Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

All about community in Emmaville, a nostalgic place in Minnesota’s northwoods February 19, 2014

I’VE NEVER VISITED Emmaville, Minnesota, population four two.

And up until last week, I’d never even heard of this unincorporated settlement, a remnant of an early 1900s logging town located 12 miles north of Park Rapids along Hubbard County Road 4 deep in Paul Bunyan country.

The Emmaville was dark and empty when the Sprys purchased it in 2010. They did a lot of cleaning and renovating before reopening the cafe and convenience store in January 2011.

The Emmaville Store stood dark and empty when Mike and Melinda Spry purchased it in 2010. They cleaned and renovated the combination cafe, bar and convenience store before reopening the business in January 2011. The vintage motel and gas signage dates back to the 1950s or 1960s.

But thanks to the folksy writing of Mike Spry, co-owner of the Emmaville Store along with wife, Melinda, since 2010, I’m now endeared to this place.

In his blog, “Rediscovering Emmaville—The adventure continues,” Spry shares his love for Emmaville in a way that only one intimately familiar with a people and place can.

Snowmobilers frequently stop in Emmaville.

Snowmobilers frequently stop in Emmaville.

Spry begins his recent “The Emmaville Shuffle” post:

You know it’s winter when you witness the Emmaville Shuffle. The dancers walk up to the counter in our store and start patting themselves. They grab their butts, pause briefly to think, and then start unzipping their outer wear. They stretch and grope inside their suits, and sometimes undo more zippers and straps before their hands dive back in. We sometimes feel the need to avert our eyes.

You might think we’re running some kind of backwoods burlesque show here, but all we’re really talking about is snowmobilers trying to find their money. We call it the Emmaville Shuffle.

From those opening paragraphs (you can read the rest by clicking here), I was hooked on this blog, which focuses on “creating and sustaining community.”

Mike and Mel Spry, Emmaville's only residents, decided not to mess with a successful marketing tool

Mike and Mel Spry, shown here, “decided not to mess with a successful marketing tool” created by a previous owner although the population today is only two.  “The Biggest Little Town in the World,” advertising the population as four, dates back to the 1980s. At that time the store’s owner, his wife and two kids lived in Emmaville.

I needed to know more about these business owners, this settlement’s only permanent “residents” although Mike says those living in the surrounding woods and along area lakes also call Emmaville home.

The couple, now in their early 50s, grew up in nearby Detroit Lakes. Mike hunted and fished in the Emmaville area as a boy. Both attended Bemidji State University. Eventually, they would leave the region, only to return after Mike sold his shares in an environmental consulting and engineering firm.

Mike, in an email exchange with me, can’t pinpoint precisely why he and his wife decided to purchase and reopen the vacated Emmaville Store. The business venture also includes a cafe, bar, cabin, four-unit motel, a 10-site campground and seasonal storage units. But he calls the endeavor a labor of love.

“We love being a part of a rural community where people look out for each other and support each other,” Mike says. “In our previous life we traveled and moved around a lot, so we really long to be part of a community.”

Dining

Hanging out in Emmaville.

And that they are, as noted in a May 2013 blog post titled “Clayton is back!” Mike writes of seasonal resident Clayton, a 91-year-old who claims “the second bar stool from the right, where he can hear the TV good” and who serves as official Ambassador, Welcoming Committee, Handyman, Tour Guide and Historian:

You’ll be happy to know that Clayton is back in Emmaville, having arrived safe and sound last Thursday. However, upon seeing him in the flesh, Mary and Mel became concerned. To them, he seemed just too skinny. Clayton explained he had exercised all winter to work off all the weight he gained at Emmaville last year. So the ladies have rolled up their sleeves and are bound and determined to plump him up.

Three squares a day, plus all the pie and ice cream he can eat ought to do it.

With offerings like fresh-baked cinnamon and caramel rolls, banana bread, bars and other sweets, I expect Clayton regained weight in no time. The cafe does most of its business during breakfast and lunch, Mike says. The Emmaville Store website promotes a “famous” Sunday Brunch and Buffet from mid-May to early September and suggests trying the French toast made from cranberry-wild rice bread.

Friday evenings you’ll find, among other selections, an All-You-Can-Eat Taco Bar. And on Saturdays, it’s “Burgers in the Bar” night.

A vintage photo shows the Emmaville Store shortly after it opened in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

A photo from the late 1930s or early 1940s shows the Emmaville Store shortly after it opened.

Nostalgia, as much as gas and food, likely draws customers off the county road to Emmaville. Itasca State Park lies only 20 miles away and the recreational Heartland Trail and North Country Scenic Trail are even closer. Emmaville also sits along state-funded snowmobile trails connecting Itasca with Bemidji, Park Rapids and Walker.

Tourists, hunters, anglers, seasonal residents, bikers, snowmobilers and more all find their way here.

Dining at the Emmaville Store cafe.

Dining at the Emmaville Store cafe.

No matter who walks in the door, whether local or visitor, Mike says, “We try to be warm and welcoming to everyone. We want them to feel like family. It’s a place where they can step back in time and remember when they used to come up north when they were kids. It’s also a place for locals to gather for coffee, meetings and celebrations.”

Business can be slow sometimes, though, including in March and April. Yet the Sprys have managed to make enough money to pay the bills. The challenge has been finding time to get away. “It’s a lot like owning a dairy farm,” Mike says. “You can’t leave it easily.”

As Mike says, the Emmaville Store is a labor of love for him and Mel. His down-to-earth heartfelt writing about the people and happenings in Emmaville proves that.

Mike emailed this bonus photo from Emmaville of the 1907 schoolhouse, labeled by previous owner Cal Jensen as the University of Emmaville.

Mike emailed this bonus photo from Emmaville of the 1907 schoolhouse, labeled by previous owner Cal Jensen as the University of Emmaville. Jensen was a colorful character, Mike says, who posted several witty signs to attract tourists. The Sprys have refurbished that signage like “The More People I Meet, the More I Like My Dog.” Today the old schoolhouse is owned and used by two brothers as a hunting cabin.

FYI: Want to read more of Mike’s musings from Emmaville? Click here to reach his “Rediscovering Emmaville” blog. And click here to reach the Emmaville Store website.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos courtesy of Mike Spry

 

“Dante’s inferno” chili & more in a Minnesota church basement February 18, 2014

Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota.

THE SPICY SCENT OF CHILI wafted up the stairs as I entered the church late Sunday afternoon for Trinity Lutheran, Medford’s, second annual Chili Cook-Off.

A sign directs diners to the church basement.

A sign directs diners to the church basement.

I shed my winter coat, got instructions on the chili sampling process and then headed downstairs to taste, and judge, 30 homemade chilis. Twas a nearly impossible task given the numbers and the home-cooked goodness.

Trinity's basement was packed.

Dining in the church basement.

I’ve found church basement food events to be, with only one exception, superb dining experiences.

Randy and I dined with friends from our church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

Randy and I dined with friends from our church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

Here, in the fellowship of friends, I spooned chili into numbered plastic cups, ate and then attempted to choose my favorites. I had five tickets to cast five votes.

The first 12 of 30 chilies sampled.

The first 12 of 30 chilies sampled.

Some I quickly eliminated as too bland or too salty or too ordinary.

Diners spoon chili into cups.

Diners spoon chili into cups.

I was looking for something savory and different.

So many varieties to taste.

So many varieties to taste.

In one chili I detected a hint of cinnamon.

Crockpots of chili were set up on tables on opposite ends of the basement.

Crockpots of chili were set up on tables on opposite ends of the basement.

Many, as you would expect, tasted of tomato in varying degrees of intensity.

Each diner got five tickets with which to cast votes.

Lines formed to spoon up the chili.

Chocolate overwhelmed one. An attempt, perhaps, to woo the female vote?

Eighteen more chilis to try, including the (green) avocado one in the second row from the bottom.

Eighteen more chilis to try, including the (green) avocado one in the second row from the bottom.

A chili laced with chunks of avocado won my favor, while my husband, seeing the green veggies, wouldn’t even try it. His loss.

Numbered cups were stacked by the appropriately numbered chili.

Numbered cups were stacked by the appropriately numbered chili. Diners placed tickets in the boxes to vote. Kari Yule’s chili, number 17, took the trophy. And, yes, I voted for Kari’s chili, among four others.

Of one chili, number 25, the opinion seemed unanimous. This chili packed some wicked heat, so hot I motioned for Randy to refill my water glass and, after a few gulps, to “please pass the crackers.”

A list of those who made chili.

A list of those who made chili.

Afterward I would find the chili sign-up sheet upstairs in the church narthex with “Dante’s Inferno” on the list.

A trophy and first and second place medals were awarded.

A trophy and first and second place medals were awarded.

In the end, Kari Yule claimed the trophy while Amy Grayson took second and Randy Lemke (with help from niece Brandi) came in third.

A line forms near the church kitchen.

A line forms near the church kitchen.

All were winners in my eyes—especially us 120 diners.

Trinity's youth count the votes.

Trinity’s youth count the votes.

Trinity youth also earned $803 through a free will offering for the 2016 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod National Youth Gathering in New Orleans.

I'm not sure how much, if any, chili little Lauren ate. But she was there with her parents, Pastor Mark Biebighauser and his wife, Joni.

I’m not sure how much, if any, chili little Lauren ate. But she was there with her parents, Pastor Mark Biebighauser and his wife, Joni.

What a great event. If you haven’t attended a chili cook-off or partaken of food in a church basement, do. You’ll find delicious food, good company and, typically, will assist in funding a worthy cause.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Transforming the winter landscape February 17, 2014

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LACKING COLOR; colorless.

White dominates the Minnesota landscape this time of year. I don’t need to tell you that if you live here. Just look outside right now. Snow. More snow today. Like me, you’ve probably had enough of winter.

It’s easy to become visually depressed, eye weary of the mostly colorless landscape. You yearn for pops of color to brighten this drab environment, to lift your spirits.

Via the magic of photo editing, I’ve transformed some rather ordinary winter scenes into works of art. Oz they’re not. But the simple act of manipulating these photos into watercolor or paint-by-number style images shifted my mood. I hope they do yours, too.

A ridge of plowed snow edges a country road near Montgomery, Minnesota.

A ridge of plowed and drifted snow edges a country road near Montgomery, Minnesota.

A farm site near Montgomery lost in a sea of snow.

A farm site near Montgomery in a sea of snow.

Love this sturdy barn, also near Montgomery.

Love this sturdy barn and silos, also near Montgomery.

Machinery, seemingly abandoned in the snow.

Machinery, snowed-in.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The best roll-out cookie recipe ever February 16, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:33 PM
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I’VE ALWAYS ENJOYED BAKING.

Tempting sweets...

Tempting sweets…

But now that the kids are grown and gone, I seldom bake. I don’t need sweets in the kitchen to tempt me.

This past week, though, I baked three days in a row as I’d been asked to bring treats for fellowship hour at church this morning.

I pulled out my vintage heart shaped cookie cutter.

I used my vintage heart-shaped cookie cutter.

I decided heart-shaped cookies would be perfect given the date. And so I pulled out my favorite roll-out cookie recipe, the one my mom used when I was growing up. It’s my go-to “sugar cookie” recipe.

This dough, though, far surpasses the bland taste of most sugar cookies.

Cream cheese is the secret savory ingredient.

Ready to put in the oven.

Ready to put in the oven.

I prefer to roll the dough nearly paper thin and to sprinkle with colored sugar before baking. I don’t want icing to mask the flavor.

Stacked on a pretty vintage plate.

Stacked on a pretty vintage plate.

I’ve never tasted a better roll-out sugar cookie.

A perfect Valentine's Day weekend treat.

A perfect Valentine’s Day weekend treat.

Cream Cheese Cookies

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup shortening
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg yolk
½ tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. salt
2 ½ cups flour

Cream butter, shortening, cream cheese and sugar. Add egg yolk and vanilla and beat. Add dry ingredients and mix. Chill covered or wrapped dough for several hours or overnight. Roll out on lightly-floured board and cut with cookie cutters. Bake 6 – 10 minutes, depending on dough thickness, at 350 degrees.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

You’ve been “heart attacked!” February 14, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:30 PM
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TWENTY-FOUR HOURS HAVE PASSED since the deed was done. Correction. Deeds. Plural.

The covert operation began, as all such operations do, with a plan.

Piling up the hearts in anticipation of Operation Heart Attack.

Piling up the hearts in anticipation of Operation Heart Attack.

Days before the staging, my husband and I (mostly me) traced and cut hearts from construction paper. Red hearts, pink, yellow, blue, purple, orange… The color didn’t matter as much as the quantity.

All told, there were about 70 hearts in three sizes—half destined for each home.

Then the search was on for stakes to which the paper hearts would be secured. The original intent was to purchase wooden skewers. But since this isn’t exactly grilling season in Minnesota, none were to be found.

Clearance holiday light stakes worked perfectly.

Clearance holiday light stakes worked perfectly.

That left us wandering the aisles of Walmart, where I happened upon universal light stakes on the clearance shelves. These 9-inch long plastic sticks, typically used to secure Christmas lights in the ground, were on sale for the bargain price of 10 cents for a box of 25. I snatched three.

Each paper heart was secured to a plastic stake with regular tape.

Each paper heart was secured to a plastic stake with regular tape.

But would tape adhere and stick in Minnesota’s brutal temps? We tested regular tape, packaging tape and masking tape and rated the everyday tape as the best option. And so stakes were taped to hearts.

On the morning of February 13, the day of Operation Heart Attack, I divided the hearts into two piles and later stashed them in canvas tote bags.

That evening, around 7, Randy and I set out to place the hearts in the front yards of our friends. We knew we had to work quickly and quietly in the cold and darkness of a Minnesota winter evening.

The plan was to park around the corner from the targeted homes. There was no need for such stealth at Billie Jo and Neal’s, though, as their house was dark. So Randy stopped the car right in front of their place along a quiet residential street.

A test run in my backyard as, obviously, I could not photograph the heart attack in progress.

A day-time test run in my backyard as, obviously, I could not photograph the evening heart attack in progress.

We hustled out and then begin stabbing the stakes into the snow banked along the edge of their driveway. We had not anticipated rock hard snow. But we managed and in less than five minutes were out of there, contemplating when our friends and their two elementary-aged children would discover they’d been heart attacked.

Then on to the next house, where we did have to park around the corner and use extreme stealth. Our friends Tammy and Jesse had an exterior light switched on and their living room curtains partially open. They also have a dog. We thought for certain that we would be caught by them or one of their four children as we, once again, jabbed stakes into hard-packed snow.

However, we made a clean get-away.

Some creative mind (not mine) came up with the "You've been heart attacked" idea.

Some creative mind (not mine) came up with the “You’ve been heart attacked!” idea.

Early Friday morning Tammy emailed: “I was wondering if we have you and Randy to thank for the heart attack in our yard?”

Busted. No interrogation tactics needed. I confessed immediately.

Seems Tammy and Jesse’s daughter, Hannah, discovered the clutch of hearts within a half hour of their placement when she let the family dog outside. Violet set up quite a racket barking at the fluttering hearts. Apparently she didn’t bark, though, when we were executing Operation Heart Attack. Good doggie.

Then the mystery needed to be solved. And here’s the funny part. Tammy and Jesse and family thought Billie Jo and Neal and family placed the hearts in their yard. And Bille Jo and Neal and family thought Tammy and Jesse and family had carried out the attack in their yard.

Ruling each other out, they eventually settled on Randy and me as the likely suspects.

Says Tammy after my confession, “…the kids couldn’t wait until morning so they could get a better look at it. Everyone has been smiling all morning. How very thoughtful of you.”

That Randy and I could give such joy to our friends on Valentine’s Day…

Image three times-plus this number of hearts placed in our friends' yards.

Imagine three times this number of hearts placed in our friends’ front yards.

Both families have since pulled up the hearts we left and heart attacked others.

Billie Jo, along with her daughter and son, passed the joy along to a classmate of Nevaeh. While my friends were driving home, Nevaeh told her mom, “…wouldn’t it be cool if they did it to someone else then it got all the way around the world. Then Audrey could get famous just by doing one little thing.”

I cannot claim credit for the Operation Heart Attack idea. I saw this online. But I will accept the grateful thanks of my friends for making their Valentine’s Day a memorable one.

As Billie Jo says, “I never knew I would be so thankful for a heart attack!

And Tammy claimed she and her kids had a blast sneaking out to a place in the country and passing the hearts on to mutual friends of ours.

Oh, the joy in something as simple as a heart attack.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Defining Valentine’s Day love

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

SIX DAYS BEFORE VALENTINE’S DAY, as I shoveled snow from the driveway for the umpteenth time, my husband arrived home from work, opened the front passenger side door of the Chrysler and presented me with flowers.

Have I told you how much I love this man?

Floral bouquet, really close-up

He knows me so well, enough to realize that at that moment, on that Saturday afternoon, I needed this bouquet bursting in brilliant spring colors of mostly sunshine yellow and sweet orchid.

I love when he gives me flowers for no particular reason except a realization that I “need” them.

Floral bouquet, close-up

Now some women might protest such a gift as an unnecessary expense. Not me. I will claim and celebrate and embrace this symbol of my husband’s thoughtfulness, love and care.

He needs to give these flowers as much as I need to receive them. I will not deny him this joy.

To each of you this Valentine’s Day, I wish you such moments of thoughtfulness and love. You deserve them, whether you are in a committed relationship or not. You do not need to be “in love” to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

A friend and I recently discussed the relationship pressures we as a society place on young people. Typically this begins after high school graduation, with “So how are the boys/girls?” I myself have asked this. I should know better because I, too, was subjected to such questioning 30-plus years ago. I married at nearly 26, considered “old” by 1982 standards, “young” by today’s.

Since that conversation, I’ve vowed not to knowingly place such pressure on others. Rather, I will focus on the individual, his/her interests and life. That is cause to celebrate. We are each our own person, whether in a romantic relationship or not.

This February 14, consider the broader definition of Valentine’s Day. It is not all about romance. It is also about the care and love between a child and a parent, friends, siblings, co-workers, neighbors…

It is, too, about loving and respecting ourselves as unique individuals created and loved by God.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Icebreaker February 13, 2014

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An edited photo of Fred's Foods.

An edited photo of Fred’s Foods.

FROM VEHICLE LEVEL, the view of Fred’s Foods in Montgomery, Minnesota, is limited.

Snow pushed from the parking lot forms a street-side barrier.

But for photo purposes, I find this scene visually pleasing—the jolt of red against white, the strong graphic of the building rising above the snow line like a defiant icebreaker charging onward.

Toward spring.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Goin’ quackers during a Minnesota winter February 12, 2014

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THIS COLD AND SNOWY Minnesota winter has many of us natives going a little bonkers.

I am not good at judging size. But this is one big duck.

I am not good at judging size. But this is one big duck.

But at least one Faribault resident is goin’ quackers instead, sculpting a mighty snow duck in the front yard at 417 Second Street Northwest.

Another angle, looking toward Second Street Northwest.

Another angle, looking toward the street.

I spotted the waterfowl a few days ago, when temps reached a high of around zero and the wind was whipping something fierce.

Big duck. Little duck (decoy).

Little duck (decoy). Mighty duck.

Not a great day to pull out the camera. In less than five minutes of shooting, my gloveless fingers were chilled to the bone. Back inside the car, I positioned my hands within a wisp of a heat vent.

Gazing up at one mighty duck.

Gazing up at the mighty duck.

Now you’re going to ask, “Why a duck? And why would anyone do this?”

I nearly missed the rubber ducky atop the snow at the end of the driveway as I hurried toward the car.

I nearly missed the rubber ducky atop the snow at the end of the driveway as I hurried toward the car.

I didn’t knock on the door and inquire. My only thought after shooting about a dozen frames shortly before sunset was to get inside the Chrysler and warm up.

Therefore you get to offer your theories. Go.

FYI: Not that this has anything to do with the duck sculpture. But D3: The Mighty Ducks, a 1996 sports comedy movie, was filmed at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault and at Carleton College in nearby Northfield. NHL player Emerson Eten, who played prep hockey at Shattuck, now skates for the Anaheim Ducks.

UPDATE: After pulling today’s issue of my local newspaper, The Faribault Daily News, from the fresh snow atop my front steps, I settled in with the paper at lunch. There, on page two, were a story and photo about the mighty duck. Kurt Kletter is the artist behind the sculpture, having crafted snow sculptures during the past four winters. Why have I not noticed his leprechaun, dragons and giant stop sign in past years?

Click here to read the story. Mystery solved.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The legend of the Edmund Fitzgerald lives on February 11, 2014

DECADES AGO WHILE TOURING an open iron ore pit on Minnesota’s Iron Range with my parents and perhaps a sibling or two, I met a sailor. Red. His nickname was attributed to his rust-hued hair and beard.

He was a hulk of a young man, crammed into a seat with me on a school bus that bumped down a rugged road into the bowels of the earth.

I honestly do not remember much about Red except that hair and his job laboring on a ship that sailed Lake Superior. We likely talked about the mammoth trucks in the pit. I told him I would be starting college soon and we exchanged addresses.

That fall of 1974, Red sent a few letters, tucked inside official Great Lakes Carriers’ Association envelopes. I can’t recall the content of that correspondence and I soon forgot about Red as I immersed myself in college life.

The Edmund Fitzgerald stretched more than two football fields long. This photo is among many shown in a presentation by diver Jim Christian.

The Edmund Fitzgerald stretched two football fields long. This photo is among many shown in a presentation by diver Jim Christian at the Rice County Historical Society.

Yet, I never really have forgotten him, because of The Edmund Fitzgerald, the iron ore carrier which sank in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, during a fierce storm. I’ve often wondered whether Red may have been on board that ship. Not likely. But the slight possibility exists.

This past Sunday, I thought about Red for the first time in decades when I attended a presentation on The Edmund Fitzgerald at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault. The event coincides with The Merlin Players’ Valentine’s Day opening of the play, Ten November, at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

Christina Schweitz, second from left, says is is "an honor" to perform as one of The Three Sisters in The Merlin Players' play, Ten November.

Christina Schweitz, second from left, says it is “an honor” to perform as one of The Three Sisters in The Merlin Players’ play, Ten November. She is flanked by the other “sisters,” Lisa Quimby, left, and Gail Kaderlik.

Inspired by folk singer Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” the theatrical production is filled with humor and compassion and heartwarming tales, according to performer Lisa Quimby. She was among five musicians—three of them female singers—presenting several songs at Sunday’s museum event. The women represent “The Three Sisters,” a trio of waves, each wave larger than the previous and sometimes cited as a contributing factor to the ship’s sinking.

We were shown a half-hour version of this one-hour documentary for sale at the historical society.

We were shown a shortened version of this PBS documentary available for purchase at the historical society.

Diver Jim Christian gestures as he provides information on the iron ore carrier and theories on why it sank.

Diver Jim Christian gestures as he provides information on the iron ore carrier and theories on what caused The Fitz to sink.

Based on information I gleaned Sunday after watching The Edmund Fitzgerald Investigations—a half-hour PBS documentary by Ric Mixter—and a presentation by Minnesotan Jim Christian, who has been diving for 28 years and has explored The Fitz wreckage, I wonder if anyone will ever truly know the precise cause of this tragedy.

Newspaper clippings about The Fitz were passed among audience members while Jim Christian spoke.

Newspaper clippings about The Fitz were passed among audience members while Jim Christian spoke. The ship was built in 1958.

Twenty-nine men aboard The Edmund Fitzgerald lost their lives in the stormy waters of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. That is a fact.

Some 26,000 tons of taconite pellets, like these, filled the cargo holds of The Edmund Fitzgerald as it journeyed across Lake Superior on November 9 and 10, 1975.

Some 26,000 tons of taconite pellets, like these, filled the cargo holds of The Edmund Fitzgerald as it journeyed across Lake Superior on November 9 and 10, 1975.

Winds on that fateful day were described as “hurricane” force with a gale warning issued during the time the 729-foot long by 75-foot wide carrier was en route from Superior, Wisconsin, to Detroit, Michigan, with 26,000 tons of taconite pellets. The ship, loaded with 15 percent more than its originally designed maximum carrying capacity, according to Christian, rode low in the water while storm waves rose to 70 feet. Can you imagine?

Around 7:15 p.m. on November 10, The Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared. The wreckage was later discovered 17 miles northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan, and has been the focus of many dives and investigations since.

The legend lives on, as does that connection many of us have to The Edmund Fitzgerald, whether through song or theatre or diving or letters written decades ago by a sailor named Red.

Another photo from Jim Christian's presentation shows the 729-foot long Edmund Fitzgerald.

Another photo from Jim Christian’s presentation shows the 729-foot long Edmund Fitzgerald.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE THEORIES offered during Sunday’s presentation as contributing to/cause of The Fitz sinking in Lake Superior in the gales of November 1975. Seas then were termed by a skipper as “the worst (he’d experienced) in 44 years on the lake.”

  • Leaking hatch covers caused by failure to tighten each of the 68 clasps on each of the 21 hatch covers.
  • Mesh screens, rather than watertight walls, separated the three cargo holds.
  • An inability to turn the carrier with three “seas” coming at the ship from three directions.
  • “Beat by the lake” during the fierce storm.
  • The Three Sisters theory of wave building upon wave, overtaking the carrier and causing the cargo to shift forward.
  • Flaws in structural design with weakness in the cargo capacity and too much flex in a ship that was ridden “too hard.”
  • Structural failure of the ship, built in 1958 and the largest carrier on Lake Superior for nearly two decades.
  • Pushing the ship too fast, causing The Fitz and its companion traveler, The Arthur M. Anderson (which made it through the storm), to feel the full fury of the storm.
  • Previous damage to the carrier during grounding and collisions with another ship and with lock walls. The keel had been repaired twice and was termed as “loose again” when The Fitz set sail on November 9.
  • Loaded with too much taconite, causing the ship to ride low in Lake Superior.
  • Negligence.

You can choose to believe what you wish. I’d suggest you do your own research.

This fact I know, though: The legend lives on…

The Paradise Center for the Arts marquee advertises the opening of Ten November.

The Paradise Center for the Arts marquee advertises the opening of Ten November.

FYI: To learn more about The Edmund Fitzgerald, click here to read information on the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum website.

Performances of Ten November by The Merlin Players are set for 7:30 p.m. February 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22 and for 2 p.m. February 16 at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue, Faribault. Click here for more information about this play directed by Eric Parrish, a seasoned director and a professor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In celebration of a daughter’s birthday February 10, 2014

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Amber and Marc. Photo by Minneapolis based Rochelle Louise Photography.

Amber and Marc on their wedding day in September 2013. Photo by Minneapolis based Rochelle Louise Photography.

SHE TURNS TWENTY-EIGHT today. My sweet girl.

She’s a child of God, a gift to me and her dad, and now to her husband.

Yes, this sweet woman, this new wife, this daughter of mine, who today celebrates her birthday, has blessed my life from the moment of her birth.

As my first-born, Amber showed me a depth of love I never could have fathomed. I love all three of my now adult children with a fierceness unequaled. You know, the Mama Bear and her cubs…

In this June 2011 photo, my daughter swings on a tire swing on my childhood farm.

In this June 2011 photo, my daughter sways on a tire swing on my childhood farm.

No matter how many children you have, the door to your heart swings open wider at the birth of each. And when Amber married the love of her life this past September, my heart, and that of my husband, opened even wider to embrace our new son-in-law.

To see our girl so happy, so incredibly in love as she enters another year of her life makes this mama happy.

I thank God every day for blessing me with my precious first-born daughter.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling