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


17 Responses to “Welcome to Fargo, as in the “real” Fargo”

  1. hotlyspiced Says:

    From memory, that scene is towards the end of the movie? I did like that film as it showed me a part of the world I was unfamiliar with. Just how cold does it get? And I love the Coen brothers and think they’ve made some great films. What did disturb me was that the movie was based on real events and I just couldn’t believe the turn of events xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I agree that the Coen brothers have made some great movies. And, yes, I did read that Fargo is based on a combination of real events, which truly is awful.

      How cold does it get in Fargo? Hmmm, here in Minnesota temps can drop to 20 or more degrees below zero during the winter. Add windchill factors and it can feel even 10 or more degrees colder. Typically, 20 below zero is short-lived and the exception rather than the norm.

  2. treadlemusic Says:

    Watched parts of the movie. I think I am one of the very few that didn’t appreciate the movie. Loved the pictures and info you gave! Hugs, D

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’ll try and report back here once I watch the movie and give my opinion.

      Are you still having issues with my blog posts being partially cut off?

  3. Sara Dammann Kimm Says:

    As my husband, our 6 yo son and I were driving through the lakes area of Otter Tail County a few weeks ago, our son said “This is what North Dakota looks like, right?” (He has never been.) My husband said “Um, not really.” I added “We’ll take you to North Dakota soon so you can see what it looks like.” To which he replied “Can we go on my birthday?” (August 5th) Thanks to this blog post, I know where we can visit first! I wonder what my son will say when he sees the wood chipper…

    Last weekend we drove through your hometown (twice) and I thought of you. The air show at Granite Falls was fabulous! I highly recommend you visit the new Fagen Fighters WWI Museum some day.

    My dad said he’ll check with Lamberton’s city administrator about the old buildings. I know he’s interested in the creamery, too. Dad told me that years ago after the creamery closed, a guy made salad dressing there (and dad said it was a tasty dressing!) Unfortunately he couldn’t get any financial backers and had to close down.

    And speaking of my dad, Stan the Clown. He’s been clowning in parades in SW MN for 50 years! He rides a three-wheeled bike with polka music, the chicken dance and circus music playing from an old 8-track tape player. And there are bubbles, too! He used to stop and dance with parade watchers but stopped that when he entered his 80s. 🙂 He has slowed down in recent years and is only going to be in two parades this summer – the Sanborn Watermelon Days parade on July 31, and Tracy’s Boxcar Days parade on Labor Day. We’ll be at the Sanborn parade (Dad’s hometown) to celebrate his 50th year of clowning!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Sara, thanks for the wealth of information you’ve shared in your comment. I always learn so much from you. Sounds like you had a great time in Granite Falls at the air show.

      Maybe I will get inside some of those Lamberton buildings yet. Thanks for checking with your dad.

      Watch for more Fargo posts.

      Also, I’ve e-mailed you with a request and hope we can make something work with your dad.

  4. I worked as a Parts Purchaser when the movie Fargo came out and the one thing I purchased for the company was woodchippers. Great Post – loving your photos! Enjoy Fargo:)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Now this is interesting. You were a parts purchaser for the movie Fargo. How many woodchippers did you purchase and how did you choose the brand? I’m always curious about details.

      We were in Fargo last Thursday and Friday. Expect more posts from there and Moorhead. I’ve only just begun to explore the cities. Most of our time was spent at North Dakota State University orientation and registration. Watch for a forthcoming post on that.

  5. Jeff Johnson Says:


    by John Updike

    “The fertillest soil this side of the Tigris
    and Euphrates”—so the schoolchildren
    of the countryside are taught, of their land
    flat as a checkerboard to the hem of the sky.
    The giant sky, pale green at dusk, stays black
    long after morning cow-milking time.
    Wind is incessant in winter, so
    that snow falls sideways, like arctic sunshine.

    This land of Lutherans and sugar beets
    thickens its marvelous thinness here at the edge
    of a Red River whose windings alone
    betray the rectilinear. Downtown,
    parking space is no problem, and grain-fed health
    rewards those God’s grandeur does not drive mad.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you for sharing this, Jeff. I had no idea John Updike penned a “Fargo” poem. I would say his description is quite fitting. See, I guess there was a reason I chose to photograph and showcase Updike’s signature in the Celebrity Walk.

  6. Jeff Johnson Says:

    You’re welcome. I thought you’d enjoy it.

  7. Gordon Says:

    OK, you now have Nancy and I planning a trip to Fargo–Love it! Thanks.

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