Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Welcome to Fargo, as in the “real” Fargo June 20, 2012

The official Fargo-Moorhead visitors guide reads: A warm welcome awaits you. Our Visitors Center, the “Grain Elevator,” located at Interstate 94 exit 348, has bushels of information, maps, brochures and a gift shop.

THE RAPID POP, pop, pop of tumbling popcorn, its buttery aroma scenting the air, impresses upon my senses as I enter the Fargo-Moorhead Vistors Center on a hang-onto-your-hat, grass-bending windy summer afternoon in North Dakota. (Is it always windy here?)

We’ve arrived in town around 4 p.m., five hours after leaving Faribault. I am determined on this, my third visit to Fargo—the first was 18 ½ years ago passing by on the interstate, the second in February—to see the infamous woodchipper from Minnesotans Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 award-winning dark comedy/crime film, Fargo.

The famous woodchipper from the movie, Fargo, is a focal point in the Visitors Center. Other film memorabilia is also on display.

In all honesty, I don’t recall the “feeding a body into the woodchipper” bit from the movie. Perhaps I shut my eyes or turned away as I cannot handle gruesome scenes. I remember, instead, the accents that made us northerners sound like backwoods hicks.

Visitors can also peruse copies of the Fargo script written by the Coen brothers from Minnesota.

But the F-M Visitors Center hypes up the film and specifically that woodchipper. And why not? Tourists embrace this kind of stuff, this opportunity to pull on furry ear flapper caps, pose next to the “real” woodchipper from the movie and then post the images on “The Woodchipper in Fargo” Facebook page.

I didn’t even attempt to persuade my husband and 18-year-old son to pose for a woodchipper photo.

A Fargo businessman started the Celebrity Walk. When his business moved, the Walk was relocated to the F-M Visitors Center. Some of the cement squares cracked during the move. Others have cracked due to weather.

We just grabbed bags of popcorn, quite fitting for the whole going-on movie theme, and munched while gathering brochures, asking questions and then, back outside, checking out the names imprinted in cement on The Celebrity Walk of Fame. The Coen brothers were noticeably absent.

Of course, you might know that I would photograph the signature and handprints and footprints of a writer, like John Updike, who several times won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

But you’ll find the names, and sometimes hand and footprints and art, of 113 celebrities—from authors to movie stars to musicians and more—here. Notables like The Moody Blues, Bill Gates, Toby Keith, Paul Harvey, Travis Tritt, Conway Twitty, Garth Brooks, Kiss and many more have left their marks on 150-pound squares of cement in Fargo.

Anne Bradley Kiefel’s colorful “Herd About the Prairie” public art sculpture, right, is located at the Visitors Center.

While circling the Celebrity Walk, I broke away to snap photos of the colorful fiberglass buffalo sculpture, “Aunie,” created by Anne Bradley Kiefel as part of a 2006 Lake Agassiz Arts Council public art project, “Herd About the Prairie.” The Visitors Center bison is among 19 such sculptures in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

A looking-up-from-the-ground shot of the buffalo.

Spend any time here, and you’ll soon discover that these F-M folks love their buffalo as much as they love Fargo.

P.S. I just checked out a copy of the movie, Fargo, from my local public library last night. I never intended to do so. But as I was walking past a catch-all basket for books/movies/magazines, there was Fargo, right on the top, staring up at me. Gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it? So…, I will see if I am actually able to watch the woodchippper scene this time around.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling