Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part IV from Albert Lea: Snapshots around town October 30, 2015

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A street scene in downtown Albert Lea, Minnesota.

A street scene in downtown Albert Lea, Minnesota.

IN THE MANY COMMUNITIES I tour, I always seek the everyday scenes, the snapshot details that comprise a place. I may find the snapshot in an alley. Along a side street. In the heart of a downtown.

Alley-side bar art.

Alley-side bar art in downtown Albert Lea.

Wherever, I look, I see clues that reveal a town’s personality.

What a great name, Elbow Room.

What a great name, Elbow Room.

In business signs, I can spot humor and/or creativity.

I appreciate the simplicity

No flashy signage here, but someone’s business, someone’s dream.

In conditions of buildings, I can identify pride or lack thereof. Or perhaps it’s simply a lack of funds to upkeep a structure. Or the desire to keep things simple.

Downtown Albert Lea boasts a downtown Commercial Historic District with stunning architecture.

Downtown Albert Lea boasts a sprawling Commercial Historic District with lovely architecture.

One of the many stunning buildings in the historic downtown.

One of the many stunning buildings in the historic downtown.

Albert Lea provided plenty of snapshot details. I see a southeastern Minnesota community that appreciates its past through preservation of historic buildings. I see a town that’s working hard to save itself.

An inspiratinal message chalked onto steps leading to/from a downtown Albert Lea parking lot.

An inspirational message chalked onto steps leading to/from a downtown Albert Lea parking lot.

Community service messages and time and temperature flash across the board on an old grain elevator.

Community service messages and time and temperature flash across the board on an old grain elevator.

I see positivity and care in messages.

Nancy's Cafe, presents an iconic Main Street appearance.

Nancy’s Cafe, presents an iconic Main Street appearance.

Expect basics like his hand-formed hamburger patty at Nancy's.

Expect basics like his hand-formed hamburger patty at Nancy’s.

I see the mix of small town Main Street and chain businesses along Interstate 35 meeting travelers’ needs. A duo personality town.

This old grain elevator has been repurposed into another use. Note the upper level balcony and windows. I asked around town. But no one could tell me what's housed here.

This old grain elevator has been repurposed into another use. Note the upper level balcony and windows. I asked around town, but no one could tell me what’s housed here.

Agricultural merchandise is showcased in a downtown antique store window.

Agricultural merchandise is showcased in a downtown antique store window.

Agriculturally-born. Yet evolving into something else.

A Total Security truck parked next to the old grain elevator.

A Total Security truck parked next to the old grain elevator.

Every part, every building, every sign, every person, every scene snapshots into a single album—Albert Lea.

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This concludes my four-part series on Albert Lea. To read my first three posts, click here and here and here.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III From Albert Lea: Antiques & memories October 29, 2015

A Halloween mask for sale at Antiques of the Midwest.

One of several Halloween masks I spotted at Antiques of the Midwest in Albert Lea, Minnesota.

DO YOU REMEMBER your favorite Halloween costume? I do. I dressed like a gypsy, pulling a black cotton skirt striped with vivid hues from my mom’s closet and safety pinning it around my waist. I topped whatever blouse I wore with a winter coat. A thin elastic band on a molded plastic gypsy face mask gripped my head as I peered through cut-out eye holes. Strands of plastic beads swayed from my neck. Bangles danced on my wrists. I felt every part the care-free gypsy.

Clown masks can be scary or fun, depending.

Clown masks can be scary or fun, depending.

Memories of my brief gypsy life flitted through my thoughts as I perused Antiques of the Midwest in historic downtown Albert Lea. Among all of the merchandise in this sprawling shop, I spotted several Halloween masks. And that sparked the playback of childhood memories.

Three stacks of JC Penney catalogs dating back to the 1940s are available for purchase at Antiques of the Midwest.

Three stacks of JC Penney catalogs dating back to the 1940s are available for purchase at Antiques of the Midwest.

An Archie mask for sale.

An Archie mask for sale.

Vintage clothing proved fun to peruse.

Vintage clothing proved fun to peruse.

And isn’t that what antique stores play into—cherished memories? Nostalgia sells. Otherwise why would I care about outdated merchandise like uncomfortable plastic Halloween masks that curbed clear vision and psychedelic clothing and stacks of old JC Penney catalogs?

Although I didn't want this vintage 1960s make-up mirror, I never-the-less was drawn to it.

Although I didn’t want this vintage 1960s make-up mirror, I never-the-less was drawn to it.

When you shop at an antique store, what do you find yourself drawn to?

I hold a fondness for old glass pitchers. They are works of art.

I hold a fondness for old glass pitchers. They are works of art.

For me it’s vintage drinking glasses and tablecloths (yes, I already own too many), clocks and art. Oh, how I love a vintage print or an original. Most often, though, I buy these at garage sales or thrift stores. I have enough art that I can switch it out in my home. Often.

If only I still had that toy buggy in which I pushed dolls and cats dressed in doll clothes.

If only I still had that toy buggy in which I pushed dolls and cats dressed in doll clothes.

Filing through a rack of children’s clothing at Antiques of the Midwest, I discovered a red plaid wool skirt just like one I wore as a child. How many of you have clothes from your childhood or teenage years? While cleaning my mom’s basement several years ago, I found a pair of cuffed lime green pants worn when I was a stick thin teen. They are hanging now in the closet of a spare bedroom in my home. Someday, my children will ask, “Why did Mom keep these?” Perhaps the pants will end up in an antique store, but more likely will be trashed.

Antiques of the Midwest holds thousands of antiques and collectibles.

Antiques of the Midwest holds thousands of antiques and collectibles.

Opening the door into an antique shop compares to opening a book about life. Therein, in the collections of items from yesteryear, our stories unfold. Imagine the stories I could write if I sat in an antique store, unobserved, eavesdropping.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Just inside the front door, the canary yellow molded chairs caught my eye.

Just inside the front door, the canary yellow molded chairs caught my eye.

Mannequins always make merchandise seem more usable and personal.

Mannequins always make merchandise seem more usable and personal. I also consider them artsy.

This creative display helps shoppers to visualize this merchandise in their homes.

This creative display helps shoppers visualize merchandise in their homes.

If you're already thinking Christmas, at least one vendor has a sizable Christmas display.

If you’re already thinking Christmas, at least one Antiques of the Midwest vendor has a sizable Christmas display.

Merchandise snugged into a cabinet.

Merchandise snugged into a cabinet makes for a museum like display.

This is the first puppet I can remember finding in an antique store.

This is the first puppet I can remember finding in an antique store.

FYI: Antiques of the Midwest is open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. It is closed on Mondays from December – March. The shop is located at 218 S. Washington Avenue in downtown Albert Lea.

This is the third in my “From Albert Lea” series. Check back for one final post. Click here to read my first and then my second story.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II From Albert Lea: An unbelievable shop, Adams Originals October 28, 2015

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Adams Originals Shop, 238 S. Broadway Avenue, Albert Lea, Minnesota.

Adams Originals Shop, 238 S. Broadway Avenue, Albert Lea, Minnesota

THE CLUTTERED EXTERIOR tipped me off to what I would find inside Adams Originals Shop. Yet, I was not prepared. Not prepared for the mounds of merchandise heaped into this narrow building in historic downtown Albert Lea.

Dolls, dolls and more dolls. Everywhere.

Dolls, dolls and more dolls. Everywhere.

Adams Originals rates as truly original. I’ve never seen a store like it with thousands of dolls and other items crammed onto shelves, set on the floor and piled into every conceivable space.

Just inside the shop and looking toward the front door.

Just inside the shop and looking toward the front door.

Inside, I simply stood for a minute taking it all in, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of goods displayed along both sides of a single narrow aisle branching into nooks of merchandise.

A Lone Ranger poster for sale.

A Lone Ranger poster for sale.

Much more than dolls pack this shop.

Much more than dolls pack this shop.

A piece of merchandise showcased outside the store.

A piece of merchandise showcased outside the store.

You can’t meet another customer in here without sidling sideways. Even on a blustery Monday morning, shoppers stopped by to peruse the goods offered by Eloise and Jack Adams.

Eloise Adams

Eloise Adams

That’s Eloise, pronounced Eloyce, as in rhyming with Joyce. Eloise doesn’t correct mispronunciations of her name; it happens all too often. It doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s just honored that her dad named her and with the uncommon pronunciation he chose.

An example of the art Eloise creates with labels.

An example of the art Eloise creates with labels.

She is as unique as her store, exuding a peaceful calm in her soft-spoken voice and gentle manner. I don’t think you’ll meet a kinder soul. In just a few minutes of conversation, I already felt comfortably at home with this 78-year-old. She speaks with the blessedness of a saint, living her faith. She speaks with the cadence of a poet, her words thoughtful and rhythmic. She speaks with the passion of an artist, for she is an artist. She speaks with the love of a mother and a grandmother and a great grandmother. She is all of those.

Eloise pulled this portrait off the hook so she could read the note about the date it was gifted to someone. I don't recall details. But I do remember how Eloise lovingly noted the girl's beautiful blue eyes accented by her blue dress.

Eloise pulled this portrait off the hook so she could read the note about the date it was gifted to someone. I don’t recall details. But I do remember how Eloise lovingly noted the girl’s beautiful blue eyes accented by her blue dress.

In short, Eloise is passionate about life and people and celebrating each day. She didn’t tell me that. She didn’t need to. It shows.

 

Adams Originals, 5 doll close-up

 

Adams Originals, 8 doll close-ups

 

Adams Originals, 26 doll close-up 2

 

When I asked Eloise about her favorite doll, she politely refused to name one. That would be, she said, like asking her to choose which of her six children is her favorite. It can’t be done.

There's a whole section of Barbie dolls and Barbie stuff.

There’s a whole section of Barbie dolls and Barbie stuff.

Even Elvis is among the dolls.

Elvis has not left the building.

Lots and lots and lots of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls...

Lots and lots and lots of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls…

But she’ll share, when asked, how this whole doll collecting thing started. A friend collected dolls and, she said, you can’t hang around too long with a doll collector without getting hooked yourself. The dolls belonging to that friend, who died of cancer, are now housed in the Freeborn County Historical Society Museum after being showcased downtown for many years.

An example of Adams pottery, center, sits among other merchandise.

An example of Adams pottery, center, sits among other merchandise.

Although dolls dominate Adams Originals, this shop isn’t solely about dolls. Eloyce and her husband are also artists who produce stoneware pottery, much of it for churches. Chalices. That sort of functional pottery. But there’s decorative pottery, too, like sculpted lions or a dragon, made years ago for a dragon-loving son. Eloise noted that Jack’s shoulders are wearing out, curbing pottery throwing.

An example of Eloise's Eddie Cochran art.

An example of Eloise’s Eddie Cochran art.

Pressing Eloise, I learn that she is a Minnesota State University Mankato art major. Prints of her pen and ink art are scattered throughout her shop. She designs art for local celebrations like Big Island Rendezvous and Eddie Cochran Days and will custom create pieces for individual customers.

Second floor windows hint at what's inside the shop.

Second floor windows hint at what’s inside the shop.

Her work is exquisitely detailed. And, Eloise noted, she drew the building that now houses Adams Originals when it was still a bookstore. On the bookstore’s last day, she and Jack stopped by to thank the booksellers for being part of the Albert Lea business community. They learned then that a purchase agreement fell through. The couple needed more space for their business which had outgrown their home. So they bought the booksellers’ building.

Today, at nearly eighty years old, Eloise has no plans to retire. Why? She loves what she does. And that’s a good enough reason to stay in business.

Check back tomorrow to read the third installment in this series from Albert Lea. Click here to read my introductory post.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I: Discovering Albert Lea’s strongest asset, in my opinion October 27, 2015

EXITING INTERSTATE 35 in southeastern Minnesota into Albert Lea, I saw the usual hotels, fast food places, a Big Box retailer and gas stations that could have made this Anywhere, USA. Nothing special. Just another place to fill up with food or gas, turn around and continue onto a destination.

But Albert Lea was my destination on a recent day trip to explore this city of some 18,000.

I knew little of this community, only that it hosts the annual Big Island Rendezvous and Eddie Cochran Days and is home to a chemical dependency treatment center.

 

Historic buildings in Albert Lea, 89 interchange to furniture store

 

It’s strongest asset, as I was about to discover, lies in the heart of downtown. Albert Lea boasts a Commercial Historic District with some incredible architecture. You would never know that, though, driving into town from the first exit on the north. You would never know that by skimming the tourism website or reading the Experience Albert Lea brochure (which mentions the district but features no photos of old buildings).

 

Historic buildings in Albert Lea, 57 tops of buildings

 

An informational kiosk in the downtown shares info about historic buildings.

A kiosk in the downtown shares info about historic buildings.

 

Historic buildings in Albert Lea, 56 furniture store

 

I discovered this treasure of historic buildings simply by driving into the downtown. One hundred and fifteen buildings comprise the Albert Lea Commercial Historic District, according to information I later found on the Minnesota Historical Society website. Wow.

Architectural details on the bank.

Architectural details on the former Albert Lea State Bank building.

This stunning old bank building, if all goes as hoped, will provide housing and serve as an art center.

The former bank building, one of the most impressive buildings downtown.

Sculpted lady above the bank building entry.

Sculpted lady above the bank building entry.

If you appreciate aged buildings that are architecturally stunning, then you must tour Albert Lea. Especially impressive is the massive former Albert Lea State Bank building anchoring a corner of South Broadway. Built in 1922 for $200,000, the structure features a marble facade and is decorated with cream hued terra cotta art. The City of Albert Lea invested about $2 million in its exterior restoration in 2007. Millions more, perhaps three times as much, are needed for additional interior (electrical, plumbing, heating/cooling, etc.) improvements.

Plans are to house the Art Center in the historic bank.

Plans are to house the Art Center in the historic bank.

The Art Center is currently in a building across the street from the bank.

The Art Center is currently in a building across the street from the bank.

A sign above the door labels the old bank as the future home of the Albert Lea Art Center. Online research also reveals that a Kansas developer plans to convert the upper floors into income-limited apartments.  However, that was contingent on securing housing tax credits, which the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency recently failed to award to the proposed project. Albert Lea officials and the developer must now decide whether to reapply for the tax credits (for the third time) or pursue other options.

A local whom I met downtown (prior to the MHFA decision) said I could probably buy the building for $10. Through November, the first floor of the old bank houses a Des Moines based West End Architectural Salvage pop-up shop, next open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. October 30 – November 1.

So much potential exists in Albert Lea's downtown given the volume of historic buildings.

So much potential exists in Albert Lea’s downtown given the volume of historic buildings.

Many empty storefronts occupy downtown Albert Lea. I don’t know why this surprises me. But it does. In recent years, I’ve visited all too many mid-sized Minnesota cities expecting to find bustling downtowns. Instead, I find many gaps between businesses.

A view of a side street in the downtown.

A view of a side street in the downtown.

In all fairness to Albert Lea, plenty of businesses still exist. It’s just that to a first-time visitor, multiple vacant storefronts present an impression of a struggling downtown. Correct assessment or not, visual impressions count.

Even though a sign flashed open in this antique shop, we could not figure out a way to gain entry to the business around newly-poured sidewalks.

Even though a sign flashed open in this antique shop, I could not figure out a way to gain entry to the business around newly-poured sidewalks on the day I was in town.

And, in all fairness to Albert Lea, I visited on a particularly blustery day, less than ideal conditions for fully exploring this community. The city lies between two lakes. But the weather was too blasted cold, grey and windy to even consider much time outdoors. As it was, I struggled to hold my camera steady against the wind for downtown photos. Road and sidewalk construction created additional obstacles.

 

Historic buildings in Albert Lea, 71 jeweler building

 

Will I return to Albert Lea? Perhaps.

Another former bank building in the downtown.

Another former bank building in the downtown.

I see the potential in this community for a destination downtown. That requires a strong mission/vision, money and a marketing plan that fully embraces and promotes Albert Lea’s Commercial Historic District as its greatest asset.

Tomorrow I'll take you inside the second building from the left in this image.

Tomorrow I’ll take you inside the third building from the corner in this image.

FYI: Return tomorrow to read the second part in this series from Albert Lea. I will take you inside a business that’s truly one-of-a-kind.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oddities & art at a rural Minnesota flea market September 3, 2013

WHENEVER I SHOP a flea market with my camera, I challenge myself to find and photograph items that rate as unique, odd, artistic. I consider shapes and fonts, weirdness and, really, anything unusual that catches my eye.

Sunday afternoon browsing the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show Flea Market in rural Dundas provided plenty of subject matter.

Here are my top picks for flea market art and oddities, starting with the weirdest, a trio of doll heads in a colander:

Kind of creepy if you ask me.

Kind of creepy if you ask me.

The same vendor, Lou of Mantiques LLC (gotta appreciate that creative name), also offered another odd item, a child’s coffin, for sale. It drew my interest in that unsettled sort of way when you’re curious enough to ask but are uncertain you want to hear the story.

A child's coffin.

A child’s coffin.

According to Lou, who speaks with a thick accent even after 18 years away from Boston, during the diphtheria epidemic parents built coffins in advance, storing the boxes in barns in anticipation of their children’s deaths. Sad. Just plain sad. The coffin Lou was selling has never, obviously, been used but was passed down through the generations. Not in his family; some other. I can’t imagine anyone buying this coffin, but…

Michniewicz Sales presents "Quality Lawn Ornaments" made in the USA.

Michniewicz Sales presents “Quality Lawn Ornaments” made in the USA, in living color.

To balance the melancholy of that story, let me show you a sampling of Bob Michniewicz’ kitschy lawn ornaments. I first met Bob a year ago at the same flea market, photographed and blogged about him (click here to read that post). He was happy to see me again as, apparently, the publicity I gave him last September resulted in the sale of 10 cow lawn ornaments. Bob extended an open invitation to photograph his art anytime I please.

Tool and/or art, you decide.

Tools and/or art, you decide.

Now not all vendors are likely aware that they’ve created art. Or perhaps the art unfolds in the eyes of the beholder. While most flea market shoppers would see open end wrenches, dies, a brush and a turnbuckle hook when viewing these tools, I see something more—a collage.

Historic art.

Historic art.

Ditto for community celebration and homecoming buttons. These are mini pieces of historic art. Mini, however, would not describe the Albert Lea Tigers’ “Stomp the Packers” (as in Austin, not Green Bay) homecoming button. That button is the size of a dessert plate. Wowza.

A vendor's "trailer."

A vendor’s “trailer.”

Finally, my camera lens landed on a vintage Winnebago camper because, yes, sometimes even a camper converted into a flea market merchandise hauler can be a work of art in angled lines and graphics.

There you have it. My top picks from this year’s flea market.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My blogging approach to covering a Minnesota flea market May 29, 2013

An overview of the Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Flea Market Saturday morning near Dundas.

An overview of the Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Flea Market Saturday morning near Dundas.

FLEA MARKETS OFFER an eclectic mix of merchandise and people, the two ingredients which make shopping and photographing these venues especially entertaining and enlightening.

Mr. Socko, the sock guy, vends socks from Fox River Mills, which originated in Appleton, Wisconsin (home to the Fox River), before moving to Iowa.

Mr. Socko, the sock guy,  right, vends socks from Fox River Mills, which originated in Appleton, Wisconsin (home to the Fox River), before moving to Iowa.

For example, I met Mr. Socko of St. Paul peddling American made socks this past weekend at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Flea Market in rural Dundas. Ben Suckow’s (his real name) been selling socks for seven years, driving down to Fox River Mills in Osage, Iowa, to pick up these quality socks to vend at flea markets.

Pigs crafts by Gerald Skluzacek.

Pigs crafts by Gerald Skluzacek.

At the same event, I spotted whimsical flying pigs (and other) garden art created by Northfielder Gerald Skluzacek, retired owner of a sandblasting company. He also makes jewelry.

Linda Stadler arrived with her mittens to sell in Gerald Skluzacek's vendor trailer.

Linda Stadler arrived with her mittens to sell in Gerald Skluzacek’s vendor trailer.

On this cold Saturday, his and wife Jane’s friend, Linda Stadler, arrives with mittens she crafted from recycled sweaters. And, yes, the weather was cold enough to warrant mittens. Linda would be minding the Garden Space while Gerald attended a party.

As a bonus, Linda asked if I was “that blogger,” yes, the one who writes about her ventures into small towns. That would be me. Always nice to meet a reader who appreciates your blogging.

Photogenic Albert Remme.

Photogenic and personable Albert Remme.

I also had the honor of meeting and chatting with Albert Remme of Dennison, who was bundled in a warm coat, an ear flapper cap and gloves on this windy 50-something degree day as he waited on bleachers for his nephew.

After seeking permission to photograph him, I asked Albert if he was a retired farmer. He was a farmer and a soldier. Drafted between Korea and Vietnam, Albert was sent to Hawaii and thanks God he never saw combat. “I don’t know how you could kill anyone who’s done nothing to you,” he said.

Then I told him about my dad, a Korean War vet who fought on the front lines. “It was kill or be killed,” I shared. Not easy. And Albert just kind of nodded his head in silent agreement.

And that’s how these photo shoots go—I spot an interesting person or object or scene and I either shoot a few quick frames or I shoot, then pause to learn more.

Shopping the flea market...

Shopping the flea market…

Every time I attend this flea market, I look for a weird piece of merchandise. This year it would be these horns.

Every time I attend this flea market, I look for a weird piece of merchandise. This year it would be these horns. Why, I ask, would anyone save these? Would you buy these horns or try to sell them?

Signs tell a story, too, like this on an auction wagon there for the live auction.

Signs tell a story, too, like this on an auction wagon there for the live auction.

The auctioneer solicits bids from his movable auction wagon.

The auctioneer solicits bids from his movable auction wagon.

I set my camera on the grass to shoot this image of barbed wire that had been auctioned off.

I set my camera on the grass to shoot this image of barbed wire that had been auctioned off as the auction continues.

FYI: Click here and here to read two previous posts from the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Flea Market. Check back for one final post in which I will show you my purchases.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“It Happens Here” events raise awareness about domestic violence in Minnesota March 6, 2017

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FROM BEMIDJI IN THE NORTH to Albert Lea near the Iowa border, from the prairie land of Wheaton to the river bluffs of Red Wing and from the small town of Glenwood to sprawling Minneapolis, Minnesotans are coming together on Tuesday. United from rural to urban, communities are breaking the silence. They—survivors, advocates and others—are gathering to say “no more” to domestic violence.

The list of communities participating in the "It Happens Here" event is posted on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

The list of communities participating in the “It Happens Here” event is posted on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

It is part of a statewide effort, “It Happens Here: A Statewide Day to End Domestic Violence.” Events begin at noon (unless otherwise noted), including at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office. Chamber staffer Barb Larson was murdered there on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband. HOPE Center is co-hosting the rally with the Chamber.

Gatherings across Minnesota will focus on the key areas of empathy, refuge, healing and solutions.

That starts with each of us. Individually. We must care about victims of domestic abuse and violence and about those who love them. We must care about the communities affected by domestic violence.

We must support the places that offer refuge to victims. Places likes HOPE Center provide help and hope.

We must encourage healing.

And we must work together to end domestic violence, defined as “a pattern of behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” That can take the form of physical, psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, technological and financial abuse. One in three Minnesota women are victims of domestic violence.

One is one too many.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those creepy clowns October 14, 2016

clowns-in-basket-51

 

POKING AROUND MS. MAC’S ANTIQUES in Janesville on a recent Friday afternoon, I came across clowns nestled in a basket. There was nothing frightening about them. They’re just dolls crafted from fabric—some homemade, others manufactured.

But seeing them on display got me thinking about the clown sightings around the country. Last Saturday evening a clown costumed 15-year-old boy was arrested in Crookston, Minnesota, for allegedly scaring people with a butcher knife. All across the U.S., creepy clowns are showing up in communities, creating fear and sometimes chaos.

Even McDonalds has been impacted. The fast food chain is limiting appearances by Ronald McDonald, apparently thinking he best keep a low profile until this whole clown thing blows over.

 

clowns-56-clown-face-close-up

 

In my southern Minnesota community, police are being proactive, issuing this statement last week on the Faribault Police Department Facebook page:

We have now gotten a couple of calls about clowns around town. These are actually young people dressed as scary / crazy / kooky clowns. We have no information to indicate they pose a threat to anyone locally, other than being creepy.

The clown craze is the latest attempt at social media influenced hysteria. There have been several arrests around the country in recent days for making terroristic threats and disrupting public school functions.

If you see, or are concerned about, clowns hanging around, please call us and we will gladly check them out.

 

Clown masks can be scary or fun, depending.

I photographed this clown Halloween mask last October at Antiques of the Midwest in Albert Lea. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

In neighboring Kenyon, noted Police Chief Lee Sjolander isn’t taking things quite as seriously. If you follow his department’s Facebook page, you know that Sjolander thinks, writes and acts outside the box. Here’s the Chief’s take on the clown issue:

I was asked by a parent for my opinion on their young child dressing up as a clown this Halloween. I was told this has been planned for a while and I also know our Kenyon Park & Rec. are planning a clown theme for their Halloween event as well.

Here is my opinion. Dress as a clown if you like, and here is why…

We live in a small town, we know almost everyone, and I’m not one to fall into conspiracy theories, rumormongering, fear, or hoaxes. We have had no “clown sightings” and if we do, we will follow up on them just like we would any other call.

I’m also a huge supporter of common sense. Now a young child dressed as a clown walking with their parents or friends holding a bag of candy is way different than an adult dressed as a clown carrying a weapon and scaring people. That’s like someone dressing as a deer and walking through the woods during deer season… Not the best thought out plan and that can lead to someone getting hurt.

When you say “clown” in Kenyon, most people think of Frank and Bob, who are two of the most loved and respected shriner clowns you could ever meet, and they are local residents.

So there you have it. My opinion. I think I’ll dress as a small town cop again this year, like I do every year…

Please use good judgment, common sense, and if you have any questions or concerns this Halloween, please feel free to contact us.

 

Ron, proprietor at Ms. Mac's Antiques, showed me this clown tucked into a storage room. It's a 1940s balloon machine.

Ron, proprietor at Ms. Mac’s Antiques, showed me this clown tucked into a storage room. It’s a 1940s balloon machine.

 

I don’t understand this whole clown thing. I don’t understand why anyone considers it a good idea to dress as a clown for the purpose of scaring, threatening and/or harming people. There’s nothing funny about this. Nothing at all.

Clowns are supposed to make us smile, make us laugh, bring us joy. They are not meant to terrorize.

Legitimate clowns are, as Chief Sjolander writes, to be loved and respected.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorable Geneva, Minnesota June 29, 2015

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RECENTLY I STOPPED in Geneva. That would be in Minnesota, not Switzerland, population hovering around 555. Or, if you have a sense of humor, 100,000. Someone scrawled that number onto a sign marking entry to this Freeborn County community just off Interstate 35 north of Albert Lea.

My only knowledge of Geneva comes from radio spots and the personal endorsement (from my friend Howard) for George’s of Geneva. The restaurant is known for its prime and barbecued ribs. So when my husband and I pulled into town on our meandering way home from an overnight get-away to Clear Lake, Iowa, I was scouting for George’s.

But a few other sites caught my attention first…

 

Geneva, crayon fence

 

…like a crayon fence

 

Geneva, post office

 

and the post office.

 

Geneva, George's of Geneva

 

Then I nearly missed George’s. I was watching for an impressive building with bold signage. Instead, this dining place is housed in a rather unassuming low-slung white building with understated signage. I wish we’d taken time to step inside. But it was the middle of the afternoon and we weren’t hungry.

 

I'm pretty certain my husband was coveting one of these vintage pick-up trucks. Me too.

I’m pretty certain my husband was coveting one of these vintage pick-up trucks. Me too.

Set in the heart of southern Minnesota farmland, Geneva is definitively rural.

Set in the heart of southern Minnesota farmland, Geneva is definitively rural.

Refrigerators/freezers are corralled outside Sovenson's Appliance.

Refrigerators/freezers are corralled outside Sorenson’s Appliance.

 

We continued our brief tour, driving along several residential and commercial streets.

 

Geneva, fenced garden

 

Geneva gives an impression that residents care. Not all small towns show that, meaning yards are unkempt and properties have fallen into disrepair.

 

Geneva, bear on bench

 

I’ll also remember the quirky side of Geneva, beginning with that population notation and crayon fence and then a carnival-sized teddy bear spotted lounging on a bench.

As we turned north out of town toward Blooming Prairie, I knew I would remember Geneva.

TELL ME, WHAT WOULD visitors remember if they drove into your community for a brief tour? Just in and out, what would be their impressions, positive and/or negative? Does your town need to work on improving its image?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Preserving a small town’s history in a Minnesota country schoolhouse June 7, 2013

The District #54 country school, built in 1870, was moved into Morristown several years ago to a site next to the old mill along the banks of the Cannon River.

The District #54 country school, built in 1870, was moved into Morristown several years ago to a site next to the old mill along the banks of the Cannon River.

OH, THE THINGS YOU LEARN upon visiting a grassroots historical society run by volunteers in a small town.

One of my favorite images is this one of volunteer Helen Newman's hand. She was cutting and taping info into the 2005 sesquicentennial book lying on the desk.

One of my favorite images is this one of 87-year-old volunteer Helen Newman’s hand. the life-long Morristown resident was cutting and taping info into the 2005 sesquicentennial album shown here.

Nothing against sprawling museums with paid staff—those places are fabulous, too. But there’s something especially touching about folks from a small town collecting photos and artifacts, memories and information, to display in a building(s) with a deep connection to the community.

You’ll find exactly that in Morristown, population around 1,000, in Rice County in southeastern Minnesota. Set next to the Cannon River are the Morristown Feed Mill, once home to a sawmill and flour mill, and the District 54 Epard School moved in from a few miles north of Morristown and today the District #54 Schoolhouse Museum. The Morristown Historical Society maintains both buildings, which I toured during the recent Dam Days community celebration.

I didn’t study the content of the two buildings like a local with an intimate connection to this place. Rather, I picked topics of particular interest to me to read and photograph.

Information about the Ku Klux Klan's presence in Morristown and the region.

Information about the Ku Klux Klan’s presence in Morristown and the region.

For example, I was unaware that my county of Rice was home to Ku Klux Klan chapters and hosted the first statewide Klan convention at the fairgrounds in August of 1924. Chapter #26 was headquartered in Morristown with other chapters in nearby communities like Faribault and Owatonna and Austin and Albert Lea further to the south. Certainly, such membership doesn’t please me. But I’m thankful the Morristown Historical Society didn’t ignore this negative part of the town’s history. We need to learn from our mistakes.

A “Morristown Crime Wave of 1914” display also caught my eye with crimes such as profane and abusive language, drunken and disorderly conduct, and stealing fish noted.

News stories about the devastating 1900 fire.

News stories about the devastating 1900 fire in downtown Morristown.

In another display, a front page article published in the February 1, 1900, issue of the Morristown Press detailed a devastating fire which destroyed 20 buildings, nearly the entire business district, in downtown Morristown. “Loss will reach $35,000,” a sub-head reads.

Mrs. Lydia Meehl, who helped so many Morristown area women birth their babies.

Mrs. Lydia Meehl, who helped so many Morristown area women birth their babies.

My friend Dale, who joined a historical walking tour on the day I visited the schoolhouse museum and mill, learned about his place of birth in the Meehl Maternity Home. Hundreds of local babies were birthed there with the assistance of licensed practical nurse Mrs. Lydia Meehl. A newspaper story quotes the 82-year-old Meehl as saying she “loves them all (the 500-plus babies born in her maternity home).”

A snippet of the artifacts and info displayed inside the schoolhouse turned museum.

A snippet of the artifacts and info displayed inside the schoolhouse turned museum. Those are Civil War cannonballs on the shelf near the center of the photo

In the museum collection, you’ll also find the usual military (including Civil War cannonballs), school, telephone and other small town artifacts.

Helen Newman and Cindy Packard work on a sesquicentennial album.

Helen Newman and Cindy Packard work on a sesquicentennial album.

As a bonus, I met 87-year-old Helen Newman, who’s lived in Morristown her entire life, and Morristown native Cindy Packard, visiting her hometown from Colorado Springs. The two were seated behind a hulk of a desk inserting info into an unfinished album about the town’s 2005 sesquicentennial.

Packard brought with her a few items for the schoolhouse museum, including a spatula imprinted with “Our Twentieth Year LLOYD’S FOOD MARKET, Morristown, Minn.” She kind of hated to give it up, but…

Switchboard wires and switches reportedly from Adolph Hitler's bunker.

Switchboard wires and switches reportedly from Adolph Hitler’s bunker.

Upon my request, the pair pulled the spatula and a snippet of wires and two switches from a plastic bag resting on the corner of the desk. The switches came from the switchboard in Adolph Hitler’s bunker and were brought back by Oscar Ahlman to Hewitt Thomspon in Morristown, according to a note accompanying Packard’s donation.

Helen and Cindy visit while they cut and tape information into the album.

Helen Newman and Cindy Packard visit while they write, cut and tape information into the album. I told them just to ignore me and my camera and they obliged. I simply love this photo of the pair.

And that’s how these small town museum collections grow—with donations from the likes of a hometown girl come home every year and the dedication of volunteers like the 87-year-old Newman.

BONUS PHOTOS:

There's something about an old school map that takes me back to Vesta Elementary School, my childhood school.

There’s something about an old school map that takes me back to Vesta Elementary School, my childhood school.

A display of school-related items includes a lunch pail.

A display of school-related items includes a lunch pail, books and photos.

Presidential portraits grace the blackboard by the teacher's desk.

Presidential portraits grace a corner blackboard by the teacher’s desk.

FYI: To read a previous post on the historic Morristown Feed Mill, click here. A second mill post will be forthcoming. Also check my recent archives for stories from Morristown Dam Days.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling