Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The mysterious (at least to me) Swede’s Bay November 6, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Lindstrom, Minnesota, “America’s Little Sweden.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2015.


IN A STATE WITH A STRONG Scandinavian base, nuances of ethnicity show up in lutefisk dinners, lefse-making parties, Lutheran churches named Vasa and Vang, a Swedish coffee pot water tower, the Minneapolis-based American Swedish Institute and more.



That more includes a fading sign attached to a utility pole in rural Le Sueur County. On a recent Sunday afternoon drive, I noted a posting for SWEDE’S BAY and wondered. But the arrow to the bay pointed in the same direction as a sign warning PRIVATE ROAD DEAD END NO TURN AROUND.



The message was clear. Stay away.



So Randy and I didn’t venture toward Swede’s Bay in the vicinity of 480th Street/Orchard Road/Outback Lane. Sometimes I wish we weren’t such rule followers. But the warning sign was enough to deter me from searching farther along this remote rural gravel road.



Back home I googled the mysterious bay to discover Swede’s Bay is a lake in a cluster that includes the better known Lake Jefferson and German Lake northeast of Madison Lake. That raises another question: In the naming of the lakes, did the Germans and Swedes convene and decide fair is fair. Name that lake German, this one Swede’s?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Lindström/Lindstrom’s missing umlauts April 16, 2015

A section of LIndstrom's business district.

A section of  Lindstrom’s business district.

IT’S ALL A BIT AMUSING in a Minnesota sort of way.

Some folks in Lindström, “America’s Little Sweden” located about 40 miles north of the Twin Cities, noted the omission of the umlaut over the letter “o” on newly-erected official Minnesota Department of Transportation highway signage. They weren’t happy.

The town's 1908 water tower, converted to a Swedish coffee pot in 1992, sports umlauts.

The town’s 1908 water tower, converted to a Swedish coffee pot in 1992, sports umlauts.

Now if you’re of Swedish heritage and/or a stickler about absolutely proper linguistics, you can understand this discontent. I studied German in high school and college and am well aware of the importance of umlauts in correct pronunciation of a word. An umlaut denotes a specific sound.

A Swedish dala horse and  Yule goat posted on a business honor this community's Swedish heritage.

A dala horse and Yule goat posted on a business honor Lindstrom’s Swedish heritage.

I expect if I lived in Lindström, where the Swedish heritage is an integral part of the town’s identity and a tourism draw, I might be miffed, too, about that missing umlaut.

In MnDOT’s defense, it was simply following state law which allows only standard alphabet usage (no umlauts or such) on traffic control devices.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has since intervened, issuing an executive order on April 15 that approves addition of those two missing dots above the “o.”

In the meantime, The New York Times, the Associated Press and many other media outlets have picked up this, shall I call it, distinctly Minnesotan story.

I noticed in a television news story on the missing umlaut, that signage on the city’s center of government reads Lindstrom City Hall and Community Center rather than Lindström City Hall and Community Center. On the city’s website, the umlaut is sometimes there, sometimes not. I find that discrepancy interesting.

During my visit, I was more interested in what the bakery had to offer.

During my visit, I was more interested in what the bakery had to offer than an awareness of umlauts.

So I wondered about other signage in this community of 4,442 which my husband and I visited briefly last October, when I wasn’t noting the absence or presence of umlauts. I checked my few photos and here’s what I found:

Umlauts on the Swedish coffee pot, but none on the bakery sign.

Umlauts on the Swedish coffee pot, but none on the bakery sign.

No umlauts on the bakery bench signage either.

No umlauts on the bakery bench signage either.

Interesting, huh?

Apparently no umlauts in the word "julekaka" on this bakery signage.

Inside the bakery which specializes in Swedish treats.

Umlaut or not, Lindström has garnered national attention. And that can only benefit local tourism in Lindström/Lindstrom.


More bakery treats.

More bakery treats.

Many choices at this bakery.

Many choices at this bakery.

Nothing Swedish, as far as I know, about Deutschland Meats.

Nothing Swedish about Deutschland Meats. Love that kitschy brat art atop the business.

A must-visit antique shop in Lindstrom.

The must-visit Lindstrom Antique Mall, where you will find Swedish merchandise.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note that the absence of umlauts in cutlines is not intentional, but due to my not knowing how to add them there, if that is even an option.


Russell, the bookseller of Stockholm October 25, 2011

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Bookseller Russell Mattson in his shop.

The old-fashioned screen door entry to Chandler's Books, Curios.

LET ME INTRODUCE YOU to Russell Mattson, purveyor of new and used books, amateur photographer, sometime candle maker, car nut and lover of Monarch butterflies.

I met him on a recent Monday afternoon in Stockholm. Wisconsin. Not Sweden.

We struck up a conversation in his Chandler’s Books, Curios, in this Mississippi River village of 89 founded in 1851 and dubbed the oldest Swedish settlement in western Wisconsin.

You’ll find a Swedish import shop here, run by the Norwegian Ingebretsens, and an array of other quaint shops and eateries and more in this charming small town along Wisconsin State Highway 35 south of Prescott, or southeast of Red Wing, if you’re from Minnesota, like me.

Russ originally hails from St. Paul; he’s lived in Stockholm for 38 years. For 31 years, he made candles at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival before retiring in 2003. His store, once called Candles and Lanterns, previously catered candles until that market deflated.

He still makes candles now and then. He also collects swamp milkweed seed to give away in his shop, encouraging others to grow milkweed as food for Monarch butterflies.

But mostly, Russ focuses on keeping the bookshelves stocked in this cramped, don’t-meet-another-customer-between-the-shelves bookstore.

You'll find lots of book, old vinyls and other curiosities, but not much wiggle room, in Russ' shop.

If you're seeking vintage used books, you'll find them here.

The bookshelves stretch nearly to the original tin ceiling in Russ' store.

Ask Russ what sells best and he’ll pause before pointing to the rack of car books and then pulling out photos of vintage cars he once drove, wishes he still owned.

That leads him to step outside to a display table and show off the photos he’s taken, some dating back decades. Of particular interest is a blurry black-and-white image of a locomotive that looks more painting than photo.

Russ took the picture of the Canadian National in northern Minnesota in 1955 when he was only 14. He’s pretty proud of the photo. Not because it’s the best image he’s ever taken. But because of how he took the shot. He snapped the photo with his Baby Brownie by placing binoculars in front of the camera lens.

All this I learned from Russell Mattson, purveyor of books, when I asked to take his photo on a Monday afternoon in October in Stockholm.

A front window of the bookstore features an eclectic mix of merchandise.

If you need swamp milkweed seed, you'll find it in a jar on the store counter. Help yourself. It's free.

Or perhaps you need a "new" phone. Russ has one for sale "from the slow old days."

A collection of buttons inside an open drawer in the bookstore.

CHECK BACK for more photos from Stockholm, not Russ, and other Mississippi River towns in future posts.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The surprising connection between a Minnesota church and the James-Younger Gang July 21, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:30 AM
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WHEN MY HUSBAND AND I EMBARKED on a quest for an old country church Sunday afternoon, we fully expected a challenge. But we didn’t expect to cross paths with a bunch of outlaws.

First, a little background: Several days earlier I had photographed a painting of an old Minnesota church done by our 92-year-old artist-friend, Rhody Yule, in 1969. Rhody remembered only that the church was “somewhere near Montgomery” and on the National Register of Historic Places.

I carried a photograph of this 1969 church painting by Faribault artist Rhody Yule as we set out to find the unidentified church.

With those clues, Randy and I set out on our adventure simply because we love the history and beauty of old country churches. We figured if we drove far enough and long enough, we would find this one.

So off we went, following Rice County Road 9 northwest of Faribault, driving around sweeping curves, up and down hills, past farm places, all the while searching for a steeple. I had no clue where we were, which I find unsettling. I like to know where I am and where I am going. But not the husband; he just kept driving.

Soon we approached a lake. Must be Circle Lake, we speculated. We were right. And then, just as we were about to turn onto a gravel road leading to the public access, I saw a white church high on a hill. “There’s a church!” I shouted. “I bet that’s it.”

Right then and there, I wanted to drive up to that church. But first things first. We had to stop at the lake. A quick stop and we were off to the church, which sits two miles west of Millersburg (not Montgomery) along Rice County Road 1 near its intersection with County Road 9.

Our excitement was palpable as we pulled off the road and parked below the church. I grabbed the picture and compared the painting to the building before me. It was a match. We had found Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church, built in 1878, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995 and today preserved through the Christdala Church Presevation & Cemetery Association.

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church sits atop a hill along Rice County Road 1 just west of Millersburg.

Some 25 steps later and we reached the top of the hill, standing before this simple country church overlooking Circle Lake.

An archway at the top of the church steps frames Circle Lake and the surrounding countryside. Christdala means "Christ's Valley."

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church, built for $230 in 1878 by John Olson and John Lundberg of Northfield and site of a fall service and open house.

And that’s where we met Phil, who was photographing Christdala and old tombstones. “Can we get inside?” I ask, hopeful that perhaps this stranger has a key. “Are you from around here?”

No and no. Phil is from California, but is president of Le Center-based ShetkaStone, a company that makes tables, countertops, moldings, office furniture and more from recycled paper. When he’s in Minnesota (which is often), this Californian explores old country churches and cemeteries in the home-away-from-home state he has grown to love.  You don’t find this kind of history in California, he says.

We are kindred spirits—the three of us—standing here on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon admiring this 132-year-old church with an intriguing connection to the Sept. 7, 1876 robbery of the First National Bank of Northfield by the notorious James-Younger Gang.

Swedish immigrants built Christdala after one of their own, Nicolaus Gustafson, who had traveled to Northfield on the morning of the bank robbery, was fatally shot by Cole Younger. Because the Millersburg Swedish community had no church or cemetery, Gustafson was buried in Northfield. After his death, the Swedes immediately began formulating plans for their own church and burial place, forming a congregation in July 1877 and constructing a house of worship in 1878.

Today Christdala, which dissolved as a congregation in 1966 due to declining membership, stands as a strong testament to those determined Swedes. They turned the tragic death of their friend, their neighbor, into something positive. Good triumphs over evil. Perhaps it is no coincidence that this church was built beside, and above, the road used as an escape route by the notorious outlaws.

All of this I consider while walking among the tombstones—of the Youngquists, the Swansons, the Paulsons and, yes, even the Gustafsons.

A sign at the church details the historical connection to the 1876 Northfield bank raid by the James-Younger Gang.

A cemetery surrounds Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church near Millersburg.

An honorary star in the Christdala cemetery denotes a soldier as a veteran of the Indian War.

The exterior stained glass top of a Christdala window.

Because the church was locked, I had to settle for peering through the blinds at the altar, which sits in front of the pulpit. The cross rests on the altar. I'll have to return for the annual autumn worship service and open house.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling