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Minnesotans take pride in our stars, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to HHH to Bob Dylan to Prince, but also in the flowering of the arts, from the Guthrie to the Replacements to the Minnesota Orchestra, in what some might call a forbidding climate.
Essay by Kim Ode

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State Fair: The first Minnesota State Fair is held, and the summertime gathering has taken only a few years off since then for wars and epidemics.

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Little Crow: The Dakota leader is killed in the aftermath of a bloody war between the Dakota and white settlers. His slaying fetches a reward from the state for the settler who shot him and is reported in the early Minneapolis papers with a tone of vengeful satisfaction.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder: The writer’s pioneer family moves to Walnut Grove, the year after the paper reported that “the grasshoppers have ‘cleaned out’ the crops.”

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Itasca: Minnesota’s oldest state park is established and gets its own newspaper headline — below this one: “The Famous Baking Powder Bill Is Passed in the Senate."

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Split Rock Lighthouse: A “Fearful Storm on the Upper Lakes” that damages 29 ships in 1905 spurs the building of the state’s most famous lighthouse.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald: After years of writing lyrics, jingles, poetry, anything, the “St. Paul boy” gets his first novel published, "This Side of Paradise." An article that year praises his persistence, whether or not “Mr. Fitzgerald’s stories may pass swiftly into that vast limbo of forgotten fiction.”

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Paul Bunyan: The name appears in the Minneapolis papers in 1922, and in the serialized novel “Main Street,” by Sinclair Lewis.

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Foshay: The “Foshay Tower Edition” of the Minneapolis Tribune appears Aug. 25, as the city’s tallest building opens to the fanfare of a new Sousa march and fireworks.

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Hubert H. Humphrey: He becomes mayor of Minneapolis and “Steals Show from Political Elders” at the Democratic National Convention in 1948. The newspaper runs the full text of his speech, including these ringing words: “There are those who say to you — we are rushing this issue of civil rights. I say we are 172 years late."

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Barbara Flanagan: The columnist’s bylines start to appear, and she focuses on urban life and human interest: “St. Paul Greets 36 Snow Queens”; “Animals Await Como Zoo Opening”; “Sleeves Trip Miss Nippon in Cafeteria."

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Charles Schulz: His “Peanuts” cartoons run in over 120 newspapers, and he lands on the cover of the Minneapolis Star with his family (including Charlie Brown). Half a century later, the Peanuts gang stands in bronze in Landmark Plaza in downtown St. Paul, Schulz’s hometown.

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Hot dish: This Minnesota staple appears in newspaper recipes hundreds of times, and every week in the school lunch menus of the 1960s, often with Tater Tots.

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Guthrie Theater: Opening night features Jessica Tandy starring in “Hamlet.” Sir Tyrone Guthrie is nervous enough that he takes a drive during the first act.

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Bob Dylan: The Hibbing High School grad turns up in the paper as “Bob Dylan”
in the early 1960s, in coverage of the March on Washington. A 1963 columnist refers to him as “the sulking Minnesota expatriate,” but grudgingly admits that “Blowin’ in the Wind” is “memorable.”

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Hmong migration: The first Hmong family resettles in Minnesota. A front-page story in 1979 says: “New roots in St. Paul: Laos nomads find U.S. life confusing.”

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Jessica Lange: The girl from Cloquet makes it big by starring in “King Kong.” An ad for the movie in the Minneapolis Tribune calls it “The most exciting original motion picture event of all time.”

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“Spoonbridge and Cherry”: A crane lowers the cherry onto the spoon at the Walker Art Center; the headline calls it “The art of spooning.”

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August Wilson: The playwright lives in St. Paul and writes the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fences.” As national fame arrives, with comparisons to greats such as Tennessee Williams, he takes it in stride: “That was really nice of him to say,” Wilson tells a reporter.

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Paul and Sheila Wellstone: The day after he ousts Sen. Rudy Boschwitz “in a stunning upset,” the Wellstones appear in a four-column cover photo, his trademark grin taking up two columns. The pair who married at age 19 die together in a plane crash, 12 days before Election Day 2002.

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“A Prairie Home Companion”: Garrison Keillor announces that he's retiring from the radio show he began in St. Paul in 1974. His final episode gets a front-page report as “Sun sets on Lake Wobegon.”

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Prince: He dies at his Chanhassen home April 21, 2016. His last performance at First Avenue is in 2007, but it only lasts 45 minutes because he goes on around 2 a.m. Decades earlier, Star Tribune music critic Jon Bream glimpses Prince’s genius in his 1979 Minneapolis debut: “He was cool, he was cocky and he was sexy."

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Support journalism that brings the world to Minnesota. Our story is your story.

Star Tribune and Associated Press file photos

Content to be cold in Star of the North

Minnesota is a mostly German state best known for its Scandinavian forebears, with a French motto and the largest concentration of Somali and Hmong residents in the United States.

These facts make discussing our culture almost as complex as debating who’s been the best Vikings’ quarterback, or if lutefisk is best served with cream sauce or butter (or, yes, irony), or whether passive-aggressiveness is about a sincere desire not to offend or just people who can’t take a joke.

Yet it’s safe to say there’s one thing that binds us: Among our fellow Americans, we are considered fearlessly frigid.

We embrace our identity as “the Star of the North,” or “L’Etoile du Nord.” Alaska notwithstanding, we have the northernmost border, thanks to the Northwest Angle that nudges into Canada just a skosh. We go “up North” year-round, honor International Falls as “the nation’s icebox,” fish through holes in the ice and regularly note how cold keeps the riff-raff out (which also neatly conveys our self-image of non-riff-raffness.)

Come on, that was a joke.

In the end, Minnesota’s culture is rooted in, challenged and inspired by a sense of reserve, by holding itself slightly apart from the rest of the country, mining pride from a slightly perverse philosophy: We’re not for everyone.

This stance burbles up when rubes on the coasts mention “flyover country.” We roll our eyes at such parochialism.

It persists in our love/hate relationship with that accent from “Fargo.” Overdone, we snort, yet we relish correcting the record.

The depth of this bond was unexpectedly glimpsed last year in the grief over Prince’s death. Minnesotans from a range of ages, tastes and backgrounds felt honest sorrow at tributes, in concerts, by festooning the fence at Paisley Park.

Who would’ve thought? Why, it was as if favorite son Bob Dylan had died.

Ahh, no, came the reply, it’s not surprising at all. You see, Prince loved being a Minnesotan. Prince never left.

A collage of cultures

Minnesota tends toward the self-satisfied, a trait that can be both sinful and sustaining.

Yet all in all, we don’t spend that much time measuring ourselves against others’ yardsticks — or at least not as much time as outsiders presume.

We look within. The immense Minnesota State Fair retains the classic trappings of a county exposition — and nobody else enshrines their dairy princesses in blocks of butter. The Guthrie Theater is a regional gem, and only the largest of many respected stages here.

The Mall of America is the biggest shopping complex in the country, attracting spenders from around the world. The stellar Minnesota Orchestra has an international reputation. We vote like it matters.

Our culture is generational, evident in the passion with which Minnesotans regard their cabins. On average, people own them for 24 years, a span among the highest in the U.S. for seasonal homes. Most say they have no intention of ever giving them up. Great-grandchildren marvel at knotty pine walls.

Likewise, our culture also is wet, for many of those cabins are “up at the lake.” (Newcomers have been known to ask, “Where is this lake that everyone goes to?”) The paths around Minneapolis’s chain of ponds attract crowds even when the temps drop below freezing. St. Paul’s Winter Carnival sometimes features a palace made of ice. Lake City is where water-skiing was invented. Lake Superior is just that.

Our culture is curious and well-read, with both Minneapolis and St. Paul in the top 10 of America’s Most Literate Cities. And sure, it’s the cities that always get counted, but people in towns and villages and acreages and cabins and farms also read a lot, too. There’s just no formal study to back that up.

We must be honest: This literate nature is born partly from our arguable isolation, partly from our manifest winters. There are a lot of long, dark hours to fill.

But there’s also a writerly tradition: Think F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ole Rolvaag, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garrison Keillor, Louise Erdrich, Robert Bly and now a raft of fine young authors, many championed by local presses with national reputations.

Just a little different

Our culture also includes Minnesotans who have made our population far more diverse over the generations. There are Hmong who proved crucial allies to the U.S. during the Vietnam War, and Somalis, many of them refugees from civil war in their homeland.

There are the state’s original inhabitants, the Chippewa and Ojibwe, who saw French voyageurs come ashore, explorers make their way from the east, and immigrants from Europe fence the prairie and open new businesses.

Yet we are not a state of great diversity. Of the more than 5.3 million residents, more than 4.5 million are white. Those from other roots are far, far fewer. Divisions among residents ebb and flow, as do the tensions between rural and urban. Not always, but sometimes.

Still, here we are, populating a progressive state known for its myths — for Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, for Rocky and Bullwinkle, for Lake Wobegon. We are by the shores of Gitche Gumee. We are the state of hockey (and the State High School All-Hockey Hair Team.) We are the Star of the North.

We’re not for everyone.

But we like it here.