immigrants, later Italian immigrants replaced them and then Mexican immigrants by the 1940s. Throughout all this time, the unofficial neighborhood lacked all infrastructure, whether plumbing, transportation, or electricity. In fact, conditions in the hollow remained a century behind well into the 20th century, its population neglected by the city and left to their own devices.  In 1956, though, the neighborhood was condemned by the city of St. Paul and declared a public health hazard. The remaining families living in the hollow were forced out and the homes burned by the Fire Department.

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Digging!

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Some of the artifacts discovered at Swede Hollow Park; pieces of pottery, old bottles, pre-1940s brickwork.

It is these marginalized populations that the archaeological explorations of Swede Hollow hope to shine light upon.  We helped to dig exploratory surveys, probing what artifacts could be found in certain areas after GPR scanning indicated objects buried in the ground of the park, or old surveys revealed where buildings once stood. Signs of the burn line had yet to be breached, but much evidence of Swede Hollow’s history as a dumping ground for the rest of the city’s waste, public and private, were discovered. It was such a great experience to help turn up so much information about the neglected groups who lived in the past, without much documentation or attention.

Filling buckets of soil from the excavations, we helped to pick out artifacts from the rest of the fill; tiny pieces of glass, marble, clinkers from old coal fuel, pieces of pre-1940 brick, ceramic, and much more. It was fascinating to see so many relics of the past century turn up, after which they were packed away in numbered baggies for laboratory analysis. Kneeling on the ground of the park, digging at the soil with a trowel, enjoying the nice weather, this was one of the most unique things I’ve done this summer.

They are still inviting the public to participate this weekend as well, and I’d really recommend checking it out if you can; here is their list of things you need.  It can be a bit difficult to find your way to Swede Hollow Park, but there is parking in the neighborhoods around it, so just head down the stairs and follow the chalk outlines leading to the excavations!

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Another excavation.

MNopedia Article

Wow, it’s been almost a month since I last posted! I had a better track record on writing about my Twin Cities adventures when I didn’t even live in the Twin Cities! It is not that have not been doing a lot of awesome stuff lately, it’s just, well, I’ve been doing a lot of awesome stuff lately and have been a bit overwhelmed about writing about it. Yeah, yeah, I know, excuses, excuses! I think you can look forward to several new updates in the next few days, though.

In the meantime, while living in greater Minnesota, I was able to do some fun research for a very interesting, not well known topic of Minnesota history, Julia Sears and the “Sears Rebellion” of the Mankato State Teachers College, 1873 for the people at MNopedia, the Minnesota Historical Society’s online encyclopedia of Minnesota. Recently, they published my work in the encyclopedia, and It’s pretty amazing to be included in such august company! Check it out! Just today, the article was reposted by MinnPost, an awesome online newspaper, so I’m feeling kind of beside myself. Thanks for sharing my work!

Look forward to more adventure coming shortly…