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40 Moments That Changed Minnesota

40 Moments That Changed Minnesota
Photo by Royalty-Free/Corbis

What were you doing in 1967? (Don’t answer that.) Minnesota Monthly was publishing its first issue, and the world would never be the same—you know, because of the Vietnam War, the Summer of Love, and the birth of Pamela Anderson. To mark the occasion, look back with us on four decades of great moments in Minnesota history, from monster floods to Purple Rain; from the fall of global leaders to the rise of World-Series champions.




CULTURE

MPR’s First Broadcast—1967

As the Beatles implore a generation to turn off their minds, Bill Kling begins broadcasting classical music and lecture series from the public radio station he created at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, his alma mater. (“Here’s your office—start a radio station,” he’d been told, and so he did, enlisting the Abbey monks to build him a studio.) A year later, he forms another station in St. Paul, and it takes off. He calls the enterprise Saint John’s University Broadcasting, then Minnesota Educational Radio, and finally, Minnesota Public Radio. The rest is so much radio, rhubarb pie, and fund drives.

Photo by Daniel Corrigan,
Minnesota Historical Society

All Aboard for Rock ’n’ Roll—1970

Allan Fingerhut, heir to the Fingerhut catalog company fortune, opens a nightclub in a former Greyhound bus station and calls it the Depot—the first Minneapolis club to serve both alcohol and rock music. Nine years later, the venue would be renamed First Avenue and launch the careers of Prince and other local artists—even as its dance nights provide the soundtrack, the sweat, and the see-and-be-seen atmosphere to stimulate a couple generations of teenage longing.


Hooked on Minnesota—1973

Youthful Minnesota governor Wendell Anderson appears on the cover of Time grasping a lunker of a fish under the headline “The Good Life in Minnesota.” The story inside, titled “Minnesota: A State That Works,” describes north Minneapolis as “a slice of America’s Norman Rockwell past.” A subsequent editorial in the St. Paul Pioneer Press decries the magazine’s emphasis on Minneapolis over its twin city but suggests, “If this article brings Minnesota an influx of fast-buck sharpies from the East, or smog-befuddled escapees from California, let them settle in Minneapolis.”

Purple Reigns—1984

Prince Rogers Nelson wins three Grammy Awards—including one for his soundtrack to the movie Purple Rain—solidifying his stardom and making Minnesotans wonder how anything or anyone so sexy actually came from here. Meanwhile, mining a very different emotional and sonic landscape, the local alternative-rock scene steps to the fore as the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and other bands gain national reputations, albeit not at the level—of popularity or heels—of His Royal Purpleness.

Finally, Men’s Liberation!—1991

Robert Bly, an award-winning poet, publishes Iron John: A Book About Men, which uses myth and poetry to suggest that the modern-day male—confused, unhappy, and soaked in cologne—is only a half-adult, having lost the vitality of his primitive soul. The message is immediately man-handled, both by feminists who believe Bly’s advocacy of males comes at the expense of women and by men who perceive the book as a signal to unleash their wild side. In any case, groups of chest-pounding, shower-eschewing men take to the woods to beat drums and rediscover their masculinity.


The Great Ape Escape—1994

Four-hundred pound Casey, the beloved Como Zoo gorilla, scales a 15-foot concrete wall and takes a stroll on the grounds. After spending the winter indoors, Casey decides he needs more of a breather than his open-air exhibit allows, and casually climbs over the four-foot fence surrounding his quarters. One bystander visiting with a local kindergarten class snaps his picture just before realizing he is six feet in front of her. The students are quickly moved to safety and Casey’s 45-minute zoo tour ends with a tranquilizer dart.


One Heckuva Movie—1996

Joel and Ethan Coen, who were raised in St. Louis Park, release Fargo, a kidnapping caper whose ostensibly Minnesotan characters speak with such exaggerated accents that the film launches the state into an identity crisis. Some local viewers embrace the “hey dere” and “dontcha know” portrayal as ridiculous satire while others believe it casts us as yokels. All Minnesotans are subjected to years of questioning and “okey-dokes” from out-of-towners who take the movie at face value—hecklers who forgot, perhaps, our penchant for unorthodox uses of wood chippers.


SCIENCE AND NATURE

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota
Historical Society

U of M Scientist Feeds the World—1970

Norman E. Borlaug, University of Minnesota alumnus and crop researcher, receives the Nobel Peace Prize for his achievements in increasing the world’s food supply. The prize recognizes Borlaug’s work introducing high-yield, disease-resistant grains he developed (along with modern techniques for agricultural production) to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. Yields increase dramatically in developing countries using Borlaug’s methods, greatly improving those nations’ food security. While some environmentalists criticize Borlaug’s use of biotechnology and monoculture, they can’t deny the bottom line: Borlaug’s work is estimated to have saved a billion people from starvation.


Minnesota Gets a National Park—1971

President Richard Nixon signs legislation authorizing the establishment of Voyageurs National Park, named in honor of the French-Canadian fur traders who paddled and portaged through the 218,000-acre northern wilderness. The legislation temporarily halts a complicated political battle surrounding federal land acquisition, led by such noted Minnesotans as former Governor Elmer L. Andersen and author/environmentalist Sigurd F. Olson. The state’s first and only national park will continue to be a point of contention—most recently regarding motorized recreational vehicle use.

And the Ship Went Down—1975

The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald—the largest bulk cargo vessel on the Great Lakes when it was christened in 1958—sinks in eastern Lake Superior. En route from Superior, Wisconsin, to Detroit, Michigan, the ship is hit by a severe storm, causing sudden massive flooding of the cargo hold about 17 miles from shore. It goes down without sending a distress call and all 29 crew members are presumed drowned. The event is later mythologized by the singer Gordon Lightfoot in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The song reaches number two on the Billboard pop charts in November 1976.

The Halloween Blizzard—1991

A record-breaking snowstorm hits Minnesota, dumping more than 24 inches in 24 hours. Days of snowball-throwing, snow-angel- and snow-fort-making ensue. Children simultaneously rejoice and pout: school is closed and all thoughts of homework have been smothered in the thick white blanket—but the evening’s Halloween festivities have been curtailed. Overall, 26 inches of snow fall in the Twin Cities, and 36.9 inches bury Duluth. It is truly the “Storm of the Century”: the largest snowfall from a single storm in Minnesota history. On the upside, cavities decrease that year.

Photo by Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald

The Red River Jumps Its Banks—1997

At 4 a.m., Grand Forks mayor Pat Owens orders the city to evacuate: the Red River is rising and the dikes are about to burst. Over the weekend, the city’s water plant fails, raw sewage flows into the streets, and downtown erupts in flames. On April 21, the river crests at 54 feet—more than 25 feet above flood stage—officially the worst flooding the area has seen in more than a century. The disaster will eventually displace 47,000 of the 50,000 residents of Grand Forks and cause an estimated $2 billion in damages. Of the experience, Owens later says, “You read in the Bible, the end of the world? That’s how it felt.”

SPORTS

Minnesota’s Miracle on Ice—1980

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Men’s hockey Team USA—with half of its players college kids from Minnesota—falls behind the mighty Soviets 3-2 going into the final period of the semifinal game. But Herb Brooks, who coached the University of Minnesota team to three national championships, has prepared his team with brutal conditioning. The Americans stun the Soviets with a tying goal in the third period, then score again less than two minutes later to move ahead 4-3. As the clock runs out, Al Michaels—calling the game on the nationwide Olympic broadcast—shouts, “Do you believe in miracles?!” By the time the United States beats Finland two days later for the gold, the nation can answer, “Yes.”


LeMond Wins the Tour—1989

Greg LeMond enters the final day of the 1989 Tour de France, a seemingly insurmountable 50 seconds behind two-time champion Laurent Fignon. LeMond had won in 1986, but a hunting accident caused him to miss the 1987 race. With 37 shotgun pellets still lodged around his heart, the California native newly relocated to Minnesota tucks over his aero bars on the 15-mile time trial into Paris and stuns the world—beating Fignon by 8 seconds, the slimmest winning margin in the Tour’s history. LeMond paves the way for Lance Armstrong—whose seven Tour victories hinge on his time trials—and sparks a cycling craze in the States.


Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Twins

The Twins Rule—1987

First-year manager Tom Kelly takes the Twins from next-to-last place in 1986 to the World Series in 1987. Minnesotans haven’t celebrated a major-league team championship since the 1954 Minneapolis Lakers. Facing elimination by the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6, Kirby Puckett goes 4 for 4, and Kent Hrbek blasts a grand-slam home run in the sixth inning to force a final game. The Metrodome roars as Jeff Reardon retires the Cardinals in the ninth inning of Game 7 to cap Series MVP Frank “Sweet Music” Viola’s strong pitching. A celebration erupts in downtown Minneapolis and spreads across the state.


The Vikings Lose the NFC Championship—1999

This is the year rookie Randy Moss busts open games with his long-ball hauls; the Vikings finish 15-1—tops in the league; and—undefeated at home—they are favorites to trounce the Falcons in the NFC championship game and finally win a Super Bowl. Fans believe the Vikings will redeem those past four losses and revive Purple Pride. But quarterback Randall Cunningham’s fumble becomes a Falcon touchdown to close out the first half, and coach Denny Green’s strategy to run out the clock suggests cowardice. Kicker Gary Anderson’s 38-yard field goal attempt—his first miss of the year—fails to win the game. The Vikings lose 30-27.

Gopher Women Win!—2003-2004

The Golden Gophers women’s basketball team sweeps its first 15 games, stunning top-seeded Duke in the region final and advancing to the NCAA Final Four. Three years earlier—star-guard Lindsay Whalen’s freshman year—the team played home contests before fewer than 1,000 fans and won only eight games. But by 2003-2004, Gopher women’s hoops is the hottest ticket in town. As the Gophers’ MVP four years straight, Whalen has held the team together through three coaches in three years. She caps her senior year with the Final Four trip to New Orleans, and the Hutchinson native leaves the university as its all-time leading scorer—male or female—with 2,285 career points.

POLITICS

Minnesota Becomes a Political Force—1968

Senator Eugene McCarthy challenges LBJ in the Democratic primaries of 1968, and the political compass of the nation swings toward the North Star state. McCarthy’s strong showing in the early primaries encourages Bobby Kennedy to enter the race, which convinces Lyndon Johnson that it isn’t worth it to continue as president. This prompts his vice-president, Hubert H. Humphrey, to enter the campaign. Kennedy is assassinated and the party enters the long, hot summer of 1968. Despite throngs of youthful supporters in Chicago, McCarthy doesn’t stand a chance with convention delegates, and with no help from his fellow Minnesotan, HHH is defeated by Richard Nixon.


Roy Wilkins Gets His Due—1969

Roy Wilkins receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Born in St. Louis and raised by an aunt and uncle in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, Wilkins is one of the nation’s most influential civil-rights leaders. As executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Wilkins has guided the powerful organization through the height of the civil-rights movement, and was instrumental in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, he was the first African-American editor at the Minnesota Daily.


Mr. Blackmun Goes to Washington—1970

Tapped for service by Richard Nixon, Minnesota’s Harry Blackmun joins his St. Paul childhood buddy Chief Justice Warren Burger on the U.S. Supreme Court. When Blackmun, who was best man at Burger’s wedding, arrives in Washington, pundits dub him and Burger “The Minnesota Twins,” noting their personal closeness and a predilection for decrying judicial activism. In time, Blackmun’s opinions grow more liberal; Burger’s don’t. The split is highlighted by Blackmun’s most famous opinion, 1973’s Roe v. Wade, favoring women’s right to abortion. In time, “The Minnesota Twins” will grow personally, as well as judicially, estranged.

Alan Page Is Benched—1978

Arguably the greatest defender in Minnesota Vikings history is cut by Bud Grant six games into the 1978 football season. In 1971, Alan Page—All-Pro eight times—is the first defensive lineman to be named Most Valuable Player in NFL history. Grant complains that Page has dropped his playing weight to 220 pounds; others suspect it’s Page’s outspokenness that makes him persona non grata with management. Page ends his Hall of Fame football career with the Chicago Bears, but an accomplished legal career in Minnesota takes him to a seat on the state supreme court—where he remains today—the first African American on the high bench.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota
Historical Society

Mondale Loses—1984

To many Democrats, ex-VP Walter Mondale’s limping presidential-primary campaign contrasts sharply with that of Gary Hart, the young, plaid shirt-wearing senator from Colorado. But all of Hart’s “new ideas” sound like ol’ time liberal principles to the Mondale camp. At a debate in Atlanta, the Ceylon native is coached to use a phrase from a popular television commercial. He delivers his line—“Where’s the beef?”—with perfect timing, and Hart is chopped down a peg or two. With Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, Mondale’s campaign takes off, and the Democratic nomination is his. Too bad he must face “The Great Communicator” in November.


Indians Roll the Dice—1988

Congress helps promote Native American economic development with the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Within a year, the state has signed agreements with local tribes authorizing seven casinos, to be governed and managed by area Indians. Minnesotans take to the new gaming tables like hogs to the trough. Within three years, the Land of Lutefisk and Lutherans becomes the largest gambling center between New Jersey and Las Vegas. By 2004, there are 17 Indian gaming casinos in the state operated by 11 tribes and employing more than 13,000 people.

Photo courtesy of the
Minnesota Historical
Society

Wrestler Leaves Political Pundits Sucking Wind—1998

The newly elected governor of Minnesota announces to his cheering admirers: “We shocked the world!” A former pro wrestler with a bullying style and paper-thin skin, Jesse “The Body” Ventura bests two familiar Minnesota politicos, slick Republican Norm Coleman and over-exposed Democrat Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III, to win the governor’s office for the Reform Party of Minnesota. More than a few voters—37 percent, in fact—see honesty and forthrightness in his political pronouncements. In four years, however, his support will have shrunk considerably, and “being Jesse” will have grown tiresome, even to him. He refuses to run for re-election in 2002.

The Wellstones’ Plane Goes Down—2002

Senator Paul Wellstone is in the homestretch of his final campaign for the U.S. Senate when he climbs aboard a private plane headed to Eveleth. With him are his wife, daughter, three campaign workers, the pilot, and the co-pilot. Wellstone has brought to the Senate his irrepressible political style, which he rode to an upset victory over incumbent Rudy Boschwitz in 1990, winning again in 1996. An ex-poli-sci professor with a deeply progressive bent, he charms even those who resist his politics. When his plane crashes in the woods outside of Eveleth, killing all aboard, the tears flow from left, right, and center.

  

ARTS

Hats Off to Mary Tyler Moore—1970

Mary Tyler Moore makes her debut as Mary Richards, a career woman working as a news producer at fictional WJM-TV in downtown Minneapolis. For seven years, Mary Tyler Moore keeps its loyal audience laughing, delving into new television territory with a single female star. Moore and cast offer snappy humor, wit, and the feeble mind of anchorman Ted Baxter. In May 2002, a statue of Moore tossing her hat in the air (as seen in the opening sequence of the show) is erected at Seventh Street and Nicollet Mall, immortalizing the show’s impact on the city. Looks like she made it after all.

Minnesota Blessed with its First Polka Mass—1973

Father Frank Perkovich combines his two great loves—religion and polka—in the first polka Mass at Resurrection Catholic Church in Eveleth, making it the second-ever such Mass in the United States. Featuring traditional folk music and adapted hymns in English, it draws fans across the Range—all except Perkovich’s mom, who cautioned him not to mix church with “beer-hall music.” The Chisholm native’s diligence will pay off when he takes his polka Mass to Pope John Paul II in 1983. “I could see his red shoes tapping during this whole thing,” Father Perk recalls in his memoir, Dancing a Polka to Heaven.

August Wilson Gets His Due—1980

After relocating to St. Paul, playwright August Wilson conceives Jitney, reportedly written in 10 days in Cathedral Hill bars. When he submits his first draft to the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, he wins a $200-a-month Jerome Fellowship and sees the play read professionally for the first time. By the time Penumbra Theatre stages Jitney in 1985, Wilson will have left the Twin Cities for Seattle, but he never forgets the Cities’ impact: “Having moved from Pittsburgh to St. Paul, I felt I could hear voices for the first time accurately,” he later tells the New York Times.

An Icon Is Born, With Garnish—1988

The Walker Art Center, in collaboration with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, unveils the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden on the grounds of the 75-year-old Armory Gardens across from the Walker. Designed by modernist architect Edward Larrabee Barnes and landscape architect Peter Rothschild, it is home to more than 40 permanent works of art, including Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry, a three-year project that becomes synonymous with Minneapolis. The Sculpture Garden will expand from 7.5 to 11 acres in 1992, and after the neighboring Guthrie Theater moves facilities in 2006, the park will expand to 15 acres.

Photo by John Christenson

A Man, a Plan, a Tin Can—1993

The Weisman Art Museum opens its doors to budding artists and inspired students. Located on the shores of the Mississippi River and the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus, the prominent site influences architect Frank Gehry’s angular, geometric exterior. While some residents struggle to appreciate the distinctively different building—which Time magazine declares a “gleefully manic (that is, American) work of Cubist sculpture; a giant, brushed-stainless-steel popcorn kernel; or a wizard’s castle in some 23rd-century fairy tale”—Gehry’s peers praise the hunk of postmodern architecture. Prior to completion of construction, the architect’s plan wins him the prestigious Progressive Architecture Design Award in 1991.

CRIME

The Kidnapping of Virginia Piper—1972

When masked men abduct Virginia Piper from her Orono home and demand $1 million for her return, retired investment banker Harry C. Piper Jr. delivers the biggest ransom in U.S. history. Mrs. Piper is soon found alive, chained to a tree in Jay Cooke State Park near Duluth. Five years later, police arrest Kenneth Callahan and Donald Larson and charge them with the kidnapping. A court convicts them, but the verdict is overturned on appeal and the men win acquittal in a second trial. The kidnapping remains unsolved.

Murder at Glensheen—1977

Glensheen, a Duluth mansion with 39 rooms and the look of an English manor, is the scene of an infamous unsolved crime. Elizabeth Congdon, 83, is discovered smothered with a pink pillow; her night nurse, Velma Pietila, is found bludgeoned to death with a candlestick. Suspicion falls on Congdon’s daughter, Marjorie, and her husband, Roger Caldwell, who stand to gain $8 million from the Congdon estate. Prosecutors never prove their guilt, however. In 1993, five years after Caldwell’s suicide, Marjorie is imprisoned in Arizona for arson and insurance fraud. Glensheen will later become one of northern Minnesota’s top tourist attractions.

A Double Homocide in Ruthton—1983

As the rural Midwest seethes with anger over farm foreclosures, James Jenkins and his son, Steven, pose as prospective buyers of the farm near Ruthton that the family had ceded to the bank. There they lure and fatally shoot bank president Rudy Blythe and loan officer Deems “Toby” Thulin. A manhunt leads police to Paducah, Texas, where they find James dead of self-inflicted wounds and arrest Steven, later convicted of murder. Comparing farmers to any other animal, activist Jim Langman comments, “If you beat at him, poke at him and take everything away from him, he’s going to turn and bite back.”

Jacob Wetterling Vanishes—1989

One of America’s most infamous child-abduction cases begins with a trip by three boys to a convenience store in St. Joseph. As the kids make their way home, a masked and armed man snatches 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling. The other boys run for help and police quickly arrive to comb the area. They find few clues other than the discarded bikes and a faint tire track. Thousands of man-hours and some 50,000 leads later, Jacob’s fate remains a mystery. But the crime leads to federal legislation requiring states to establish sex-offender registries, and a foundation is established in Jacob’s name to prevent child exploitation.


Kathleen Soliah Arrested—1999

The past catches up with Kathleen Soliah 23 years after she went underground to avoid an indictment for planning to destroy a police car in Los Angeles. On her way to teach English as a second language, the former Symbionese Liberation Army member—known in the Twin Cities as Sara Jane Olson—is arrested in St. Paul. In 2002, she is convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of 10 years to life. “She’s led a good life,” observes America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh, “but if you have tried to kill cops, you’re going to be in trouble.”

BUSINESS

The HMO Pilot—1972

Must be our Scandinavian (read: Socialist) heritage. Minnesotans are the first general U.S. population to pool health-care costs through an employee-sponsored, prepaid health plan. Paul Ellwood designs a program that is pioneered at Park Nicollet Clinic, with 5,000 participants from such forward-thinking corporations as General Mills. In 1973, Congress passes the Health Maintenance Act, enabling others to do the same.


Final Iron Ore Shipment From the Mesabi Range—1984

Mining serves as a bedrock industry on the Iron Range from George Stuntz’s 1865 discovery of iron ore near Lake Vermillion until 1984, when the final shipment leaves the Mesabi. At one point, bolstered by investments from Andrew Carnegie, more than three-quarters of the country’s iron ore is mined in Minnesota. But in time, thousands of jobs are lost to mechanization, economic depression, and the unrest dramatized by Charlize Theron in North Country.

Hormel Workers Strike—1985

Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local P-9 walk out to protest wage and benefit cuts at Austin-based Hormel Foods. Scabs replace some 700 employees, though not before Governor Rudy Perpich calls in the National Guard. The media savants that have made SPAM at least ironically cool in recent years never mention the strike immortalized in the 1991 Academy Award-winning documentary American Dream.


Mall of America Opens—1992

The Ghermesian brothers hit a home run on the site of the former Met Stadium by building an enormous shopping mall. Two decades later, more than 40 million people will come every year to tarry, marry, and carry packages. Plans are later drawn up for a four-level addition of up to 5.6 million square feet that could include a 1,200-seat dinner theater and an ice-skating rink.


Dayton’s Disappears—2001

Minnesota’s homegrown department store, established by George Draper Dayton as a dry-goods business in 1902, is taken over by Chicago-based Marshall Field’s. Just five years later, in 2006, the business will be resold, and the name will change again, to Macy’s. But most Minnesotans—stubborn to the core—continue to refer to the store by its original name: Dayton’s.

Editor’s note: What great Minnesota moments from the last 40 years have captivated you? Add to our list by sending your nominations in a letter to our website—minnesotamonthly.com—under “Join In.” We’ll publish our favorites in the letters section on the site.

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