State 11: Minnesota - August 20, 2017
“There is no place like home”
We woke in a Walmart in the “hopping” town of Hermantown, MN after a restless night sleep. Today we had a jam packed agenda, and a lot, and I mean a lot of driving to do. Our first stop of the day was to visit the Cross Country Couple’s designated “Famous Person” for Minnesota: The Birthplace and Museum for Judy Garland in Grand Rapids, MN. To get to the museum, we had a 1 ½ hour drive from Hermantown through the gorgeous nationally protected forests of Northern Minnesota to Grand Rapids. In many ways, Lori and I can relate to Dorothy’s struggles in the Wizard of Oz. On our cross county trip, each and every day we are immersed in a new town, a new culture, and a new way of life, all of which is drastically different from our previous life in Connecticut. Almost on a daily basis we feel as if “We are not in Kansas anymore”. Even if it was possible to "tap our heels together 3 times" to find our new home, doing so would mean missing out on this amazing year long cross country journey. We truly believe in our hearts “there is no place like home”; we just need to find exactly where our home is! Perhaps the reason The Wizard of Oz is an enduring classic movie is because of the infinite ways one can relate. We invite you to follow us on the yellow brick road, as we learn about the woman who played a little girl named Dorothy and brightened our hearts so many years ago.
Although the world would come to know her as Judy Garland, Frances Ethel Gumm, was born on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. From the tender age of 5 years old, Judy Garland and her two older sisters performed in a local theater owned by their parents. Judy was discovered in her teenage years, and subsequently signed a contract with MGM. In a career spanning 4 decades, she starred in 12 movies, but her most memorable roll will always be the character of “Dorothy” in The Wizard of Oz. She would go on to win a Golden Globe Award, Juvenile Achievement Award, Special Tony Award, The First Woman to Win a Grammy for Album of the year, Recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Despite her profound professional success, Judy Garland suffered in silence with eating disorders, and alcohol and drug addiction until she tragically and prematurely passed away at the age of 47 years old.
The Judy Garland Museum consists of three sections: Her childhood home, The Judy Garland Museum, and the Judy Garland Children’s Museum. Admission was reasonable at $8 person, and we opted to skip the children’s museum for obvious reasons. We decided to begin our tour by exploring her childhood home. Before heading inside, I walked around the entire outside perimeter of the house looking for the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East to no avail. That would have been a very cute touch, and I should have left a suggestion in their box. The house had been moved from it original location, to it's current location at the museum in 1994. Based on pictures and eyewitness descriptions, Garland’s home was expertly restored to it's appearance during her childhood in the 1920’s. The furniture within the home are period appropriate, but not original. They did a phenomenal job on the restoration, and walking through the front door felt like we were stepping back in time. There were quite a few surprising and noteworthy features of her home. The house was much larger than I expected a 1920’s farm house to be. Judy shared a bedroom with her parents, and her 2 older sisters slept in the other bedroom. She began singing at the age of 2, and used to practice with her sisters using the stair landing as a make shift stage. Ironically, Judy Garland was very scared of thunderstorms and tornadoes as a child, and below is a picture of her basement storm cellar!
After exiting her childhood home, we then proceeded to the main display area of the museum featuring artifacts related to the Wizard of Oz, which included: her original copy of The Wizard of Oz script, the spear belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West’s "oh-ee-oh-ohhh-oh" soldiers, a 1st edition copy to the Wizard of Oz book, and the actual dress Judy Garland wore when she auditioned for the part of Dorothy.
The most interesting artifact on display was the famous “horse of a different color carriage” used in the movie to transport Dorothy within the Emerald City to see the wizard. At the time, the carriage was owned by a person who rented it out to be used in over 200 classic Hollywood movies in addition to the Wizard of Oz. The aforementioned would be very interesting as it is, but the carriage also had a very famous previous owner. In the 1990’s the “horse of a different carriage” was discovered, and sent for restoration due to its significant historic ties to Hollywood. During the restoration process, a handwritten inscription on the frame of the carriage was found which read “A. Lincoln, June 8, 1863”. Historians were able to determine the carriage was commissioned to be given as a gift to the our 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. It is one of only 3 carriages in existence Lincoln used during the Civil War. Please see the pictures below.
When it comes to Hollywood memorabilia, the holy grail for collectors is Judy Garland's ruby slippers worn in The Wizard of Oz. The last time her slippers went up for auction, they fetched a cool 2 million dollars! There are a total of 4 pairs of ruby slippers in existence: One pair is in the Smithsonian Museum, another pair is going to be displayed in a museum in Los Angeles scheduled to open in 2018, and the 3rd pair is in the hands of a private collector. The location of the 4th pair is currently unknown, and the story of their disappearance stems from the Judy Garland Museum. The owner of the 4th pair loaned the ruby slippers to the museum to feature as a special exhibit. In the middle of the night on August 28, 2005, someone smashed a museum window, and stole the ruby slippers! The security alarm was disconnected, the camera was turned off, and there were no witnesses. Despite a 1-million-dollar award for information leading to their recovery, the case remains unsolved, and there are no suspects to this very day! The pedestal that once held the stolen ruby slippers is still on display serving as a somber reminder of an irreplaceable and lost American artifact. If you have any information about the theft of the ruby slippers from the Judy Garland Museum, please call Grand Rapids, MN. Police Department. Please see the pictures below.
Overall, we had a great time visiting the Judy Garland Museum. It features an impressive collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia, a wide array of artifacts from her other feature films, tons of information about her early life and examples of her philanthropy specifically relating to US soldiers serving overseas. However, I do have a few noteworthy points of critique. The displays within the museum are scattered, and it lacks linear cohesion. Upon entry, you are lead into a huge room highlighting her signature role as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Then, 3 rooms over and around a corner to the left, you will find her birth certificate, and the story of how her parents met. The museum makes little mention of her personal life including her 5 marriages, or her 3 children the most noteworthy being Liza Minelli. One last point of critique is that there is no mention of her death, and the means by which she passed. If you have her birth certificate on display, it is only appropriate to display her death certificate with the determined cause of death listed as a barbiturate overdose. By omitting the aforementioned, it leaves one of the most significant, yet tragic aspects of her life untold. Garland’s lifelong substance abuse struggles she grappled with in no way minimizes her enduring status as one of the greatest and influential actresses of the 20th century. By sharing her battle with substance abuse, it would humanize her in a way others can relate, and continue to raise awareness of the dangers of addiction.
After leaving Judy Garland’s Museum, we were off to visit the National Park depicted on the reverse of US quarter for Minnesota: Voyageurs National Park. Introduced into the national park system in 1975, Voyageurs National Park was named to commemorate the first European settlers who traveled through the region. Hailed as an outdoorsman aquatic oasis, Voyageur features over 900 islands just waiting to be explored by canoeists, kayakers, mariners and fisherman. The mainland body within the park, the Kabetogama Peninsula, is only accessible by boat in the summer and spring, and by snowshoe and snowmobile when the lake freezes over. Voyagerus National Park is located along the state's mutually shared border with Canada, and each year over a quarter of a million people visit.
We drove 3 ½ hours through the lonely logging roads of Northern Minnesota, from Grand Rapids to Voyageur’s National Park. There was absolutely nothing to see for the entire drive except, tall, lush green trees, deer fearlessly darting across the roadway, and an occasional 18 wheeler barreling towards us down the narrow, 2 lane shoulderless highway. I was counting my blessings for topping off Rosie’s tank before departing. Long at last, we approached the entrance to Voyageurs Visitor Center via an absolutely awful 3-mile-long, bumpy and rocky dirt road. After a 3 ½ hour drive through nothingness, followed by the grand finale of an unplanned 3-mile bumpy back road excursion, we finally arrived at the visitor’s center having to “answer mother nature’s calling” in the worst imaginable way. With each of us doing our own comical variation of the pee pee dance, we darted across the parking lot towards the entrance to the visitor’s center and were horrified by what we had found. Not only was the visitor's center closed, but there were no outdoor bathrooms! We walked around the perimeter of the visitor’s center frantically searching for a private place to handle our “business”.
Shortly thereafter, we stumbled across a path through a botanical garden, but similar to the main road of the park, the garden was poorly maintained and overgrown with weeds. Nevertheless, we followed the path, and emerged a few minutes later next to a tepee, and a large beautiful lake with numerous boat docks. There was a huge tour boat docked, and unfortunately they were not running tours on the day we visited. The only way to really discover Voyageurs National Park is via a boat, and alas we had none. All we were capable of on this sunny summer afternoon, was to view from the binoculars on the dock all we were missing, which appeared so close through that concave lens, yet was so far away. We drive over 3 1/2 hours to get to Voyageurs National Park, and our entire experience proved to be extremely disappointing. Of all of the national parks we have visited, all have had more than adequate facilities like outdoor bathrooms, and all have been impeccably maintained. We were both surprised and saddened to see such a poor presentation at Voyageurs.
Then we came to the inevitable conclusion, that we had both had our fill of Minnesota. We drove Rosie back down the 3-mile bumpy dirt road enroute for to the closest Walmart to the states border we could find.
One of my favorite aspects of our year long cross country trip, is you truly never know what surprise lays ahead in the next town, or even around the next turn. These pleasant surprises usually come when you are in the midst of the most challenging day. Upon departing Voyageur’s National Park, we passed through the nearby town of International Falls, MN located right on the Canada border, which interestingly has no waterfalls. As we drove through the cute and oddly named town, we just happened across a totally unexpected road side attraction that was too hot to pass: The World's Largest Smokey the Bear. At 26 feet tall and standing guard at the entrance to the Smoky the Bear Park, his commanding presence will remind you that “only you can prevent forest fires”! Northern Minnesota is the home to a huge conglomerate of logging and paper manufacturing industries. One misplaced match would not only send the local economy up in flames, but would also send thousands of Canadians running towards the border with marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers.
The town of International Falls, MN has another very interesting claim to fame. Ever since 1946, the towns motto has been proudly proclaimed as “Icebox of the Nation”. When the town of Fraser, Colorado attempted to use the same motto, an all-out no holds barred snow ball fight ensued. One thing was for certain, there was only room for one "Icebox of the Nation" in the US. When the snow had finally cleared, the US trademark office ruled in favor of International Falls, MN as the one and the only, undisputed and universally recognized “Icebox of the Nation!!
After leaving the International Falls, MN we drove another 2 ½ hours southwest to the closest Walmart located on Paul Bunyan Road in Bemidji, MN. We just wanted to give you an idea of how very far out there we were in no man’s land! Today was our most heavy driving day in our entire trip, and we spent 7 ½ hours on the road. We usually try to limit our driving to 2 hours a day, and sometimes we do 4 hours depending the ambitiousness of the agenda. However, Northern Minnesota is so very remote, scantly populated, and everything is extremely far apart. In addition, neither one of us are getting any warm fuzzy feelings from Minnesota, and we wanted to get as close as we could to the state border as possible.