Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This has to stop, these shootings July 19, 2017

Positive words posted near a garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOMETIMES I COME across an article and accompanying video so profound that I am moved not to tears, but to sobbing.

Often I read those stories in Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins’ NewsCut column. He rates as one of my favorite writers for his ability to ferret out those stories that touch human emotions. You won’t necessarily see top news stories of the day featured online in NewsCut. But you will read stories that are deeply human, that elicit thought and emotions.

Sometimes Bob makes me laugh. Sometimes cry. Sometimes shake my head. And, almost always, he makes me think. His stories prompt plenty of reader interaction. Whether I agree with comments or not, I always find them interesting.

On Monday Bob published a story and linked to a video in a piece titled A wellness check by police ends with a son dead. The headline grabbed my attention. But it was the video of a grieving father that twisted my gut and made me cry in the deep sort of painful way that heaves your shoulders and unleashes primeval wailing.

In summary, the Massachusetts man’s 26-year-old son, despondent over a break-up with his girlfriend, holed himself up in his room with his dog and a gun. Police were called as was the SWAT Team. The parents were ushered from their home, the father pleading with police to just let his son sleep and to not over-react. I would encourage you to read the entire story and watch the video by clicking here.

 

I purchased this retro tray at an antique/vintage shop in St. Charles for its simple message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Admittedly, I came to this story with emotions on edge after the police shooting of Justine Damond, 40, in an affluent south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday evening. She called 911 to report a suspected assault in an alley by her home, her family says. The death of this Australian woman, who moved to Minnesota several years ago to be nearer her fiance’, has triggered outrage and world-wide attention. And rightly so. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting of the unarmed, pajama clad Justine. Few details have been released. The police officer who shot Justine in the abdomen has thus far refused to be interviewed. Justine’s death continues to top the news in Twin Cities media.

Nearly every evening I turn on the 10 o’clock TV news to hear of another shooting in the Twin Cities. A drive-by, a targeted victim, a domestic and, yes, more and more, a fatal shooting by a police officer.

All of this leaves me wondering. Why? Why so much gun violence? Why the increase in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Repeatedly, I hear of the need for more officer training. A recently-passed Minnesota state law requires police officers to receive specialized de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training beginning in July 2018. In my county, that training is already happening and may have factored into a positive outcome for a 61-year-old local man who last week threatened suicide. He survived his crisis when police responded.

With increased societal awareness and openness, we’re seeing an attitude shift in handling of suicide threats and other mental health related calls to police like the one in Massachusetts. Common sense should tell you not to roll in with an excessive show of force and upset an already struggling individual. Lights, sound, action may work in Hollywood, but not necessarily in reality.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

We can choose to remain calm, to listen to one another, to be compassionate and caring, whether we are a neighbor, a family member, a police officer or a stranger. I know that’s not always easy in a fluid and tense situation.

But something has to change. Too many people are dying due to gun violence in their homes, in alleys, along city streets, on sidewalks…from Minnesota to Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The circus connection to a Massachusetts university May 23, 2017

A sculpture of Jumbo the elephant (in the background) looms over attendees at the Tufts University 2016 commencement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

WHEN RINGLING BROS & Barnum & Bailey Circus performed its last “Greatest Show on Earth” in New York state this past Sunday, my thoughts immediately shifted to Tufts University in neighboring Massachusetts.

Why?

 

On graduation day 2016, students and others gather at a recently installed new Jumbo sculpture on campus. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

Because an elephant is the mascot at Tufts University in Somerville/Medford.

So what?

Well, there’s a connection to the circus. P.T. Barnum and Jumbo the elephant hold historic importance at this elite private research university. Barnum was an early Tufts trustee and benefactor who donated the stuffed hide of Jumbo to the college. For nearly 90 years, Jumbo was on exhibit at Barnum Hall until a fire destroyed both in 1975. Now the famous elephant’s ashes are kept in a peanut butter jar in the athletic director’s office.

 

Posted on an athletic field fence at Tufts University. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

Despite the loss of the original Jumbo and changing attitudes toward circuses and the treatment of elephants, this mighty mammal remains Tufts’ adored mascot. I’m good with that because this university has established the Tufts Elephant Conservation Alliance to save elephants and to educate on the topic.

 

The commencement ceremony begins at The School of Engineering, Tufts University in May 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

So why do I, as a Minnesotan, take any interest in this when I’ve never been to the circus or, up until a few years ago, had never heard of Tufts? Well, my son graduated from Tufts last May with a computer science degree and now continues to live and work in the Boston area.

 

Picnic lunches served after the 2016 commencement were bagged in Jumbo stamped bags. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

During his three years as a transfer student into Tufts, I fell hard for the Jumbo mascot, although not hard enough to purchase a spendy Tufts Mom t-shirt or sweatshirt. But when my husband and I attended Caleb’s college graduation at this time a year ago, I got my Jumbo fix on campus.

 

Caleb poses in front of the Tufts’ sculpture of Jumbo. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

I couldn’t help but consider that on Sunday, the date the circus closed out its 146-year history at that final show in New York, a new group of Jumbos was graduating from Tufts University and posing next to the iconic elephant sculpture on campus.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Two found dead at Faribault Chamber December 23, 2016

UPDATE, 6:55 p.m. Friday: Faribault police have identified the two individuals found shot to death as Richard “Dick” Larson, 61, and his ex-wife, Barbara Larson, 59. Richard Larson apparently shot Barbara and then himself. Richard Larson was a retired Faribault police officer. I remember him. A harassment restraining order was served on him earlier this week.

Their identity does not surprise me as I quickly connected the dots.

About a week ago, Barb Larson was interviewed by local KDHL radio station personality Gordy Kosfeld about Chamber activities. You can view that interview by clicking here.

I am deeply saddened by this act of domestic violence. A restraining order is no guarantee of protection. Something has to change.

WE ARE A COMMUNITY SHAKEN.

This afternoon, a man and a woman were found dead behind a desk at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office in an apparent murder-suicide, according to police.

I am still trying to comprehend this violent tragedy, the second such in just 12 days. On December 11, a 33-year-old man and an 8-year-old girl died of gunshot wounds in a murder-suicide in a residential neighborhood of Faribault.

At this point, just hours after the bodies were found, information is limited to early media reports and a news release from the Faribault Police Department. That release states officers found a firearm at the scene and that the public is not at risk.

Additionally, the release states that “No other Chamber employees were present or injured.” That leads me to conclude that at least one of the deceased is a Chamber employee.  With a population of around 23,000, Faribault is a small enough city that our Chamber/tourism people are highly-visible and well-known.

I listened to a police audio on mnpoliceclips.com, which suggests the possible identities of the deceased.

I am sad, just incredibly sad. I have no other words than to advise all of you to hold close those you love.

© Copyright 2016 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

 

Documenting Faribault’s latest flood, the third since 2010 September 22, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:55 PM
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Locals are drawn under the viaduct that links the west and east side of Faribault during yet another flood in our community caused by excessive rainfall. Here the Straight River runs

Locals are drawn under the viaduct Thursday evening during yet another flood in our community caused by excessive rainfall. Here the Straight River runs over its banks. A flood warning continues until 5 a.m. Friday.

 

THE SCENES ARE ALL TOO FAMILIAR.

 

The water has risen so high that the Cannon River dam is no longer visible next to the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

The dam no longer visible.

 

 

A line of sandbags protect the mill operation and retail store along the banks of the Cannon River.

 

Sandbags stacked outside the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

Police tape runs along the sidewalk on Second Avenue between the Faribault Woolen Mill and Faribault Foods.

Second Avenue between the Faribault Woolen Mill and Faribault Foods.

Police tape.

Several blocks of Second Avenue by the Cannon River are closed.

Several blocks of Second Avenue from Faribault Foods (left), past the Woolen Mill (right) to Caseys General Store were closed. The street runs past the Cannon River.

Roads barricaded.

Onlookers gather at the bridge entry to Teepee Tonka Park, now flooded by the Straight River.

The bridge entry to Teepee Tonka Park, now flooded by the Straight River.

And locals gathered by the dozens to document the scenes, to see how the mighty Cannon and Straight Rivers have once again overflowed their banks.

 

This Twin Cities news crew, parked near the Rice County Fairgrounds entry Thursday evening, was filming at the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

A Twin Cities TV crew comes, too, pulled by the current of a news story.

 

Locals headed across the Faribault Woolen Mill parking lot toward the rising Cannon River.

Locals head across the Faribault Woolen Mill parking lot toward the rising Cannon River.

 

While the gawkers gawk, the sun draws a slim line of gold between grey clouds and glassy water.

 

Three police vehicles pulled into the Faribault Foods parking lot to check on folks checking out the flooded river along Second Avenue.

 

Police and firefighters watch the river watchers.

 

The Straight River rages toward the Faribault wastewater treatment plant.

 

Blocks away the Straight River churns muddy brown, raging under the bridge near the wastewater treatment plant.

 

A hastily built berm and sandbags protect the treatment plant.

 

Truckers haul dirt to construct a make-shift temporary berm protecting this city infrastructure.

 

During past floods, there have been issues with the sewer system.

As in past floods, the city has had to deal with sewer issues. This scene is by South Alexander Park.

Memories of the September 2010 and June 2014 floods linger.

 

A flooded street by Heritage Park near the Straight river close to downtown.

A flooded street by Heritage Park near the Straight River close to downtown.

I’ve walked these roads, these sidewalks, these parking lots, this grass before, documenting the flooding.

 

In the midst of the flooding, beauty is reflected, here on the Cannon River.

In the midst of the flooding, beauty is reflected, here on the Cannon River near the Faribault Woolen Mill.

Still the scenes pull me here, into the quiet of an autumn night for the third flood in seven years.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Only in Minnesota: Babe the Blue Ox tops the news following a severe storm August 4, 2016

NOT EVEN THE STRENGTH of an ox could match the power of Mother Nature during severe thunderstorms that rolled through the Brainerd Lakes area of Central Minnesota Thursday morning.

At Paul Bunyan Land along State Highway 18 east of Brainerd, strong winds toppled a 6,000-pound iconic Babe the Blue Ox statue. The 18-foot tall by 24-foot wide ox is “a little dinged up, but in true Paul Bunyan fashion, back up on his feet in no time,” according to an entry on the attraction’s Facebook page.

See for yourself:

Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Photo by Adam Rademacher & courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Photo by Adam Rademacher & courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Reeds Backhoe Service worked to upright Babe. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Reeds Backhoe Service worked to upright Babe. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe suffered a few dings, including to his flank. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe suffered a few injuries, including to his rear flank. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe's horn was also damaged. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunayn Land.

Babe’s horn was also damaged. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunayn Land.

Babe, back on his feet. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe, back on his feet. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

If you’re from Minnesota or you’ve ever vacationed in the Brainerd Lakes area, you understand the importance of Babe the Blue Ox. He, along with his owner, lumberjack Paul Bunyan, are the stuff of Northwoods legend. Since the early 1950s, statues of the pair welcomed visitors to the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center near Baxter. Parents slipped their children’s names to the ticket taker and soon Paul was personally greeting Johnny or Jane from Wherever. Such is the stuff of summer childhood memories in Minnesota.

In 2003, the long-time tourist attraction closed and Paul and Babe moved to their new home next to This Old Farm Pioneer Village east of Brainerd. This morning, Babe proved his resiliency in adversity. Paul Bunyan Land opened at 10 a.m. Thursday, right on schedule.

BONUS STORY & IMAGE:

Paul Bunyan book cover

 

Several months ago I purchased Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, a slim book (more like a pamphlet) at a used book sale in Faribault. Published by Bang Printing of Brainerd, likely in the 1960s, this book was written by Daphne Hogstrom and illustrated by Art Seiden. I acquired it for the art more than the story. I value such period graphics, especially this publication about a Minnesota legend.

According to the author, Babe the Blue Ox is as wide as the Mississippi River, stands 11 pine trees tall, does the work of 60 men and can pull rivers.

Legend goes and this writer writes, that Paul pulled Babe from a snowdrift in the year of the blue snow, thus the hue of this much beloved ox.

FYI: Click here to view the full gallery of storm damage images. All photos are courtesy of the Rademacher family and available for the public to use, according to the Paul Bunyan Land FB page. Note that Thursday’s storm caused severe damage throughout the Brainerd Lakes area with trees and power lines down. Damage reports are still coming in. This storm, and specifically the toppling of Babe the Blue Ox, is leading Minnesota news stories today.

© Story copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A message from Minnesota officers: Let peace prevail July 9, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:53 PM
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Peace ad published in Faribault

 

NEARLY NINE HUNDRED MILES from Dallas, Texas, and an hour from Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a message of peace published this morning in my local newspaper, The Faribault Daily News.

The full-page ad on the back page of the front section comes from the Faribault Police Department and the Rice County Sheriff’s Department. In a succinct 13 words, these law enforcement officers deliver a powerful statement to our culturally diverse community.

It is the final three words that I find universally hopeful: Let Peace Prevail.

Let. Peace. Prevail.