Thanks to our B&B hostess last night, we started our morning with a quick visit to the Music Man Square, an interior recreation of the main street from the classic film. It makes for a nice recreational spot for locals (who use it for things like Halloween events, weddings, proms and even music classes!) since it's inside, an advantage in snowy winter over actual main streets. It's quite nice to see the pride Mason City takes in their connection to the musical.
In all the excitement yesterday we had to miss one scheduled stop, the lonesome cornfield that was the crash site that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. We made up for it this morning.
Singing various appropriate songs (Rave On, Well All Right, Chantilly Lace, Let's Go Little Darlin' and a certain stanza from a certain song about a Miss American Pie) we marched down a narrow packed earth path between a soybean field and a cornfield, to the marker that indicated the tragic spot. In addition to the poignancy of the specific place, the whole setting was a moment; the quiet of the area, apart from the wind swishing through the vegetation and the cicadas chirping, the long stretch of field with nothing around apart from a silo or two. It was a half mile to the small marker, and we were so glad we walked it.
After a short drive we picked up our Plucky Passenger for the trip (we pause here to salute last year's Plucky Passenger, Jessica, who wishes to remind us all she was the first such Plucky Rider), Plucky Sister Deborah. She and her beau Dave live in Stoddard, WI, and drove to meet us at the Spam Museum, a long drive for them early in the morning. Thanks to Dave for making the drive and being part of the Plucky Caravan (in his vintage 1952 Packard, the envy of many car buffs) because it allowed Deb to come along with us in Plucky Mobile.
We invited Deb to play Cow-Horse with us, a modification of Cow we invented last year with Plucky Passenger Jessica but Deb declined so we were left to our own devices. It was a very competitive day as we entered dairy country and found fields so full of cows that we couldn't count them fast enough. Well, Mary may have been able to count them fast enough but Rick wasn't letting her with some strategic driving that involved speeding up and/or passing big trucks whenever a field came by. He feels this is merely good game play and makes up a little for the fact that he can't look backward and count cows like Mary can without driving them into a ditch. Mary objects. Rick doesn't care because he has the keys. Anyway, final cow score after many ups and downs... 135 to 0 in favor of Rick. That makes 3 games for Rick, 2 for Mary,and 2 in a tie so tomorrow is going to be a big final Cow showdown.
The Spam Museum was everything we could have wanted and so much more. Somehow, they managed to strike the right tone between understandable pride in their product (sorry, Hormel; we know you told us the ridiculously large statistics about the amount of Spam manufactured and sold every year, but it's flown out of our heads) and a winking knowledge that it's kind of, well, silly. It's Spam, for pity's sake. But it's also, in a way, awesome.
So is the museum, which was opened with not a ribbon cutting, but the pulling off of a giant lid of a giant can of Spam, with the help of three TV Moms (Barbara Billingsly, Marion Ross, and Debra Jo Rupp). There are interactive theaters with films and a quiz show, exhibits that explain the rather dramatic founding of the company (there were financial scandals) and displays of the inexplicable popularity of a certain canned pork product. Yes, there as an entire section on the famous Monty Python section. Everywhere was the distinct blue and yellow color scheme, and oh, you should have seen the gift shop. There was nothing that wasn't branded with that Spam logo and we mean that in a good way. And it was all free (well, not the gift shop, which was VERY pricey). Those Spam people; they've been around a long time and there's a good reason for it.
A quick stop for lunch (including Spam for Dave, who knows how to join a road trip) and then it was off to Ed's Museum in Wykoff, Minnesota. How to describe this attraction? Well, Ed was a local grocer (among other things including a Character with a Capital C) who ran a Jack Spratt franchise market from the 30's on.
He was also a, how to put this, pack rat. Who never threw anything out. At all. Nothing. Seriously. Ask us about the dead pet cat. No, better still, don't.
Anyway, Ed saved all kinds of keen stuff, from old grocery store products to the glass slides advertising coming attractions for silent movies (he ran the local movie theater for years) to toys to pretty much every issue of Life magazine to we don't even know what all.
When he died, he willed the building that housed the store and his apartment above to the town, with the proviso that nothing was to be thrown out. A couple of intrepid locals organized the clutter into well-organized clutter, and volunteers give tours. There is a great deal to see and it's both marvelous and frustrating, because the number of treasures here, the sort of things that would make Road Show Antiques lose their minds, are largely unpreserved, dusty and fading. Mary saw four signed photos of silent star Mary Miles Minter, centerpiece for Mary's favorite Hollywood scandal (ask her about it; she gives tours), all faint and splotched and nearly gone, and she all but sobbed.
For all we know, though, that's the way Ed left it and the organizers of this rich piece of eccentricity have completely done the best they could with it, especially given it's a non-profit attraction. We mean, we aren't talking Spam money here, people.
Dave made the comment that people like Ed, for all their oddness, perform a valuable service because in saving everything they save things that other people throw out including the boxes that objects came in, therefore providing a historical record of our culture.
Meanwhile, as we were oo-ing and awe-ing, a woman in the deli and bakery across the street fried up a batch of thickly chocolate iced donuts just for us. You can imagine our pleasure and full mouths.
Because we were running behind, we nearly passed up our next stop, the Lark toy store, the largest independent toy store in the country. What a mistake that would have been. Never mind the many rooms stuffed with all kinds of toys, neatly sorted into categories like Science and Nature (mostly dinosaurs), Books (including reissues of many gorgeous classics and unusual old titles), the wooden toy section (made by the Lark company itself), Boomer (reproductions of classic old toys), Puppets and so on. We wanted to buy all of it. We settled for a nice carved wooden pig and cow, as symbols of our trip.
The flat out highlight was an entirely wooden merry-go-round, designed by one person, hand carved by another, hand painted by two more, the work of nine years and on-going. The animals are fanciful images--an ostrich pulling a cart carrying eggs with chicks popping out, a pelican with its beak full of fish, some spilling to the floor, an incredible stegosaurus (with the varnish still drying on it). It was right out of a kid's dream and every adult in the place wanted to regress, get on the back of a swan or a hippo and ride all day. It's the kind of creation that will be a treasure 100 years from now, a labor of love that blew us away.
After that, we drove to the charming town of LaCrosse and also nearby Stoddard, home to Dave and Deb who live in a log cabin style house overlooking the Mississippi. We didn't get the thunderstorm we ordered (it would have been spectacular from their picture windows) but we did get fried cheese curds, which Mary enjoyed with her usual gusto. Our poor hosts were puzzled by the typical Plucky scheduling--it's about the journey, not the destination--which meant we had about fifteen minutes to enjoy the sights of their town. Just get in line behind Little Rock, Peoria, Kansas City and Memphis, people. We are on the road.
Two more days. Stay with us. Tomorrow is a busy one. Again. Some more.