IF RAIN FELL IN COLOR, the hue would be purple here in Minnesota. Not just for the Minnesota Vikings, but also for beloved homegrown musician Prince of “Purple Rain” fame.
Now road signs bearing Prince’s name will sport his signature color, purple. Thursday the State Senate approved a bill renaming a seven-mile stretch of State Highway 5 as Prince Rogers Nelson Memorial Highway. The House last month approved the same. The roadway runs past Paisley Park, Prince’s home and recording studio in Chanhassen, now open for public tours, concerts and more. Paisley Park is a museum of sorts following Prince’s untimely death from an opioid overdose in April 2016.
While I’m admittedly not a Prince fan (I’ve not listened to his music), I respect that he is an accomplished singer, songwriter and performer with a worldwide fan base. With seven Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, music videos, and song releases too numerous to count, Prince certainly succeeded in his profession. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
Ah, the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. That’s not nearly as familiar to most Minnesotans as Paisley Park. But for Prince lovers, it likely will become a new pilgrimage destination. Located in New Ulm in southern Minnesota, the Hall of Fame now features a bronze statue of Prince, a memorial bench, street signs and more moved from Henderson.
In August 2020, I photographed the outdoor Prince shrine in Henderson, location of a scene in “Purple Rain” along the nearby Minnesota River. I was surprised to learn that the Prince Garden items are now in New Ulm. Apparently there were a few issues in Henderson.
Also coming to the New Ulm location is a 15-foot tall sculpture of Prince’s guitar. It was part of the Mankato CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour, a temporary annual installation of outdoor art. Iowa artist Jefferson Davis created the piece from upcycled metal. The now-dissolved Prince Legacy Henderson Project purchased the guitar art via fundraising and a grant. The sculpture will be placed near the entrance to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. Located along an arterial street through New Ulm, the over-sized purple guitar is sure to draw attention.
The museum, the movie, the music, the musician. And now a stretch of roadway renamed Prince Rogers Nelson Memorial Highway. I’d say it’s raining purple in Minnesota.
I’M SEVERAL DAYS LATE to the party. Yet, it’s worth noting, even after the fact, the importance of February 2 and 3 in music history. On February 2, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bop” Richardson and other musicians performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. The next day, the three died, along with the pilot, when their chartered plane crashed in a field near this northern Iowa community. It was, as Don McClean later wrote and sang, “the day the music died.”
Each February, Clear Lake commemorates the musicians and celebrates their music at a Winter Dance Party. I’m about 10 years too young to have known these early rock and rollers. But I still appreciate their status in rock and roll, a music genre I definitely embraced as a teen. McClean’s iconic lengthy “American Pie,” which holds meaning well beyond the tragedy in Clear Lake, remains forever imprinted in my memory, like so many other songs of my adolescent years.
In mid-May 2015, Randy and I traveled to Clear Lake, just an hour and 15 minutes from Faribault across the Iowa border along Interstate 35. We toured the Surf, but because of rain, did not walk to the crash site. The sprawling ballroom is worth visiting for the history it holds and simply for its ballroom of yesteryear appeal. Retaining its original ocean beach club theme (yes, in rural Iowa nowhere near an ocean), built-in wooden booths and a hardwood floor, this music venue feels like a step back in time. Simply put, I felt like I could have brought a whiskey bottle in a brown paper bag, ordered a set-up and settled in for an evening of dancing and fun.
Even if you’re like me, not too knowledgeable about music, the Surf will draw you into the music of the era with posters and historical information. But mostly, it’s about being there, about feeling the music that was made, and continues to be made, here.
Clear Lake is one of those small towns that appeals to me. Art and history and eats and drink and natural beauty and homegrown shops and much more make this a must-visit Iowa community. Randy and I are already thinking about a return trip there this summer. On our list of places to revisit is Lake Time Brewery. There we met Connie, Nancy, Chris and “They Call Me Norm.” What a welcoming bunch, exactly the type of connection we hope to make when visiting a place. We still reminisce about enjoying craft beer with locals on the Lake Time patio on a lovely May evening.
These are my thoughts as I reflect on the tragic deaths on February 3, 1959, outside Clear Lake, Iowa, so far from the ocean yet so near.
TELL ME: Have you been to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake?
Now I’m doubly honored that my rural-themed poetry inspired by my farmer father and farm wife mother were chosen to be part of this outstanding exhibit focusing on the people, places, businesses, communities, activities, events, history and arts of Lyon County.
finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.
As I read the “Imagining the Prairie” informational panel, my gratitude to the LCHS staff, volunteers and Museology Museum Services of Minneapolis (lead contractor for the exhibit) grew. I appreciate that an entire panel focuses on the arts: The Lyon County landscape…has inspired painters and poets and artists of all kinds. I’ve long thought that as I see the prairie influence in my writing and photography. Farms, vast prairies, wide skies and tumbling rivers define the landscape of southwestern Minnesota.
A quote from poet, essayist and musician Bill Holm of nearby Minneota, summarizes well the lens through which we prairie natives view the world and the creative process. The prairie eye looks for distance, clarity, and light…
Holm, who died in 2009, was among southwestern Minnesota’s best-known writers, having penned poetry and multiple books such as his popular The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth and Boxelder Bug Variations. His boxelder bug book inspired his hometown to host an annual Boxelder Bug Days, still going strong.
To see my poems featured alongside the work of gifted writers like Holm and equally-talented poet Leo Dangel in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit was humbling. Dangel, who died in 2016, wrote six collections of poetry. The prairie and rural influence on his work show in the featured poems, “A Farmer Prays,” “A Clear Day,” and “Tornado.”
Both men taught English at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, reaffirming their devotion to this rural region and to the craft of writing. The exhibit includes a section on the university, which opened in 1967 within 10 years of my leaving the area to attend college in Mankato. I sometimes wonder how my writing would have evolved had I stayed and studied on the prairie.
When I returned to Marshall for the first time in 40 years, nothing about the town seemed familiar. Time has a way of changing a place. But when I reached the top floor of the county museum, saw my poems and began to peruse the “home” exhibit, I felt like I was back home. Back home on the prairie, among cornfields and farm sites and grain elevators and all those small towns that dot the landscape. Back home under a wide prairie sky with land stretching beyond my vision. Back home where I understand the people. Back home in the place that influenced my writing as only the prairie can for someone rooted here.
Please check back for more posts featuring the Lyon County Museum and the area.
I will never pretend to understand, or even care, much about fashion. But this held my interest as I noted the variety of styles from princess full lacy skirts to sleek and elegant simple satin designs. It was the plain gowns that held the most appeal for me, even though my own wedding dress from 40 years ago featured more lace than suits me now. But it was the style of the early 80s.
In a brief conversation with another museum visitor, also a native to the area but back from Nebraska, we discussed how styles always come back, although the popular strapless gowns were absent from long ago weddings. We agreed that we don’t particularly like that style.
But it really doesn’t matter what I like or don’t like. It is the bride who chooses her perfect dress. And this exhibit showcases the selections of southwestern Minnesota brides through the decades from the museum’s collection and on loan.
The exhibit also includes some bridesmaid’s dresses, suits, accessories and wedding portraits displayed in the small second floor conference room.
I realize most of my readers won’t see this exhibit in person. But if you live near Marshall, I encourage you to peruse the display, which closes at 4 pm Saturday, September 17. It’s been up since June. I saw “The Wedding Collection” as part of an overall tour of the museum, an exceptional museum, in my opinion. I traveled some three hours on Tuesday specifically to see two of my rural-themed poems, included in an impressive “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit on the second floor. Plan on spending hours at the museum with three floors of exhibit space.
Interestingly enough, I last visited Marshall 40 years ago on my May wedding night. Randy and I stayed there before continuing on our way to the Black Hills of South Dakota for our honeymoon. So in many ways, seeing “The Wedding Collection” brought me full circle back to my own wedding. Four decades seem so long ago…
FYI: I’ll take you back to the museum in Marshall in a future post to show you the exhibits including my poems and much more. Museum hours are 10 am – 4 pm Monday-Friday, noon to 4 pm Saturday and closed on Sunday.
WHENEVER I THINK of a tin man, I think of three specifics: The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, The Tin Man and his family in Faribault, and the absence of a heart.
In the classic tale by L. Frank Baum, The Tin Man is in need of a heart, or love. The Scarecrow needs a brain. And the Lion needs courage.
Now you can take away whatever you want from Baum’s book, for there are, indeed, many take-aways. But the basics of love, knowledge and courage stick all the way along The Yellow Brick Road to The Emerald City.
I wish I didn’t believe this to be true. But too often these days I see heartless Tin Man after heartless Tin Man (you may also insert “woman” here) following a narrow pathway of self-focus with no regard for others. There’s no self-awareness of how actions, words, decisions hurt others. Or perhaps, more accurately, there’s no care for how others are affected by what we say or do. That can apply in business, in politics, in relationships, in friendships, in families…
Sometimes I feel like our collective hearts are missing or atrophying and we really ought to work harder at being kinder, more caring, more considerate, more loving. Better people. Period.
That leads me to The Tin Man and his family in Faribault. A few weeks ago I photographed them at the Rice County Historical Society, where they’ve been hanging out for awhile. Originally, their home was at Lockerby Sheet Metal, which closed abruptly in October 2018 after 110 years in business in Faribault. I’m thankful this family found a new home at the RCHS. They are local icons.
Keeping this family together, recognizing their collective value, says something about the heart of a community. Locals care about The Tin Man and family from an historic, artistic and business perspective. And, perhaps, also from a love perspective. These creations of Lockerby Sheet Metal can visually represent community love. Yes, that’s the marketing, creative and hopeful side of me writing.
Even as I believe too much heartlessness exists in today’s world, I also believe that we are capable of growing our love for one another, of strengthening our hearts. Rather than follow a self-focused narrow Yellow Brick Road, we can pause, stop, consider. Pause. Stop. Consider. When we recognize how our words and actions affect others, then we no longer rattle around like a Tin Man (or Woman) without a heart.
That domino thought train followed for me after I heard a news report about KARE 11 TV anchor Randy Shaver’s induction into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame over the weekend. I remembered a photo I’d taken of a Randy Shaver trading card during a stop at Hopefull Treasures/Wilker’s Antiques in March. The antique shop is housed in an aged building in the small town of Hope just off Interstate 35 south of Owatonna.
I then began scrolling through the 2001-2018 Hall of Fame Honorees, looking for familiar names. And I found lots of them—Cyndy Brucato, Herb Carneal, Ralph Jon Fritz, Halsey Hall and, then, pause, Brad Nessler. I clicked on his bio. Nessler and I attended journalism school together at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He graduated a year before me, his focus in broadcasting and mine in news editorial/print journalism. Professionally, this small town boy from St. Charles in southeastern Minnesota excelled. Today he works as the CBS play-by-play sportscaster for the Southeastern Conference in football and basketball. I remember him, from my college days, as an all-around nice guy.
Once I finished scrolling through the Hall of Fame honorees, I then shifted to reading about The Pavek Museum in St. Louis Park which initiated this broadcasting award. I’d never heard of the museum. The 12,000-plus square foot museum houses antique radios, televisions and broadcasting equipment, most from the collection of Joe Pavek.
Well, then, who is Joe Pavek? He was an amateur radio operator and electronics instructor at Dunwoody Institute. And a collector.
This 1957 mission was kept intentionally secretive given the time period. Months later the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik. The space race was on.
That Minnesota played an important role in the U.S. efforts to win that race is significant. And, of all places, this happened in an iron mine pit outside a small mining community on the Cuyuna Range. A 200-foot wide paper-thin balloon holding 3 million cubic feet of helium lifted the capsule skyward from the base of the Portsmouth iron mine pit. Eventually the spaceship landed in a flax field near the North Dakota/South Dakota border. And, as our tour guide Tim told me, Simons was met by a rancher and a young boy on horseback. That boy showed more interested in an arriving helicopter than the capsule, so the story goes.
The story of MAN HIGH II truly impresses me, especially after seeing the small size of the replica capsule and feeling the thinness of the helium balloon. (The actual capsule is displayed at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.) Simons was one brave man to confine himself inside that tight space for 44 hours. He was sealed in well before arriving at the iron mine pit from South Saint Paul. Claustrophobia got the best of another candidate. I would feel the same. Simons endured much—lack of sleep, extreme temperatures, uncertain weather, and the very real fear that he could die if the thin helium balloon developed even a crack.
As much as Jeff Bezos and crew made history with their 62-mile high, 10-minute and 25-second space journey, using the best technology possible, the flight of MAN HIGH II 64 years ago from a Minnesota mine pit impresses me even more. The people behind the 1957 flight truly represent pioneering in space. They blazed the trail for men to land on the moon and, yesterday, for civilians like Bezos to pursue space travel.
FYI: The Soo Line Depot Museum in Crosby houses a detailed display on MAN HIGH II. You can climb inside the replica capsule for a photo. Tour guide Tim was especially knowledgeable. You can also visit the site of the launch, the Portsmouth Pit by Crosby, although I didn’t this time. Next trip. I encourage you to check out the Crosby museum, which also highlights Minnesota’s worst mining disaster. More on that in an upcoming post.
THE ENTHUSIASM OF THE KIDS impressed me. Girls in Laura Ingalls Wilder style calico bonnets and prairie skirts and dresses. Boys in period caps and hats and bib overalls. And then the teens in football jerseys, celebrating locally-grown 1941 Heismann Trophy winner Bruce Smith.
A photo cut-out of Bruce Smith next to Pleasant Valley School and next to a grassy area where kids (mostly) tossed footballs.
All engaged in Night at the Museum, an event hosted by the Rice County Historical Society last Saturday. They led activities, participated and presented a local living history that reminded me of those who settled and grew this southeastern Minnesota county.
Checking out the one-room Pleasant Valley School.
One of many vintage books inside Pleasant Valley School.
Pleasant Valley School, built in the 1850s, and Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in 1869. Both were relocated to the Rice County Historical Society grounds.
While it’s easy to romanticize that life, the reality is that life back-in-the-day was labor intensive and often difficult. But also joyful. Just like today, only different in the joys and challenges. Back then students learned from books and used slates and chalk. Lots of rote memorization within the confines of a bare bones one-room country school. Today’s kids use different tools—primarily technology. And hopefully they learn in better ways than simply memorizing and regurgitating.
As I pounded out words on a manual typewriter in the Heritage and Harvest Halls, I thought how grateful I am for computers. Writing and photography are so much easier with this tool. No more xxxxing out words on paper or buying and processing film. When I spoke with my husband Randy on a crank telephone, I recalled the days without a telephone and how my mom ran to the neighbor’s farm when a fire started in a hay bunk next to the barn. Now I use a cellphone and, yes, also a landline. Watching two men team up on sharpening an axe, I recalled the mean rooster on my childhood farm. When we’d all had enough of his terrorizing us, Dad grabbed the axe.
Visitors ride in a wagon pulled by a vintage John Deere tractor during Night at the Museum.
One of many area business signs now displayed at the museum.
When I saw a Surge milking machine, I remembered how hard my dad worked on our family’s crop and dairy farm and all those years I helped with barn chores and watched Dad head out to the field on his John Deere tractor.
Behind glass, memorabilia from a local dairy, closed years ago.
A storyteller, left, roasts hot dogs with another volunteer.
These are the places, the times, I remembered as I walked from spot to spot at the Rice County Historical Museum grounds. Night at the Museum provided many opportunities for reflection, for remembering when I was young (er)…
Folks gathered around the fire to hear these musicians perform at Night at the Museum.
This volunteer informed visitors about the history of an 1856 log cabin, once located near Nerstrand, Minnesota.
WHEN HISTORY BECOMES AUTHENTIC, I get interested. Not to say I dismiss museum exhibits packed with information, artifacts and such. But I engage most with the past when that past comes alive.
The festive setting outside the late 1850s Pleasant Valley School welcomed visitors to A Night at the Museum.
That happened Saturday during the Rice County Historical Society’s annual Night at the Museum. Volunteers dressed in period costume took visitors like me back in time—
Gathering outside Pleasant Valley School before “class.”
Inside the school entry, a place to wash.
Propped against the wall at the front of the classroom.
As the early evening sun slants through the windows, class begins.
into a one-room country school,
Next to the school, Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in 1869 and moved here in 1959 from Cannon City, Minnesota.
Waiting for “worshipers” to enter the church.
Beautiful vintage altar cloth authentic to the church.
An 1800s hymnbook.
an aged Episcopal church,
Outside the 1856 log cabin, visitors could walk on stilts and mow lawn.
Inside the log cabin, a young visitor learns about pioneer era beds.
an 1856 log cabin…
I found myself watching, listening, experiencing the history of Rice County, Minnesota. I didn’t grow up here so this place doesn’t hold the same significance it would for life-long residents rooted here for generations. But I’ve lived in Faribault long enough to care about the history of this county and the people who shaped it.
Inside the Harvest and Heritage Halls, many local business signs are now displayed. I remember these businesses, some of which closed in recent years. I love signage for its art and its history.
And I’ve lived long enough to now see items like local business signs, typewriters, telephones, a Surge milking machine and more in museum exhibits.
I am grateful for efforts to preserve these parts of our past and to showcase history during interactive events like Night at the Museum. To witness history in this way connects me personally to the past of this place I’ve called home since 1982.
FYI: Check back for Part II from this living history event.
CAN YOU NAME all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
I bet my daughters can. These fictional teenage cartoon characters are named after Italian artists of the Renaissance. And they were vastly popular when my girls were growing up in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael. The turtles are among toys featured in a “Toys & Play, 1970 to Today” exhibit at the Steele Country History Center in Owatonna. This museum ranks as one of my favorite regional history centers. Why? Because of the home-grown changing exhibits, the traveling exhibits and the adjoining Village of Yesteryear. Staff and volunteers clearly work hard to create engaging exhibits with a local connection.
Go ahead, play.
Kids are welcome to play with some of the exhibit toys, including these farm-themed wood cut-outs.
From videos to interactive activities to creative displays and more, visitors experience history. I am so thankful for this shift from “look and don’t touch” to hands-on that now imprints most history centers. History, to be remembered, must be experienced through the senses. I find myself bored at museums that revolve around simply walking past glass-encased historical artifacts. I need engagement to pull me in.
All three of my kids, including the son, owned one Cabbage Patch doll.
Front and center in the exhibit, fabric drapes over a cardboard box to create a fort.
Without kids in tow, though, I mostly observed this exhibit, flashing back to sweet memories of my daughters cradling their Cabbage Patch dolls, clasping tiny Polly Pockets in their little hands, sliding Viewmaster reels into place, creating art with a Lite-Brite, building forts from blankets draped over card tables and much more.
In a mock-up child’s bedroom, visitors are invited to play Nintendo.
Our family played lots of board games. Those are part of the Owatonna exhibit, but are a don’t touch part of the exhibit.
A table full of pogs, ready for playing.
I limited their screen time. They played together. Indoors and outdoors. And they used their imaginations.
I was happy to see a tractor displayed in a case full of toys.
The exhibit extends beyond a collection of popular toys. It also addresses the value of play as a learning tool, consumerism, issues related to technologically-based toys… There’s much to contemplate as I consider how toys have changed in the decades since I was a kid galloping around the farmyard on my stick horse crafted from a sock and an old broom handle.
But one thing remains unchanged—that is a kid’s desire for whatever is the hottest, newest toy. I remember flipping through the pages of the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog, aka the Wish Book, to tag the toys I knew I’d never get. A pogo stick sticks in my memory. I could dream all I wanted while repeatedly turning those pages. But in reality my parents had only minimal money and not enough to buy those coveted toys.
Through the museum window I saw this playground, such a fitting visual for the info posted inside the mock child’s bedroom.
Looking back now, I am thankful for that lack of material possessions as a child. Instead, the vast outdoors of rural Minnesota provided all I needed for imaginative play with my siblings. There were no battery operated toys, which I refuse to buy even today for my grandchildren.
Parenting children today, I think, proves more challenging than that of previous generations, even of raising my own kids. Screen time robs too many kids of creative play, of family time, of spending time outdoors. I realize it’s a much different world. And I can lament all I want about the changes. But that does no good. The bottom line is that we can make choices for our children. We decide whether to cave to whining. We decide which toys to buy. We decide on screen time. We decide on the importance of outdoor play. We have the ability to encourage healthy, engaging and creative play.
My girls’ My Little Ponies came from garage sales, as did many of their toys.
PLEASE SHARE your thoughts on toys, on child’s play, on your favorite childhood toy, on parental choices, whatever you feel inclined to say about kids and toys and, yes, parents, too.
FYI: The Steele County Historical Society museum is open Tuesdays – Saturdays. The toy exhibit remains open into the fall. Call to confirm dates.