A Visit to the Birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae

DSC04716Last week, I meandered over to Two Rivers, Wisconsin, birthplace to the ice cream sundae. We arrived at the Historic Washington House Museum and Ice Cream Parlor at noon, just in time to have ice cream for lunch!

The Washington House is not the original place where the first sundae was served in 1881, but the original bar is in the building, which also features artifacts from that time, up to more modern times. A more modern parlor in a separate room offers the creamy confection to hungry travelers today.

DSC04718We were met by a little girl who seemed to be related to the parlor manager. As she stood next to the counter, hugging her fluffy teddy bear, she gave us recommendations for the best flavors, extolling the virtues of each.

DSC04720She tried to talk me into strawberry ice cream, but once I saw they had coconut, I begged her permission to have that instead. She graciously granted my request, so my lunch consisted of Coconut Joy ice cream (with coconut flakes, chocolate chunks and almonds), topped with hot fudge sauce.

OMG, so good! Sated, we then toured the rest of the building, which houses different historic collections of clothing, clowns, typewriters, etc. A film crew from Chicago was interviewing a man who was dressed in a soda jerk uniform behind the original bar as we left. I took his photo between takes, and he gave me a wave and a big smile. One of the historical volunteer ladies told me that several television stations had been to the parlor recently to do stories. I guess it’s that time of year.

DSC04724Although some other towns make rival claims for the origin of the sundae, the place in Two Rivers is the only one recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Read here  and here for more info.

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Living in a War Zone

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Image from a different neighborhood zoning war that occurred in Kentucky, Image courtesy of WPSD-TV.

My neighborhood is in a war. We are not fighting with each other. Instead, we’re fighting against a more elusive and dangerous foe: the specter of commercial development.

We all received letters in the mail from the city planning department, which described a proposal to rezone our neighborhood from a Traditional Residential one to a Mixed Use Neighborhood. This could open up our streets to stores and businesses.

When I bought my house nineteen years ago, one of the major selling points was the “quiet neighborhood” where it was located. Even though it was near a shopping center, on the other side a massive city park offered a bit of wilderness, not to mention periodic backyard visits by deer, bear, and moose.

Friends and acquaintances who heard about my new home congratulated me. “It’s the nicest street,” they said. And it proved true. The street was full of long-term residents who cared about their community and their neighbors. We helped each other during snowstorms, floods, and ice storms.

Even 19 years later with new residents, the helpfulness is still there. My neighbors are invested in their homes and in making the neighborhood a good place to live.

But already, commercial development is encroaching. Two banks and an insurance agency take up one end of the street, which fronts a busy main artery and the shopping center. Basically, the planning agency proposes to extend that business district farther down my street and one block over, rezoning areas where people’s homes currently sit. The rezoning would impact 8 or 9 homes. My home is outside the area by the width of one home.

Our property taxes have increased due to a new apartment and business complex built a block away. I would not be surprised if someone wants to build something similar on my street.

Last week, the planning department held a public meeting about the rezoning proposal. There are three spots they want to rezone. Nobody protested the other two, which are located along already busy streets. All of the discussion focused on the plan for my neighborhood.

Residents, especially the ones in the homes inside the rezoning area, were concerned and angry. Some have already been approached by a developer, who also had the cajones to be at the meeting and to speak in favor of the rezoning. (You should have seen the nasty looks he got! My neighbors might be nice, but not when their way of life is threatened.)

At the meeting, one of my neighbors said that it makes no sense to rezone an established neighborhood to a Mixed Use Neighborhood and invite more development right into the middle of it. I agree with her.

My home was built almost 100 years ago by Swan Gustaf Anderson when he was 72 years old. His $450 mortgage was held by the Supreme Lodge of the Sons of Norway. I am the eighth owner of the house. I’ve been investing a lot in upkeep and remodeling of my home, but if rezoning occurs and a retail or apartment development goes in, I would be a fool to continue making that investment in a property that may one day have a view of dumpsters or a parking lot instead of big trees and homes.

This rezoning idea goes against provisions for Mixed Use Neighborhood development in Chapter 50 of the City of Duluth Legislative Code. One of the purposes of establishing a Mixed Use Neighborhood District is to, “Encourage mixed use redevelopment, conversion and reuse of aging and underutilized areas, and increase the efficient use of commercial land in the city.”

Our neighborhood is not “underutilized.” It is home to families who have lived there many years. Our homes may be aging, but they are all in good shape because we have invested in them. I would also argue that it is not an efficient use of commercial land in the city to displace people from an established neighborhood.

It also goes against one of the governing principles in the city’s comprehensive land use planning document. Principle #5 on Strengthening Neighborhoods says:

The present city is an historical amalgam of villages and other independent units of government, contributing to the present condition of Duluth being strongly defined by its neighborhoods. This condition should be reinforced through land use, transportation and public service delivery patterns which strengthen neighborhood identity. New institutional expansions, major public infrastructure or large commercial or industrial uses should not divide historic neighborhood patterns.

Allowing a commercial development right in the middle of our neighborhood is no way to strengthen it.

Fighting a zoning war is not how I wanted to spend my summer, but it’s necessary, I guess. Here we go!

Communing with Vultures on Ely’s Peak

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One of the views from Ely’s Peak.

Last weekend, a friend and I meandered up 200-300 feet in elevation to the top of Ely’s Peak near Gary-New Duluth. I don’t have a more specific elevation to give you because the different trail guides that I consulted are inconsistent on that point. But I can say that for my 50-something-year-old legs, it felt more like 300 feet. Also, some of the guides say it’s a 1.5-mile round-trip hike. Others that it’s 1.8 miles. I vote for the latter.

20180428_181031We chose the trail to see a new place and because the crisp and sunny spring air seemed to demand it. We didn’t go seeking a vision quest like Native Americans are said to have done on the peak, nor to seek our spirit animals, but we just might have had a dose of both of those things along the way, too.

The trailhead is off of Becks Road. On this particular day, the trailhead parking area was easy to find from the many other cars gathered there.

I followed the directions given on this website, although I would argue that the “beginner” level trail classification is not accurate. I would rate it as “moderately hard” because near the peak, I found myself thinking it would have been helpful to be part mountain goat. And a young mountain goat at that.

(I would say that this trail is not for 80-year-old mountain goats, but for all others it should work as long as you are reasonably fit and coordinated.)

At the start, a boardwalk invites you into a spindly birch forest. The boardwalk gives way to a muddy climb up an incline to an old railroad bed for the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific Railway.

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Inside the railroad tunnel.

Follow the railroad bed to the right until you come to a rocky tunnel. The tunnel was built for the railway in 1911. There are trails on the other side of it, but we did not attempt to go through the tunnel because of the sheet of ice layering the way. You may run into some rock climbers, who practice on the craggy basalt in the tunnel.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, from the tunnel, you should follow the main trail, which goes down the hill to the right. Don’t take the spur that goes up along the side of the tunnel, unless you really are a mountain goat and want to test your mettle.

Don’t be impatient, you will come to an incline soon enough. You are now on the Superior Hiking Trail, which is marked by blue blazes on the trees and rocks. Keep to the left and follow the blazes up the blazing &!*()%$ hill.

Soon enough, wide vistas will offer views of the St. Louis River and the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood.

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Dogs like the Ely’s Peak Trail, too.

No leaves were out on the trees yet – everything looked stark and clean.

The peak offers breath-taking 360-degree views. It was named after Edmund Ely, a Presbyterian missionary from Massachusetts who began teaching the Fond Du Lac Native American community in 1834. Local lore says that this was one of his favorite spots.

As we sat, resting, we noticed several turkey vultures lazily circling the thermals below us. The more we watched, the more vultures seemed to appear from nowhere. Eerily quiet and patient, they circled and circled. We joked that they were probably looking for hapless hikers who fell down the trail.

There’s a school of thought that says if you sit out in nature long enough, an animal will appear that has a lesson to impart. Were the vultures trying to tell us something?

Once back home (and safely out of a vulture’s gullet), I looked up what vultures symbolize. Here’s what I found: the vulture is considered a symbol of cleansing, renewal, and transformation. Vultures are viewed as fearless of death – they stare it in the face and eat death for breakfast (literally)!

I did feel cleansed after that hike. It was like the sunshine and clear air burned off all the old gunk. Perhaps it’s only to make way for more new gunk (ha ha), but I’d like to think I’ll have some time before I get clogged up again.

 

Spending Time in Front of Minnesota’s Largest Stone Fireplace

DSC04597In conjunction with my trip to see Minnesota’s Tallest Waterfall, I also got to spend time with the state’s largest stone fireplace, or so the claim goes. The structure is located inside the dining room of Naniboujou Lodge on Lake Superior, near the Canadian Border.

Now, if you’ve read my novel, “Eye of the Wolf,” the lodge’s name might sound familiar. That’s because I describe Native American stories about Nanabozho in it. Naniboujou or Nanabozho is the trickster god, the god of chaos and practical jokes, a mythical figure of the outdoors and even creation itself.

DSC04602The trickster god myth “belongs” to more than just one tribe. The lodge gets its spelling and images from the Cree version. In my book, I concentrate on the Ojibwe version. Nanabozho’s mother was human and his father was the west wind. He’s a shapeshifter, often appearing as a rabbit or a human with rabbit ears and legs.

A wonderful local painter, Rabbett Before Horses Strickland, centers his work around Nanabozho. You MUST see his work if you ever get the chance!

Anyway, back to the lodge. You know you’re in for something different when first setting eyes upon it. Only two stories high, the building is long and low, covered in shaker shingles with windows outlined in bright orange red.

After checking in at the lobby, your eye will be immediately drawn to the adjacent dining room, which features a high ceiling and walls painted iridescent red, yellow, orange, and blue designs.

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The record-breaking stone fireplace anchors the end of the hall, its neutral colors providing a respite for the eye. It looks like the stones could have been collected from the rocky Lake Superior beach, which lies only a few yards away.

The lodge, which is on the National Register of Historical Places, was built in the 1920s as a private hunting club, just before the stock market crash. The club was sold and the building became a public hotel, owned by a series of different people and organizations.

Although the lodge is closed to the public during the winter, it is open for private group events, and that’s how I had the opportunity to see it for a weekend stay. One thing to note is that alcohol is not sold on the premises, but you can bring your own.

The lodge will open back up in the third week of May, when guests can once again experience the dreams of the lodge’s founders, which were to:

Live and learn. Learn why the raspberry follows the fireweed; learn how the fern seed clings to its fronds; learn the ways of the kingbird, the haunts of the wood thrush; learn the pasturage of moose and deer and the home life of the beaver.

If you ever meander up Lake Superior’s North Shore, be sure to check it out!

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French artist, Antoine Goufee, painted the lodge’s dining room. This is his version of the lodge’s namesake, Naniboujou.

Echoes of the Past: A Sneak Peek Into the Hotel Chequamegon

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The Hotel Chequamegon

I had the opportunity recently to stay at the Hotel Chequamegon (Cheh-wa-meh-gone) in the northern Wisconsin town of Ashland. I’d driven by the hotel many times on Highway 2, and always thought it looked like an interesting place to stay. I was happy to have this chance.

From the outside, the building and its white mansion-like expanse is reminiscent of the grand hotels of the past. In fact, it’s patterned after the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Lake Huron. Inside, it has a whiff of the fictional Overlook Hotel from “The Shining,” but without the requisite creepiness.

DSC04553Although it looks like it’s been on the site forever, the hotel is young. It opened in 1986 only about a half-block away from the original hotel. According to a helpful historical fact sheet provided to me by the desk clerk, the original hotel was built in 1877 by the Wisconsin Central Railroad when Ashland was a transportation hub for lumbering, quarrying, and mining.

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This chair in the hotel parlor is from a castle in France, 1880-1890.

The original hotel met its demise by fire on New Year’s Day in 1958. To build the current hotel, wood salvaged from the nearby ore docks was used. Although many of the Victorian antiques look like they came from the original hotel, those were burned, except for the lobby clock, which sits in the Ashland Museum. Apparently it was a “thing” in the past to save lobby clocks from burning hotels. The antiques were either donated or gathered from far-flung places with the help of eBay.

My quiet room had tall ceilings and a view through equally tall windows, which looked out on the Lake Superior bay that gives the hotel its name. The word “Chequamegon” is an Ojibwa term that means “spit of land.” There used to be a narrow spit visible from the hotel, but it was eroded by wave action in the 1800s.

DSC04551The basement level is home to Molly Cooper’s Bar and Grill. It was closed in the morning when I was snooping around, but looked like it would be a fun place to eat, with views of the lake.

Although there are rumors the hotel is haunted, I had no notable experiences in my first-floor room, other than a bathroom door that closed unexpectedly. Alas, the floor was just crooked. No spooks.

 

 

 

 

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A mural in “downtown” Ashland that honors the lighthousekeeping history of the area.

The Taste of Hope

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Chef Sean Sherman

Native American chef, Sean Sherman, visited my fair town several weeks ago to promote his book, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.” Given my interest in cooking and gathering wild edibles, I had to go. He spoke to a packed house along with his co-author, Beth Dooley, who is the food editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The event was sponsored by Zenith Bookstore.

One of the first things Sherman did was to disabuse the audience of the notion that Native American cuisine involves any type of fry bread. He works with pre-colonization food made with ingredients the natives grew themselves or foraged. These are things like squash, wild rice, chestnuts, fish, berries, and cedar boughs.

Sherman talked about how natives used all parts of edible plants and animals and how every one of those things had a purpose, “Except for wood ticks. They don’t have a purpose,” he joked.

A member of the Sioux tribe, Sherman grew up in a hardscrabble life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  He became interested in learning about the foods of his ancestors when he was twenty-nine and was burned out from working as an executive chef in Minneapolis.

He took a year off in Mexico and ended up consulting for a restaurant there that focused on local foods. In his book, Sherman writes, “In an epiphany, I tasted how food weaves people together, connects families through generations, is a life force of identity and social structure. After seeing how the Huicholes held on to so much of their pre-European culture through artwork and food, I recognized that I wanted to know my own food heritage. What did my ancestors eat before Europeans arrived on our lands?”

Re-energized, Sherman returned to the U.S. with a plan in mind. After a lot of research and consulting, he formed The Sioux Chef in 2014 in Minneapolis.  He worked with other indigenous team members to cater events, operate a food truck, host pop-up dinners, and soon they will open a restaurant.

Sherman’s vision for revitalizing indigenous foods reaches beyond the Midwest. He hopes to spread an indigenous food system model across the country, which involves providing education and tools to native communities to reclaim their ancestral cuisines and an important part of their cultures.

And why not? It’s a diet that is hyperlocal and uberhealthy in more ways than just the physical. At the end of his talk at Beaner’s Coffee House (thank you Beaner’s!), samples of cedar tea sweetened with maple syrup were passed around. Man, was that good!

As I drove home with his book on the car seat beside me, I was excited to learn more about Native American cuisine. I could still taste the tangy cedar and sweet syrup on my tongue. To me, it tasted like hope – hope that this movement will undo some of the damage to native cultures, and hope that it will interest more people in taking care of the natural world. You don’t pollute places where you gather your food. If we look on our whole landscape as a big grocery store, perhaps we will take better care of it.