Reflections on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assasination
Written April 4, 2013.
I had hitchhiked down to San Francisco from Oregon. We didn’t have a radio in the car, and when I got to the Haight to stay with some friends it was 2 a.m. and no one came to the window to throw us keys from the loft. My ride took off and I headed down the street to find a crash pad. A National Guardsman accosted me under the streetlight on the corner. He had an M-1 rifle with bayonet mounted, and I knew he wasn’t dressed for Halloween. He was amazed I hadn’t heard about Martin Luther King’s assasination that day. That was why the Haight was under martial law, along with about 16 other cities that night, for fear of riots. I took his tip about a church a few blocks down that might be taking in street people so late. I got lost though, and finally climbed over someone’s fence and rolled out my sleeping bag and went to sleep. Someone was yelling “Prince! Prince! Stay” really loud and the sun was shining and a huge Weimaraner hunting dog was standing at attention a foot away from me. He had jaws the size of my pack. But he stood fast long enough for me to realize I had jumped into his dog run in the middle of the night. I got the hell out of there and moved on, deeper into the conundrum of America forever more.
There is a story here.
Dave Nystuen, previously with the Minnesota Masonic Grand Lodge History museum, gave me a list of round barns in MInnesota which had been compiled by Roy Meyer of Mankato. I noticed the mention of this barn and decided to find it and photograph it with my antique view camera. Meyer’s list included GPS coordinates, so I took the list to the Carver County offices and the property people there tried to help me find it.
As we were talking, a woman came up from the end of the room and introduced herself as Emily Lemke, the granddaughter-in-law of the William Lemke who built this barn. After cries of wonder at the coincidence, I got the owner’s names from the tax rolls and drove to the property.
The current owner was gruff and unimpressed by someone taking his barn’s portrait — at first. When he saw the big old wooden camera he came out and hung around a bit, telling me some fascinating information.
He put a new roof on this himself, and it took over 300 4×8′ sheets of plywood for the underlayment. The shingles around the curved roof had to be hand trimmed to fit the curve. When the barn was built in 1927, William Lemke’s son Earle was 13 years old, and helped build the roof. Earle had come by and visited with the new owner several times until Earle was in his 90s.
The barn floor is at the height of the ventilator grills above the windows, and the owner, Lauren Schwinghammer, described it as a cathedral inside. He invited me to come back in the spring and see the indoors. When I took this photo I was a hundred yards out in the snowy field, and the wind chill was about 5 degrees above zero. Lauren said he had been rankled by people driving on his lawn and walking into his outbuildings without permission, which explained his gruffness before we got to talk. But he had never, he said, had any one come out in this weather for a photo before.
After spending an hour clambering around Minnehaha Falls in the deep snow, I headed off to Highland for a hot coffee. On my way home I saw this surreal light show at the end of the Hiway 55 underpass. There were half dozen public safety and first responder vehicles at the scene of a crash.
I call this “Rough and Ready Americana.”
It shows the back yards of commerce and neglected river banks running through the downtown of a typical Minnesota town…Shakopee in this case. It still has a picturesque appeal to me, despite evoking an era of rapid expansion and exploitation in the early years of the American century. Someday there will be bistros and shops lining a gentrified promenade along this lovely river, and the deadwood will be culled, and flowers planted. For now, it is a reminder that the beauty of a river dies hard, and can be resuscitated quickly if there is a civic will.