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Column: Creatures great and small are a wonderful part of our world

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Nov. 20, 2004.

WORTHINGTON — A Worthington boy — I guess he is 15 now — was sitting at his grandparents’ kitchen table toying with what appeared to be a miniature of one of those southwest Indian clay pots, something made by the Zunis or the Hopis.

The boy looked at the bottom of the pot and he snorted: “Look! Made in China!” Grandma and Grandpa smiled. “Everything is made in China,” the boy said. “That’s what I like about the outdoors. That isn’t made in China.”

“Well now, let me tell you,” Grandpa said. “Those pheasants you were chasing a couple of weeks ago — those pheasants were made in China. The name for those is Chinese ringneck pheasant.” Grandpa explained pheasants are not native to this part of the world. He said he read in the Sioux Falls, S.D. paper the first Chinese ringnecks “around here” were released about 100 years ago near Redfield, S.D.

Talk turned to other creatures. A month ago, there were stories of skunks in nearly every town of our area. One skunk was smashed on a Worthington street. The word was combines were sending skunks scurrying out of bean fields.

I like it when conversations turn to creatures. I remembered a morning perhaps two summers ago. Bill Meyers and I were standing in the backyard when a deer trotted within 15 feet of us. This still is remarkable for someone who remembers when there were no deer in corn country. Marianne Behrens has deer making daily visits to her acreage. The deer don’t knock, but they come to her door.

Many years ago, a band of white-tail deer went bounding, single-file, through deep snow in the alley of the 1500 block of Third Avenue. Larry Schlick got a great photo for the Daily Globe. In a time even before that, the Worthington park department kept several deer in what might be called Worthington Zoo near the Second Avenue dam.

One of the first exotic creatures I knew was a large, mostly green parrot which Mrs. Johnny Norskog kept at her corner house at 723 10th Street. In the warm season, the parrot was just out of sight of the open door on the Eighth Avenue side.

I met the parrot one Saturday morning when I came to collect for the Daily Globe. Parrot wondered, “Who’s there?” I said who I was. I thought, “This lady has a strange voice.” Parrot wondered again, “Who’s there?” I explained another time, louder. “Who’s there?” the parrot said again. I decided it was somebody’s idea of a joke.

(I think I gave up and went across the street to Old Crosby. Old Crosby was a retired railroader, a big man in denim overalls and a blue chambray shirt who sat in a swivel chair in the shade of a large tree just outside his back door. Every month, Old Crosby got a shipment of Communist magazines that he wanted me to deliver. I didn’t know what Communism was, but I didn’t want to deliver Crosby’s magazines. Olive Priester, our boss, enacted a law just for me: “Tell him Globe carriers are only allowed to carry Globes.”)

Worthington’s most famous bird, I believe, was Pete, the mynah bird Bill Gerstner kept in the pet department at the rear of his Woolworth store on 10th Street. Pete screeched and whistled and said, “Pretty bird,” all day long. Nadine Beukelman, who sometimes had to care for Pete, said he was really a kind of low character who pecked at the hands that fed him.

The interior of Nobles County’s 1894 courthouse was not remarkable, but it came to be an attraction for the trophies — the stuffed heads — that were mounted in the rotunda. I think it was Hardy Rickbeil who had the head of a large moose displayed there. Dr. Harrison had the head of a water buffalo. There were several more. When kids toured the courthouse, it was the heads they liked best.

Jerry Raedeke said it often was the same at his studio on South Shore Drive. Kids were more interested in Jerry’s stuffed Canada geese soaring from the ceiling than they were in paintings.

Meier Brothers pool hall on 10th Street had a popular collection of stuffed heads — even whole, stuffed animals. The creature that always won the most attention was a two-headed calf.