The state of Minnesota has been getting a lot of media attention lately, largely due to the impending trial of the cop who killed George Floyd. The northernmost continental U.S. state, 22nd most populous, and 12th largest by area, there’s a lot more going on up there than people on the coasts might think.
I know that when a lot of people hear “Minnesota,” they think Coen Brothers, and while those two may be one of its most famous exports, the title of one of their more famous and acclaimed films (later, streaming show), Fargo, doesn’t even refer to a city in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
I have to admit that the closest I’ve ever gotten to Minnesota is passing through Iowa and Wisconsin on the way to visit Chicago, fart through Michigan, then dive via Indiana into Ohio and beyond.
If you visually combine Minnesota and Iowa on an outline map, it looks like a hungry boar trying to eat Wisconsin. Of course, since Wisconsin is made of cheese and men in flannel, who can blame the other two for being peckish? The snack also comes with a free chaser of Great Lakes Water.
Without having gone to the state, the closest I’ve actually gotten there has been the people from there I’ve met and known, and all I can say is that 3M (originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company) must be secretly cloning armies of intelligent, creative, funny, friendly, good-looking people and exporting them. And I’ve met a lot of them over the years.
Given the Scandinavian background of the state, this might be a clue to how the Vikings really conquered everything. They didn’t come in as armed invaders killing people. Nah. They sailed in really polite and well-groomed and just sort of hung around. Eventually, they niced everyone into submission, but the conquered people were too embarrassed to admit that this was how it happened, so all of those “Vikings Invade and Take no Prisoners” stories came about.
By all reports, though, the Vikings did have amazing hair.
But, come on. Can you imagine any of the following people invading anywhere and violently kicking ass? Al Franken, Prince, Judy Garland, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Schulz, Bob Dylan, and so on? Not likely.
It’s been a popular setting for film and TV programs, with 1970s The Mary Tyler Moore Show being the first example of a series specifically set there, in Minneapolis. Wikipedia tells me that the earliest TV show probably set in the state is the 1959 series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, although that appears to be conjecture — the show is set in the fictitious Central City in the upper Midwest. Only the stories the series was based on were explicitly set in Minnesota.
TV returned to the state in 1974 (while MTM was still airing) with the show Little House on the Prairie, which took place a hundred years earlier, in Walnut Grove, a small town in the southwest corner of the state.
In fact, the town itself was drawn out in 1874 and incorporated in 1879.
And, of course, it’s really hard to ignore the multi-media juggernaut that was Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, partly set in the fictional town of Lake Wobegon. It aired on radio for over 40 years, finally ending in 2016.
As I’ve mentioned, Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but that happens to be a total, bald-faced lie. In fact, the state has at least 11,842 lakes if you go by the standard of a body of water of at least 10 acres.
Wisconsin claims to have more lakes — 15,074 — but their standard is 2.2 acres or more. If you apply Minnesota’s standard to Wisconsin, then the latter only has a mere 5,300 lakes.
And if you apply the U.S. Geological Survey standard, which combines ponds and lakes together as water body features, Minnesota has a staggering 124,522 of them. So 10,000 lakes, indeed. There’s that Minnesota modesty for you right there! Or is it duplicity? I’m not really sure right now.
Here’s another not-real thing related to the state: Minnesota Fats. In real life, he was a professional pool player and hustler, originally named Rudolf Wanderone. Beginning in the 1960s, he became one of the most well-known pool players in the world, eventually being inducted into the billiards hall of fame in the 1980s.
However… this Minnesota Fats was actually born in New York City to Swiss immigrants in 1913. He started playing pool early, managed pool-halls, and went by a series of “Fats” nicknames, none of which involved the name Minnesota. (And the Swiss, not being Scandinavian, were not part of the big influx into that state in the first place.)
Then, in 1959, the book The Hustler. by Walter Tevis, came out. It was soon adapted into a film of the same name starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason as the totally made-up character Minnesota Fats, who had absolutely nothing at all to do with Wanderone.
This didn’t stop Wanderone, though, who quickly adopted the name and claimed that the character was based on him, although both Tevis and the film’s technical advisor, Willie Mosconi, denied it.
Oh… the film itself was shot almost entirely on location in… New York City.
I mentioned at the beginning that I know a lot of people from Minnesota — living in L.A. entails knowing a lot of people from a lot of places — and I reached out to eight of them I could think of off of the top of my head via IM and email, asking for their thoughts and comments on having grown up in the state.
I heard from five, got promises from four… and then nothing. The closest I did get were the comments from a friend who shall remain nameless in accepting the request: “All I ask is that you tell the truth. However dirty, beautiful, or in-between it may be. The world needs to know the truth about Minnesota…
“There’s what you call dry humor and passive aggressiveness we have that you’ll need to absorb here…! Actually I don’t know if that’s a generalization. It could just be me, but there’s certainly something fishy in that ‘Minnesota Nice’ cover we have.”
Then… silence. Which maybe just confirms the short statement from the only one to ultimately respond.
So maybe Minnesota is more like the quiet, shy one you have to watch out for, maybe not. But there is one other detail: It was the next state accepted into the union after California, so in a sense we’re the Gopher State’s big brother. Maybe it’s our responsibility to keep reminding them that they’re supposed to be the nice ones.
Otherwise, people might figure out that it’s actually us, and we can’t have that!