Saturday, August 8, 2009

Trip's End

Yesterday (Friday) was relaxing, if not a bit frustrating. We started out at the Alexander Ramsey house, the home of Minnesota's first territorial governor. I had never been there and really looked forward to going inside what is one of America's best preserved Victorian houses. Despite the brochure that said it was open on Fridays, we found the place closed, open on Saturday and Sunday only. This was the third historical site we had found closed during our trip. So I called ahead to our next stop, the Sibley House. Henry Sibley was Minnesota's first governor and it, too, was only open on Saturdays -- but only the first and third Saturday of the month.

Our next stop was the beautiful town of Stillwater. Thankfully, it was open, as was the Warden's House, the home of Stillwater Prison's wardens. The Younger brothers, once part of Jesse James' gang, were incarcerated here after being captured in Northfield, MN and there are some photos of them on display. The Warden's House was filled with lots of artifacts from the early 1800s, including a piano and a spattekaka tool, used to make delicate meringue cakes that were decorated with live flowers. I had read that the house was haunted, and so was on the look -out for ghosts. And I wasn't the only one that saw the spinning wheel start turning on its own when no one was near it!

The prison itself, sadly, was destroyed some years ago when some young boys set it on fire. Fortunately, the culprits were arrested when one of the boys tried to turn the others in and collect the ransome money.

The Victorian architecture of the town is still well preserved and a number of them have been turned into incredible B&B's. While I've never stayed at one, I'm sorely tempted. I may need it to recuperate from this "vacation."

We wound up the trip today by going on a tour of the Wabasha Caves. Once a speak-easy and night club, the country's most famous gangsters tripped the light-fantastic here. The tour guide was funny and entertaining and looked a bit like Tom Hanks. The old night club, too, is haunted. We were shown a photo taken of a little boy at a wedding. Next to him was a whispy white figure of what looked like a small boy and behind him a smokey character with a white hat.

Monday it's back to work!

Day Whatever and 1,000 miles later -- but who's counting?

The traveling days just kept getting longer and longer and dragging myself to bed each night was an effort, let alone opening my computer. The last two days I have flew past more of the Twin Cities and southwestern Minnesota than I ever knew existed.

Wednesday was another day of drive-by shootings. Me driving and Karen shooting - pictures of store fronts, post offices, houses -- all the places that had any connection with a crime from our gangster past. The site I got the biggest kick out of was the Victorian home that the Hammes beer family once lived in. I doubt their heirs still occupy the residence, but in the front yard is a wooden carving of the Hammes bear. I was surprised Karen knew nothing about the bear that danced through all those beer commercials, but I guess it's a Minnesota thing.

Thursday we drove down to the Minnesota Viking's Training Camp in Mankato. The place was packed and I dropped Karen off while I found a place to park. Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not a sports fan. I wouldn't recognize a Viking linebacker from a Twins shortstop. So when I wandered up to a crowd of people standing by a gate, waiting for a player to notice them, I just started taking photos. Several very nice young athletes came along to sign autographs. I didn't recognize any of them, but some of them were pretty cute. So, while seeing a real live Viking up close gave me no special thrill, I enjoyed the eye-candy.

After the Vikings it was on to the Sioux Uprising of 1862. I'm embarrased to say I knew nothing about this segment of Minnesota history and, thanks to Pawlenty's budget cuts, I didn't learn a whole lot more (more on that in a later post). We visited historic Ft. Ridgely and the Lower Sioux Agency, both of which were closed, so we were only able to wander around and read the signage. We also stopped at various monuments commemorating the people that were killed during the uprising -- White settlers and Native Americans. While I had seen the bison statue across from the Mankato library many times I had no idea it honored the 38 Sioux who were hanged after the uprising.

The biggest glitch in our ride home was Delano. Avoid it like the plague. It is the worse or the worst example of Minnesota road construction season. We were driving in from the southwest, it was dark, and we saw the signs that the road into Delano would be closed. I assumed there would be a detour around the town. There wasn't. All roads leading into Delano were closed. I expected Rod Serling to step out from the darkness and explain that the whole town had been abducted by aliens. At that point, I wish I had been. We had to drive all the way back to Buffalo and catch a detour there. Not something I wanted to do after a day of driving. Arghhh.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Day 4 - 726 miles later

I was much too tired to even attempt to blog last night. Didn't even look at my e-mail, so you know I was dead on my feet.

While I like fictional crimes, Karen prefers the real deal and is very big on "collecting" crime sites. It's kind of like birding, without the binoculars. So, Tuesday was spent visiting the scenes of the infamous Ma Barker gang. Who knew they had shot and killed a man while changing vehicles in Como Park. Or that they had kidnapped the Hammes beer heir? I don't quite get the thrill of standing outside a house where they had tossed a bottle with a ransom message through a window as Karen does, but I did enjoy our tramping through some St. Paul cemeteries.

I've always marveled at the gorgeous statues that grace the tombstones. Some of the older grave markers were worn, the lettering barely readable. Most of these early markers were made of sandstone. I think it's sad that over the years, the final resting place of some of these people will no longer bear their name. And as the years past, there's no family members left to care. Although, some of the older markers had been replaced with new marble stones.

After the sun set, we walked across the Stone Arch bridge and got some lovely shots of the new 35W bridge. It's frustrating that the best Minneapolis skylines are seen from the freeway. I have yet to find a safe place a person can stop to take a photo. If you know, please let me know!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Day 3

The Timberline Inn where we stayed was great. It has that log cabin look and we had a balcony overlooking a tree line of white birch and oak trees. It was quiet and I really wish I could have stayed a couple of extra nights.

Breakfast was back at the Little Bohemia Lodge. I think they had it in for us there. Last night we had dinner, which was very good, but we noticed that all the other tables had baskets of bread. We didn't. And this morning with my pancakes I got one of those little containers of syrup, like the ones you get at McDonalds. All the other diners had bottles of syrup on the table. Weird.

Around lunch time we headed toward Ashland and Bayfield, Wisconsin. As I had once lived in Ashland, it was like going home. But my, things can change in 15 years. More big box stores have moved in, while a lot of the little shop owners had moved out leaving emply store fronts. I stopped by the home of an old friend, hoping to suprise her, but as I suspected she was at work and we couldn't stay.

Day 2

There's not much to the town of Manitowish Waters. No cell phone service. No WiFi. I thought I'd be smart and type up my blog entry in MS Word and just paste it into my blog when I got home today. No such luck. Guess there's no cut and paste with Google's Blogger. Nothing seems to be easy these days.

Little Bohemia did not disappoint. For those of you who have not seen the movie "Public Enemies", this is where they shot some of the movie and where the actual event -- a shoot out between the FBI and John Dillinger and his gang -- took place. There are still bullet holes in the walls and windows and the old dining hall looks much the same as it did in Dillinger's day.
There's an interesting display of personal items the Dillinger gang left behind when they made their getaway. There was an old tooth powder tin (did they have toothpaste back then?) and a tube of Burma Shave. Having grown up looking for Burma's clever roadside signs, it was kind of cool to see the actual product. There were also several tins of chewable laxatives, making you wonder if all that bank robbery was taking its toll on the guys.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Road Trip!

Today was officially the first day of my vacation. My friend Karen, from Pennsylvania, is joining me for the adventure. When it comes to getting to know your home state, there's nothing like having an out-of-state visitor.

After picking Karen up at the airport this afternoon, we stopped at the Mall of America. A stop to this huge mall is never quick and after making several stops, including the Vikings store and B&N, we were off to Ft. Snelling, Minnesota's first National Historic Landmark

Construction began on Ft. Snelling in 1820. Camped nearby was a Dakota Village and a fur company. For almost 30 years it was the hub of the Upper Mississippi. During the Civil War it was where volunteers for the Union Army trained. During WWII it processed over 100,000 G.I.s. The visitor's center and fort were closed by the time we arrived, but it was still interesting to walk around the old fort and enjoy some of the paths.

Tomorrow we're hot on the trail of John Dillinger, heading out to Wisconsin and the Little Bohemia Lodge.