COL Three Boring Museums of the Midwest!
By Steve Lange
The Postal Museum
"Imagine you're a postal service worker! Now imagine you're a postal service worker on a train!"
After a failed effort in the 1970s, the "no-lick" sticky stamps were reintroduced in the early 1990s. Which is just fine with postal museum tour group member Sylvia.
"I don't like to lick anything," says the 70-ish-year-old redhead, without provocation. "I haven't liked licking things for 40 years now."
The Postal Museum, in the basement of the Marshall Post Office, is run by postmaster Mike Schragg. Schragg shows us numerous copies of letters appointing various postmasters, including some postmasters general and assistant postmasters general. An actual money order, circa 1940, is passed around the group during an in-depth history of the money order. The Wall of Post Cards depicts post offices and post office scenes in post card form.
"Squint your eyes," says Mike, as we step into a dark room lighted only by a few hanging overhead lights, "and pretend." The room looks like the inside of an old train car, and we stand in front of a table stacked with envelopes that need to be sorted. The sorted mail then needs to be placed into mail bags, which will be dropped off the train in corresponding cities along the route. We are pretending, it turns out, to be postal workers on one of these trains.
Two hours later, after dozens of photos of legendary postmasters and a display documenting the evolution of the mail bag, we see the final display: a Model T (or "A"?) Ford used as a postal delivery vehicle. The Ford's carburetor leaks gas, and, in this tiny garage, the fumes make me lightheaded. So lightheaded that I find myself staring at Sylvia, just wondering what happened on that day 40 years ago that turned her, for good, against licking.
Greyhound Bus Origin Center
"See mannequins dressed like Greyhound Bus drivers used to dress in the old days!"
Read the following aloud in a droning monotone:
"In 1914, Swedish immigrant Carl Eric Wickman began transporting miners from Hibbing, Minn., to Alice, Minn., for 15 cents a ride. This was the original Greyhound bus line. In 1915, Wickman joined forces with Ralph Bogan, who was running a transit service from Hibbing to Duluth, and the company was retitled the Mesaba Transportation Company. First year profits were $8,000.
"In 1918, the company expanded to 18 buses within Minnesota and earned $40,000 in profits. In 1922, Wickman and Bogan joined forces with Duluth bus operator Orville Caesar, operator of the Superior-White Bus Lines. Additional Midwestern bus lines were acquired under the name Motor Transit Corporation. The company was relocated to Duluth and E.C. Eckstrom served as the company's first president.
"In 1924, Wickman's former partner, Ralph Bogan, joined his bus lines with the company. Wickman assumed the presidency of the company. In 1926, Motor Transit joined forces with two West Coast operations, the Pickwick Lines and the Pioneer Yelloway System, to form the Northland Transportation Corporation.
"In 1929, Greyhound acquired Yelloway Lines for $6.4 million. In 1930, the various Greyhound lines across the nation formed the Greyhound Corporation. Corporate offices ..."
Celery Interpretive Center
"View replicas of the packaging materials used in celery's early days!"
It begins with a video.
"Celery," says the narrator, "just a crunchy green vegetable?" The question is rhetorical. And the answer is no. No way.
Gwen, our alarmingly pleasant, green-smocked tour guide, tells us how Kalamazoo, Mich. -- as one of the nation's first celery-growing centers -- was called, alternately and sometimes concurrently, "Celery City" and "Celeryville."
As we stroll through the museum's main building, Gwen makes special note of such items as a 1942 issue of Seeds magazine, a replica of a small wooden box used for celery shipping, a photocopy of a Portage Celery Growers Association Stock Certificate (somehow finagled courtesy of the Heritage Room, Portage Public Library).
With approximately 2,000 annual visitors, my wife, Lindy, and I decide we are the youngest people to take the tour voluntarily. And apparently the most interested. Throughout the tour, we're taking numerous photographs; I'm furiously scribbling in my notebook. Gwen, who does not know the notes and photos are for a story, probably thinks we're some sort of celery perverts.
Later, we see pencil drawings of celerying tools, celery tape (used for "binding stalks for shipping"), and a poster touting Dunkley's Kalamazoo Celerytone (a "celery tonic aphrodisiac," containing "20 percent alcohol").
"I always said celery is an aphrodisiac," volunteers Lindy, maybe a little too eagerly. Gwen doesn't respond. "Celery and shrimp and green peppers," Lindy says. "All those things really work as aphrodisiacs." Still no response.
We walk out to the "celery shed" for a look at harvesting tools. We've been on a lot of these types of tours, but Gwen -- who sounded sincerely depressed when describing the "celery blight" of the 1960s -- must be one of the best tour guides we've ever had. She knows her celery, sincerely wants us to know her celery. Even after an hour tour, while we are celeryed-out, she's still excited to show us more. "You'll have to come back," she says, as we make our way to the car, "when Mr. Crispy is here."
And though we don't turn around to even ask who Mr. Crispy is, we both know we just might, on some lazy weekend, drive over, if only to meet him.
Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine, in which this piece previously appeared. Look for the April issue on newsstands now.