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  SIX THINGS YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT: MINNESOTA.  
   
   
 

The Coen brothers' Fargo made Minnesotans out to be yokels, but our snappy people have been plenty of places outside the town of Brainerd.

Our explorers have climbed the highest mountains, our doctors diagnosed Reagan's Alzheimer's Disease and we're the musical birthplace of Semisonic and Morris Day and the Time. Oh yeah. And Prince, too. And did you know that Mankato, Minn. was the site of the largest mass execution in American history? At the expense of Native Americans, naturally. On

 
 

Dec. 26, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln commissioned the death of 38 Dakota Indians. That's more than half the folks good ol' Dubya torched in whole year as governor of Texas. There's a Lincoln comparison he can use.

For a bland Midwestern state we have had some significant, if not disproportionate, media representation but television, movies and Garrison Keillor have only scratched the surface. Here are six other things to help you fill in the holes.

 

#1. Minnesota is Trannie Town.

Things seemed to going well that night at the bar. That tall, svelte gal flirting with you has just invited you home. Seems like it's your night until calloused man hands caress you and that Adam's apple suddenly just pops out. This happens a lot in our state. It's estimated that The Center for Sexual Health at the University of Minnesota (Go U!) does more than half the surgeries nationwide and plenty stick around our Twin Cities. Minnesota is also home of the International Drag King Extravaganza, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in October 2003 and features many of proud transgender graduates parading around in all of their newfound glory. In August 2003, a court case, Hare v. State of Minnesota, ruled that gender reassignment surgery is covered under the U Care Minnesota health plan.

 

#2. We're Tougher Than Jesse James.

No one knows why the James gang chose a bank in tiny Northfield, Minn. when they did most of their good work in Missoura. Some speculate that they may not be known there. It didn't work in their favor and their botched attempt to rob that bank ultimately spelled the end of the line for the James gang. (For more on the gory details -- and they were gory -- the Northfield Historical Society has an excellent recap.)

After casing banks across Minnesota, the gang decided on Northfield -- but residents grew wise to their plan and a bloody shootout ensued in the middle of town leaving two gang members, William Stiles and Clell Miller, and two citizens dead. (The corpses of the gangsters killed during the raid are immortalized on postcards available for purchase in the gift shop.) The vault was left unlocked but untouched by the six-member James Gang, all of whom were so seriously wounded they opted to flee with their lives instead of dying with the cash.

Jesse James left Minnesota for the kinder pastures of Missouri and would be shot two years later while in hiding. Jesse's younger brother, Frank James, was caught and locked up in Minnesota's Stillwater prison where he and other members of the James Gang helped start The Prison Mirror, the longest running prison newspaper in the nation.

Today, the fine folks of Northfield commemorate the botched bank robbery in early September with a special four-day festival called the "The Defeat of Jesse James Days," complete with parades and re-enactments.

 

#3. Blame Us For Both Kinds of Spam.

Britain's WWII generation has every right to hate us Minnesotans. We donated so much spam to the war effort, it became a dietary staple across the pond when times were tough. There has been a lot of hoohah about the name being used for unsolicited e-mail, so much so the company even makes a vague reference to it on their website. But real Spam is made by Hormel company of Austin, Minn., which in 1937 first invented the world's most famous mystery meat. You can even visit the Spam museum there. Lucky you if you do.

And, unfortunately, we make a lot of that other kind of spam as well. That's right, folks -- a lot of the porn spam polluting your inbox comes from the fourth floor of the Ceresota Building in downtown Minneapolis. Don't let an innocent name like Geektech.com fool you, it's an alias for Porncity.com.

Please don't firebomb the place though, it's located in a lovely historic building. A quaint gassing will do just fine.

 

#4. We Invented -- and Perfected -- the Shopping Mall.

In the 1950s, Minnesota's shopkeepers figured people wouldn't want to shop at their stores if they had to step over frozen corpses on the sidewalk, thanks to our nipple pointy winters from hell. So when Southdale Shopping Center opened in 1956, it had a roof on it and included 72 stores, anchored by two major department stores, all arranged in a two-level design around a brightly lit center court. It offered free parking, and its 5,000 parking spaces were grouped into lots, well marked by clever symbols to help wind frozen shoppers locate their cars.

We all know it now, but back then it was an odd concept to have an enclosed space where folk could congregate and shop. It was big news that it had air conditioning and even bigger that there was helicopter service from Southdale to downtown Minneapolis. People stopped caring about us being the first so we had to build a more massive structure.

In August of 1992, in sleepy Bloomington, Minn., the Mall of America opened its doors. When it opened, the Mall was 71 percent leased with 330 brand new stores for business, including four nationally recognized department stores. Today, the Mall of America is the largest mall in U.S., and home to Camp Snoopy, America's largest indoor family theme park; Underwater Adventures, Minnesota's largest aquarium; a four-story Lego play place and more than 500 stores. It's so big and popular, the Mall of America is oft-cited as a potential terror target.

And in the coming years, new construction will soon give us the world title. Huzzah!

 

#5. We Prefer Our Fish With Poison, You Know, For Flavor.

Madison, Minn. has the unenviable distinction of being the "Lutefisk capital of the United States". Made from codfish, this is a Scandanavian delicacy which literally means "fish soaked in plutonium". However, the Norwegian immigrant's found an easier away of preserving their codfish was to soak it in lye. Yep. Fucking lye.

This trick accomplished three things: The fish didn't rot, it smelled like a dead animal and got renamed "lutefisk". With Long John Silver's around and KFC serving popcorn shrimp, few people eat it anymore with exception of the occasional church dinner -- and even then they don't use the lye soaked stuff. There are the purists though and they can usually be found in nursing homes. So next time you smell someone's rotting corpse around the old folks home don't go calling the morgue until you confirm whether there's lutefisk for dinner that night.

 

#6. Home of the Pedestrian Invention.

Sure, New Jersey can take credit for the lightbulb, but Minnesota's the birthplace of the kinds of bold-named items you can't live without.

Like, you can use Minnesota-made Post-It notes to tell the gal you're stalking you dig her. Then you can speed away on your rollerblades that you're finally in shape to use since you've been working out on your NordicTrack. You need a good breakfast to get in that good of shape so you had better eat your Wheaties. Give those Wheaties time to digest before getting on the Tilt-A-Whirl so you don't hurl all over your Zubaz and your stapler.

 

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Joshua Post Lee gives bus directions to the good and awful people of Minneapolis and St Paul.