Monday, April 8, 2013


I’ve actually been to Minneapolis a couple of times, but I also listen to A Prairie Home Companion religiously every week, so I just have to assume that Minnesota is just as Garrison Keillor describes it.  You know, everyone’s Lutheran, over 50, of Nordic descent, and lives in a small town.  In addition, of course, to the women being strong, the men good-looking, and all the children above average.

10. Twig

Formerly called “Branch,” this tiny town was forced to downsize to “Twig” as its population dwindled over the years. 

Seriously, I haven’t a clue where this one comes from.  I do know that it’s basically a crossroads just north of Duluth.  It’s the former site of the local Renaissance Faire, and currently features a gas station / convenience store.

Thankfully, they haven’t had one of these since 2009

9. Motley

According to the town’s centennial marker, we’ve got two options on this one:

Opinions differ as to how the town got its name.  Some hold that it was named after John Lothtrop Motley, an American diplomat and historian.  But the more popular version is that a Northern Pacific Railroad official looking at the rough-hewn frontiersmen gathered at the railhead exclaimed, "What a motley crew!"  The word caught on and Motley had its name.

I don’t know.  That second story is awfully colorful.  My money’s on that incredibly boring first option.

This town of 670 is in the center of the state, near Brainerd (see below).  It’s officially called the City of Motley.  Google returns some great search results for this place, including:
  • Motley Land for Sale
  • Motley Real Estate
  • Motley Clinic
  • Motley Singles
  • Motley Hotels

There’s also a Motley Cemetery and a Motley City Hall.

8. Ah-Gwah-Ching

How very strange to find a settlement of native Chinese in the middle of the north Minnesota woods.

It sounds Chinese, but it’s actually Ojibwe.  It means “out of doors.”  Yeah, something you could probably say about most of north central Minnesota.  But let me explain …

Ah-Gwah-Ching also happens to be the former location of the Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives (and everyone knows the only cure for that is fresh air).  This intimidatingly named place operated from 1906 to 1962, when they swapped out the TB patients for old folks.  The old folks got to hang out here until 2008, when they were in turn kicked out and all the old buildings torn down.

What’s there now?  Not a whole lot.  I see some lakefront cottages – on the attractively named Leech Lake.  So, between the leeches, the old folks, and the TB, I have to admit, I just might be vacationing somewhere else this summer.

And, if it’s okay with you,
I think I’ll just stay inside

7. Clontarf

Would you believe it’s Irish?  It’s the name of a town, now a suburb of Dublin, and also the site of a famous 11th Century battle.  In Gaelic, it means “meadow of the bull.” 

The name for our little village on the prairie was chosen by the local bishop, and the town was settled by Irish immigrants.  Tons of local history right here.

Today, Clontarf has about 160 people, and is in the west-central part of Minnesota.  It features some great street names, like Kildare, Cashel, Armagh, and Clonmel.  Oh, and also one Cretin Ave.  Not sure how that got in there.

Sure, twist my arm

6. Zerkel / Zemple

Now, where would this blog be without our German-American citizens?

Yup, both of these places are probably named after some German dude.  With Zemple, I can feel pretty certain about that claim.  Exploring America’s Highways: Minnesota Trip Trivia says that one R.T. Zemple owned most of the land and was the town’s first president.  “Zemple” is from the Slavic “zempa,” which means farmer.

As for Zerkel, it’s just a guess at this point.  I do know the surname means “night watchman” though. 

Both of these are up in the cold, under-populated north.  It looks like Zerkel’s basically a crossroads, with a couple of farms, a couple of houses, and the Rice Free Lutheran Church (for the allergic religious).  Zemple’s got some 90-odd people.  All you’d ever possibly want to know about its history you can find right here.

Now, is that a good thing
or a bad thing?

5. Pillager

This one’s named after a band of Chippewa Indians called the Pillagers.  That’s a direct translation of the Objiwe Makandwewininiwag.  Variants of that include:
  • Muk-im-dua-win-in-e-wug
  • Muk-me-dua-win-in-e-wug
  • Muk-un-dua-win-in-e-wing
  • Mukundua
  • Muk-un-dua-win-in-e-wug
  • Mukundwa
  • Mukkundwas
  • Ma'kandwäwininiwa
Makes Pillager sound pretty darn good, don’t it?

This town of 470 is in the north-central part of the state, just down the Mississippi from Motley (see above).  It’s officially part of the Brainerd Micropolitan Statistical Area (see below).  It’s also home to the Cass County Fair, which may have the worst website I’ve ever seen.

4. Embarrass

It’s named after the Embarrass River, of course.  Why do you ask?

Would it help if I told you the name of the river traces back to the French word for “obstruction.”  Yup, that baby was one long twisty, narrow, shallow, tree-laden nightmare for the French trappers who first came through the area. 

Today’s township of 600 people is in the upper northeast part of the state – almost into Canada.  It’s known as The Cold Spot, and is officially the coldest place in Minnesota (even beating International Falls).  Its all-time low temperature was an unofficial -64F set in 1996.

Why does my Google Images search
for “embarrass minnesota”
keep turning up this person?

3. Kiester

The Kiester town website takes the high road when it comes to the inevitable:

Although the city's name has been a topic of conversation for both residents and friends, all Kiester residents are proud of its origin and even prouder of this progressive, beautiful community built on the rolling Kiester Hills

“Rolling Kiester Hills” – can’t you just picture them? 

The website also shares that the town was named after one Judge J.A. Kiester.  That surname, in turn, comes from the German word for “sexton.”

Our Kiester is in the south-central part of the state.  It sits right on the border with Iowa.  It’s pretty big.  In fact, there are 500-some Kiesterites.

Kiester Park and watertower

2. Castle Danger

Wow!  What kind of superhero person gets to hang out here?

Okay, you got your pick of three stories with this one:
  • The cliffs on the shore resemble a castle
  • A boat named the Castle grounded here once
  • It’s from the Walter Scott novel Castle Dangerous

Castle Danger is on Lake Superior, just up from Duluth, between Two Harbors and Beaver Bay (both below).  It claims a brewery, as well as the rather boastful Grand Superior Lodge. 

The nearby Split Rock Lighthouse
(what superhero wouldn’t want to hang here?)

1. Sleepy Eye

No, this town was not named after the medical condition known as amblyopia. 

It was actually named after some Indian dude, also known as Ishtakhaba, who – according to Wikipedia – was a “compassionate person with droopy eyelids (or maybe just one).”  Oh, he also signed a bunch of treaties and gave away a lot of land.  “Friend of Whites,” it says on his monument. 

If you thought Kiester was big, you’ll really be impressed with Sleepy Eye.  It’s got 3,600 people, and is a veritable hive of industry and commerce.  It’s known for Sticky Notes, corn, peas, calendars, stained glass, pork, and funeral products. 

It’s also known for its Buttered Corn Days Celebration, as well as being the hometown of Linus Maurer, the namesake for Charles Schultz’s own Peanuts character.


Sleepy Eye native Linus Maurer was the inspiration for the "Peanuts" character named by his friend Charles Schulz.  The statue, however, is of the cartoon character, not the real person. [Editor's note: I have no idea who the babe is.  Definitely not Lucy.]

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Collegeville, Cove, Island, Mound, Minnesota Lake, Minnesota City, Center City, Midway
  • Short and sweet – Fox, Carp, Rice, Dent, Ray, Max, Zim, Amor, New Ulm
  • Just a little out of place – a lot, so let me just point out Brooklyn Park (after Brooklyn, MI), Brooklyn Center (after Brooklyn, NY), Meadowlands, Virginia (world's largest floating loon), Austin (SPAM museum), Little Canada, Belgrade (world's largest crow), Darfur
  • Just a little off-color – Climax, Beaver
  • Numerically oriented – Two Harbors, Tenstrike (a bowling term), Section Thirty
  • Native American mouthfuls – Shakopee, Wastedo, Waconia, Wawina (“I mention him frequently”), Wanamingo, Winnebago, Minnetonka (“big water”)
  • Pardon my French – La Prairie (after one Scotty La Prairie), Le Center, La Cresent, Lac Qui Parle (“lake that sings”)
  • Orthographically challenged – Sogn, Bygland, Lude, Nebish
  • Abnormal nouns – Border, Leader, Radium, Silica, Frost, Angora, Cable, Bowstring, Viola, Siren, Cormorant, Echo, Outing, Choice, Cosmos, Gully, Nimrod, Downer
  • Atypical adjectives – Long, Vermillion, Darling, Swift, Hasty, Stark, Savage, Fertile, Funkley
  • Unconventional verbs – Traverse, Revere, Staples
  • Fun to say – Shooks, Chokio, Warba, Esko, Grygla, Gatzke, Guckeen, Gonvick, Quamba, Clotho, Duelm, Flom, Beaver Bay, Brainerd, Borup, Bowlus, Biwabik, Popple Creek, Pembosa, Puposkey, Parkers Prairie, Fergus Falls, Gutches Grove, Zumbro Falls, Zumbrota
  • Just plain weird – Federal Dam, Long Siding, Big Stone City, Ideal Corners, Freeborn, Foxhome, Pipestone, Ottertail, Oxlip, Warman, Whipholt, Knife River, Littlefork, Bigfork, Butternut, Blooming Prairie, Blackduck, Pelican Rapids, Thief River Falls, Rolling Stone, Sacred Heart, White Earth, Blue Earth (Jolly Green Giant Museum), Black Hammer, Red Wing, Crow Wing, Good Thunder, Boy River, Young America, East Chain, Ball Club (i.e., lacrosse stick)
  • Land of 10,000 lakes – Big Lake, Fifty Lakes, Lino Lakes, Shovel Lake, Detroit Lakes, Prior Lake, Roy Lake, Doris Lake, Lake Elmo, Medicine Lake, Ham Lake, Lax Lake
  • I’d like you to meet – Gary, Gaylord, Marty, Margie, Mabel, Myrtle, Wanda, Effie, Elmer, Adolph, Albert Lea, Lester Prairie, Vernon Center, Hazel Run, Clara City, Odin, St. Bonifacius, St. Nicholas
  • Ghost towns – San Francisco, Frank Hill, Pomme de Terre (French for “potato”), Winner (oh, the irony)


  1. Gravedigging, but just going to point out, Young America was joined to the neighboring town of Norwood just prior to my family's moving there back in 2000. Both towns were abysmally small, and are still shrinking. The combined town mecha is now called "Norwood-Young America", and often referred to by locals as NYA.