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

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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Pride Dabbler

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In the past, I’ve always been busy for some reason on Pride weekend, one of the Twin Cities biggest street festivals and among the largest one’s celebrating the GLBT community in the US. Last year was no different, in spite of living right next to Loring Park- I spent the majority of the weekend on a camping trip in Southern Minnesota. However, I got back home in time to check out the last day of the festival,  as I could hear the alluring music drifting through my windows as I unpacked from the trip. Running out across the street just before an early summer thunderstorm struck, I browsed used books, chatted with co-workers from the Hennepin County Library, grabbed some lunch, and browsed vendors selling local products.

This year, Lindsay and I visited on the Friday that began the 40th anniversary of the Pride Festival with the Pride Dabbler, the Beer Dabbler’s celebration of both Minnesota’s inclusive community and its burgeoning craft brewing scene. With a theme of “Icons,” each brewery or cidery crafted its own tribute to various advocates of bringing awareness to gender and marriage equality. It was definitely a fun time to be in such an inclusive crowd, with people enjoying the amusingly named beverages such as Gandalf the Grapefruit and the Frida Kahlo Unibrau brewed up by more than fifty breweries  from all over the state. There were so many great brews I would definitely like to try again, including Birches on the Lake’s coffee chocolate stout and boysenberry sour, and 612’s Mary Anne ginger lager. While Lindsay isn’t much of a beer fan herself, there were a few cideries offering some delicious varieties of cider as well, such as Number 12 Cider House’s Black Current.

IMG_20160624_193604Thankfully, local food trucks were on hand as well to peddle enough food to soak up all that beer. The giant pretzels from the Neu Bohemia Foodtruck proved quite popular, and one was enough for both of us to fill up. We found passersby to be quite interested in where it came from! All in all, it was exhilarating to see the diversity of the celebrations; people from all backgrounds walked about the shores of Loring Pond- I was amazed at how expansive the park seemed when filled with people- it never struck me as that huge before, but it became a maze of music, booths, and dancing, even as the evening closed on the first night of the festival. Particularly in today’s political environment, it is great to have such a vibrant celebration of diversity in our city. I’m looking forward to seeing more next summer!

 

Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival, 2015

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Geiko from Nagasaki Kenban perform at the Lantern Lighting Festival in Como Park, St. Paul, August 2015

I can’t believe I’ve been going to the Lantern Lighting Festival in Como Park, the largest Japanese cultural festival in Minnesota, for something like ten years now, and it is still one of my favorite cultural festivals of the year in the Twin Cities. The weather, while brisk and very windy, was much nicer than last year, and the participating crowd doubled in size. Every year seems to attract more people to experience the music, food, exhibitions, and camaraderie of this event celebrating the peaceful relationship between the United States and Japan. Como Park and Conservatory quickly became packed with people watching the stage, queuing up for sushi, gyoza, yakitori, and takoyaki, watching martial arts exhibitions, or shopping for thrift store finds.  This year was a particularly special one, as it marked the sixtieth anniversary of the program which founded a sister-city relationship between the city of St. Paul and the city of Nagasaki, the first between any US city and a city in Asia. I particularly liked that this year, the announcements and introductions were in both English and Japanese. Such events really highlight the growing diversity and internationalism of the region.

Throughout the day, various groups from local universities and civic organizations performed traditional and not-so-traditional dances, music, and drumming, which made for a particularly memorable event this year. A few favorites were the Chura-Ryukyu Okinawa Sanshinkai, musicians peforming traditional Okinawan folktunes and the dancing trope, Sansei Younsei Kei.

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Mayors Chris Coleman of St. Paul and Tomihisa Taue of Nagasaki

To commemorate this, the mayors of both cities, Tomihisa Taue and Chris Coleman, were in attendance along with a retinue of dignitaries from Nagasaki. Coleman will be taking his own trip to Nagasaki in October as well. Among other things, St. Paul has honored the relationship by naming a street near Como Park, Nagasaki Road. Taue had also invited a group of traditional entertainers, geiko, Nagasaki Kenban, to perform some of the traditional songs and dances of Nagasaki as well, a even seen rarely outside of Japan, and even in Japan itself. Wow, that was a breathtaking performance as the three women, accompanied by a woman on the shamisen, shared the traditional pieces that they are training to preserve for future generations.

After this, the obon lanterns were lit and, riding on the gusts of the wind, floated quickly across the wind-riffled surface of the moon-viewing pond under the light of the Conservatory. Another beautiful end to the festival for another year. Still costing $5 for the whole evening, with the ever increasing crowds, I’d advise coming really super early. While it starts at 3:00, coming at no later than 2:30 is recommended. Of course, biking or taking public transit (Metro Routes 3 and 83) is also recommend to save the hassle of locating a place to park. 

For me, 2015 was also special in that it gave me a taste to prepare me for my own trip to Japan in less than two weeks! Wow! Hard to believe it’s coming up so fast!

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.

The Floating Library 2015

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The Floating Library

On Saturday, I went on yet another new adventure, one of my favorites of the year so far.

After the fierce storms of the night before, which knocked out power across the metro (and which I completely slept through except to note, hey, there’s lightning), the day opened sunny and warm, with a stiff, refreshing breeze. My internet was down. A perfect day to head up to Silver Lake at Silverwood Park and visit the Floating Library.

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These open topped kayaks were a little funny.

The Floating Library is an experimental public art project organized by Sarah Peters, a library of art books set adrift upon an urban lake, one the Twin Cities most prized summer locales. Also, as a librarian, I find it awesome to see how the ideas of the profession are reflected through the lens of art; Peters’ collection of unique and bizarre, lovely and thought provoking books, zines, and other mediums which expand what can be thought of as a book and what can be thought of as a library.

It is a great melding of Minnesota’s geological landscape with its wonderful cultural resources, the natural and the made coming together. On its third year, the Floating Library has traveled to Silver Lake, in St. Anthony, which seems a great place for the project. Silverwood Park is the designated “art park” of the Three Rivers Park system, and one I had never been to before. The lake is a small but picturesque place, with a couple of wooded islands, all bright green under the blue skies of the Minnesota summer. A perfect backdrop to enjoy some art books and zines.

Renting kayaks from the park facilities, my sister and I paddled out to the Floating Library, we found ourselves the first visitors to this years library. We pushed through the wind, moored to the cute library raft with its fluttering flag and shelves of materials overlooking the water and learned about the project and its history from Sarah. The collection includes circulating materials, which you can take anywhere in the park to peruse at your leisure, and return in some of the book drop receptacles scattered throughout the park.

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Library Ahoy!

Though the breeze on occasion made browsing a bit duct over the next couple hours, we browsed many titles from the stacks, both from the circulating materials and the reference collection, being recommended many interesting materials by Sarah and the other volunteers. There were examples from all over the country and the world, but my favorites were of course the local pieces. The little purple zine recording all of Princes’ lyrics that mention food, or the book that detailed the bodies of water from all of Minneapolis’ sister cities throughout the world. The breathtaking stereoscopic photos of miniature ships in their little box with the viewfinder like viewing glasses was particularly awesome, but those were among the tip of the iceberg of the things kept in the library. Speaking of that, the iceberg book, made of biodegradable ricepaper printed with images of icebergs patrons were encouraged to set adrift in the lake was also a really fun project. Of course, I have to mention the folding collection of water themed postcards, being a postcard fanatic.

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Duck Rabbits, accompanied by an art book available from the library.

I was really inspired by the innovation and creativity illustrated by these items; so many different styles, subjects, and ideas. You really have to see them to appreciate the diversity of the offerings. I have come to be very interested in zines and other physical self publishing, especially after the work my cousin accomplished in the medium, and I just need a little push, I hope, to start putting together more of my own. My goal next year is contribute something to the library, which is made from the donations of artists, bookmakers, writers, and other creative types.

In addition to the books and zines, we enjoyed the natural denizens of the lake as well, the turtles, purple martins, dragonflies, great blue herons and egrets that inhabited the banks.

The library will be setting sail again next weekend, July 25-26 11 am to 5, and on the evening of August 1st, for a moonlight paddle and poetry reading closing event at 8:30. Visiting Silverwood Park and the library is free, though you can rent canoes and kayaks from the park for the reasonable price of $5 an hour, if you can’t bring your own.

Another great place to check out zines year round in Minneapolis is the MCTC Library Zine collection; a few that I’ve collaborated on in the past can be found here, along with a lot more.

Silverwood Park, 2500 County Rd E
St. Anthony, MN

Minneapolis Community & Technical College
Library Zine Collection
1501 Hennepin Avenue

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Book Return Box, Silverwood Park

Freedom From Pants 2015

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The USS Sex Panther prepares to roll out of Northeast.

Well, I finally did it! Over the last few years I’ve been hearing about the awesome good time to be had every Fourth of July in Minneapolis with the Freedom from Pants Ride, but I haven’t had the chance to join the fun myself. Not unlike Improv Everywhere’s No Pants Subway Ride, a New York phenomenon which has spread to Minneapolis, the Freedom From Pants Ride is an irreverent celebration of American exuberance (not that other countries aren’t exuberant, of course!). For 2015, I jumped on the chance to join up and roll out with the crowd. As expressed by one of the many participants as he passed me on his bike, this is a great example of the wonderful “microcosm” of this city, a well kept secret of “coolness.” Why not go outside in your underwear during our few short months of heat? While Minnesotan inhibitions might not allow for anything more than just underwear for most of us (myself included), unlike some other cities, there was still plenty of transgressive American fun to be seen.

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The riders arrive in Loring Park, Freedom From Pants 2015

What better way to enjoy a hot summer day than by wearing as little as possible and riding your bike with a few hundred other people through the streets of downtown Minneapolis. As the procession of not fully clothed bicyclists let freedom ride throughout the city of Minneapolis, we responded to confused onlookers with cries of “Freedom!” and “Join Us!” Heading from Northeast Minneapolis, we crossed the Hennepin Avenue Bridge and rode towards Loring Park, whereupon fireworks were let off and dancing commenced. It’s a great feeling to be among such an eclectic and fun loving crowd, making a bit of a good-natured scene and presenting an aura of exuberance. Plus, it’s another fun thing to do that costs no money whatsoever (as long as you have, or can borrow, a bike).

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We ride on Lyndale.

Much ingenuity was presented as people towed mobile dj setups, including my friend, with his USS Sex Panther speaker system, a furry musical which attracted a lot of loving attention from onlookers. It was definitely an awesome piece of work to be riding next to, though he is promising to make it even more impressive next year.

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Fun at Cedar Lake

After Loring Park, the hoard traversed the streets toward Uptown, waving to the many enthusiastic onlookers eating at restaurants or gathered in their backyard to take in the pre-fireworks show. Arriving at Cedar Lake, we cooled off in the crystal waters of one of the city’s best swimming beaches. As the sun, red through the haze of smoke from the Canadian wildfires sunk into the horizon, we relaxed in the cooling waters as the heat of the day mellowed. Finally, the call was given and the festivities continued back through downtown, a line of flashing lights and ringing bells, arriving at Nicollet Island to take in the city’s firework shows (and let off a few of their own as well, perhaps a little recklessly). On the way home, I grabbed some delicious frozen yogurt from one of the last remaining food trucks, Fro-Yo Soul and went home, exhausted but happy.

Really, I can’t think of any better way to spend the Fourth in Minneapolis. For next year, I would recommend taking lots of water (especially if you plan on having a drink along the way), and also make sure to pack out any garbage that you produce to keep the city nice and the reputation of the spectacle good as well. Check out the City Page’s account of the event, as well.

Free Stuff to Do in the Twin Cities: A Short List of Favorites, including Northern Spark!

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Dinkytown at night, near the Kitty Cat Klub. Free concerts offered frequently at this elaborate bar and lounge.

Some time ago, a young visitor to the Minneapolis Central Library, in town for a few months but low on funds asked me for my recommendations for the best free places to go in the metro. I listed off a few of my favorites, but I had to think for awhile. Do you remember a few years ago when the local metro libraries unveiled the Museum Adventure Pass program? I recall having a lot of fun with that, as, courtesy of MELSA, the regional library system, libraries offered brochures with cool checklists for planning your exploration of local museums and other attractions, which, if you were lucky, you could visit for free. Sadly, the program was discontinued but I still receive periodic questions about it, so people definitely remember it fondly. I certainly do. Now, when someone asks me what are some free places to go and things to do in the Twin Cities, I have to think about it. Here are so of my favorites!

Music: A new thing I discovered recently, the Kitty Cat Klub in Dinkytown, presents most of its roster of local and visiting bands, from a variety of musical backgrounds, free of cover. I saw a show a few weeks ago and was pretty impressed. The food and drink are not too badly priced, so this is a great place for the visiting student’s budget to see some unique and up and coming sounds. The atmosphere in the cavernous space, especially the basement restrooms, is worth checking out, too. I’ll definitely be back, and I’m a little depressed now I never went back in my U of M days. Here is their calendar.

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The ornate stairs inside the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Museums: Some of the Twin Cities most awesome art museums are always free, at least for their permanent collections. The most prominent, and my favorite museum, is the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a place you can definitely become lost in for a whole day. Celebrating it’s hundredth anniversary this year, they have a lot of stuff planned. Even without the awesome special exhibits they continually have coming through, there is enough in the collections to keep you coming back for years, especially with the shifting exhibitions showcasing various themes. Another fun thing they offer is tours, with the Book Tours being my favorites, a great idea for book clubs. Each month, the museum choose several books for adults and children and makes a special tour based on its themes and period. A few years ago, I took on based on the Picture of Dorian Gray, and it was extremely thought provoking and a great companion for the novel.

Also, the University of Minnesota’s art museum, the Weisman, in its idosincratic metallic walls, is also always free, all the time. Perfect for college students to take a break between classes, as I often did. There are also always new things being showcased here, too.

Over in downtown St. Paul, the Minnesota Museum of American Art is another great place to check out. Hidden away in a downtown office building, MMoAA has a lot of great local flavor. The other year, I saw their awesome exhibit on zines and DIY printing, and it inspired me to start up some of my own, as well. It’s been some time since I last visited, so I’m planning a trip to check out their speical exhibit this season, celebrating Summertime.

Also, museums like the Walker Art Center and the Bell Museum of Natural History offer free days as well, Thursday nights and Saturday mornings in the case of the Walker, Sundays in the case of the Bell Museum. Check it out!

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One of my favorite little parks in Minneapolis, Gold Medal Park in the Mill District.

Parks: Of course, there are loads of great parks to enjoy the weather and the glories of nature, both in the Twin Cities and in the suburbs. These just may be the crown jewels of the Twin Cities. Now that spring is turning into summer, the best months to enjoy them are coming, so take advantage while you can. Of course, I’m partial to September and October, but those go so quick!

Theodore Wirth Park, as I explored last month, is one such great place offering plenty of hiking, biking, and picnicking opportunities, such as the mysterious Quaking Bog, which seems amazingly wild to be so close to downtown. That is just one of many of Minneapolis’ well known nature oases; Minnehaha Park and its breathtaking falls, Mill Ruins Park with its legacies of Minneapolis past, and of course the iconic Lake Calhoun, to name just a few, all offer places where you can relax, maybe go swimming, or just do some people watching. Over in St. Paul, there is the incredible Indian Mounds Park, showcasing some of the last surviving archaeological relics of the great Hopewell Culture which lived in the region for millennia. Some of the mounds are thousands of years old, as ancient as many relics in Europe. With its great view of downtown St. Paul and on clear days downtown Minneapolis, it is definitely a place to check out.

The Three Rivers Park district, across suburban Hennepin, Scott, and Carver counties, also offer a lot of awesome opportunities for adventure. Referring to the Mississippi, the Minnesota, and the Crow rivers, the various parks in the system offer a lot of stuff to do, such as I explored in one of my first entries last year. Camping at Baker Park (for just $15 a night), kayaking, biking, hiking, winter activities, disc golf,  I have yet to experience everything they have.

Of course, one has to mention Como Park and its Zoo and Conservatory as well, which remain free to the public; I always enjoying visiting the Conservatory and Japanese Gardens, both in the summer and in the dead of winter. I’d recommend it to families as well as those who just like experience tropical conditions and verdant greenery in January.

Libraries: Can’t not mention the area libraries, which offer almost all of their services free; check out the metro alliance of area library systems, MELSA, which has oft updated lists of programs offered throughout, such as the Bookawocky summer reading program, in which kids can participate to score free books. Makes me nostalgic.

Events: Finally, there are a host of awesome free events, artistic and entertaining, that occur throughout the year, including tonight’s much anticipated annual Northern Spark, as I wrote about last year. Northern Spark 2015 is promising a new cavalcade of innovative, intriguing, mysterious events, taking advantage of the beauty of the urban space at night. Throughout the wee hours, downtown Minneapolis and the University district will be transformed into a venue of diverse adventures and surreal sights. The prominent band Cloud Cult will be playing the Convention Center, Mill City Museum will have live opera, and the Mill Ruin Parks will host the Night Library, the Hennepin County Library’s really cool sounding interactive maze, among many other wonders. I still don’t know exactly what I want to do. I urge everyone to take the chance to visit; it’s worth being a little tired tomorrow! It’s looking like a good time!

Other free events to keep on the calendar are the Ice Shanty projects in the winter, this summer’s Floating Library, and the Art Car Parade; I’m sure I’m neglecting a lot of them, but I’ll report on them later! I’m sure I’m neglecting a lot of stuff, that perhaps further explorations will unearth.

Right Outside Your Door: Exploring Your “Backyard”

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Loring Park, a short stroll from my apartment, on a lovely spring day.

On one of those warm afternoons we had some weeks ago, I was not scheduled for work and felt the burning need to get out of my apartment and explore the outside world. I still feel so grateful, so amazed, to be living in the midst of so much awesome stuff, things I can experience in walking distance from my place, I sometimes find it difficult to believe, I’d spent so much time the last few years daydreaming about it; now I’m here, in the thick of it.

Of course, sometimes, it can feel like, in the humdrum daily grind of work or school, you just want to come home and unwind, ignoring the outside world and just mindlessly surf the net or play video games. After all, all those parks and museums and stuff will be there tomorrow, right? Weeks can pass before I again reflect upon how much stuff there is right at my fingertips, and I again want to get out there and explore. It’s amazing how much exists, hidden in plain site, that you discover just around the corner.

As reported by Andy Studevant at MinnPost, today is Obscura Day, organized by the website Atlas Obscura, “dedicated to highlighting the most interesting places in the world.” I’d never heard of this site before, but it seems like something to dig into. There will be a couple of events showcasing a couple of the Twin Cities most revered weird sites, Minneapolis’ House of Balls and the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul. The Wabasha Street Caves are certainly interesting, and in spite of hearing the name for years, I’ve never had the pleasure of exploring the House of Balls, so I may check that out later today. Obscura Day reminds me of how much adventure exists all around us in our local communities as well as the wider world, just out of sight, and are just waiting for you to experience them.

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Spoonbridge and Cherry…. so shiny!

While, during my ramble the other week, I didn’t check out anything truly “obscure,” even rediscovering things taken for granted for a long time can be a refreshing treat, as well as visiting a new locale. Strolling through Loring Park, for instance, watching albino squirrels frolic and wood ducks paddle about, it struck me how much wildlife were there right in the heart of downtown. Scaling the pedestrian bridge above busy Highway 94 and crossing over into the Walker Sculpture Garden, home of that landmark of Minneapolis, Claes Oldenburg’s and Coosje Van Bruggen’s masterpiece of absurd whimsy, the Spoonbridge and Cherry. I mean, what better emblem for this weird and quirky place than a huge piece of silverware holding a monstrous piece of fruit? Well, that’s my take, anyway. It’s funny that, back around 2006 when I was still living out in the ‘burbs, I kind of adopted the name “Spoonbridge” as my online persona, and now, a scary amount of time later, I’ve actually come to live so close to the famous sculpture, and yet it took me a month or two to actually visit it again. Grass was sprouting, tourists were taking pictures of each other under the oversized kitchenware and the Minneapolis skyline in front of the blue skies.

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Enjoying a flight. Check out that citrus peel infused tap!

Continuing through the nostalgic and beloved sculpture garden, I walked over to a new place I’d just found out about, Sisyphus Brewing, one of the metro’s newer breweries, which have been popping up all over the place in the last few months. It still kind of amuses me that I can be so close to a craft brewery I could just walk right over there and grab some beer anytime I want (if I didn’t need to worry about funds, of course). Sisyphus was a fun little space in an historic building just outside of the Dunwoody College of Technology, and it had a small group of folk trying some beer on this lovely weekday afternoon. Ordering up a flight of the breweries’ offerings, I sampled the offerings. They had some good stuff. While I would not call myself a true connoisseur, I’m trying to step up my tasting abilities for beer, as well as tea (oddly similar in their procedures, you know). I’m kind of one for the hops, so Sisyphus’ OPA2, an oatmeal pale ale, was right up my ally, but I know a lot of my friends prefer the richer, more gentle, taste of stouts, so I picked up one of the breweries’ signature “growlettes” of delicious, chocolaty stout to share at the next get together.

Yes, it is easy to become accustomed to all of the things in your own city, but sometimes I think it is fun to take a little time to reacquaint myself with things; especially since the city is changing all the time and it is fun what pops up when you weren’t paying attention; seems another brewery is in the works just down the street from my place, Lakes and Legends Brewing Company, which promises to open “late summer 2015.” Keep an eye out!

Sisyphus Brewing, Wednesday/Thursday: 3pm-10pm, Friday/Saturday: Noon – 1am, 712 Ontario Avenue W. #100

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Sisyphus Brewing building