A busy time out in Minnesota: July 8 – August 9, 2010

While we were in Marquette, we decided that we needed a vacation from our vacation. Weeklong stays in a location were fun, but being able to settle down and put our feet up was a periodic requirement. Well, not literally; it was having the time to cope with longer projects and having a chance to get stuff shipped to us that was appealing. So we decided that our Minnesota stay would be limited to one campground and it would be for a month.

But first . . . the rest of the Wisconsin story . . .

It was almost 450 miles from Marquette to St. Cloud, so we searched for an interim one-night layover to break it up. We wound up in Rhinelander, Wisconsin at West Bay Camping Resort sounded like a wonderful place to stop. Pat Guilday, a laser specialist with whom we’d done a lot of dog-emblem business, lived there; it was a chance to finally meet him.

But we weren’t in West Bay for long. The campground was quite lovely, but it was no match for a rig the size of ours. After checking in, we continued our route around the circle learning that despite our care, we managed to sideswipe a fence. We’ve negotiated some pretty tight spaces, but it was impossible to get a rig of our size into our assigned site. We wound up 30 miles away at Indian Shores Resort. Before the day was over, we spent a total of $111.99 — the most expensive camping we’ve ever experienced.

I guess there’s a reason for everything. After our escape from Wisconsin, we lucked out. The St. Cloud RV Park, where we’d signed up for a month sight unseen, turned out to be one of the ten – maybe five – best places we’ve ever been. The facilities were lovely — good sized campsites, plenty of open spaces on the fringes and among the sites, a large heated pool, dog park with real fire hydrants, lodge and rally room. Best of all, the attitude of the owners, Chris and Deb, was superb. There are so many cases when the “rules” provide by ownership make you feel like Big Brother is watching you. Quite the opposite is true here; you feel like family. And a bonus: the monthly rate, even with a separate charge for electricity worked out to less than $20 a day.

We had plenty of room to set up our dog enclosure as well as add our canopy in a separate section to fulfill one of my principal requirements of this vacation from our vacation. The Muddy Creek Artists Guild has a gallery show scheduled for the first weekend in October and I needed to weave more than half a dozen Nantucket Baskets to enter in it. We also had enough room to host a SchipNic! Dot’s Schipperke chat line includes several people in this area. In fact, the day after we arrived, Cinda Waller, a breeder and rescuer located between our St. Cloud base and Minneapolis, drove up for a visit and dinner with us. We returned the visit the following weekend, and Cinda and Dot hatched plans for the party the weekend after that. We cleared it with the campground and had a great gathering of 13 Schips and 8 Schip slaves for a cookout and information swapping session.

We had so much to do that the month went by pretty fast. But we did create a nice balance of rest, repair, creativity and absorption of the surrounding area. A large package (new window awning) greeted us on arrival, and we took full advantage of having a shipping address to bring in other goods. In addition to having an awning over the office window, the trailer now sports new fender skirts and a new kitchen vent cover (to replace one that had lost its damper). The gas grille now has a lid that’s not cracked. My bike has had some important adjustments. We got decals of our web address to splash on the truck and the trailer. A new faucet arrived for the kitchen sink (warranty). Both units got a bath. So you see, except for lawn and garden work, maintenance travels along with us!

St. Cloud is situated in two counties, Stearns and Benton, one on each side of the Mississippi River. Our area sightseeing was quite diverse and all educational. Spread over the full time of our stay, it started with a visit to St. Cloud’s Munsinger and Clemens Gardens and ended with a trip to “Lucky Lindy’s” boyhood home. Here’s a review.

Munsinger/Clemens Gardens
Since the Mississippi River shoreline was developed and forested, I asked the campground office how I could most easily get down to the water’s edge. It was a two mile jaunt south to the Gardens, which are situated right on the river. Once a sawmill, Munsinger dates back to 1915 when the city bought its grounds and created both the Gardens and Riverside Park. The terraced scape running between Killian Boulevard and the water is a treasure of walking paths, benches, gazebos and a greenhouse, interspersed, of course, with beautiful landscaping and five distinctly themed gardens.

William and Virginia Clemens lived directly across the street. Virginia, a wheelchair-bound MS victim, delighted most in the times when William wheeled her out to view his roses. In 1990, at Virginia’s urging, he purchased the land just north of Munsinger and financed the development of the Virginia Clemens Rose Garden as a public adjunct. Today it boasts 1100 rose varieties and beautiful monuments, including the dramatic fountain shown below and a memorial statue of its founders. Virginia died near the end of the 2oth century, but Bill still lives across the street!

Sauk Centre
About 45 miles to the west of St. Cloud sits Sauk Centre, a small prairie town made famous by its contribution of Nobel Prize winning author, Sinclair Lewis to the world. Harry Sinclair Lewis was born there in 1885. His mother died when he was six. His father, a doctor, paid the least attention to the youngest and most misfit of his three sons, though Harry and his stepmother got along quite well. He headed to Yale in 1903 but didn’t graduate until 1908, having taken time to participate in a literary colony run by Upton Sinclair.

Early writings were published at Yale, and after college he both worked and wrote to make ends meet (including selling several plot ideas to Jack London!). He married in 1914 and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1916. In that period, he published several hack novels. But he then began to fulfill his long-desired ambition to create a true-to-life story about a small town. Much to the ire of Sauk Centre folks who recognized themselves in this novel, he wrote about a place he knew.

Main Street, published in 1920, was both a literary and fiscal sensation, earning Sinclair millions during the first three years of its publication. Within the decade, he followed up with Babbit, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry and Dodsworth. While refusing a Pulitzer for Arrowsmith, he accepted the 1930 Nobel Prize for Literature, the first American to be so honored. (Incidentally, the Nobel is never given for a single effort but for a body of work.) He continued to write eleven more works, the last of which was published posthumously.

Married twice, he had a son by each partner, both of whom predeceased him. The focus of his attention in the 40’s was Marcella Powers, an actress thirty eight years his junior. He lived for some time in Duluth, Minnesota, the setting earlier for Babbit and other of his works. But disenchanted by what he found to be social ills, he spent his last years in Rome, where he succumbed to a lifelong mistreatment of alcohol at age 64. His ashes were returned home to Sauk Centre, some interred and some scattered.

Our tour of Sauk Centre started with a visit to the Chamber of Commerce building, where an extensive history of Lewis’s life is displayed and where a complete set of his works and his writing desk are housed.

Our tour of the house was led by a college student, the fourth time we’ve had this experience. This young lady did not have the depth of knowledge that others in Marquette and Prairie du Chien had. But the only other person on the tour was a woman who grew up in Sauk Centre and whose mother had gone to school with HSL. Now living down south, she had come back to town to bury her mother, and she wanted to touch her heritage as part of that task. Where our young guide was thin, our fellow tourist was able to fill in both factual and anecdotal details.

Dad’s Office

This was the last day (Saturday) of Sinclair Lewis Week, a festival that included a major writers’ conference. This night was to be rollicking fun, with a parade, cook out, fireworks, et al. But just as we were finishing our tour, loud sirens – announcing the portent of dangerous weather – were sounding. We dashed back to the truck and pointed it out of town. As we went down Sinclair Lewis Avenue and Main Street, crowds gathered and were looking and pointing ominously north. Having never had this potential experience before, we decided to follow others back onto the highway and race toward St. Cloud. The view to our left was dark as night, with ferocious lightning bolt after bolt emerging from the clouds. But we saw no funnels, and the rain over us was not too bad. We made it back and learned that the sirens had also gone off in St. Cloud. The 10PM news reported that the Sauk Centre finale was cancelled by rain and hail, some as large as tennis balls. We subsequently had several tornadic touchdowns within 20 miles of the campground. The sirens are meant to give you adequate notice to button things up; we were never directed to seek shelter in the campground’s concrete buildings. Whew!!

Stearns County Museum
Our next journey was right downtown. The Stearns History Museum is situated on 110 acres of parkland. A research center as well as a museum, it is Greater Minnesota’s only nationally accredited museum. There are two floors of exhibits that blend together, some of them extending from one level to the other. For example, there is a nature exhibit, complete with waterfall that showcases much of the flora and fauna indigenous to the locale. There is also another diorama showing the major steps in granite mining, including life sized mannequins. There is a children’s wing that features numerous themed collections of artifacts, with a challenge to the audience to select specific items from each tableau.

What loomed as the primary exhibit, however, is the story of Sam Pandolfo and the Pan Automobile Company. Sam founded the auto company in St. Cloud by raising over $9 million from shareholders. But the feds decided that he was an early Bernie Madoff and had defrauded investors. He was sent to Leavenworth where he served 2 ½ years. The company produced approximately 750 cars before it finally went under in 1925. When he returned to St. Cloud, he was greeted warmly. And it wasn’t long before the promotional genius and started another business – Pan Grease-Free Donuts!

Other members of Stearns County notoriety were also featured: architect Granville Smith (Ziegfield Theater, Baton Rouge’s old state house); actor Gig Young; silent film star June Marlowe; Broadway producer Robert Breen; penal expert Fanny French Morse, who revolutionized the treatment of troubled young women; and missionary Fr. Francis Pierz, credited with establishing a working society combining western Europeans and Native Americans in this new wilderness country. Oh, and an author named Harry Lewis.

Little Falls (Weyerhaeuser Museum)
Little Falls, about 45 miles north of St. Cloud, is famous as the boyhood home of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. (He’ll be referred to as “Charles” while his father will be referred to as “C.A.” throughout.) We decided the drive was worth it to see the Lindbergh home and farm, especially because there was also a Charles Weyerhaeuser Museum nearby. So we spent an hour trekking up there, only to discover that the Lindbergh House was only open Thursday through Sunday. And it was Wednesday. So we consoled ourselves with the Weyerhaeuser Museum and a couple of other adventures.

The Lindbergh Farm (a dairy farm) was originally 110 acres, bordering the Mississippi. The entire estate was donated to preservation in 1931, and the non-waterfront acreage is now the Charles A Lindbergh State Park. The park includes the typical opportunities – fishing, hiking, camping and boating with access to the River. But it has several additional features as well. The entire area was extensively refurbished in the 1930s by the WPA. There are several WPA structures in the park and, in addition, the Lindbergh Farm’s caretaker’ house is just inside the entrance. So it gave us a down payment on the heritage of the eponymous Congressman and best known aviator. More on the Lindberghs below.

The Dakotah and Ojibwe dealt with French and English traders in the area as far back as the 17th century. Serious exploration and mapping occurred between 1805 and 1836, and Father Francis Xavier Pierz, mentioned in the Stearns County segment, was instrumental in developing multiple European settlements after 1850. Fort Reilly was established there, and more than one dam and sawmill was built – and washed out – along the river. One effort held: Pine Tree Lumber Company in Little Falls, a joint acquisition by Frederic Weyerhaeuser and three partners in 1890 and co-managed by the Charles Weyerhaeuser.

The Weyerhaeuser Museum was not quite what we expected – not so much about that family but rather the result of money they gave to Morrison County to build it. The architecture of the building itself was precisely designed and constructed in the modified Greek Revival style that permeated the area in the mid nineteenth century. Half of the building displays the history of the county in story and artifact. The other half is an extensive research archive.

The most celebrated person in Little Falls’ early history is Nathan Morrison. Arriving in 1854, he served in 2o different public offices during his lifetime. One of his most important claim to fame was his ability to peacefully co-exist with the Native Americans. The picture above, right is a bandolier bag given to Richardson by She-bosh king, chief of the MilleLacs as a token of esteem. Beaded bags like this were normally used only in tribal ceremonies.

Our visit shortened, we took time on the way back to stop in town and visit the falls. The pictures below don’t do it justice. I did make a film strip or two, but even those pale in comparison to being there. The power of water is indescribable, except, perhaps, by the destruction it causes.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
We made only one trip to the Twins, and it was specifically to see the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. An extension of the Walker Art Center, it is a many-acre park, part of which is divided maze-like into viewing gardens. Entrance from the Center plaza is down a set of stairs framed by a pair of tapering columns, one right side up and the other upside down. To the left of the maze is a conservatory housing Standing Glass Fish, measuring 22 feet tall and surrounded by flora. Straight ahead is the open garden, with its overwhelming Spoonbridge and Cherry.

Space is too small to picture as many creations as we’d like, but here are a few: Moore’s Reclining Mother and Child, a Calder mobile, Jacques Lipchitz’s Prometheus Strangling The Vulture II and Browner Hatcher’s dome named Prophesy of the Ancients. My favorite, however, was Deborah Butterfield’s Woodrow. She built small horses out of sticks as a child, and this grown-up version (one of many) was built and then converted into bronze.

Serena (our GPS; it’s the name of her voice) misdirected us a little, and we wound up parking across the highway from the museum. Fortunately there was an elaborate pedestrian bridge, itself a work of art, crossing the eight lane of traffic. It ran to the Garden from Loring Park, which featured a landscaped dog run, one of three maintained by the non-profit Dog Grounds, Inc. Near the Park was the Basilica of Saint Mary. Having walked past and prayed in St. Pat’s in NYC on my way to work for many years, I felt that the Basilica was no less impressive.

The Lindbergh Home
Our final weekend in Minnesota included a trip back up to Little Falls to Lucky Lindy’s house to learn the story behind the story. There are two venues, an interpretive center and the home itself. The interpretive center shows an excellent documentary, housed large models of his planes, thoroughly covered his wartime history, told numerous stories of his exploits and housed the VW he used to travel through Europe for four years. The Spirit of St. Louis adventure gets the most space, however. Two of the pictures below dramatize the in which he and his five sandwiches spent 33 hours. One is a life size replica of the fuselage. The adjacent rug is woven to display a full size wing coming off it.

C.A. and Evangeline gave birth to Charles in Detroit in 1905. C.A. was an attorney and a U.S. congressman for 4 terms. Evangeline was a teacher with a Masters in Chemistry; her father, Charles Land, invented porcelain dentures and other items, and Charles was fascinated by him. C.A., who had come to Little Falls in 1885 shortly after graduation from law school, lost his first wife tragically at 31. Evangeline came to town in 1899 to teach.

They were married two years later, and C.A. promised to build her the house of her dreams in Little Falls, either downtown our along the Mississippi. She opted for the later, and a 2 ½ story was completed in 1901. Four years later, it burned to the ground. Charles, then age 3, clearly remembered the fire and being rescued by his grandmother. All of the furniture on the first floor of the first house – including the piano – was saved during the twenty minutes the fire took to make it down from the top floor.

A smaller replacement house was completed on the old foundation in 1907, the same year that C.A. and Evangeline became estranged for life, though they never divorced. There clearly was affection, but they had severe attitude differences. C.A. lived in town while Evangeline stayed on the river. C.A. was a frequent visitor and played a continuing role in his son’s life. The new house had running water and hot water, enhanced by Charles inventive spirit as he got older. And the house eventually became summer quarters.

Charles’s brilliance never came from a classroom. He was excused from his last year of high school as a hardship case needed at home, though most believe it was because he never paid any attention. Yet he got his diploma in 1918. Later, he started at the University of Wisconsin but he left in his sophomore year to fly. His early years were barnstorming and air mail delivery; then he joined the Army Air Corps in 1924 and graduated as top pilot in his class.

His life circa 1927 and beyond is well documented and widely known, so I’ll not spend time on it. But here are a few interesting tidbits.

  • At age 14, he drove his mother and aunt to California in the family’s new Saxon Six. Gravity fed, like all autos of its time, he actually had to drive up over the Rockies backward to keep feeding fuel to the engine.

    The Saxon Six

  • He met Anne Morrow in Mexico during his worldwide tour after Paris. She was the daughter of Dwight Morrow, the U.S. Ambassador to that country and later a New Jersey senator.
  • His dedication to his Earth started very early. He hated being indoors. In Little Falls, his bedroom, at any time of the year, was a screened porch.
  • The family name is derived from the linden tree. A linden tree adjacent to the house has a total of twelve trunks.

 

 

 

  • After Paris, treasure and souvenir seekers devastated the Little Falls home and property. When the CCC was assigned to its restoration, Charles took a major interest in the project. Among other things, he liberated all of his mother’s furnishings from storage in Detroit and donated them to the reconstruction. His many stories and recollections fueled the completeness of their efforts.
  • The Saxon Six was restored by a nearby school. When he saw it, Charles was skeptical that his car could have been done over that beautifully. Looking under it, his suspicions were allayed by a modification he had made to the car many years earlier.
  • His inventiveness reached far beyond airplanes. Impelled by his sister-in-law’s fatal heart disease, he worked with Nobel laureate Dr. Alexis Carrel to create the perfusion pump, a device to keep organs or tissue alive and free of infection while outside the body — a key to organ transplants. Among other things, he also invented an automatic milking machine for the family farm and marketed it to others.
  • His opposition to WW II was rooted not only in his own beliefs of an impossible win but those of his father, who similarly tried to keep the U.S. out of WW I. Pacifist Anne was also influential. Denied his commission, Charles carried out over 50 bombing runs after Japan declared war on the U.S. as a civilian, and he is credited with a dogfight kill.

So we say Hej då, Auf Wiedersehen, Au Revoir to Minnesota . . . heh? We didn’t get to Hibbing to salute Bob Dylan. We didn’t get to Duluth, to get more views of Gitchigoomee (Lake Superior). And we never found Hiawatha, nor his mom Nokomis, nor his lover Minnehaha. But we’ve pledged to get back to the UP sometime, and Minnesota is an ideal gateway.

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