Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Greetings from Up North!

It's Tuesday evening and I’m sitting here full of walleye and baked potato. It’s cold up here, temps haven’t reached above the mid-sixties since we arrived on Sunday. I bought a jacket on sale at a little shop in Longville, where we’re staying, and I've worn it most of the time since.

I'm up here researching Buttons and Bones. Last time I was here, I had trouble finding out where the German POW camp was located. Several people here in Longville told me various locations, but none panned out. I was aimed at a location in Remer, about twenty-five miles from here, but when I drove to that location, there was nothing at all to be seen. After sixty years, I suppose that was to be expected; at least everyone in Remer who knew about the camp agreed on its location.

We’re staying at a camp/bed and breakfast here in Longville and at last the owner took pity on me and began suggesting people I should talk to. Then she took the bit between her teeth and invited one woman over to talk to me – and this woman cleared the whole thing up. Violet, you see, was born in 1923, though she actually looks younger than I do. So she was a young married woman in 1944, and not seeing the POWs with the eyes of a child, like everyone else I talked to. She said the POWs were housed in Remer and sent out to various locations to cut down trees – the army had contracted with a timber company to supply wood, and used the POWs to do the labor. The army got paid and in turn paid a portion to the POWs, and the timber company got a good price for cut logs. Under the rules of the Geneva Convention, every POW under the rank of sergeant could be put to work. A great many of them preferred to work and earn a little money rather than sit idle in the camp.

Violet and her husband owned a chunk of land in a section of Cass County adjacent to the area being logged and remembers hearing them laughing and talking as they worked. She says they were brought out and taken home in canvas-topped army trucks, and a hot lunch was brought to them in the forest. She says they cleaned up after themselves; her husband, a hunter, never found any trash in the areas he hunted after they were gone.

But now I know: They slept in Remer, worked in the area around Longville.

So long as we were up here, I decided I needed to learn a bit more about how an investigation would be done in Cass County. We drove to the County Seat, Walker, and I got a brief interview with a sheriff’s department investigator, who was very helpful. One thing I forgot to ask was the color of the departmental patrol cars, because I assumed they are the same as the ones down in the Twin Cities, dark brown with gold lettering. But they aren’t, I found out they are white with green lettering – I saw one in a parking lot behind the government building in Walker.

And so long as we were going to Walker, I wanted to continue up the road to Lake Itaska, where the Mississippi River begins as a little stream rolling out of the lake. I think it’s some kind of law that every young Minnesotan has to go see it and "walk across the Mississippi" on the stones sticking out of the water right where the flow begins. As we arrived, the sun came out for the first time since we arrived. And after thirty years in the state, I joined the little children and very carefully stepped from stone to stone across the stream, which is about thirty feet across. Here’s a photograph of me pausing to think about my next step, the only way I got across without slipping and falling in. Note the ages of my follow travelers!


Book Bird Dog said...

Very interesting! What state are you in?

Julie said...

Sounds like you're getting some excellent research in! And of course you have to walk across the river, if you've never done it before. I'm hoping the mosquitos and all the other rotten little flying-biting things are less of a nuisance (plague) since it's cool. Any needlework shops up there?

Betty Hechtman said...

It sounds like a great trip. I love being out in the country even with mosquitos. And seeing and then walking across the beginning of the Mississippi River - how exciting. And research on top of it. What could be better?

Monica Ferris said...

Book Bird Dog: I'm in Minnesota.

Julie and Betty: Now I have to go to New Orleans (some day) and see the Mississippi at its mouth.