Whether you’re fascinated by twine, interested in the explosive nature of flour, or simply can’t learn enough about Hawaii’s (yes, Hawaii) favorite food, the North Star State’s got your hook-up. Minnesota is home to plenty of unusual attractions to keep you scratching your head and smiling for a while.
The Kensington Runestone was allegedly found in a farmer’s field in 1898. It is now housed in its own museum in Alexandria. The runes supposedly tell the tale of a Viking party that traveled to Minnesota more than 100 years before Columbus started his voyage and met their demise at the hands of Native Americans. Though it set off a furor when it was discovered, the runestone has been largely debunked as a hoax. Even so, the Runestone remains a popular attraction and, every few years, archeological interest in the stone is rekindled.
Yes, it’s a stately mansion on the shores of Lake Superior, but it’s an attraction —and open to the public—because it was also the site of a grisly double homicide in the 1977. Built by the philanthropic Congdon family in the early 1900s, the mansion is an icon of 20th century opulence. It opened to the public after Elisabeth Congdon and a night nurse were murdered by Congdon’s son-in-law. Tour guides downplay the murders and discourage questions about it, but they know why we’re really there.
Originally designed as the R.W. Lindholm Service Station, the only such edifice ever envisioned by Frank Lloyd Wright is now known as Best Service. The current owners don’t pump much gas these days, but rather run a steady repair business when not fielding questions from curious visitors about the Jetsons-looking structure.
Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis constructed its anechoic chamber for the purpose of testing products. In doing so, it created a place so quiet that most people are uncomfortable spending too much time in the room because they begin hearing minute sounds, including their own body functions. The room if so quiet that the Guinness Book of World Records recognized it twice. Tours must be scheduled in advance and by appointment.
It’s pretty unusual to straddle one of the widest and most-famous rivers on a continent. But you can do just that at Itasca State Park. The park is the oldest in Minnesota and is named for the lake the gives rise to the Mississippi River. The name of the lake is a portmanteau reflecting its role as the river’s birthplace. It comes from the Latin veritas capit: “true head,” as in the true headwaters of the Mississippi. At the point where the stream leaves the lake, visitors can wade in and touch both sides of the Mississippi at the same time.
Once the home and studio of Prince, Paisley Park is now infamous as the site of the star’s death, as well. So, of course, it’s now open for public tours. While much of the residential area is reverentially left off-limits, there is still much to see and explore as you delve into the life of Minnesota’s most famous pop star and recluse.
Now housed in St. Paul’s Science Museum of Minnesota, the Museum of Quackery and Medical Frauds is worth the trip. Assembled by Bob McCoy, a life-long debunker of pseudoscience, the collection illustrates the lengths to which phony (and some legitimate) medical practitioners would go to part gullible cure-seekers from their currency.
Folks of a certain age will remember seeing it’s picture in the Guinness Book of World Records: The world’s biggest ball of twine (why?!) is housed in its own “museum” in Darwin, Minnesota. Since the Darwin Twine Ball was first made, a rival twine ball has emerged in Kansas, but it was created by multiple people. The Darwin ball of twine remains the largest created by one man. The entire town celebrates its notoriety on the second Saturday of every August, when all the folks turn out for Twine Ball Days. Of course, souvenirs are available for purchase year-round.
Located between Taylor's Falls and Forest Lake, at the intersection of Highway 8 and Highway 95, the Franconia Sculpture garden is a whimsical, large-scale sculpture collection, melded into its landscape in a park setting. Although the installations are art, they’re designed to be explored, touched, and climbed on. The park often hosts live music and other events. The eclectic collection defies description with mere words. You kinda have to go there.
The Northwest Angle, which is that little cowlick at the top of Minnesota, jutting into Lake of the Woods and carving a chunk out of Ontario, is the northernmost point in contiguous United States. Its existence is due to a mapmaker’s error and the only way to reach the village by land is through Canada. When you get there –whether by car, boat or dogsled–be sure to send a card from the Lower 48’s northernmost post office.
SPAM, that misunderstood, tinned meat product that is beloved by Hawaiians (there is an official stockpile and SPAM Jam festival in the Aloha State) and so mocked by others that it’s now synonymous with junky electronic communication, is made right here in Minnesota. In fact, Austin-based Hormel is so proud of its flagship product that they’ve opened a museum in its honor. So, go. See. Visit. But, as the SPAM Museum admonishes, “don’t eat the exhibits.”
A couple hours from Duluth, between Virginia and Ely, is the latest addition to Minnesota’s park system: Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Once claiming to be the deepest accessible point in the U.S., the former ore mine drops nearly half a mile beneath the Earth’s surface. Tours are available from Spring to Fall.
Minnesota has a knack for making a big deal out of the mundane. Flour, for instance. Minneapolis is home to a gorgeous, modern, well-funded museum, dedicated to flour. The Mill City Museum, housed in the ruins of a mill that exploded once and burned another time, particularly emphasizes the dangerous side of flour. You know, to get the kids in the doors.
The house of a deceased hoarder, Ed’s Museum was created when Edwin Krueger died and left the home/general store he’d lived in for decades, along with all its accumulated detritus (such as a dead cat) to the City of Wykoff as a museum. Some semblance of order has been given to the artifacts (interesting, not-so-interesting, and just-plain-weird, alike) Ed left behind. And now you, too, can get a glimpse into the man’s rich, inner life.
The only thing that saved this a 40-acre stand of massive red and white pine trees from Minnesota’s voracious lumber industry was a 19th century surveying error. Now known as the ‘Lost 40,’ the grove is part of the Chippewa National Forest in north-central Minnesota, where it towers over neighboring stands of trees. A quick walk along one of the trail loops gives a visitor a glimpse into what Minnesota looked like before European settlement.