How about a compromise? Just call it Lake Cal-Loon

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 4, 2011 - 8:44 PM

There's a proposal before the Park Board to change the name of Lake Calhoun, since ol' "Cast-Iron Calhoun" was an enthusiastic defender of slavery. He has no historical roots to the big drink. It's not like he spent his youth splashing in its azure waters. He sent some guys to build Fort Snelling, and surveyors clapped his name on the lake. That's some top-class sucking-up-to-the-boss work, boys.

It's disheartening to be reminded of the origins of the lake's nomenclature, but does anyone associate the lake with a 19th-century politician? No one thinks of Lake Harriet and wonders about its namesake, Harriet Leavenworth, who lived in Fort Snelling -- yes, the famous prison is named after her husband. Everyone's forgotten that notorious Frenchman, Francoise Oftheisles, who was sent to Devil's Island for a stock swindle. Cedar Lake, we know, comes from a Scandinavian explorer, who said "See der lake? Over dere?" and the name stuck. But we don't know his name. Just as well.

If "Calhoun" is removed, what would be the replacement? The fellow behind the name-change wants "Humphrey." As in "Hubert." Even though there's some neat moral symmetry to the choice, given HHH's civil rights advocacy, well, with all due respect to the Happy Warrior, his name does not exactly conjure up fun 'n' sun. Some suggestions:

Lake Poppin' Fresh. Upside: corporate sponsorship. Downside: plus-sized power-walkers doomed to be poked in the stomach and expected to giggle.

Loon Lake. This is the original Native American name. Upside: it's as gol-durned Minnesotan as all get-out. Downside: no loons.

Lake Calhoun. But not that Calhoun. Another Calhoun, one we make up. Calvin Calhoun. Came here in 1836, built the first lifeguard stand, founded Uptown -- he had the map upside down, so he thought it was south of downtown -- and perished while testing a cast-iron windsurfing board in 1862.

Build a statue to him, hire someone to constantly edit the Lake Calhoun Wikipedia entry, and in a few generations it'll be accepted as truth. If that sounds too Orwellian to you, well, you're right. But Lake Orwell is already taken.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

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