It comes as a surprise to some that one of our beloved lakes is named after someone whose reputation gives off a dead-fish stink. But it’s true. He believed in some odious things, and a recent biography reveals he was against women’s suffrage, supported the force-feeding of geese for foie gras, and enthusiastically pushed for the adoption of the metric system. I refer, of course, to Laqua D’Aisles, a notorious French colonial governor for whom the Lowry-area lake is named.
Oh, you think it’s Lake of the Isles, but that’s just how it’s pronounced. Google Monsieur Laqua D’Aisles, and prepare to be horrified.
Lake Calhoun is a similar story. Due to the Confederacy Extirpation Project moving though the culture this week, there’s a renewed effort to change the lake’s name. One could say that changing names to adjust them to prevailing winds is unwise and faddish; one could say that I prefaced that argument with “one could say” to avoid making it myself.
I’m on the fence, really. There was a move to rename Olson Hwy. as Ronald Reagan Hwy. back in the Oughts, perhaps to commemorate the Gipper’s economic policies and relegate Floyd to the dustbin of collectivism. But Olson was one of us, and while you may disagree with his thoughts about state control of the grain elevators, he’s a historical figure, part of the fabric of Minnesota’s political culture.
You can’t support making it Reagan Hwy. one year and complain when the Legislature makes it Obama Hwy. the next, or vice versa. You just have to hope Google Maps updates enough to keep up with the recent direction of the wind.
Calhoun, however, was not one of us.
Some possible new names:
• Lake Hitler. I think this is a step in the wrong direction.
• White Earth Lake. That was one of the original names. Alas, there is already a White Earth Lake, so the Minneapolis version would have be something different. Eggshell White Earth Lake. Perhaps White Privilege Earth Lake. The NPR audience might enjoy White White Don’t Tell Me Earth Lake, but that’s a bit much. “Breaking Bad” fans could call it Walter White Earth Lake. Or just “Earth Lake,” which would be confusing to outsiders, like Dirt Ocean.
When newcomers asked about the name, you could say “there’s not a speck of albino ground, but it’s a damned sight better than the name of a forgotten sour-souled dead man who defended ownership of humans.” Then say “have an Earth Stout! It’s local.”
• There’s a plaque near the lake honoring the first fellow who built a house in Minneapolis, Gideon Pond. Granted, Pond Lake would be confusing, but it has a certain Zen charm. Pond Lake? Which is it? Both, Grasshopper. And neither. Which do you see? I see a lake. But how great must the pond become, before it is a lake? How much shall the lake shrink before it becomes a pond? Look, enough with the puzzlers, pal. Do they enforce parking on Sundays?
Here’s a compromise: Lake Calhoon. It sounds exactly the same. (Try it.) You could make up a biography about someone fictional, and tell it over and over until people believe it. Something like this:
Olaf Zebulon Calhoon was born on the shores of the lake that bears his name in 1838, the son of “Smelly” Pete Calhoon, a trapper, and his wife, Mary Richards, who was later credited with inventing the clothespin. (The sole surviving photograph shows her wearing a prototype on her nose.) As a boy, he spent his summers on the lake, enjoying the water, and spent his winters under the lake, trying to find the hole he had fallen through. When he grew up he opened a restaurant where the boathouse is today, selling pickled muskie; a plaque today commemorates the location as the first restaurant in Uptown to fail.
Calhoon was noted for carrying a stout bat carved from a piece of beech, which he would use to fight off small bears and creditors; the Calhoon Beech Club on the lake today is named after this particular implement.
In 1878 he stood for state Senate, but promptly sat down again, complaining of dizziness. He tried again in 1880, running on an unusual platform that called for building a network of small trains running around the city, then ripping them up 50 years later, then arguing about how many to build again. Since his opponent only proposed building a streetcar system, Calhoon was obviously seen as a man possessed of great foresight, and won. This began a long political career that culminated in a stint as Secretary of Hay for the Cleveland administration.
Calhoon retired to his namesake lake, which was still known by its informal name, God’s Pothole, and was tinkering with a craft that had a sail attached to a flat raft when a sudden squall blew him out into the waters, never to be seen again. His last words — reportedly a sustained repetition of the word HELP — have become a motto unto this day, and a reminder of the spirit of charity and neighborly assistance that characterizes the area.
It could work. Or we could follow my wife’s suggestion: If Harriet is named after Harriet Lovejoy, then name Calhoun after her husband, Henry Leavenworth. That would be nice and romantic, but if you look at the map, they’re not connected. So they would look like divorced lakes. The kids would go to one beach one weekend, and the other beach the next.
One final suggestion: how about Lindbergh Terminal Lake? Pretty sure that name’s free.