Lindbergh, Lumber, Military and Mosquitoes

Lindbergh house

Lindbergh house

Charles Lindberg, the Aviator, was born in 1902, and lived in Little Falls, Minnesota until he went to college in 1920. The original house was a three-story mansion built by the river just outside of town. It burned to the ground and was replaced with the more modest two-story building we see today. Charles lived there with his mother. His parents were not on the best of terms so his father had a place in town. In 1931 the 110 acres and the house were donated to the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society took over the house and 17 acres. The remaining acres are now the Charles A. Lindbergh State Park.

Lindbergh is most famous for being the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. He did this in 1927. The plane he flew across the Atlantic, the Spirit of St Louis, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. In 1929, he married the daughter of the US Ambassador to Mexico, Anne Morrow. Their first-born child, Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped and killed in 1932.

A museum containing lots of information about Charles’ life and accomplishments is on the property in Little Falls. There are a couple of good films about his transatlantic voyage and tickertape parades. There are also activities for small children.

Weyerhaeuser and Musser Houses

Weyerhaeuser and Musser Houses

Down the road from the Lindbergh house, there is a small county museum, the Charles A Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum. It has a few turn of the century artifacts and a genealogy library and research area.

Frederick Weyerhaeuser was a German immigrant who started a lumber business in Rock Island, Illinois in 1858. From there he moved to St Paul, Minnesota. He ended up in a joint venture with James J Hill, also of St Paul. The Weyerhaeuser Timber Company was incorporated in Tacoma, Washington in 1900.

John, Frederick’s oldest son, followed him to become president of the company. In 1935, John’s 8 year old son George, was kidnapped but luckily it ended happy with the child being returned unharmed, and the kidnappers apprehended, unlike the Lindbergh affair. George grew up to be the president of the company. Today Weyerhaeuser is an international public company and per its website is “one of the largest sustainable forest products companies in the world.”

Exhibit at the County Museum

Exhibit at the County Museum

Charles was another son of Frederick’s who was also in the lumber business. He headed the Pine Tree Lumber Company in Little Falls, Minnesota with his business partner Richard Drew Musser. It quickly became the second largest mill in the Northwest. In 1920 the mill closed and all the timber was gone. In the 1930’s the federal and state governments surveyed the area full of stumps. New regulations were implements restricting cutting and demanding re-planting. Most of the trees in Northern Minnesota are now back but the white pine is rare today.

After the mill closed, Charles moved to St Paul and died in 1930. His mansion in Little Falls is now open to the public. The county museum named in his honor does genealogy research.

Jessica Lange also lived in Little Falls when she was about eight years old. You could drive by her school and house if you are so inclined.


The Dakota were pushed out of the area by the Ojibwe and then they were pushed out by the Europeans who settled in the area in the early 1800’s. The town is named for a series of rapids that ran on the Mississippi. Today a dam harnesses those rapids.

Mural at A.T. the Black and White

Mural at A.T. the Black and White

There is plenty to see and do in Little Falls. We stayed at the newly built County Inn and Suites and had an excellent meal at the A.T. Black and White, originally built in 1931 and known as the Black and White Hamburger Shop. Today it boasts a Cordon Bleu chef. We had the scallops in citrus beurre with asparagus and risotto and the linguini Alfredo with chicken that was light and flavorful. The evening ended with a brownie sundae with thick chocolate sauce and a touch of caramel.

Camp Ripley Gate

Camp Ripley Gate

About a ten mile drive north of Little Falls is Camp Ripley, a National Guard, 53,000-acre training center. It is named for Fort Ripley, a frontier Army post occupied from 1849-1877 that once sat on the property. The new training site opened in 1931.


We visited the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley. We had to drive through huge solid gates and show our ID’s at the gatehouse in order to enter. The museum was close to the main entrance so we didn’t see a lot of the camp. The museum was very well done and quite extensive, I recommend it to anybody interested in history. There were also exhibits on the grounds surrounding the museum and smaller buildings that housed jeeps and other military vehicles. Part of it was interactive. I tried on a couple of helmets (they are heavy).

On the way back to Little Falls we decided to make a circle and swing by the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. We figured we would just jump out of the car, take a quick walk, take some pictures and be on our way. The Refuge was established in 1992 to preserve a large natural wetland. It is basically a marshland that is home to many species of birds including the sandhill cranes.

Our idea had one small flaw. Mosquitoes. Of course there would be mosquitoes in a marshland and we did know that but we had no idea just how many mosquitoes there would be. Within two minutes we were under full attack and had to run for cover. I was still swatting them in the car when we got back to town.

We consoled ourselves with pizza and beer at Charlie’s Pizza in Little Falls. The next day on the way out of town we stopped at Thielen Meats. John Thielen opened the shop after working for his parents at Thielen Meats in Pierz, fourteen miles east of Little Falls. We originally thought we were going to the market featured in the New York Times but they are all related so no disappointments. Amy Thielen, a chef featured on Food Network, is also related.


World Citizen Storycast

I am featured this week on the World Citizen Storycast podcast.

The focus was on the adjustments and challenges of growing up in different cultures as well as reverse culture shock when returning to the passport country.

Check it out.

26: Before I Tell My Story



Trip Around Lake Pepin – On the Mighty Mississippi


Lake Pepin is a naturally occurring lake and is the largest lake on the Mississippi River. On the west is Minnesota and 1.7 miles across it is Wisconsin. It covers 29,295 acres and is 21 miles long. Its main claim to fame is that in 1922, Ralph Samuelson successfully skied on water. He was from Lake City and after five days of trying, he succeeded in being the first documented water skier. In 1925, again on Lake Pepin, he made the first water ski jump.

I took a drive around Lake Pepin to see what else it had to offer. We drove from the Twin Cities down through Red Wing, famous for its shoes among other things, and crossed the Mississippi to the Wisconsin side.


A few years ago I was in Frontenac State Park on the Minnesota side looking over to Maiden Rock. This time I was driving through Maiden Rock village. A plaque at Frontenac Park states: “On the east shore of Lake Pepin, opposite this point, juts out a high rock. From this pinnacle, according to accounts of early travelers, a Sioux maiden of Wabasha’s band prevented from marrying the warrior of her choice, leaped to her death that she might avoid union with another and older man.”

Stockholm was our next stop. Population 66. At one time it was a thriving community of about 300. It was founded in 1856 by Swedish immigrant farmers and was connected to the railroad in 1886. Although most residents moved to more urban areas after World War II, the village did not disappear completely. In the 1970’s people were drawn to the area for its natural beauty and it has become a thriving artist community with small artsy shops like the Purple Turtle Artisan Collective and North Oak Amish Furniture and Gifts. There is a pie shop on the corner and a complete gourmet kitchen store. It is home to music and art festivals throughout the summer.


Down the road, just outside of Pepin, is the Villa Bellezza winery. Wisconsin wine has a ways to go but we tasted a few decent wines and had a look around. The setting is stunning with vineyards all around an Italian Villa. There is a piazza with a fountain and it is a popular place for weddings and receptions. There is a self-guided tour but the main tours are on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 am. The tasting room is open everyday.


Pepin is larger than Stockholm with about 800 people. We stopped at the Harbor View Café across from the marina for lunch. The café has been coming to life every summer since 1980. It is well known throughout the area for its tasty eclectic food. The Menu goes up on the chalkboard over the bar twice daily. We were offered Alaskan Halibut, Hawaiian Swordfish, Massachusetts Striped Bass, Copper River Salmon, along with chicken, pork, risotto and pasta. We shared a chocolate buttercream pie for dessert.


From there it was a beautiful drive to Nelson and a stop at the Nelson Creamery. The ice cream looked tempting but we were way too full. We did stock up on local cheese and beer. They have a small seating area with a fireplace that must be lovely in winter. As we arrived it started to rain so we spent some time watching a summer downpour.


We headed out as it eased up and crossed the river to Wabasha, Minnesota and up to Reeds Landing. Reeds Landing was founded in the mid-1800’s as a trading post and became a major logging town. The Reeds Landing Brewery is housed in a building originally built in 1869 as a dry goods store. Today it is a pub and restaurant overlooking Lake Pepin. One of their beers, Cap’n Crunch Amber, is made with Captain Crunch cereal and is pretty good.

We took a quick tour of Lake City on our way back to Red Wing to close the loop. On the way home we passed through New Trier to see St Mary’s Church. The church was built in 1909, in the Beaux Art Classic Style by architect Paul Ries of St Paul. The statue of the Virgin Mary and child was cast in 1862 and sits over the main door. It was entered into the national Register of Historic Places in 1980. It is at the top of a hill and is impressive.







Salt Cellar, Dining in St Paul


I discovered a great blog recently. Chef Alan Bergo of the Salt Cellar restaurant in St Paul writes as the Forager Chef. He likes to use indigenous Mid-western ingredients and local purveyors. He cooks with dandelions, knotweed, ramps, spruce. burdock root and nettles. He writes about hunting for mushrooms, cooking methods and recipes. The recipes look fabulous – Spruce Brined Poussin with Apple Mustard Sauce and Beef Tartare with Dead Man’s Fingers and Ramp Vinaigrette are a couple that caught my eye.

View into the kitchen

View into the kitchen

I don’t remember seeing them on the menu at the Salt Cellar. A friend of mine was raving about the meat so I went there for the first time the other night. There is a large glass window into the kitchen from the main dining room so you can watch the chef in action. The meal started with homemade potato chips and pimento cheese with warm fresh rolls that melted in your mouth.

The beef steaks were tender and flavorful. They came with a small cup of wild mushrooms and a cup of their own special béarnaise sauce with a little tomato added. Our sides were the market vegetable medley which were nicely seasoned and the beef fat pommes frites. I think I ordered the roasted potatoes but the pommes frites were sinfully delicious.


Chocolate Mousse with Shortbread

We finished the meal with a chocolate mousse and a Boston cream pie. Our waiter insisted we try the spruce ice cream that was offered as part of the daily ice cream selection. It was unexpectedly delicious. Very fresh and light.



Our waiter’s name was Manu and he had a strong French accent. Usually when I ask people where they are from, they will tell me the country or the continent and I have to ask several times to find out where exactly they are from. He told me he came from Toulouse, France right away and was happy to chat. His mother’s family was from Catalan across the border in Spain and his grandmother had called him Manu, short for Manuel and it stuck.

My dining partner and I had been speculating about how he got here. My friend was sure he followed a woman. I thought he might have come for school. Of course it was a woman. He said he followed a woman here and then fell in love with Minnesota and could not leave. The restaurant was empty on a Friday night and I asked him if it was always like that. The explanation was that the restaurant has no outdoor space and in the summer Minnesotans like to be dining outside if in town but many were probably at their summer cabins. We consoled each other for not having a summer cabin.



James J Hill – the Empire Builder

James J Hill House

James J Hill House

Recently I re-visited the James J Hill house on Summit Avenue in St Paul, Minnesota. JJ Hill remains today one of the richest men ever. He amassed a fortune and built a huge house he and his family lived in for over 25 years.

James J Hill was born in Canada in 1838 to a successful Irish-Canadian farmer and his Scottish wife. He attended a Quaker school until he was 15 when his father died. He traveled to the US when he was 18 after hearing from a passing stranger that the US needed young men with spirit, like him.

After working in the shipping business in on the Mississippi River for twenty years, he, along with some other investors, were able to purchase the almost bankrupt St Paul and Pacific Railroad. He built the line to the west over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, often overseeing things personally. The name was changed to the Great Northern Railway in 1890. To this day the Empire Builder runs from Chicago to Seattle with lines going off it along the way. I rode it once from Minneapolis to Montana. By the time he died in 1916, he was one of the wealthiest men in America.

Mary Theresa Mehegan

Mary Theresa Mehegan

While working as a station agent, he ate his meals at the Merchants’ Hotel in St Paul where Mary Theresa Mehegan served him his meals. Once she agreed to marry him, he sent her away to school and paid for her education. They were married in 1867, when she returned. They had ten children. Peabody, Stearns and Furber built the house they moved into in 1891 to Hill’s specifications in the Romanesque style. It sits on the top of Summit Hill overlooking the Mississippi river and is now registered as a National Historic Landmark. The Minnesota Historical Society owns it and offers guided tours.

The house is massive with 36,000 square feet on five floors and includes 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, 16 crystal chandeliers, and a two-story art gallery with a skylight roof and a complete pipe organ. The house was fitted with both electricity, a new phenomenon at the time, and gas so if one failed the other would be available. The doors on the first floor all had hidden metal gates that were pulled shut at night and locked and electrified so if anybody tried to break in they would get a shock and it would alert the butler in the pantry through a buzzer system.

On the stairway there is a bank of stained glass windows. Tiffany submitted designs for these windows but Mr. Hill said they were anything but what he wanted and ended up using the A.B. Cutter Company from Boston.

The main hallway

The main hallway

The dining room has a gold leaf ceiling and hand tooled leather panels on the walls. A small hidden door leads to a large walk-in safe where the silver is housed. The table has 19 leaves.

The kitchen is at one end of the basement and a big boiler room at the other. The man who serviced the boiler was also called upon to pump the bellows for the organ during parties and recitals. A large laundry room included heated drying racks for the clean clothes.

JJ and his wife had adjoining bedrooms each with their own bathrooms. A balcony led off of Mary Theresa’s room. JJ’s bathroom had a shower in it. This was quite modern and some considered dangerous. It was advised that a doctor approve the use of such a thing since the force of the water could be harmful and women were discouraged from using it altogether since they were too delicate.


On the third floor was a schoolroom with chalkboards on the walls. Legend has it that a couple of the older boys managed to get a pool table all the way up there without their mother knowing about it. That’s how big this house is. Each of the children had their own room with the exception of the eldest who was already married by the time they moved in.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St Paul and lived there off and on until 1920. The last house he lived in was Summit Terrace, eight blocks down the street from the James J Hill house. In chapter 9 of The Great Gatsby, Gatsby has died and his father, Mr Gatz, says “If he’d of lived he’d of been a great man. A man like James J Hill. He’d of helped.” Unfortunately the Great Mr Gatsby did none of those things in life.

JJ Hill had a large collection of nineteenth-century French Romantic and Realist art and was one of the founders of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, known as MIA today. Hill built several office buildings in downtown St Paul and the James J. Hill Reference Library, one of the best business research libraries in the country, was completed after his death. He also supported many schools and churches.

Baseball Fun in St Paul


Last year the St Paul Saints minor league baseball team of St Paul, Minnesota, moved to downtown, St Paul, and a brand new stadium. Since it is a block from my home I was invited on a tour.

The stadium was built to AA standards but is much smaller than the Twins major league stadium in Minneapolis. It is intimate and there isn’t a bad seat in the place. There are plenty of bathrooms which is a welcome change compared to the old stadium.

Bill Murray is part owner of the team. His role is listed on their website as “Team Psychologist” and his duties include morale boosting and train spotting. He has been involved in the team since opening night 1993 when he was stationed at the entrance taking tickets and threw out the first pitch. He is kind of an urban legend. Everybody is sure they will see Bill Murray at the game.

Back in the 1800’s the area now known as St Paul was called Pig’s Eye Landing after French Canadian fur trader and bootlegger Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant’s popular tavern. The Minnesota territory was formed in 1849 and the soldiers at Fort Snelling evicted Pig’s Eye. Father Lucien Galtier, a French priest, renamed the settlement St Paul after Paul the Apostle.

The St Paul Saints have a mascot that honors Pig’s Eye. It is a live trained pig that takes balls to the umpire between innings and is named via a fan contest every year. This year the pig’s name is Little Red Porkette in honor of Prince and it is dressed in purple. A portion of the street directly in front of the stadium has recently been named Prince Street.

Each year a new piglet weighing in at about 20 lbs. is introduced and by the end of the season the pig goes into retirement at over 200 lbs. They also have a bright pink two-legged mascot called Mudonna T Pig along with several other ‘entertainers’.

The team’s locker room is comfortable and spacious. The guide took us down to the field so we could see the dugout and the small concrete area for the pig. She also pointed out Bill Murray’s yellow spray painted signature just behind home base. She said he was such a perfectionist he wanted to do it over but they wouldn’t let him.


Bill Murray’s signature behind home base

It is one of the greenest stadiums in the country with solar panels and mechanisms to capture and reuse rainwater. Because of the recycled water, the city of St Paul insists they put up signs in the bathrooms saying ‘Do not drink from the toilet’.

The stadium was built on the site of the old Gillette factory. The foundation and several walls from that building are being reused in the current structure. The guide said about half of the materials used to build the stadium were either salvaged or recycled.

Last night I went to see the St Paul Saints vs. Winnipeg Goldeyes so we started out listening to the Canadian national anthem along with the Stars and Stripes. The game had a slow start but by the end we were all biting our nails as they tied it up at 10-10 in the 9th inning and the Saints finally won it in the 10th inning 12 to 11 on a wild pitch. I think both teams went through at least six pitchers.

Saints games are unpredictable and fun. It was the thirtieth anniversary of the movie Top Gun so there was entertainment throughout the game around that theme in the form of quizzes, competitions and running commentary. Each game has a theme. One game I went to had a Grateful Dead theme and all the players were wearing tie-dyed uniforms.


Grateful Dead tie-dyed uniforms

Little Red Porkette would trot out on a leash between innings carrying fresh balls in its saddlebags to the umpire. The umpire would feed the pig something in a baby bottle and chat with the pig’s trainer. One time the pig had Kermit the Frog riding along on its back and another time it had Mr. M&M.

During the 7th inning stretch we all got up and sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame and bags on peanuts came showering down on us from the press box above. This was followed by lively polka music. It gave me my second wind.

The food was good, the beer was good, the company was good and it was a great night. Go if you get the chance!



Windmills, Pipes and Petroglyphs – PART THREE




Jeffers Petroglyphs is a Minnesota Historical Site about one and a half hours east of Pipestone. The rock here is also Sioux Quartzite and the area is called Red Rock Ridge which is about 250 yards wide and up to 50 feet high. It is part of a ridge that extends 23 miles across Cottonwood County.


As we approach the Visitor Center we are welcomed by a sign that says “Landscaped by Mother Earth”. The area is 160 acres of prairie, 33 acres are native and 127 were reconstructed. The Prairie Bush Clover is a federally-designated threatened species that thrives at the site. There are about 300 species of prairie plants. Our guide pulled up some wild garlic and mint for us to smell. Really lovely.

On the rock face there are over 5,000 carvings, some as old as 7,000 years. It is a spiritual place where Native Americans came, and still come, to offer prayers and honor Grandmother Earth. It is still used for prayers and religious ceremonies throughout the year.


The earliest carvings show bison and atlatls. The atlatls were something that helped spear or dart throwers by giving the dart leverage to send it farther. These would have been long before the bow and arrow became common 1,200 years ago. At the Visitor Center you can try your hand at throwing an atlatl at a target. We watched as several people struggled and nobody came close to the target.

The Center offers tours at 10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1, 2, 3, and 4 PM. We made it in time for the 1 pm. It was over 90 degrees and not a piece of shade in sight. The guide pointed out eight different sections of rock highlighting the drawings from different eras. We started with the bison 7,000 years ago and worked our way up to more recent ones from 250 years ago.


In order for us to be able to see the drawings the guide sprayed water on the area she was highlighting. It was so bright and they are so faint they were hard to see otherwise. We saw thunderbirds, turtles, stick figures of people doing various things including dancing, other animals such as deer and moose. We also saw fossilized sand ripples that became rock 1.6 million years ago and scars left by the glacier that passed through 14,000 years ago. It is hard to imagine how old that is.


In 1966 the Minnesota Historical Society purchased the area from Mr. Jeffers in order to protect the sacred site. They are studying the drawings and dating them and provide very interesting and informative tours. They work with elders and members of the Dakota, Ioway, Cheyenne and Ojibwe tribes to help them understand the drawings and the spiritual significance of the place.

A 1.2 mile trail winds through the prairie at the back of the rock so we worked our way back to the Visitor Center on this uneven path. It was so hot and humid I was not sure I was going to make it but we forged through and it really was beautiful with wild flowers and purple clover dotting the landscape.

Back at the Center after drinking copious amounts of water, we wandered through the small gift shop and I even bought a t-shirt. They had some nice ones.

It was great fun driving the small roads in south Minnesota. We passed through Florence, Delhi, and Darfur. We were seeing the world. We started to see more lakes as we turned north and one that really caught our eye was a large and beautiful lake called Lake Elysian. In Greek mythology, Elysian is the final resting place of the souls of the virtuous and heroic. Somehow it was the perfect ending to our trip.