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Everything You Know About Minnesota is Wrong

Everything You Know About Minnesota is Wrong
Photo by Darrell Eager

(page 4 of 4)

Bud Grant: coaching genius

Sure, Bud Grant took us to the Super Bowl (four times), something no other Vikings coach has managed. But true fans know that the late Jim Finks had as much, if not more, to do with the team’s glory days. As the Vikings’ general manager, Finks hand-picked the talent, and after Finks moved on to Chicago (where he assembled the team that won the 1985 Super Bowl), Grant’s winning percentage was merely average. In fact, over nine seasons, the much-maligned Denny Green had a better winning percentage than Grant. Better to leave Grant in the stands and start the séances to resurrect Finks.

A rogue legislator kept our capitol in St. Paul

In 1857, St. Paul nearly lost the one thing keeping it from being known simply as a good place to be a Vulcan: its capital status. The new town of St. Peter was seen as more accessible to far-flung legislators, or at least was promoted as such by unscrupulous politicians, including the territorial governor, who were invested in the company that hoped to build the new capitol. Enter “Jolly Joe” Rolette, a legislator who makes off with the bill that would move the capital, holing up in a hotel until time expires for the bill to be signed into law. Rolette, in other words, saves St. Paul. But the story is a little too good to be true. “He did steal the bill, but it was a ruling by a territorial judge that kept the capitol in St. Paul,” says Wendy Jones of the Minnesota Historical Society. Even the word “steal” is misleading: Because Rolette chaired the Committee on Enrolled Bills, it was his to take. When he didn’t show, the governor simply signed a duplicate bill. Only several months later, when the judge ruled on whether the legislature could move the capital, was St. Paul preserved as the seat of government, ensuring maximum irony when gangsters later overran the place.

Five Truths About Minnesota

Minnesota is nice

We know the stories: Your coworkers smile at you in the break room, say please and thank you and oh fer cute, but they won’t invite you to dinner parties because they’re still hanging out with their high school friends. Well, boo-hoo. By the numbers, Minnesotans really are altruistic. We have the nation’s lowest percentage of people without health insurance, due to generous government coverage. We’ve historically had one of the lowest, if not the lowest, income-tax burdens on poor families, as determined by the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It’s even been found that we have the greatest distribution of power—based on voter participation, educational attainment, Medicaid access, and tax fairness—and are among the top five least-stressful cities in the country. We’re not worried; why should you be?

Paul Bunyan is a Minnesotan

It is still debatable where the king of deforestation was born: In the logging camps of the 19th century or in the imagination of commercial writers. But according to the Minnesota History Society, there is no doubt that the national popularization of Bunyan began with a Minnesota copywriter named W. B. Laughead, a veteran of the logging camps around Bemidji. In 1914, Laughead wrote the first of many Bunyan stories to promote the Minnesota-based Red River Lumber Company, inventing Babe the Blue Ox and other parts of the legend. It’s worth noting, too, that little Kelliher, Minnesota, is the only town claiming Bunyan’s burial site. The epitaph: “Here lies Paul, and that’s all.”

Minnesota dating is not-so-nice

Still don’t have a date for that dinner party? You’re not alone (well, only literally): In 2004, the Twin Cities made the list of 10 worst cities to hook up in, as determined by Sperling’s BestPlaces. Recently, the online dating service OkCupid.com determined that Minnesota has the nation’s loneliest women and shyest men. The knock has always been low turnover: Fewer people (in search of companionship) move into and out of here than such larger cities as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. But there’s hope: The latest census revealed that when you peg net migration to population size, the Twin Cities now ranks eighth out of 20 metropolises; we’re attracting young, single college graduates at a faster pace than anywhere outside the West and South. We’ve even surpassed Milwaukee in Forbes magazine’s 2006 Best Cities for Singles rankings (number 14 out of 40). Woo-hoo! But don’t cancel your Netflix subscription just yet.

We are #!$@& cold

Statistics—and frostbitten fingers—don’t lie. We may not hold the record for lowest recorded temperature: the mountain states of Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming have all suffered through chillier moments. But on an annual basis, International Falls is the coldest major National Weather Service station outside Alaska and the Twin Cities is the coldest major population center in the United States, with an average annual temperature of just 45 degrees. Which may help explain that dating thing.

We do have a lot of Norwegian bachelor farmers

Minnesota has always been the HQ of Norwegian bachelor farmers, according to the Minnesota Population Center. In the mid-20th century, about one-third of Norwegian farmers in Minnesota were bachelors, compared to only one-fifth of farmers overall. Interestingly, in 1940, all American men of Norwegian ancestry, whether farmers or not, were much more likely than others to have never married. See: dating.

You Decide

In his recent biography, Chronicles: Volume One, Bob Dylan recalls advising U2 frontman Bono “that if he wants to see the birthplace of America, he should go to Alexandria, Minn.,” where “the Vikings came and settled in the 1300s.” Alexandria, of course, houses the Kensington Runestone—the supposedly ancient marker inscribed with Scandinavian runic writing and reputedly found by farmer Olaf Ohman in 1898. Many scholars say the stone is evidence not of Vikings in Minnesota but of a savvy prankster. Yet the debate continues. Prone as we are to believing aging rockers with fake names, this one’s too close to call.

Tim Gihring is senior writer at Minnesota Monthly.


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