Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Northfield: Snapshots of an abbreviated Defeat of Jesse James Days September 17, 2020

The site of the 1876 attempted bank robbery, now the Northfield Historical Society.


TYPICALLY, THE DEFEAT OF JESSE JAMES DAYS in Northfield finds Randy and me avoiding this college town only 20 minutes from Faribault. Crowds and congestion keep us away as thousands converge on this southeastern Minnesota community to celebrate the defeat of the James-Younger Gang in a September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank.


Waiting for fair food at one of several stands.


But this year, because of COVID-19, the mega celebration scaled back, leaving Northfield busy, but not packed. And so we walked around downtown for a bit on Saturday afternoon, after we replenished our book supply at the local public library—our original reason for being in Northfield.


The LOVE mural painted on a pizza place in Northfield drew lots of fans taking photos, including me.


On our way to Bridge Square, a riverside community gathering spot in the heart of this historic downtown, I paused to photograph the latest public art project here—a floral mural painted on the side of the Domino’s Pizza building by Illinois artist Brett Whitacre. (More info and photos on that tomorrow.)


One of the many Sidewalk Poetry poems imprinted into cement in downtown Northfield.


Northfield’s appreciation of the arts—from visual to literary to performing—is one of the qualities I most value about this community. As a poet, I especially enjoy the poetry imprinted upon sidewalks.


An impromptu concert in Bridge Square.


A fountain, monument and the iconic popcorn wagon define Bridge Square in the warmer weather season.


Buying a corn dog…


I was delighted also to see and hear a guitarist quietly strumming music in the town square while people walked by, stopped at the iconic popcorn wagon or waited in line for corn dogs and cheese curds. Several food vendors lined a street by the park.


The Defeat of Jesse James Days royalty out and about.


Among fest-goers I spotted Defeat of Jesse James royalty in their denim attire, red bandanna masks, crowns and boots, the masks a reminder not of outlaws but of COVID-19.


Photographed through the bakery’s front window, the feet-shaped pastries.


Yet, in the throes of a global pandemic, some aspects of the celebration remained unchanged. At Quality Bakery a half a block away from Bridge Square, the western-themed window displays featured the bakery’s signature celebration pastry—De-Feet of Jesse James.


A sign outside a Division Street business fits the theme of the celebration.


For a bit of this Saturday, it felt good to embrace this long-running event, to experience a sense of community, to celebrate the defeat of the bad guys.


© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


8 Responses to “From Northfield: Snapshots of an abbreviated Defeat of Jesse James Days”

  1. Liz Says:

    Not a fan of the DJJD crowds either so the scaled down version was fine with me. I haven’t seen the mural yet, but hope it can remain in pristine condition. There are supposed to murals on the walls of the roundabout tunnels by the schools. Would be a good project for NHS’s excellent art program.
    You’ve mentioned using the Northfield library before. Do you like it better than the one in Faribault?

    • Liz, I look forward to seeing the public art that will grace the roundabout. Great idea.

      As far as libraries, I like the Faribault library. However, it’s open by appointment only (30-minute slots) and not during the evening or on weekends. That’s the reason Randy and I have gone to the Northfield Library twice in past months.

  2. valeriebollinger Says:

    Glad you enjoyed our DJJD activities. We didn’t attend anything.
    I have seen the LOVE mural and plan to blog about it too.

  3. Ruth Says:

    Poetry on sidewalks, feet in the bakery, books at the library, masks on fellow strollers? Sounds like a pretty good day.

  4. Susan Ready Says:

    yes such a different world we live in scaled back and masked up!!

    • At times the world situation seems surreal, as if we are living in a horror movie, depending on where you are.

      We were in the central Minnesota lakes region for several days and, if we had just stayed at the cabin the entire time, it would have been better for me. Too many unmasked shopkeepers and customers and/or half-maskers and too much political signage. I walked out of several shops (the MN Dept. of Health should do compliance checks in this part of the state) and tried to divert my eyes from the signs. Sigh. At least fishing, hiking, campfires, quiet evenings reading balanced all of this.

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