Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Halloween treat: Perry the corpse flower blooms at Gustavus Adolphus College October 31, 2013

THE TIMING COULDN’T BE BETTER.

Visitors came with cameras in hand to photograph the rare blooming of Perry, which lasted until Sunday.

Visitors came with cameras in hand to photograph Perry in July 2010.

At 2 a.m. today, Perry the corpse flower began blooming in a third floor greenhouse in the Alfred Nobel Hall of Science on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

What better day than Halloween for the rare blossoming of this rare tropical plant emitting the stench of death or rotting meat, depending on your nose and opinion.

A sign at Gustavus Adolphus College directs visitors to the Nobel Hall of Science where "the corpse flower" grows in a third floor greenhouse.

A sign at Gustavus Adolphus College directs visitors to the Alfred Nobel Hall of Science where “the corpse flower” is blooming in a third floor greenhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

You can view, and smell, this mammoth Amorphophallus titanum, nicknamed Perry, from 2 p.m. – 9 p.m. today (Halloween) or from noon to 8 p.m. on Friday, November 1.

As of noon Friday, most visitors who signed Perry's guestbook came from the St. Peter-Mankato area. However, as word of the blooming spread, visitors were expected from all over--some had already come from Paris and Sweden (they were already visiting in the area).

The Petty guestbook signed by visitors in 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I saw Perry when the plant bloomed in 2010.  (You can view photos from that visit by clicking here.)

A close-up of Perry's unfolding spathe, an outer purple vase-like sheath.

A close-up of Perry’s unfolding spathe, an outer purple vase-like sheath. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

If you plan to see Perry in person, make haste. If you can’t get to St. Peter, then click here to watch Perry via web cam.

Happy Halloween!

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Perpetuating the ghostly tale of Annie Mary Twente

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM

EVEN IF I TRIED, I doubt I could make up the true ending to my recent query in to the story of Annie Mary Twente.

First some background. Annie Mary, *according to her official Brown County, Minnesota, death certificate, died on October 25, 1886, of “lung fever.”

But legend says otherwise. As one story goes, the six-year-old fell into a coma and was buried alive on her family’s rural Hanska farm. Her father, Richard, apparently fraught over the loss of his daughter, had her body exhumed, revealing fingernail scratch marks inside the coffin and locks of hair pulled from Annie’s head, essentially proving that the child was buried alive.

From there, the story takes on a life of its own with reports of Annie Mary’s ghost wandering inside the walled burial plot where she was laid to rest by her grieving family. Her body has since been moved to a cemetery in central Minnesota.

Stories featured in Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.

Stories featured in Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.

Annie Mary’s demise and haunting are perhaps one of southwestern Minnesota’s best known ghost tales. Or at least to me and other writers like Nicole Helget who devoted a chapter (“Rooted Here”) to Annie Mary in The Summer of Ordinary Ways and Ruth D. Hein who included Annie Mary (“Annie Mary’s Restless Spirit”) in her collection, Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.

And then there are other prairie dwellers like my Aunt Marilyn who perpetuate the legend of Annie Mary. Each Halloween for decades—neither of us remembers exactly when this started—Marilyn has mailed a Halloween card to me with the message, “I MISS YOU! ANNIE MARY.”

Her block printed letters are always uneven and tilted, mimicking the writing of a six-year-old. And the return address always bears the initials A.M., to be interpreted either as Annie Mary or Aunt Marilyn.

A few days ago I phoned Marilyn, hoping to pinpoint a time-line on this long-standing Halloween card tradition. Marilyn lives in my hometown of Vesta, but was raised in the Comfrey area west of Hanska (south of New Ulm). She grew up hearing the story of Annie Mary from her mother, Stella, whose childhood farm was only four miles away across Lake Hanska from the Twente farm.

The horrid details of fingernail scratch marks inside the coffin, tufts of pulled hair and Annie’s ghost swaying in a tree swing are imprinted upon my aunt’s memory.

And, after I moved to Sleepy Eye in the early 1980s to work as a news reporter for The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch and then relocated six months later to report from the nearby St. James news bureau of the Mankato Free Press, the legend took on new significance for me. It was fueled by Marilyn’s reminders that I was now living and writing in Annie Mary’s backyard.

For my 1982 bridal shower, Annie Mary gifted me with a box of artificial birds (I am not particularly fond of birds). I expect it was shortly thereafter that the cards from Annie Mary began showing up in my mailbox each Halloween.

Just before Halloween each year, my aunt begins searching for a greeting card that features a tree swing. She has yet to find one. But whatever card A.M. sends, it serves as a spine tingling reminder of the legend of Annie Mary, and of an aunt who loves me.

This year I have my own postscript to add to this Annie Mary card tradition. After phoning Marilyn, I pulled my copy of Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota from the bookshelf to read the chapter about Annie Mary. I purchased this collection, published in 1989, at a used book sale in Faribault last spring, but had yet to read the stories.

I opened the book. And there, penned in cursive opposite the inside cover page, was a name. Marilyn.

The woman to whom this book previously belonged before I purchased it last spring.

The woman to whom Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota previously belonged. And she is not my Aunt Marilyn.

#

This story was cross posted at streetsmn.com.

*The death certificate information comes from Ruth D. Hein’s book.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’m not anti pumpkin, but… October 30, 2013

The $10 ginormous pumpkins.

The ginormous $10 pumpkins.

JUST DAYS BEFORE HALLOWEEN, Steve Twiehoff of Twiehoff Gardens, a family run produce business on Faribault’s east side, was trying to pitch an 85-pound pumpkin to me. For $10, the pumpkin would be mine and Steve would even load it into the van.

“The neighbor kids will love you,” Steve encouraged.

One of two wagonloads of pumpkins at Twiehoff's Garden.

One of two wagonloads of pumpkins at Twiehoff’ Gardens.

But truth be told, I don’t intend to purchase a pumpkin, big or small, this year.

All sizes of pumpkins are available.

All sizes of pumpkins are available.

Does that cast me in the role of a pumpkin Grinch? Maybe.

Late afternoon sunshine slants through the open poleshed door, spotlighting pumpkins for sale at Twiehoff Gardens.

Late afternoon sunshine slants through the open poleshed door, spotlighting pumpkins for sale at Twiehoff Gardens.

In reality, the lack of a pumpkin purchase projects my present life phase as an empty nester. With no kids in the house, there’s no need to carve a jack-o-lantern. Not that I ever did; that was my husband’s job.

In 1994, my daughters, Amber, left, and Miranda, right, dressed as a butterfly and Dalmatian respectively. Their 10-month-old brother, Caleb, was too young to go trick-or-treating.

In 1994, my daughters, Amber, left, and Miranda, right, dressed as a butterfly and Dalmatian respectively. Their 10-month-old brother, Caleb, was too young to go trick-or-treating.

I focused, instead, on creating homemade costumes for our trio. Those ranged from taping hundreds of cotton balls onto a garbage bag for a sheep costume to stitching strands of red yarn onto trimmed panty hose for Raggedy Ann’s hair to dabbing black spots onto a white t-shirt for a Dalmatian to painting butterfly wings. What moms won’t do.

Five years later Caleb headed out the door dressed as an elephant.

Five years later Caleb headed out the door dressed as an elephant.

I also transformed kids into an elephant, angel, pirate, cowboy and even a skunk, plus a few more characters/animals I’ve long forgotten.

Yes, I’ve done the Halloween thing. So, if for a few years I fail to buy a pumpkin, please excuse me.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

May the force of creativity be with you this Halloween October 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:35 PM
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YOU CAN TAKE A PUMPKIN and carve or paint it all fancy schmancy for Halloween.

But sometimes it’s the simplest form of creativity which most impresses:

May the force be with you this Halloween.

May the force be with you this Halloween.

Now, I cannot recall ever viewing a Star Wars movie for I am not a fan of sci-fi and/or fantasy. But even I can appreciate this stick drawing created by some devoted fan in Plainview, Minnesota, and set outside the entry to a downtown business a half block from the Rural America Arts Center/Jon Hassler Theater.

The Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center in downtown Plainview.

The Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center in downtown Plainview.

I bet Hassler, a former Plainview resident and an author noted for his nuanced fictional depictions of small town Minnesota life, would value the childish art on this pumpkin.

And the fact that I noticed.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In St. Peter: Waiting for the corpse flower to bloom

PERRY MANIA is invading Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

A shot through a window into the viewing area shows Perry beginning to open.

A shot through a window into the viewing area shows Perry beginning to open in late July 2010.

OK, that may be a bit of a stretch. You decide, But interest in the predicted early November blooming of Perry, otherwise known as the “corpse flower,” is strong.

Think web cams, “featured news” on the college website, headlines in the St. Peter Herald, a Perry blog and even Perry themed t-shirts, cap, mugs, tote bag, bumper sticker and other merchandise available for purchase.

A close-up of Perry's unfolding spathe, an outer purple vase-like sheath.

A close-up of Perry’s unfolding spathe, an outer purple vase-like sheath. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

And all of this because the rare tropical plant, a native of Sumatra in Indonesia and with the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, is about to blossom.

This mammoth plant, which can reach heights of eight to 10 feet and a life span of 40 years, is noted for its distinct rotting flesh/rotting meat odor.

A shot through the window into the viewing area of the titan arum.

A shot through the window into the viewing area of the titan arum shows the high level of interest in the corpse flower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

Three years ago, my husband, son and I were among the 5,000 plus curious who flocked to the third floor greenhouse in the Nobel Hall of Science to view, and smell, the Amorphophallus titanum, aka Titan Arum. Gustavus named its plant, seeded in 1993, after the Titan Hyperion, associated with intellectual curiosity. That would be Perry, for short.

I don’t recall the precise smell of Perry only 12 hours after the plant began blooming in late July 2010. But I do remember thinking the odor was not nearly as bad as I had imagined and that I’ve smelled worse (like a slurry pit being emptied) while traveling through rural Minnesota.

One of the Yang boys wards off the offending odor with a perfumed bandanna.

The odor was too much for this boy, who covered his face with a perfumed bandanna when visiting Perry in 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But others, such as elementary-aged kids from Edina, pressed perfumed bandannas to their noses.

A diagram explained the life cycle of "the corpse plant."

A diagram explains the life cycle of “the corpse plant.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

To see, and smell, a corpse flower in bloom is a rare opportunity, one limited to only a few days. This marks Perry’s third blooming. And there isn’t exactly an abundance of these plants in the world, one of the reasons Gustavus botanists are invested in conservation of the Titan Arum. Gustavus received 20 Titan Arum seeds from a San Francisco physician  in 1993 and Perry is the result.

Visitors came with cameras in hand to photograph the rare blooming of Perry, which lasted until Sunday.

Visitors came with cameras in hand to photograph the rare blooming of Perry in July 2010. Perry has previously bloomed in 2007 and 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

Is Perry worth seeing, worth smelling, worth photographing? Definitely.

If you’re hypersensitive to odors, though, pack your perfumed bandanna.

FYI: As early November nears, be sure to check the Gustavus Adolphus website (click here) often for updates on Perry and the precise date when blooming is expected. Some Facebook fans are predicting blossoming on Halloween or even earlier.

 

My Night at the Museum October 28, 2013

HISTORY BROUGHT TO LIFE pleases me, for I am an interactive learning history type of person.

I often get overwhelmed and impatient reading information in traditional museum displays.

Arriving around 6:30 p.m. Friday for A Night at the Museum at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault.

Arriving around 6:30 p.m. Friday for A Night at the Museum at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault.

So I was excited Friday evening to attend the Rice County Historical Society’s first ever A Night at the Museum in which costumed men, women and children played the roles of historical figures. Like Evangeline Whipple, second wife of Bishop Henry Whipple, and Ordinance Sargent Jones, stationed at Ft. Ridgely during the U.S. – Dakota Conflict of 1862:

Role-playing Evangeline Whipple.

Role-playing Evangeline Whipple.

Playing the role of Ordinance Sgt. Jones.

Playing the role of Ordinance Sgt. Jones.

The buckled cloth covering worn by French Mary keeps mud from boots.

The buckled cloth covering worn by French Mary keeps mud from boots.

I spoke with “French Mary” Tepe about her role as a vivandiere with Pennsylvania volunteers in the Civil War. Vivandieres carried a canteen of spirits and more and attended to the sick and wounded. I’d never heard of vivandieres prior to meeting French Mary.

Noah, who volunteers at the library through its youth program, sat in the museum's barbershop chair during A Night at the Museum. in the museum barbershop.

Noah, who volunteers at the library through its youth program, sat in the museum’s barbershop chair.

Noah read a souvenir edition of the Faribault Daily News in an old-time barbershop while Leroy bathed in a second story room above.

Flash cards in the one-room school.

Flash cards in the one-room school.

Mrs. Sweet taught arithmetic in the late 1850s one-room Pleasant Valley School where Noah’s sister, Hannah, along with others, assumed the roles of students.

Playing the old pump organ.

Playing the old pump organ.

Holy Innocents, from the side.

Holy Innocents.

I listened to music played on the pump organ in Holy Innocents Episcopal Church built in 1869 in Cannon City and consecrated by Bishop Whipple.

Mrs. Morris supposedly cooking applesauce.

Mrs. Morris “cooking” applesauce.

Next door I spoke with Mrs. Morris who was “cooking” applesauce in her 1920s kitchen. Except she wasn’t really using the old cookstove. The inviting scent of apples wafted, instead, from apple slices heating in a kettle on a mostly out of sight hotplate. Ingenious.

This multiple engaging of the senses added to the experience. In the old log cabin, built in the mid 1800s by a Scandinavian immigrant in the Nerstrand Big Woods, I savored the yeasty aroma of bread baking—not in the old stove—but rather in a bread machine hidden away. Ingenious.

The setting for A Night at the Museum.

The setting for A Night at the Museum.

Outside, several tiki torches flickered, many snuffed out by the strong early evening breeze. Nearby, visitors gathered around a small campfire to sip apple cider, eat hot dogs and/or munch on cookies.

A barn front forms a backdrop in Harvest Hall, where visitors can learn about the area's agricultural heritage.

A barn front forms a backdrop in Harvest Hall, where visitors can learn about the area’s agricultural heritage.

Horses hooves clopped on the pavement as visitors were treated to a wagon ride around the adjoining county fairgrounds.

Brian Schmidt dressed as a hunter, not to be confused with a mannequin.

Not a scene from Duck Dynasty.

But the most memorable event of the evening for me, and likely Brian Schmidt who serves on the historical society board, occurred inside Heritage Hall. I stopped briefly at a display on outdoor recreational activities in the county and noticed what I assumed to be a camouflaged duck hunter mannequin in a corner. Except he wasn’t. As I walked away, a duck call sounded. Startled, I turned back, peered more closely at the masked face and realized I’d been fooled. By Brian.

A peek at Heritage Hall.

A peek at Heritage Hall.

Excellent. This Night at the Museum was not billed as a Halloween event. But in that moment, for me, it was.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Crafts galore & a bonus scarecrow contest October 26, 2013

The sign marking the entry to 100 Ladies and Gentlemen Craft Sale near the intersection of Minnesota Highways 56 and 60 just outside of Kenyon.

Signs mark the entry to 100 Ladies & Gentlemen Craft Sale near the intersection of Minnesota Highways 56 and 60 just outside of Kenyon.

I WISH, OH, HOW I WISH I could show you all the crafty goodness that encompasses the 100 Ladies & Gentlemen Craft Sale just outside of Kenyon.

This building and a wing in the back house the craft sale.

This building houses the craft sale.

But no photos were allowed of the merchandise stuffed inside this pole shed. So you will need to imagine the stitched, hammered, painted, baked, preserved, knitted and other handcrafted items sold here.

Need an apron? Homemade caramels? A Minnesota-authored book? Some crazy saying to decorate a wall? Handcrafted furniture? Seasonal decorations? A photograph of a barn? The list is endless.

The property features a paved parking lot for shoppers.

The property features a paved parking lot for shoppers.

For 40 years, Marlene and Curt Morrow have hosted this craft sale on their property at 45986 Minnesota State Highway 56, just north of State Highway 60.

The show was abuzz with shoppers when my husband and I stopped on a Saturday afternoon, so busy that wiggling through the narrow aisles proved challenging.

I thought Randy would be bored, but he lingered longer than me, reading humorous sayings at a booth of quirky signage.

It wasn’t until I spotted upcycled freestanding cabinets in the back section of the building that I found merchandise which truly interested me. At that point I called Randy over for his opinion on a cabinet to fill a hole in our dining room wall. We removed a chimney several years ago, but I seldom notice anymore the cardboard sheets that hide the space. Until we have guests. Yes, we really need to do something about that. But then I need new flooring and kitchen counters and cupboards and a sink, well, the list is endless. I would love to win a kitchen make-over.

Oh, yes, back to that craft show. I pulled a tape measure and notebook from my purse and Randy measured while I jotted numbers, hopeful that maybe one of the three cabinets we both liked would fit the space. It was not to be, we learned later upon returning home and measuring the void.

Despite purchasing nothing at the sale—because I really do not need more “stuff”—I still enjoyed the drive over to Kenyon and perusing the handcrafted merchandise. I always appreciate the talents of local artisans.

And the scarecrow display, which I was allowed to photograph, provided for some fun photo ops. At least I didn’t bring my camera with me for naught:

Visitors can vote for their favorite in the scarecrow festival with cash prizes awarded to the top three.

Visitors can vote for their favorite in the scarecrow festival with cash prizes awarded to the top three.

Here's a close-up of the Queen Mom, the scarecrow in the foreground in the photo above.

Here’s a close-up of the Queen Mom, the scarecrow in the foreground in the photo above. Her red hat sisters surround her.

Look at the attention to detail by the creators of the Queen Mom.

Look at the attention to detail by the creators of the Queen Mom.

Some of the scarecrows can be a little frightening.

Some of the scarecrows can be a little frightening…

While others can be as fashionable as the Queen Mom, like this hip 60s scarecrow.

while others can be as fashionable as the Queen Mom, or this hip 60s scarecrow.

Scarecrows making a statement.

Scarecrows making a statement.

Among the humorous tombstones on display.

Among the humorous tombstones on display.

Another scarecrow.

Another scarecrow.

An empty chair provides a photo op for a shopper.

An empty chair provides a photo op for a shopper.

And these four hang out outside the craft sale. (Yes, they are for sale.)

And these four hang out outside the craft sale. (Yes, they are for sale.)

FYI: The craft sale is open from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily, except Tuesdays and Wednesdays from now until November 10.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling