Saints and Singers

Monday, September 03, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Minneapolis, MN to Waterloo, IA 
Since today was Sunday, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity for an unobstructed view of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul.  Though we weren't able to visit inside, we had the grounds to ourselves, with just a couple of other photographing tourists arrived as we were departing.

The heart of Minnesota's government sits on a hill with a panoramic view of Saint Paul.  Modeled after Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, the building boasts the second largest unsupported marble dome in the world—after Saint Peter's, of course.  
Saint Peter on left, Saint Paul on right
The capitol grounds are beautifully landscaped and populated with monuments to many causes and people valued by the state, from women's suffrage to Leif Ericsson and Charles Lindbergh.  Before we left Saint Paul, we sought out the location of the famed Fitzgerald Theater, the home base of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show.  
Fitzgerald Theater, Saint Paul
Unfortunately, our timing was a bit off.  The last of the summer compilations of previous shows was aired this weekend, and the new Prairie Home season opens at the Fitzgerald this coming Saturday.  Though we've enjoyed the show in both Atlanta and Columbus, GA, it would have been nice to attend in its home territory.
Leaving Saint Paul, we were again on I-35, heading south toward Iowa.  We made a couple of letterboxing stops in the Minnesota towns of Burnsville, Dundas, and Owatonna.  Near Millersburg, the search for a letterbox took us to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church and an interesting story about its founding.  
Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church
In September, 1876, Jesse James and his gang attempted to rob the bank in the nearby town of Northfield.  Due to unfortunate timing, a recent Swedish immigrant from Millersburg who had gone to the bank that day was killed by Cole Younger.  There was no Swedish cemetery in Millersburg, so the victim had to be buried in Northfield.  As a result of this incident, Swedish members of the community in Millersburg met and decided to establish the Christdala church and cemetery.  By 1966, membership in the small church had declined to just a handful and the congregation was disbanded.  A preservation association continues to maintain the building and cemetery.
The criminals were eventually captured and Younger served prison time for the murder.  Because of their success in foiling the robbery, the town of Northfield celebrates "Defeat of Jesse James Days" each September.
We stopped at the Iowa welcome center, cleverly designed to look like a big red barn, and drove on toward Mason City, the location of our next letterbox.  To pass the time I was looking at the Roadside America app, a repository of offbeat tourist attractions.  A search for nearby oddities told me we were within ten miles of the Buddy Holly crash site near Clear Lake, IA.  Who could pass that by?
Easy to see the crash site location
Once we found the correct gravel road, it wasn't difficult to locate the place.  An oversized pair of horn-rim glasses marked the beginning of a half-mile trek through the cornfield to the place where  Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and their pilot perished when their plane crashed soon after take-off in poor weather conditions.
The place where the music died
We found the variety of personal items left in tribute to be fascinating:  library cards, work IDs, a current driver's license, hotel room keys, concert tickets, money, CDs, silk flowers, shoes, and, of course, glasses.  We left a couple of coins ourselves and paid our respects to the musicians whose death prompted February 3, 1959 to be dubbed "the day the music died."

Continuing south, we made it to Waterloo, Iowa, our destination for the night to find the hotel virtually empty because of the Labor Day holiday.  Needless to say, things were very quiet and we had no noisy neighbors disturbing our sleep.


  • Land area:  86,938 sq miles (12th largest state)
  • Population:  5,344,861  (21st most populous)
  • Highest point:  Eagle Mountain - 2,302 ft.
  • Statehood:  1858 (32nd state)
  • Capital:  Saint Paul
  • Largest city:  Minneapolis
  • Claims to fame:  
    • northernmost state of the contiguous 48
    • healthiest residents
    • most physically active residents
    • highest percent of residents with at least a high school education
    • first indoor shopping mall
    • largest shopping mall (Mall of America)
  • Famous natives: Chief Justice Warren Burger, Bob Dylan, Billy Graham, Prince, Charles Lindbergh, Garrison Keillor, Charles M. Schulz
  • Fictional natives:  Paul Bunyan, Betty Crocker, Jolly Green Giant, Rocky and Bullwinkle

Looking for a Buddy on the path to the crash site
Bus Stop of the Day (or maybe not) - Minnesota State Capitol grounds