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Unsolved Mysteries

From the Kensington Runestone to the fact that Joe Mauer is still single, this state has plenty of explaining to do. Here, 10 questions to keep you up at night.

Unsolved Mysteries
Photo by Kako (Illustration)

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Did aliens attack Sheriff Val Johnson?

Al Johnson, a Marshall County deputy sheriff, was patrolling the emptiness near the North Dakota border on the night of August 27, 1979, when he saw a bright light arc strangely across the sky. He gave chase, but the light shot toward him then hovered above his car. He heard breaking glass then blacked out. When he came to, his eyes burned (a doctor likened the retinal damage to mild welder’s burn). The car’s antennae were oddly bent, a headlight was broken, and the windshield was smashed—from both outside and inside the car. Johnson’s wristwatch and the car clock were both running 14 minutes behind. “Involved in an accident with an unknown object,” read the police report. Johnson soon found himself at the center of one of the most famous UFO stories of the 1970s.

The Theories

The car in question, now parked in the Marshall County Historical Society Museum, still draws skeptics and UFO fanatics alike—while yielding no good explanations. Was a meteor shower to blame? What about the burn marks in a nearby field? As one investigator put it, “You would think that beings advanced enough to have an interstellar transportation system…would be able to avoid a collision.” Or maybe not.

Why was Hole in the Day assassinated?

He was the last truly powerful chief in Minnesota, the self-styled leader of the Upper Mississippi Ojibwe. But he was wildly inconsistent, negotiating with presidents one day, getting into barroom brawls the next; he rebuffed settlers but married a white woman. And in 1868, on his way to Washington, D.C., to fight the removal of Ojibwe to the White Earth Reservation, he was ambushed near Crow Wing by at least 12 Ojibwe men. The murder was barely investigated.

The Theory

“A lot of people had a motive to kill him,” says Anton Treuer, a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University and author of the new book The Assassination of Hole in the Day. But Treuer suspects white and mixed-blood traders, who sought to run things on the new White Earth Reservation—Hole in the Day stood in their way. “They orchestrated a coup d’etat,” Treuer believes, hiring the killers from nearby Leech Lake.

Read expert opinions on this mystery (and more) at MNMO.com/mysteries2010.

Why do so many celebrities marry Minnesotans?

What do Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Burt Reynolds, Phil Hartman, John Denver, Tiny Tim, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Maximilian Hoover (the socialite heir to the vacuum fortune) have in common? They’ve all slipped rings onto Minnesota gals’ fingers.

The Theories

Blondes. We’ve got ’em, some gentlemen prefer ’em. Too crass? Star Tribune television critic Neil Justin has another idea: “Celebs may enjoy dating groupies, but when they’re ready to settle down, they want a partner, not a fan. And Minnesota women just tend to be more grounded and responsible than those raised in la-la land.”

Who stole the ruby slippers?

For years, a pair of ruby slippers used in the filming of The Wizard of Oz was occasionally displayed in the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids. But one morning in 2005, the museum was broken into and the most valuable shoes in the world—insured for more than
$1 million—were snatched. The pumps remain at large.

The Theories

 The leading suspect was a local ne’er-do-well, but police lacked proof. Given the insurance payoff, some fans suspect the shoes’ owner, a former child actor living in Hollywood who had loaned the pair to the museum for the exhibition. He, in turn, suspects obsessed fans. Flying monkeys, anyone?

What’s killing our moose?

As recently as the late 1990s, there were thousands of moose chilling in the swamps of northwestern Minnesota; now there are maybe a couple hundred. In northeastern Minnesota, the die-off has been slower but steady. Soon, moose may only be found here in gift shops.

The Theories

Bullwinkle may have dodged Boris and Natasha, but he’s no match for climate change. The dead moose show no sign of injury but are generally filled with parasites, probably because they’re expending so much energy beating the heat that they can’t fight the buggers off. Which explains why northeast Minnesota is retaining more moose than the northwest—it’s simply shadier.

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