Column: Happy 100th birthday, Fred ManfredWORTHINGTON — Two carloads of us drove to Blue Mounds State Park one Saturday last October. The sky was blue as 300 robins’ eggs, the way it is in October. I suppose the temperature was 70, maybe 75. We were trying to soak up heat because, of course, we knew an arctic winter was just ahead of us. Everybody went on a hike along one of the trails but I stayed at the park headquarters, once Frederick Manfred’s house.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Two carloads of us drove to Blue Mounds State Park one Saturday last October. The sky was blue as 300 robins’ eggs, the way it is in October. I suppose the temperature was 70, maybe 75. We were trying to soak up heat because, of course, we knew an arctic winter was just ahead of us.
Everybody went on a hike along one of the trails but I stayed at the park headquarters, once Frederick Manfred’s house. I watched people and took pictures of some cactus growing through a crack in the red quartzite. I was thinking of Manfred. I believe I was at his house twice while he lived there.
It is a memorable place most certainly. Rock walls. Amazing views. The problem is location. If you live there — if there is a winter storm — you have a lot of road-clearing to do.
This month — especially on April 21, a Saturday — Luverne is going to celebrate Frederick Manfred. This year brought his 100th birthday. It is a fitting recognition. Surely our region (he said Siouxland) has never produced another writer so prolific or so famous.
I remember what was (I believe) the last time I saw Manfred. The Daily Globe came to have a stable of readers writing Letters to the Editor. For those who remember, a mention of L.J. Willett of Jackson will bring it all to mind. L.J. sometimes wrote a letter every day, sometimes for two and three weeks at a time.
Other writers included George Hiekes of Ellsworth. George Wick of Sibley. Marianne Brixius. M.J. Gjertson. There were about a dozen of them, maybe 15.
One day George Heikes said he believed the Globe should host an event for its writers. He said he would send out invitations if the Globe would pick up the tab. We had top-of-the-menu dinners one evening at the original Holiday Inn.
Frederick Manfred came. He ducked through the door; he was six feet, nine inches tall. Manfred and I and several others were at the same table. It was warm and gentle conversation beginning to end. Someone might guess Manfred would have wanted to talk literature or authors or crafting novels. He took his leads from others at the table and, respectfully, talked of the things that were their concerns and interests.
In days afterward — well, people were pleased certainly that they shared a dinner with Frederick Manfred. Those who were there talked about it. Some may have boasted it.
I remember an account. (I looked it up: May 10, 1942, Esquire magazine.) Sinclair Lewis, who was another Minnesota author and native, stopped at Luverne because of a summer storm and spent a night at the Manitou Hotel.
Rather than joining people about him in warm and gentle conversation, Lewis mocked them:
“A town like this, Luverne, 2,000, is much more sporting than Sauk Centre when I was a boy. The hotel basement is a beer joint, open till twelve, open on Sunday…
“It’s a dreary place: cement floor, drab plaster walls, pipes strung across the ceiling, lights dim…the young farmers and girls — one a fat one in slacks — just walk, for dancing, and they don’t walk very well. They ostensibly drink only beer and soft drinks. Some do spike their Cokes with hootch. Only one or two drunks and not objectionable. Just dull.
“No advance on Sauk Centre in those days of old in joy, certainly…”
Sinclair Lewis won a Nobel Prize in Literature (1930), the first American writer to get that ultimate recognition. Basically, he did with his novels what he did at Luverne. He held people up for mockery and ridicule.
There isn’t much said about Sinclair Lewis any longer, although Minnesota does still talk about famous Minnesotans of the last century. Judy Garland, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Lindbergh. I am surprised: about 10,000 people visit Lindbergh’s boyhood home each year.
Now Luverne is setting aside a day to honor the memory of Frederick Manfred. There is an event planned at the Palace Theater.
I suppose there is an obvious lesson in all this. Mock people — be the bully — you get attention. You will be kindly remembered if you sit down and join in pleasant conversation.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.