the Mall Rat
I spent four days in Minneapolis with my friends, Mark and Jayne, then got my truck ready for my trip back to Oregon and hit the road. Before leaving Minneapolis,
however, I had to stop by that sprawling temple of American consumerism known as
the Mall of America, located in the suburb of Bloomington. I don't
enjoy shopping and I've never understood the mostly-female desire to
shop. Of course, women don't understand the male phobia about asking for
directions, to which I can proudly claim, "Guilty As Charged."
ever-clever Randy Newman singing It's Money That Matters.
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wanted to see the Mall of America because, well, it's there. The Mall
was built about 10 years ago and for many years it was the largest shopping mall in
the world. I believe there's a mall in Canada now (in Edmonton or
Calgary, I forget which) that now claims that dubious distinction. Amazingly
enough, the Mall of America itself has become a major travel destination and
there are actually package tours that cater to shoppers which fly them to
them each morning to the Mall, then fly them back home after a few days of
blissful shopping. I find this type of behavior absolutely unbelievable, but then certain women -- and you know who you are -- have never understood why I refuse to ask anyone for directions.
honest, I'd been to the Mall of America once before. Mark took me there
when I visited Minneapolis in 1995 because we wanted to find Michael Fay, the
snotty American teenager you might have read about who got caught spraying
graffiti on some buildings in Singapore in the early 1990s. As punishment,
poor Mikey got caned on his backside by the Singapore authorities.
From what I
understand, writing graffiti in Singapore is really stupid because it's a very
dogmatic country. Singapore
even outlaws chewing gum because people might step on a discarded Juicy Fruit.
Then there are the urine detectors installed in the Singapore elevators that sound a loud alarm if anyone should happen to pee while riding up to the 5th
floor (I'm not kidding). Anyway, after Michael Fay and his sorry behind returned to the
U.S., Mark had read that he got a job at the Sam Goody's record store in the Mall of America, so
Mark and I dropped by to say "hi" back in 1995.
Unfortunately, though, Michael wasn't working that day; he was probably
writing graffiti in the parking garage... or maybe chewing some gum... or
possibly peeing in an elevator.
of America is arranged in a giant circle that covers 78 acres and has 520 stores
and, in some places, four levels. As if all the screaming stores weren't
enough over-stimulation, there's a seven-acre theme park in the middle, the largest
indoor theme park in the nation. The theme park, Camp Snoopy I think it's
called, has 26 rides including a roller-coaster and a water-flume, a 6,000-square-foot LegoLand play area, a two-story miniature golf course and giant
balloons of Peanuts characters, including Snoopy (needless to say, my respect
for Charles Schulz took a big hit). Both fascinated and disgusted, I spent an hour walking completely around the
mall, and in a daze from all this blatant capitalism, staggered my way to
In a lot
of ways, the Mall of America reminded me of Las Vegas: there's lots of
noise and excitement, there aren't any clocks so you can't tell what time it is,
and it's primarily designed to separate visitors from their money. My
visit to the Mall was intriguing, but an hour in this place was about all that I
could tolerate so, with my senses on "overload" and feeling extremely suffocated, I returned to the parking lot and drove off. All without spending
a penny. And without peeing in an elevator.
Above left: Getting my truck ready for my trip back to Oregon. That's my 12" subwoofer
on the floor, a DC-AC inverter in my cigarette lighter that I use to charge my
laptop and camera batteries, and my MP3 receiver. I mounted a 150-watt amplifier behind the
seat and recently installed custom-fitted seat covers.
Above right: My truck's padlocked strongbox, which I made out of 3/4" plywood. This is where I keep my laptop, camera and other valuables locked
up when I'm not carrying them. I bolted the box to the bed so it can't be
Above left: After leaving Mark and Jayne's house, my first stop was the
famous (or infamous) Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the U.S. and
second-largest mall in the world.
Above center: The Mall contains the largest indoor theme park in
America with roller coasters, water rides, and a huge Snoopy balloon. Good
Above right: I escaped the Mall after an hour and without spending a
single penny. A fascinating place, but get me outta here!
weather was cool and rainy as I left the Mall of America that morning heading west. My general
destination was the small town of Windom in southwestern Minnesota because I
knew that my grandfather (my mother's father) was born there in the
1890s. I had never been to Windom and, honestly, didn't know much about
my grandfather or his father or HIS father, all of whom lived in the Windom area
in the 1890s and all of whom died many years before I was born, so I planned to do some research there.
On my way to Windom, I stopped in the town of New Ulm, settled in 1854 by German
immigrants -- I'm just guessing here, but they were probably from Ulm.
Anyway, New Ulm is also one of the oldest towns in southern Minnesota, and it's one of the few towns in the U.S. that was sacked by Indians during the Indian wars of the 1800s.
the early 1860s, the Sioux Indians, or "Dakota" as they call
themselves, were angry that the American government had failed to live up to
their promises of an earlier treaty, which had forced them onto a
reservation. It's the same sad story that was repeated in every part
of the American West during the 1800s, with the American government failing to
fulfill its promises to the Indians.
By 1862, much of the
had been sent east to fight in the Civil War. Realizing this, the angry Dakota Indians staged an uprising, killing homesteaders
throughout southern Minnesota, including many in New Ulm. The town
residents retreated to Mankato, abandoning New Ulm to the Dakota Indians who then
proceeded to burn down most of it. However, the settlers returned a few months later and rebuilt New Ulm into a beautiful city,
which it remains today.
As a kid,
I read about New Ulm and the Dakota Uprising in the book, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"
which captivated me, and I'd wanted to see this town ever
since. As I discovered, it's really a quaint town and has a lot of
charming, old buildings. After spending an hour visiting the New Ulm museum, I headed to a
nearby State Park along the Cottonwood River where
I camped that night and, in honor of the German settlers, cooked up
some bratwurst for dinner. But then I do that every night.
Above left: After surviving the Mall of America, I headed south. This
is a bank in St. Peter, Minnesota that apparently also serves pizza (and "chickin"
Above center: Little Crow was the Sioux warrior who led the Dakota Uprising of 1862 in southern Minnesota. The uprising
was in retaliation for the U.S. Government's failure to abide by a treaty, which
had promised food distributions to the Sioux.
Above right: During the Dakota Uprising, the Sioux sacked the town of
New Ulm, Minnesota. New Ulm
recovered, though, and today is a prosperous and beautiful town.
day was sunny and beautiful and I continued heading west across southern
Minnesota, driving by countless fields of corn, alfalfa, and soybeans, all quite
bucolic and exceptionally scenic. Shortly
after noon as I approached the small town of Sanborn, I pulled off the two-lane highway
drove a mile down a dirt road to visit some sod houses that, according to
my AAA TourBook, had been built there recently.
pretty intrigued with sod houses because my mother once told me that her
great-grandparents, who had emigrated from Norway and Germany to the U.S., lived
in sod houses in Minnesota and South Dakota in the late 1800s. I'd seen lots of pictures of sod houses but
had never been inside
Above: An old gas station in
New Ulm with 15 cent-a-gallon gasoline. Fill 'er up!
Following the signs, I
pulled into the empty driveway of a farmhouse and a pleasant woman named
Virginia McCone came out and introduced herself. She had apparently been
baking cinnamon buns because the sweet smell wafted out onto the porch as we
talked. A few minutes later, her genial husband, Stan, emerged from the
house and I told them that I was heading to nearby Windom to see
what I could learn about my great-great-grandparents who homesteaded near there
in the 1800s. (For information on homesteading, see my page on
1862 Homestead Act).
As I learned, Stan and
Virginia McCone have farmed on this land for many years and are interested in
preserving pioneer heritage so, needless to say, I felt an instant rapport with them.
Sort of like in the movie "Field of Dreams," Stan plowed under part of
his cornfield a while ago and planted a tall-grass prairie with grasses that are
almost entirely extinct now from Minnesota, thus recreating the landscape of a
hundred years ago. He also built several sod
houses on his farm a few years ago, one of which is a cozy
Bed-and-Breakfast with wooden floors and a wooden ceiling.
walked through the sod houses on the McCone farm, I learned a lot about "soddies,"
as they were called (not to be confused with Saudis, few of whom, I'm
sure, ever homesteaded in Minnesota). For instance, over a million sod houses once dotted
the treeless plains of the Midwest during the late 1800s. Most
homesteaders in this area built sod houses because wood was expensive and
scarce, which is hard to imagine today because of all the trees here.
However, there were a lot fewer trees back in those days because of the frequent prairie fires that
swept through the area, which today, of course, are suppressed.
a soddy, homesteaders cut three-foot long blocks of sod, then they stacked them on top of each other,
placing them upside-down for better cohesion. Based on most accounts that I've read, sod
fairly snug and comfortable, despite their dirt floors. Indeed, the thick sod
walls provided excellent insulation against the bitterly cold Midwestern winters. The
main problem with a soddy was that the roof tended to leak during heavy
rainstorms and it was usually dark inside, since window glass was a rare
commodity on the frontier. Another problem was that foreign objects, such as
clumps of dirt, strands of grass, or various kinds of insects, tended to drop
from the ceiling and land on the occupants heads or onto their plates of
lutefisk. (For those of you non-Norwegians, you can read about
this delicacy on my lutefisk
virtually all the sod houses eventually melted
back into the earth and today the only soddies standing are ones such as these that have
As I walked through the
fascinating McCone sod houses, I
my great-great-grandparents living in sod houses such as these while homesteading
near here in the 1800s. It'll be a while before I complain again about my
microwave dinner taking five minutes to cook..
houses and tall-grass prairie were quite fascinating and I spent over an
hour here. If you want a real taste of the pioneer homesteading experience
and want to better appreciate the modern conveniences that we all take for
granted, drop by the McCone farm near Sanborn, Minnesota. And don't
forget your lutefisk.
Above left: Many small towns in the Midwest have quaint,
humorous celebrations, like Buttered Corn Day in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. But it's August 16-19, so shouldn't it be Buttered Corn
Above center: Stan McCone recently built several sod houses on his farm
here, near Sanborn, Minnesota. They were featured a while ago on the History Channel. I talked to Stan and
his wife, Virginia. They're both very nice folks and are interested in
preserving the pioneering heritage.
Above right: A little sod
house on the prairie.
Above left: This sod house on the McCone farm is also a
Bed-and-Breakfast. Stan has also restored the prairie here, planting
native grasses on several acres.
Above center: Inside the Bed-and-Breakfast sod house. It had
a large bed, wooden floors, a wooden ceiling, and it actually looks quite comfortable.
Above right: The inside of another sod house on the McCone farm.
This one has been restored to how it might have looked in the 1800s. My
great-great-grandparents, recently arriving in this area from Germany in the
1870s, probably lived in one like this.
Land at Eden's Gate
been following my website, you know that one reason I decided to
take this trip was to do some family research around America and to learn more
about where I came from, something I'm doing not just for myself, of course, but for
everyone in my family. Up to this point, all of the ancestors that I've
researched on this trip have been on my Dad's side and, more specifically, on my
Dad's mother's side, including the Bradstreets and Chaplins in Massachusetts and
the Myers' in Michigan (see My Dad's
Ancestors: Map and Photo Essay). It was now time to shift gears and start
researching my mother's side of the family.
All of my
mother's ancestors came to America from northern Europe in the late 1800s and homesteaded on the Great Plains
Mom's Ancestors: Map and Photo Essay). Her father's ancestors
came from Germany and Norway in the 1870s and homesteaded near Windom, Minnesota, which is why I was here. After leaving
Windom, I was planning to drive to northeastern South Dakota, which is where her
mother's ancestors, from Norway, homesteaded in the 1880s. Both families
moved to central North Dakota around 1900, where my grandfather met my
To my knowledge, I didn't have any relatives in either
Minnesota or South Dakota, and perhaps none in North Dakota.
Unfortunately, my mother never talked that much about her family's history so
this would be a real learning experience, not only for me but also for my
siblings and their kids. I wanted to document my mother's family history
as best I could, not only for myself but, more importantly, for future
two days in the Windom, Minnesota area, mostly at the Cottonwood County Historical
Society. There, with the help of a couple of delightful ladies, Bethene
and Erma, I discovered some old plat maps of this area showing where my
great-great-grandfather, Henry Reinhard and his wife Carolina, homesteaded in the
1870s after emigrating from Hanover, Germany. I also
learned that my great-uncle, Gustav Reinhard, was known throughout Minnesota at
one time as "Mr.
Alfalfa" because of scientific research that he had done -- although I'm not
sure if that's a nickname he was proud of.
spending a couple days in Windom, I headed out to find my
great-great-grandfather Henry's old farm, which was located just north of town.
I didn't know if there would be anything there or not, since he hadn't lived
here for almost 100 years, but I wanted to see the homestead for myself.
Equipped with copies of the old plat maps, I drove down several dirt roads while
passing endless fields of corn and beans and, after making a few U-turns, I
finally found Henry's farm.
The farm was deserted, although there were a
few buildings there, some in pretty nice condition. Amazingly enough, I discovered a barn that I knew
Henry must have built, since I could read the date "1893" in large,
white faded letters, which was when he lived there. Of course, I never knew Henry (my
great-great grandfather) or his son, Henry Jr. (my great-grandfather), or even HIS
son, Edward (my grandfather), all of whom had died long before I was born, but it was
a thrill nonetheless.
As I walked around the empty barn, a couple of farmers about my age stopped by,
having seen my truck parked there. I introduced myself and explained that
I was an ancestor of Henry Reinhard. They seemed pretty interested in my
story, introduced themselves as Mike and Roger, and we shook hands.
After a while, they opened up Henry's old barn and let me walk around
inside. As we talked, I discovered that Mike was a distant
relative of mine, the only relative that I knew of in the state of Minnesota.
After about a half-hour, Mike invited me back to his farm and the three of us
relaxed in his dining room and shared family stories, kind of like an impromptu
a lot about my ancestors that day, and about the kindness of Midwesterners.
is one of the best things to come out of
Oregon since Henry Weinhard beer. Here
they are singing The Land
at Eden's Gate, a tribute to the American pioneers of the 1800s.
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The Land at Eden's Gate
a garden God is tending,
the fields are green and deep
a harvest never-ending there,
waters cool and sweet
a man can lay his burdens down,
a man can live in grace, oh,
hope I see before I die,
Land at Eden's Gate.
the morning sky has broken,
the dawn at Eden's birth
it lights the pine and meadowlark,
shines on God's great work
I'm leaving now and won't be back,
you come with me this day, oh,
hope I see before I die,
Land at Eden's Gate.
The Land at Eden's Gate.
the children of your children,
the wild, rare primrose grow
the gentle rain a-falling down,
these ancient groves
may angels watch it evermore,
protect its perfect state, oh
pray they see before they die,
Land at Eden's Gate
pray they see before they die,
Land at Eden's Gate.
Above left: Cooking brats (bratwurst) on the prairie in southern Minnesota.
Above center: County Courthouse in Windom, Minnesota. Windom was
where my great-grandfather, Henry C. Reinhard (Henry Jr.) and my
great-grandmother, Petrina, got married in 1890.
Above right: I spent two days here in the Cottonwood County Historical
Society and learned that Henry's father, Henry Sr., homesteaded here in the 1870s. Bethene and Erma,
shown here, were a
Above left: After studying plat maps from the 1890s, I learned where
Henry Sr.'s farm was and drove out to it. This barn had the date "1893" painted on
it, so I knew that Henry had built it since he lived here from 1879 until
1910, the year he died.
Above center: The farmland on the right was where my great-grandmother,
Petrina, had lived with her parents in the late 1800s.
The farm roads in the Midwest are laid out in a grid pattern and are spaced
exactly one mile apart. There aren't many landmarks around, so to navigate
you've got to watch your odometer.
Above right: After walking through the
Westbrook Cemetery, I found the gravestone (in dark gray) of Henry Sr. and his wife,
Carolina, who both died around 1910. As I learned, Henry and Carolina were
from Hanover, Germany.
Above left: My great-grandfather, Henry
Reinhard Jr., around the time of his marriage in Windom, Minnesota in 1890.
In 1907, Henry
Jr. moved his
to Regan, North Dakota and homesteaded, then died in 1955 in
Bismarck. My mother was always fond of her "Grandpa Henry."
Above right: Henry's wife and my
great-grandmother, Petrina Blege, with the hairstyle that was the fashion of the
day (hopefully). Petrina
(or "Tena," as she called herself) had
to the U.S. from Norway in
the 1880s with
her parents, Andreas and Pernelle Blege, and grew up a few miles from the Reinhard homestead, shown
above. Suffering from diabetes, Petrina was
told in 1927 that her leg had to be amputated. She refused, though, and
died that year at age 61 in Regan, North Dakota.
18, 2001 (Watertown, South Dakota)
14, 2001 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)
6, 2001 (Manlius, New York)
23, 2001 (Middleton, Massachusetts)
22, 2001 (Boston, Massachusetts)
20, 2001 (Pomfret, Connecticut)
18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
16, 2001 (Cumberland, Virginia)
14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
* * * * * * *
Travels (2001-02) >
U.S. Trip >
August 17, 2001