What compels a man named Lucky to wake up one morning and proceed to nail 3,000 teddy bears, dolls and stuffed animals to the ceiling of his laundry business?
The old weird America is a vibe. It’s a thing. It lives and breathes and has for generations. The natural byproduct of the old, weird America is fierce individuality. It’s a uniqueness that verges on the eccentric and dances with the absurd…
Scroll to the bottom of this page or CLICK HERE to watch our travel vlog for our visit to LJ’s Ye Old Wash and Playhouse in the tiny Norwegian settlement of Spring Grove, Minnesota.
There’s an America that is slowly drifting away…
There’s an America that is slowly drifting away. People like Bob Dylan sing about it. Before him folks like Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly used to live in it. In between the lines of a Jack Kerouac poem that America lives. It lives in the lies Jelly Roll Morton told to Alan Lomax as he thumped out the jazz he claimed to have invented.
That old, weird America was built on the road. Allen Ginsberg saw it in the best minds of his generation as they were getting destroyed by madness. The angelheaded hipsters who burned for an ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night. The guys who fought in World War 2 or the Korean war or in Vietnam. The old, weird America of poverty and tatters of black folks who fled the deep south moving to places like Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis.
In places like Minnesota the old, weird America danced with Bob Dylan as he picked out an old Buddy Holly tune who got it from Hank Williams who was taught the blues by a forgotten ghost the old timers called Tee Tot who may have watched as Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil late one night out on the crossroads…
All of this stuff, this strange swimming of the world’s DNA, coming together on American soil. The slave chants that formed jazz in Congo Square deep in the New Orleans underground. The songs of the Incas, the Aztecs and the natives who were here long before any white ballads drifted across the ocean from the British and the Irish…
The old, weird America is a vibe…
The old, weird America is a vibe. It’s a thing. It lives and breathes and has for generations. It’s the coming together of all these people and the natural outcome of Norwegians settling near the natives and the Amish and working the fields with the Mexicans and listening to polka music of the Germans and jazz of the African Americans.
So what compels a man named Lucky to wake up one morning and proceed to nail 3,000 teddy bears, dolls and stuffed animals to the ceiling of his laundry business? And what compels this same man to still be working here decades later, on the day before Christmas?
Simple: the old, weird America.
The natural byproduct of the old, weird America is fierce individuality. Is a uniqueness that verges on the eccentric and dances with the absurd…
The natural byproduct of the old, weird America is fierce individuality. Is a uniqueness that verges on the eccentric and dances with the absurd. It’s seen in the brushstrokes of Edward Hopper and in the songs of Johnny Mercer. It can still be seen on Main Street in the tiny Minnesota town of Spring Grove, population 1,330. Spring Grove, the first Norwegian settlement in Minnesota. Spring Grove, a town conveniently named after a spring and a grove. Spring Grove, whose motto is “we’re a pretty, neat, small town.”
Spring Grove, a town that gave birth to poet Joseph Langland. Langland, who penned the words:
Darkness stalks the hunters,
Slowly sliding down,
Falling in beating rings and soft diagonals.
Lodged in the vague vast valley the village sleeps.
Lodged in the vague vast valley the village sleeps. The vague village is Spring Grove. Those sleeping are all of us as we watch our country turn into a coast-to-coast strip mall. I stole that last line from Greg Brown, an Iowa boy who is still playing the poet game.
Is there poetry in the 2,726 dolls nailed to the ceiling of L.J.’s Ye Old Wash and Playhouse? Maybe. Maybe not.
Is it old, weird and distinctly American? Most definitely.
Are places like this dying? Of course, when L.J. – or Lucky – is gone…this place will probably be turned into a Subway or a Dollar General. But until that time, it remains a standing testament to the old, weird America. One that is quickly fading away…
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About the Authors
Jack and Kitty Norton are Emmy Award winning travel experts. They have spent a lifetime on the road: as traveling musicians, documentary filmmakers and television producers. They now focus on writing for their travel blog (JackAndKitty.com) and making fun videos for their YouTube channel. Jack and Kitty offer travelers fun and quirky things to do in Minnesota, the Midwest and beyond. High school sweethearts turned married soulmates, the couple lives in the small college town of Winona, Minnesota and would love to have you over for some hotdish.