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It was difficult to walk around downtown St. Paul in the early 2000s without running into Snoopy, Linus, Lucy and Charlie Brown.

Over five summers, the "Peanuts on Parade" public art campaign peppered the beloved comic strip characters throughout creator Charles Schulz's hometown. Hundreds of 5-foot-tall statues, each painted and decorated by a local artist, drew more than 2 million visitors to St. Paul, according to the city's visitors bureau.

After spotting part of the "Peanuts" gang on University Avenue recently, a Star Tribune reader wanted to know what happened to these statues that were once ubiquitous in Minnesota's capital city. They sought answers from Curious Minnesota, the paper's reader-fueled reporting series.

The question has additional relevance today as Snoopy is having a moment among Gen Z, which has embraced the cartoon beagle as a nostalgic icon.

The short answer? At the end of each summer, many statues were sold in auctions at the Mall of America and whisked away to private collections. The proceeds were used to fund art scholarships and the bronze "Peanuts" sculptures in downtown St. Paul's Landmark Plaza.

They're not all gone, though. People with fond memories of scavenger hunts for statues can still find dozens in their original locations at the businesses that sponsored them. And even more can be found on public display across the metro area and the state, if you know where to look.

Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, who was St. Paul's mayor when the project took off, said public response to the statues "surpassed our wildest dreams."

"I think, in part, it was so spectacular because of St. Paul pride," Coleman said. "This was St. Paul's own, who went on to do great things."

A St. Paul sensation

It was in St. Paul that Schulz experienced the highs and lows of adolescence that he would later incorporate into the lives of "Peanuts" characters. Schulz's father was a barber, as was Charlie Brown's. Snoopy was inspired by the cartoonist's childhood dog, Spike.

Though his sketches were deemed unworthy for his Central High School yearbook, Schulz persevered like his lovable loser main character, going on to create one of the world's most widely circulated comic strips.

When Schulz announced plans to retire in late 1999, after a 50-year run with "Peanuts," Coleman's office started drawing up plans for a tribute. Schulz died of colon cancer two months later, the evening before his last Sunday strip published.

"We have a local son who developed an icon known worldwide," Coleman said at the time. "He touched the lives of millions of people."

With the blessing of Schulz's family, city officials decided to riff on the popular "Cows on Parade" exhibition that had just debuted in Chicago. They commissioned 50 fiberglass Snoopys from local design studio TivoliToo for the following summer.

Businesses paid a few thousand dollars to work with an artist on a statue. Many designs were cleverly themed to match their sponsors. A. Johnson & Sons Florist's Snoopy carried flowers and a watering can engineered to sprinkle on command. The Ordway's Snoopy donned a classy top hat and tailcoat.

And, good grief, were they a hit.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors arrived to go "Snooping" in St. Paul, compiling scrapbooks with snapshots of each statue. The city rolled out more by midsummer as sponsors clamored to join the frenzy. An intern was assigned to puppy patrol, monitoring the Snoopys for signs of wear and tear and to make sure no blockheads were vandalizing them.

When auction time came around, the statues raised more than $1 million. The highest bid was $31,000 for "A Symphony of Snoopy," painted to show the sheet music for Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy." The city quickly moved to replicate its efforts with 100 Charlie Browns, and "Chucking" took off in the summer of 2001.

Lucys came the next summer, followed a year later by statues of her blanket-carrying brother Linus. The final year featured Snoopy atop his doghouse, with tiny Woodstock perched on his belly.

The statues attracted a lot of media attention, including features from "Good Morning America" and USA Today. The city of Santa Rosa, Calif., where Schulz settled after leaving the Twin Cities, picked up the project with its own "Peanuts on Parade" in 2005.

"Everybody seems to identify themselves with a 'Peanuts' character, if not multiple," said William Johnson, who documented every statue in his book, "The Complete History of Peanuts on Parade." "I think that's why people really connected with this."

'Peanuts on Parade' today

It can be hard to keep track of the "Peanuts" gang these days. But Johnson, who lives in Cottage Grove, tries his best, keeping notes on the current locations of more than 100 statues.

Many are in businesses or backyards. One, he's heard, is being used as a bathroom towel rack.

Some people still embark on scavenger hunts. Ann Brownlee, the former owner of Grand Avenue Veterinary Center, recalled people stopping by several times a week to take pictures by the clinic's doghouse (which features Woodstock as a vet caring for patient Snoopy). Brenda Lamb, the owner of Candyland in downtown St. Paul, has seen limousines headed to high school proms stop so teens could pose by the "Peanuts" characters in front of her store.

"We really thoroughly enjoy having them here," she said, gesturing to a lollipop-holding Lucy and candy-covered doghouse.

Even the Star Tribune, which publishes classic Peanuts comics, has some statues. Two sponsored by the paper, a Charlie Brown and a Lucy, can be found at the entrance of its Heritage printing facility in the North Loop.

Fans may also delight in finding resurfaced statues, such as the pair that David Tolchiner moved to University Avenue after purchasing the Midway Saloon in 2019. A colorful Charlie Brown sits outside the beer-and-whiskey bar, and a classic Linus statue (signed by the character's Sleepy Eye, Minn., namesake) is a few doors down in front of Potshotz, a cannabis bar.

In addition to those two, which he purchased at auctions, Tolchiner has a doghouse and the elegant "Mona Lucy" at his hobby farm. Altogether, it's an almost complete "Peanuts on Parade" set.

"I just thought they were fun," Tolchiner said. He thinks the statues have been a positive influence on his business' block in St. Paul's Hamline-Midway neighborhood.

"It gives people a reason to stop and smile."

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