A Family Tradition Returns

The beginning of the Pramann Family in the United States. Johanna is in the center row on the left. Her husband Johan must no longer have been living at this time. Her son, Henry and his bride Margaret, are in the center row, right. Their multiple children make up the rest of the photo. My grandfather is the dapper dark-haired boy in the back row, second in from the left. Otherwise, it’s kind of a rough-looking bunch! I like that they included their bird in the photo (see cage in background).

Every two years during the second Sunday in June, members related to my father’s side of the family gather south of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and celebrate our relatedness. The Pramann Family Picnic began in central Minnesota in 1957, one hundred years after the original family farmstead was founded. (1857, which was one year before Minnesota gained statehood. The picnic was begun on the centennial on purpose.)

The “founding couple” (my great-great-grandparents Johan and Johanna Pramann) immigrated from Othfresen Germany. It’s speculated that they left, even though Johan’s family were the major landholders in the area, because Johan would not inherit the land because he was not the oldest son. Apparently, there was a tradition that the oldest son inherited the land and the younger sons were given money to build a house in town. Maybe that wasn’t good enough for Johan, so he came to the United States to seek his own land, with his wife and a foster daughter (Augusta, age six) in tow.

My grandfather, John Pramann

They spent seven weeks on the ocean and finally arrived in New Orleans, taking a boat up the Mississippi River. They disembarked in St. Paul, loaded their meager belongings on an ox cart, and walked beside the cart (the cart was small and there was no room to sit!) 77 miles to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where they stayed with some friends. That must have been a long trip.

Eventually, they settled in Fair Haven and had one son named Henry, who was my great-grandfather. Johan and Johanna were fairly successful farmers in spite of bad times, such as blizzards, fires, and grasshopper plagues.

Henry met his wife Margaret after she immigrated from Switzerland. They had seven boys and three girls. My grandfather John was their second son and was born in the family’s log cabin.

At our family reunion, those gathered usually identify themselves by which of the second-generation American children of Henry and Margaret they are related to. All I need to say is that I’m “John’s granddaughter” and the relative I’m speaking with can visualize where I fit in the family tree.

According to a biography that my Aunt Marguerite wrote, John was a good student. He went to the country school nearby and “remained in the top eighth grade for three years, he said, ‘until I learned all the teacher could teach me.’” With his older brother set to inherit the land, he realized the farm did not hold much of a future, so he went into town to get business training. That’s why my family aren’t farmers.

John moved to Minneapolis and worked for a hardware wholesale company (Janney, Semple, Hill and Co.) for two years and attended an evangelical church there (as did his two sisters) where he met his future bride Louise, “a blue-eyed young woman whose family attended the church and who was employed as secretary to the president of Metropolitan National Bank.”

My grandmother, Louise (Bonsack) Pramann

They moved to St. Cloud, which is about fifteen miles north of Fair Haven, where my grandfather eventually worked as a banker and insurance agent. He built their house with his own hands, but alas, it is not standing anymore. The neighborhood was demolished for a parking lot. Somewhere along the line, they switched religions from evangelical to Methodist, although I guess they are closely related.

One thing perhaps a bit unusual about this side of the family is that they had their own cemetery and church. In 1873, the Pramanns donated some farmland to the Evangelical Association so they could build the church and cemetery. A church was built in 1880 and was known as Gethsemane. The church was officially incorporated in 1887. Services were held there regularly every three or four weeks in the afternoon until 1920. The church is no longer standing. Henry and Margaret are buried in the cemetery, as are Johan and Johanna.

The Pramann Family Picnic was delayed by the pandemic. We hadn’t gathered since 2018, so I was keen to continue the tradition when it returned this year. About one hundred of us gathered in the city park picnic shelter in Fairhaven, Minnesota, last weekend. Everyone brought a dish to share and their own silverware and plates. I brought potato salad made from my mother’s recipe (with black olives, mustard, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar and dill). She often used to make it for these occasions. Families tend to sit together, but also mill around and talk to other relatives they haven’t seen in a while. Most live locally or elsewhere in Minnesota, but sometimes relatives from out-of-state attend. (Pramanns live in New York, Louisiana, and the West Coast.)

After dessert (ice cream is a family tradition and must be served!), a family meeting ensues, conducted according to Robert’s Rule of Order, where minutes from the previous family meeting are read and approved. There’s a treasurer’s report, new family picnic organizers are elected, and various family members are recognized for their youth or age. In the past, people have verbally noted new deaths and births, but this time, everyone was encouraged to write those down on a special form so the family tree could be updated later.

The picnics originally were held at the homestead farm. Then they moved to the city park in Annandale, Minnesota, and then to Fair Haven. In the past, the group sung hymns and pledged allegiance to the flag, but now we just eat, talk and meet.

The Pramann homestead farm outside of Fair Haven, MN, as it looks today.

The weather can be unsettled in this part of the country in June. As a child, I remember my family packing up and leaving one picnic early when the sky turned a sickly green from an oncoming tornado. For last week’s picnic, Russ and I drove through an unexpected rainstorm on the way.

I had never seen the cemetery and church site, or the original homestead before (that I can remember), so, when the chance came to visit them during the picnic, I was eager. A cousin led us on the car ride north of town and down a gravel road to the sites.

The trees were the first thing I noticed about the small cemetery. Several pines tower over it, one with graceful twisting limbs. These trees feed on the bones of my ancestors.

Headstones bearing the name Pramann and other surnames from Gethsemane churchgoers dot the ground. Some markers are written in German. Some are so old the writing had eroded away. Some are so modern their occupants haven’t died yet. Farmland surrounds the cemetery and the Pramann homestead is visible a short way down the road.

Several other relatives arrived at the cemetery after us and regaled us with old family stories. One, that I recall hearing before, involved “how Johanna fed the Indians.” The story was written by my grandfather John (in “Some Facts on the Genealogy of the American Branch of the Pramann Family” – Jan. 1964), but basically, Johanna was home alone one day, cooking. A group of Native Americans – probably Dakota (Sioux) – arrived and asked for something to eat. According to my grandfather’s account, “She placed the large kettle on the floor, where the group sat and ate potatoes and even unbaked dough. After finishing their eating, they left, but a few days later, a whole venison was left on their doorstep.” The couple thought it might have been left in thanks for the food Johanna had provided.

Thankfully, their interactions with the natives were peaceful, or I might not be here to write this blog.

My grandfather John was interested in genealogy and was instrumental is beginning the Pramann Family reunion. My aunt found this prayer in his papers, which he must have recited for one of the reunions. Although dated and patriarchal, I think it sums up the thankfulness that many immigrant families must feel on coming to the United States.

We thank thee, our heavenly father, for the foresight of our forefathers in migrating to this free county where we can worship as we wish. In thy sight we are all equal regardless of nationality, color, creed, or church affiliation.

Lord Jesus, as thou “didst break the bread and bless the loaves by Galilee” bless our food and pour thy heavenly benediction upon us, receive our thanks and keep us all in perfect unity with each other and with thee.

Amen

The Pramann Family Picnic meeting commences in the Fair Haven city park picnic shelter, 2022.

Walking to the Walker (Arts Center)

The walkway toward the “Spoonbridge and Cherry” sculpture in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

My aunt is 101 years “old” and lives in St. Paul. I know, one-hundred-and-one, amazing! She’s my inspiration for aging well. She still resides in her own condo and is fairly self-sufficient. She’s cared for by my cousin.

Sometimes my cousin has other things she needs to do, so friends from the condo building or my relatives in the Twin Cities step in and visit my aunt in her stead.

The other weekend was one of those times for us to help. We needed to be at my aunt’s place early in the morning, so Russ and I meandered down from Duluth the night before. To make the trip more fun, we booked a stay in a bed and breakfast in an historic mansion near the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis. We’d never been to the center or the sculpture garden near it, so this trip was going to fulfill those cultural deficits as well as getting in an Aunt Marguerite visit.

We booked a room in the carriage house of 300 Clifton, also known as the Eugene J. Carpenter Mansion. Carpenter was a lumber baron who totally overhauled the Queen Anne-style home, complete with turrets and gables, into a more rectangular Georgian-style mansion after purchasing it about a hundred years ago.

300 Clifton. The carriage house where we stayed is on the right. Image courtesy of 300 Clifton.

As we checked into the big house, we were greeted by the two resident great danes, Madonna and her grandson Clifton. I thought Madonna was big, but Clifton was even taller – his head came to about the middle of my chest and I’m 5-6. After the requisite petting and ear rubbing (I found the spot on Clifton that made him groan) the two mellow dogs returned to their spots by the hearth in the library.

Sorry, I have no pictures of the dogs. I was too busy petting them.

The Library. Imagine one great dane on either side of the fireplace. Image courtesy of 300 Clifton.

We were oriented by a knowledgeable young man who’s been working at the mansion for eight years. He told us the Carpenters were instrumental in creating the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). At that point, we decided not to tell him about our desire to see the Walker Arts Center (we’d already seen the MIA). As it turns out, that might have been a good call. Later, reading an information sheet in our room, we found out that the Walker was established by someone who got disillusioned with the MIA project, a competitor of the Carpenters. I expect a rivalry must still exist between the two institutions to this day.

The nice young man (it’s so typical that we know the dogs’ names but not the human’s name!) took us back outside, past the large courtyard with a fountain and gardens, and showed us our room in the carriage house, explaining this was where all the men on the household staff slept because the Carpenters had a daughter they didn’t want sullied by male influences.

The ground level of the carriage house contains an antique taxi, a pool table, big-screen television, and arcade games. The building originally housed horses but then was renovated for cars. The floor even sports the original turntable used to point cars in the right direction for storage. Sleeping rooms are on the upper floor.

The antique pedestal sink in our room.

Our room was small, but totally adequate – full of nooks and crannies that you just don’t get in a modern hotel room, not to mention the Tiffany-style dragonfly lamp. Our room didn’t have the sound proofing you’d find in a modern building, but that is really the only criticism we have.

Once unpacked, we dropped back into the main house to explore its three floors. The interior is arts and craft style. It contains little of the original furnishings because it was made into a boarding house and offices in the past. However, there is a Georgian Room in the MIA that holds original furniture from the home and pieces collected by Carpenter during his travels.

The library (with its hearth and great danes) features original sconces that were moved from elsewhere in the house. The dining room sports an impressive painted ceiling. The music room, done in muted greens, feels like a place too nice for the likes of us to hang out.

The Music Room at 300 Clifton. Image courtesy of 300 Clifton.

The main staircase reminds me of the one in Duluth’s Glensheen Mansion, but it didn’t have the impressive window art found in Glensheen. The top floor features modern skylights and plants everywhere, including historic images and interpretive text.

Explorations over, we returned to our cozy room and slept while the wind whipped through the city, rattling the windowpanes.

The next morning, we ate our continental breakfast in the impressive dining room. If a person wants to spend $99 more, you can get a four-course breakfast, but we didn’t need that since we were going out for lunch with my aunt and cousin later that day.

We made it to my aunt’s and had a great visit. She brought out some of her old scrapbooks and we took trips down memory lane, which included some highly unflattering class photos of me in junior high, which made Russ laugh.

After lunch at the Tavern Grill in Arden Hills (delish!), we drove back in the direction of our bed and breakfast, which was three blocks away from the Walker Art Center. We could have parked at the B&B and walked to the art center, but a cold wind was still blowing, so we wimped out and parked at the center.

I really wanted to “walk to the Walker” because I like the sound of it, but it was not to be. Sorry for misleading everyone with the title of this post. I know, false advertising! (I’m just seeing if you are paying attention.) But, if you ever stay at 300 Clifton, be aware of this option.

Right now, entrance fees for the Walker are half-priced because many of their displays are closed for renovation, but there was plenty still there to keep us occupied for an hour-and-a-half. I especially enjoyed seeing an Edward Hopper painting (Office at Night) and an Andy Warhol (Sixteen Jackies). Some of the other art just made me scratch my head.

The bright sun made our quick walk in the sculpture garden across the street bearable despite the wind. We had watched television news stories with interest when the cherry from the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture had been separated from its spoon and hauled to New York for cleaning earlier this year. The cherry is now back.

Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture.

The fifty-foot sculpture is synonymous with the identity of Minneapolis. It was created in 1988 by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen a husband and wife team from Sweden and the Netherlands. It was inspired by a novelty item that Oldenburg collected, which featured a spoon resting on an “island” of plastic chocolate. The sign at the site says, “From this, the artists envisioned a gigantic utensil as a fanciful bridge over a pond. In considering Minnesota as a site, they compared the spoon’s raised bowl to a prow of a Viking ship or a duck bobbing in a lake. Van Bruggen added the cherry, a personal symbol recalling happy moments in a childhood clouded by World War II.”

The cherry was the first sculpture added to the garden, but there are many others, including a bright blue rooster, which also caught our attention. The rooster is called Hahn/Cock, created by Katharina Fritsch from Germany and it towers twenty-five feet over the garden.

Its sign says, “The rooster can be a symbol of pride, power and courage, or posturing and macho prowess. Fritsch has admitted that she enjoys ‘games with language,’ and the sculpture’s tongue-in-cheek title knowingly plays on its double meaning. Like Spoonbridge and Cherry, Hahn/Cock presents an unexpected take on the idea of a traditional public monument. Together, these two landmarks show how ordinary objects can become iconic and deeply symbolic.”

The Hahn/Cock sculpture.

If you’re ever in Minneapolis, the sculpture garden is a must-see! Access to it is free and open to the public. You don’t need to walk to the Walker to see it.

Murals Tied Together by Water

This is a post I wrote for work, but I thought you might enjoy it, too. During the latest St. Louis River Summit, I had the chance to meander over to the library in Superior, Wisconsin, for field trip . . . .

Mural #2 in the Superior Public Library by Carl Gawboy. It shows the area where the Ojibwe people settled on Wisconsin and Minnesota points on Lake Superior and how the points were separated by a giant otter. Image taken with permission by Marie Zhuikov, Wisconsin Sea Grant.

What’s in a library that could relate to a river summit? A series of 35 murals line the Superior Public Library walls, showing the history of the area. Many feature the St. Louis River, Duluth-Superior Harbor and Lake Superior.

The murals were painted over 10 years by artist Carl Gawboy, an Elder enrolled in the Bois Fort Band of Chippewa. The murals begin with the Ojibwe creation story and continue through the 20th century, reflecting how people have interacted with the landscape through time.

Local historian and retired librarian Teddie Meronek led the tour. “I like to say I was here at the birth of the murals, but that started long before any paint went on canvas,” Meronek said. She described how Paul Gaboriault, the library director who commissioned the murals, was a former co-worker of Gawboy’s. Gawboy was born in Cloquet, Minnesota, and grew up on a family farm outside of Ely. He eventually taught at Ely High School, which is where he met Gaboriault. The friends both ended up back in the Twin Ports.

To research the murals, Meronek studied Gaboriault’s and Gawboy’s correspondence. She said the library used to be a Super One grocery store. “If you really look at this building it was just a big warehouse. It wasn’t built for a library. Dr. Gaboriault knew, in his way, that it needed something, and the first thing he thought of were murals.”

The second mural in the series shows the story of how the Superior Harbor opening was created through Wisconsin Point. A giant otter digs as a Native man approaches.

“The great otter represents the Ojibwe religion,” Meronek said. “He is breaking an entryway from Lake Superior into the harbor. The human figure is Nanabozho. He is bringing arts and fire to the land. That was Carl’s interpretation of the legend. The otter is pictured as being so large because it’s representing power.”

According to Gawboy, Lake Superior ties all the murals together, Meronek said. “You can’t always see it in every mural but it’s there. It influences what is going on, which is very true. I’ve lived three blocks from the bay of Lake Superior every day of my life and I can tell you there’s not a day that goes by that the lake doesn’t influence you in some way.”

The location of the horizon line also links the paintings. Meronek said it’s in the same place in each image. As she walked past the murals, she described each one, sharing her impressive knowledge of local history along with personal observations. Other murals include notable buildings and personages, as well as historic events.

Meronek ended the tour on a somber note at a mural of the Edmund Fitzgerald. She often listens to Gordon Lightfoot’s song about the ill-fated ship. “There’s one line in it that always makes me cry: ‘Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours.’ Always beware of Lake Superior, right? I can’t even put my foot in it, it’s too cold! What a beautiful thing though, isn’t it? It’s the greatest of the Great Lakes, right? An inland ocean.”

If you’re ever in Superior, stop in the library and take a look. Of course, if you’re not a Superior resident, you can’t check out a book, but you can check out the murals, so to speak. Not planning a visit soon? You can also see the murals online.

Whisky, Zero, Romeo . . .

My father and his ham radio.

In my childhood home, my father would sit in front of his ham radio microphone, sending out his call sign to the world. His call letters were W0RXL, which in amateur-radio-speak equate to Whisky, Zero, Romeo, Xray, Lima. (I use the version of “whisky” without the e to honor my Scottish heritage.)

Those of you who have been following my blog for years may remember that my father’s ham radio hobby meant so much to him, we even buried his cremains inside one piece of his radio equipment.

When his call sign made it into some other ham radio operator’s ears in some far-flung place, they would tell each other a bit about themselves and where they lived. My ears would prick up whenever I heard him mention that he had a daughter named Marie. Sometimes he would tell jokes.

I’m not sure how this worked, but apparently, they would even exchange addresses and send each other postcards with their call signs on them. Since my father was also a stamp collector, this transaction did double duty, serving that hobby as well as documenting his contacts across the world.

I swear, he talked more to these strangers than he did to his friends. By eavesdropping on his radio conversations, I learned more about him than I did from our dinner table conversations, which were mainly led by my mother.

Some ham radio operators he contacted regularly. Some he became friends with. I remember we even met a few of them during our road trips across America and Canada when I was young.

The other day, it struck me how much blogging is like amateur radio. We blog authors post our words for anyone in the world to read much like ham radio operators send out their call signs. I’m always amazed how many people from other countries access “Marie’s Meanderings.”

Several bloggers I consider friends and would love to meet with them if I was ever in their necks of the world.

Word Press offers a way to look at what countries have accessed blogs over different time periods. Just for fun, I looked at the stats for countries since I began my blog. Readers from everywhere but a few places in central Africa and islands north of Norway, plus Tajikistan have clicked on my blog at least once. Maybe those places are without internet access.

Not surprisingly, English-speaking countries have the most hits (the U.S., the U.K., Canada, India, and Australia). The country with a foreign language that has the most hits is Singapore, but even so, I guess about half of its citizens speak English at home.

I suppose the comments people leave on my blog (which I appreciate, by the way!) are similar to the postcards my father used to receive. And I suppose if my sons read my blog, they would learn things about introverted me they didn’t know before. I honestly don’t know if they read it. I’m afraid to ask. If they said no, I’d have a hard time with that. Then again, they each have busy lives. Besides, I’m just their mom! What interesting things could I possibly have to say? 😊

Recently, I learned of a new hobby that’s gaining in popularity. It’s called Postcrossing. One of my coworkers participates in it. It’s a project that allows people to send and receive postcards from random people across the world. It reminds me of my father’s hobby, and I bet he would have loved this service.

Through thinking about the similarities in amateur radio and blogging, I’ve come to realize I might be more like my father than I ever suspected. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

A Visit to the Judy Garland Museum

Judy Garland. Image courtesy of the Judy Garland Museum

When I was a child, I used to run around the neighborhood on certain summer evenings, letting my friends know that “The Wizard of Oz” movie was going to be on television that night. I’d hear a promo for the show during the network news or something, and out the door I’d go. I enjoyed the movie so much, I wanted to make sure my friends didn’t miss it.

Our television was black and white until I was almost a teenager, when we got a color set. Imagine my surprise when I watched the Wizard movie and saw everything change to color once Dorothy reached the land of Oz! Nobody had ever told me that happened until I experienced it myself.

Although the Judy Garland Museum opened in 1975, I didn’t know it existed until about a decade ago. I made a mental note to visit one day, and that one day came a few weeks ago when Russ and I meandered north. The museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, is composed of a 13,000-square-feet building that’s attached to Judy Garland’s childhood home. Her house has been moved twice, so although the building is original, its location is not. It currently has a scenic view of an Applebee’s Grill and a Home Depot store.

Judy Garland’s Grand Rapids Home

Visitors enter the museum building first to pay and look at the exhibits, and then can access Judy’s home from a covered ramp inside.

We enjoyed seeing the Lincoln Carriage – the carriage that Dorothy and her friends take into the Emerald City. Of course, there’s also the ruby slippers. You may have heard that the slippers, one of at least four pairs, were stolen from the museum in 2005 and then found recently by the FBI. Although they were recovered, they haven’t been returned to the museum and the perpetrators have not been brought to justice.

There are ruby slippers on display at the museum, but they are obvious replicas, not the originals. (Although, the podium is the original podium the stolen slippers rested upon, according to a somewhat amusing sign.)

The infamous ruby slippers.

One thing I found strange was that the COVID arrows in the museum direct visitors on a path through Judy’s life backwards. You first see all the memorabilia from her death and when she was famous, and the displays end with her beginnings in Grand Rapids. I’m not sure if that route was due to COVID requirements or if that’s the way the displays were planned.

The chance to look inside Judy’s home was fascinating. The structure was originally built in 1892 by a steamboat captain and his wife. Judy’s parents Frank and Ethel Gumm purchased it was their first family home in 1919. They moved out in 1926 to California. The house was first transplanted in 1938 to make way for a hotel, which was never built. It was brought to its current site in 1994.

While touring the house, visitors are treated to piped-in Judy Garland music. I found that was what I was missing in the museum. Judy’s voice was her claim to fame and it felt weird up to that point not to hear it.

“Judy’s crib” in her parents’ bedroom.

Some pieces of the house are original and some contain carefully curated replicas. One thing you might not know is that Judy didn’t have her own bedroom. She slept in a crib in her parents’ room and her two older sisters shared the bedroom next door. Although the bedrooms were much smaller than we’re used to today, the lower level of the house seemed spacious and similar to present-day homes.

On our way out of the museum, we passed the Children’s Discovery Center, where a raucous birthday party was in the works. There’s also a gift shop that I’m sure will meet all your Judy Garland memorabilia needs.

I appreciated the humor in this particular museum display.

I left the museum feeling a bit weirded out and sad for Judy. Imagine having your personal items all out for display to the public! You also get the feeling that she was all too used to having her talent used to make other people money. But I was glad I visited, and feel the museum is a good tribute to this outstanding Minnesota girl.

Lullabye Lumber Camp, a Bedtime Story

Once upon a time on Outer Island in Lake Superior, a lumber company cut much of the remaining old growth hemlocks and other trees to make baby furniture. The lumberjacks lived in a camp near sandstone ledges on the shore. They used a railroad built by previous loggers through the middle of the island to haul the heavy logs to a dock for shipping to shore. Eventually, the crew built an air strip so they could go home on weekends.

The company that used the wood was Lullabye Furniture of Steven’s Point, Wisconsin. By the 1960s, logging on the island cost too much, so the men left their camp. They also left behind the buildings, old trucks, a stove, a water tank.

Slowly, the forest took its revenge. Snow knocked down the buildings, the trucks rusted, animals carried away seat cushion stuffing for their nests. The forest regrew, swallowing the lumber camp and reclaiming the land as its own.

The End

The Greyhound Bus Museum: Quirky Americana

A display in the lobby of the Greyhound Bus Museum.

A former landlady of mine was the first to inform me that the Greyhound Busline had its start in northern Minnesota – Hibbing, to be exact. One of her relatives had a hand in beginning it. Our conversation was years ago. I’m not sure if the Greyhound Bus Museum had been built yet or even why the topic came up, but one thing was sure: she was proud of that heritage.

During one of our recent quests to bike different sections of the Mesabi Trail, Russ and I had the opportunity to visit the bus museum – it was located in the same parking lot as the trailhead for the section that runs between Hibbing and Chisholm.

The first thing we noticed was the air conditioning. After biking seventeen miles in eighty-five-degree heat, it was a godsend. The clerk noticed our biking gear and immediately informed us where we could refill our water bottles (unlimited!) at the drinking fountain.

Festooned with a red, white and blue beaded “tie” necklace in celebration of the fourth of July, the attendant explained how we could tour the museum and access the pushbutton audio and video presentations in the exhibits. Although we were the only visitors at the time, others must have come before us because the attendant bragged that her tie was the “talk of the bike trail” and that other cyclists had encouraged trail acquaintances to at least stop into the museum to see her festive tie. A shiver of patriotic privilege passed through us, or was that the air conditioning?

I would have been happy just spending time in the lobby, as it housed what ended up as my favorite artifact: a black velvet painting of a Greyhound Bus. How classy can you get? It also featured a recreated bus ticket office, complete with a mannequin attendant.

My favorite artifact.

After paying a modest $5 per person, the tour began with explanations of the people and machines that comprised the first bus line, which was developed for iron ore miners who lived a couple of miles away from their work in the small town of Alice, Minnesota (which no longer exists – it was incorporated into Hibbing later). From these humble beginnings in 1914, Greyhound became an international business that’s still running today, although not in northern Minnesota anymore.

While perusing the handmade exhibit panels, it soon became evident that grammar was not the museum founder’s strong suit. Some visitors had taken it upon themselves to correct mistakes on the signs in pen, which you don’t see every day.

A fake bus with seating provided a comfortable place to watch an extended video about the origins of the busline. Since we were tired from our ride, we sat through most of it. The video seemed to have been produced in the 1980s, because the timeline stopped after that point. It was fun to watch as an example of how videos used to be made, back in the day, but also for the history.

From there, we progressed to the attached bus garage, which houses different eras of busses. My favorite was an art deco bus from the 1950s. Its red and yellow streamlined shape was so appealing. A dozen creepy (and sometimes gender-bending) mannequins made up a diorama of how Greyhound aided the war effort in WWII.

The World War II mannequins.

If you look behind the bus that is the focus of the diorama, you’ll see the purgatory where museum managers must store misbehaving mannequins. A sailor mannequin was separated from his hands, and others were in pieces between the bus and the wall.

Another creepy thing is that the museum is located next to a graveyard. The garage area is supposedly haunted, with reports of bus windows and doors opening and closing by themselves, as well as sightings of apparitions, including a young girl. Did she get left on a bus? Or is she visiting from the cemetery, looking for an eternal ride? Although we did not experience any ghostly activity, I sure did get strange vibes from those mannequins!

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip through the museum. It’s a local labor of love that must have taken a lot of time and effort to create. If you’re ever near Hibbing, it’s a must-see.

Chateau de Mores, Medora

During our recent trip to North Dakota, Russ and I had the chance to tour the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site, the summer home of the French founders of Medora. The 26-room structure was built by Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores, in 1883, so his wife and family could live there while he pursued building a meat-packing plant, among other ventures.

The Chateau de Mores

The home sits nestled into a hillside overlooking the town, which the Marquis named after his wife. He did not name his home “the chateau.” That title was conferred by the locals, since it was quite grand compared to homes lived in by most people of that time.

The Marquis and his wife, ready for a hunting expedition. Note that she’s riding sidesaddle. Image courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The couple adapted well to the rough life of North Dakota, compared to their winter home in Cannes, France. The Marquis was industrious and completed many building projects that still stand today in the community. Medora loved hunting and was apparently a crack shot, outperforming her husband and embarking on many hunting trips on her own when he was away for business.

The Hunting Room in the chateau.

Their dreams of a financial windfall were short-lived. The meat plant failed in 1886, plus issues with local hunters, who didn’t like fences the Marquis erected for his cattle, caused conflict, death, and charges against the Marquis. They didn’t abandon the town, however, and continued to support endeavors there and visit periodically.

If you’re ever in Medora, the site is worth a visit to learn more.

Letting go of the Past

I bet you’re expecting me to write something deep about how to recover from past hurts and abuses. No such luck. I’m writing about getting rid of an antique that I used to be trapped inside as a child: the elevatorized Baby Butler.

Yes, the marketers at Guild Industries really used the word “elevatorized” to describe it. Just what is this curious device, which was manufactured out of oak in the late 1950s and 60s? It’s a combination highchair, bed, and play table for young children.

I’m not quite sure why it’s considered elevatorized – perhaps because the seat is adjustable. Elevators had been common for decades by then. I guess it was just a 1950s marketing buzzword.

When we were growing up, my mother strapped my brothers and I into it for meals. The Baby Butler also came with a blackboard cover for use when the seat was removed – thus, the play table part.

My butler is missing the metal seat. I think I threw it away because I didn’t realize it went with the rest.

I associate the device with conflicting emotions: the comfort of food, and the frustration of feeling trapped. I feel a twinge of sentimentality toward it, but that’s about it — the kind you’d feel toward a jack-in-the-box you played with as a kid. The music was nice, but the “jack” jumping out of it was unpleasant.

I inherited the butler when we moved my parents into an assisted living facility. I’ve kept it about a half-dozen years, thinking I could sell it as an antique. A lot of them are for sale on E-Bay. But when I discovered mine no longer had the seat, and that the green blackboard was marred by a black marker, I slowly came to the realization the Baby Butler needed to go.

Before I tossed it, I read through the instruction booklet, which my parents had also saved. I love how marketers used to write:

Dear Mother and Dad: We take pleasure in welcoming you as one more happy family in our ever-growing circle of Baby Butler friends. . . The new and improved Baby Butler supplies the answer to your needs, and it satisfies the most discriminating tastes with its beauty of styling and workmanship.

Sorry, Guild Industries. I’m no longer part of your circle of friends.

Do you still have relics from your childhood that give you mixed feelings?

Revisiting My Horse Mania

An Ojibwe horse makes friends with a girl at Dawson Trail Campground in Quetico Provincial Park, Canada.

When I was a girl, I was horse crazy. My best friend, Jody, lived in my neighborhood and we collected every different breed of plastic toy horse we could get our hands on. (Or that we could convince our parents to buy.)

I had galloping horses, standing horses, rearing horses, trotting horses; Palominos, greys, Morgans, Appaloosas, Paints, you name it.

Jody and I enjoyed many imaginary adventures with our steeds. Enraptured, we watched movies like “The Miracle of the White Stallions,” “Justin Morgan had a Horse,” “The Black Stallion,” and “National Velvet.” I must have read all the Beverly Cleary horse books and Walter Farley books. During winter, we didn’t build snowmen, we made snow horses (which are basically snowmen lying down).

The highlight of my year was summer YWCA camp where I could ride a horse, although at a plodding pace. (Spatz, I miss you!)

It didn’t help that my grandfather raised horses (and mules, donkeys, ponies) and had his own Western store. He had a mule named Hubert (after Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesota politician) and a dapple-grey pony named Daisy that he let me ride on my rare visits. My grandfather trained Palominos for show. The back of his store housed saddles, which were propped on rows of sawhorses. The heavenly aroma of leather filled that back room. I climbed up on the saddles, pretending I was riding.

Jody and I begged our parents for a horse, coming up with outlandish plans about how they could be kept in the garage of our city homes, promising we would take care of them and exercise them every day.

When we were in sixth grade, Jody’s parents caved. She got her own horse, a paint named Friskie. She kept it at a stable just outside of town. I spent many Saturdays there, joining her as she exercised Friskie around the indoor arena. I rode a different horse that needed a workout.

Sometimes, Jody would trailer her horse, once even bringing it to my back yard (see photo below). Her family had a cabin outside of town and I also I recall riding Friskie bareback on the gravel roads around Island Lake.

Having a girlfriend with a horse wasn’t quite as good as having my own horse, but it must have helped assuage my passion somewhat. I’m sure my parents breathed a sigh of relief. My horse love didn’t totally go away, though. At the end of junior high, I attended a horse camp in central Minnesota with another girlfriend. It was the kind of place where you were assigned your own horse for the week and were responsible for its care. We learned how to brush a horse properly, feed it, etc. We were assigned to different groups based on our riding proficiency. I was proud to be in one of the upper levels. The week culminated with a trail ride and campfire, where we had the thrill of galloping the horses.

These memories resurfaced because a magazine story I wrote (and photographed) about horses was published recently. Not just any ol’ horse, however. Quietly, over the centuries, the Ojibwe people developed their own breed, now known as the Lac La Croix Horse (or Lac La Croix Indian Pony). Once roaming in the thousands over northern Minnesota and Ontario, Canada, these horses were semi-feral and community owned. Tribal members only brought them into enclosures during the winter to ensure their safety and health.

In the late 1970s, the horses almost went extinct for a number of reasons, including systematic efforts by European settlers to destroy them, and the rise of motorized technology.

In my story for Lake Superior Magazine (“The Horses Nobody Knows”), I describe how the breed was saved from the brink of nonexistence and what they mean to the Ojibwe today. It’s the longest article I’ve ever written. I had to wait a year for it to get published, which was extremely hard, because, you know, horse mania.

Learning about an unknown part of my home state’s past was exciting. I thought I knew every breed. As it turns out, there was a unique breed almost in my back yard, so to speak, that needed help.

I was more than happy to resurrect my horse crazies and put my writing talents to use to help raise awareness about the Ojibwe horses’ plight. If you’d like to donate to Grey Raven Ranch to help these special horses, they have that option on their website.

Anyone got a ranch they want to sell me?