November 2, 2014
I never thought we'd end up in North Dakota but Himself decides he wants to see the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn so it's another long day on the road from Wall South Dakota. As is usually the case when we visit off the beaten path attractions in November we have the museum to ourselves. I learn that to a large extent the expedition was under the aegis of Thomas Jefferson and that prior to departure Jefferson made sure that Meriweather Lewis studied with the nation's top scientific minds. More than most other expeditions into Indian territory, the objective was the acquisition of knowledge and not profit. The expedition is excruciatingly well documented and the logistics of preparing for it are mind boggling. Adjacent to the center is a replica of the fort constructed for the expedition at Mandan. During the season there is a separate visitor center there but in November we just follow a guy up there in the car and he shows us around.
It is funny to think about how the age of enlightenment had really taken hold in the 18th Century. There was no formal religious observance at the fort and the bible sent along on the journey was more for behavioral instruction and not spiritual succor. We are both struck by a large statue commemorating Seaman, Meriweather Lewis's Newfoundland dog who was a member of the expedition. Legend has it that when Lewis died, Seaman waited on his grave until his own time came.
November 3, 2014
We spend the night in Jameston North Dakota, site of the Buffalo Museum and the world's largest buffalo which we hail from the highway without stopping. It is a long ride to Alexandria Minnesota to visit the Runestone Museum. A huge Viking greets us as we arrive in the little town. Again, we are alone in the museum although the lady in charge is very chatty. Ohlof Ohman freed the stone from a clump of roots while he was clearing land on his farm in 1898. A controversy went on for years and Ohman was branded a forger. The public humiliation caused one of his children to leave the area and another to commit suicide. It wasn't until 2004 that it was concluded that the stone is a genuine Viking carving from around 1362.
Besides the Runestone the little museum is choc-a-bloc with artifacts from the little farm town including a lot of household objects, clothing and weapons. An ancient telephone is accompanied by a sweet sentimental story about a little boy calling the information operator when in need of advice or comfort. There was a wired-haired terrier named Scotty who was such a good little dog that when he died he was preserved for posterity. He still wears his license.
The lady in the gift store doesn't want us to leave. She tells us about relatives in S. California who live in Venice. She is relieved they live there because the area isn't vulnerable to mudslides. Are we known for mudslides? She is a PBS devotee and while she had never heard of him, she noted that on the PBS show “Finding Your Roots,” Nas discovers that he has Viking blood. She segues into Antiques Road Show and Irish Minnesotans. I'm afraid she's going to follow us to the parking lot. She is a sweet lady and I hope that there some other weirdo tourists to come keep her company.
The last empty museum we visit is the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center in Sauk Centre Minnesota. Life in the little town inspired several of Lewis's best known novels which don't pain the town in a particularly positive light. Originally, the citizens of Sauk Centre were outraged by what they perceived was Lewis's defamation of their town but it didn't take long for him to become a favorite son. We see his writing desk and the incredibly detailed notes and maps he created before embarking on a novel. Main Street is largely preserved and many things, including Sinclair Gas has been renamed to honor the town's most celebrated son.