Saturday, October 31, 2009

Belvedere Union Grand's Room 313

Most nights, the key to the Belvedere Union Grand hotel's room 313 is the last to leave its hook. Not that many guests sleeping there have complained: but as the owner, T. J. Baum, told me, it's the room that's the farthest from the stairs on the top floor.

And there's that girl standing outside the window.

The Belvedere Union Grand hotel is a landmark in Loonfoot Falls, the tallest building downtown. Its foundation was laid at the corner of Broadway and Center Street in1899, overlooking Railroad Park.

And, like many buildings a century or more old, it's got its share of ghost stories.

There's the sound of a ball bouncing down the stairs between the second and third floor, usually heard late in the evening.

Several employees have refused to enter the 'back room' in the basement: a storeroom with a small window opening onto an air shaft. Others heard voices outside that window.

Several guests in room 313 woke up in the small hours of the morning, thinking someone had called their name. Each reported seeing a young woman, with "poofed up" dark hair, as one said, standing quietly outside the window, looking in.

It's disturbing, waking up to see someone looking at you through the window. What troubled the guests even more was what they saw the next morning. The young woman had apparently been standing with nothing but about ten yards of open air between her feet and the cement floor of the basement's air shaft.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Coming Soon: The Story of Room 313

This week's column will come Halloween night, with the story of room 313.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Frankie and the Ferret Whisperer

First grader Jamie Johnson thought it'd be a fine idea to bring Frankie the Ferret to show and tell last week. Jamie's teacher, Frances Robinson, had brought her dog, Mr. Frizz, to class earlier in the year, and Jamie figured that if they liked an Affenpinscher, his classmates would love a ferret.

Jamie was right. About two dozen first-graders mobbed Frankie before Mrs. Robinson restored order.

And discovered that Frankie wasn't in his carrier.

And, apparently, wasn't in the classroom, either.

Mrs. Robinson, partly out of consideration for Jamie, and partly because the school had a zero-tolerance policy for unsupervised animals, called the office.

About two hours later a ferret whisperer arrived. By helicopter.

Actually, it was a wildlife specialist from the Minnesota DNR. He was under the impression that we had spotted a black-footed ferret.

I think I see how the false alarm happened. The DNR wanted, and got, a description of Frankie. Frankie's color pattern is the usual 'sable:' whitish muzzle, a sort of dark mask, and dark paws.

The black-footed ferret's an endangered species. Minnesota wasn't part of its old range. No wonder the DNR got excited.

And had asked that the school be evacuated. Which it was.

George Winters (he's the DNR ferret man) was a good sport about the false alarm, after he realized that they were looking for the sort of ferret you can get at a pet store.

He finally found Frankie: on Mrs. Robinson's desk, eating her corned beef on rye lunch.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Week Away From the Office

Here's another bit I pulled out of the Chronicle-Gazette's archives. I've run into the story a few times. I've tracked one version of it back to Nat M. Wills' 1909 "No News, or What Killed the Dog" – But I suspect that it's a tale that's been revised and retold since before Plato's time.

I edited this version to fit the column's space requirements.

A busy executive's doctor told him that he had a choice: a week completely away from the stress of work, or a heart attack. So, the executive gave his staff instructions and told his family he was going to a place in northern Minnesota that didn't have telephone or telegraph service.

A week later, refreshed and feeling better than he had in years, the executive stopped at a gas station and called his office. After giving a summary of the week's business, the secretary said:

"There's one more thing. You dog died."

"He was healthy when I left, but he was getting old: what happened?"

"The vet says it was from eating burnt horse meat."

"Where'd he get that?"

"Well, after the stables burned down-"

"How did they catch fire?"

"The fire marshal says it was sparks from the house."

"The house is gone, right?"

"Yes, sir. But they got your mother's coffin out in time."

"My mother?! How did she die?"

"The doctor says it was stress from the news."

"What news?"

"Oh, of course: You haven't heard. Your wife ran off with the cable guy."

Friday, October 9, 2009

'Gone Fishing'

Actually, I'm taking a short vacation. And, winterizing my house.

Some people in Loonfoot Falls haul in straw bales, stacking them one or two high around the house. One fellow, several years ago, put four mil sheeting around his place. The house looked like it was packed in shrink-wrap.

Me? I'm content to caulk the windows, put clear plastic sheeting over them, plug any leaks the doors might have developed over the summer, have someone make sure that the furnace is okay (it was), shut the inside valves for the outside spigots, and then check my work to see if I missed anything.

It's a sort of annual ritual for people living in a climate like this.

There are alternatives, of course: like waiting until it gets cold, fire up the furnace and hope you wake up the next morning.

There's a new regulation in Minnesota, by the way: as of August 1, 2009, "all multifamily dwelling units" have to have carbon dioxide detectors within ten feet of each bedroom. 'Single family dwellings' have to have CO detectors too. It's not a bad idea, actually. I've had CO detectors in my place for years.

It's not that I'm nervous or timid: but breathing is part of my lifestyle, and I don't want to give it up.

I don't think most people like higher fuel prices and new regulations, but I think we're seeing fewer houses blow up around the start of heating season now. I think that's a good thing.

Friday, October 2, 2009

October's Dull Gray Weather

It's been a dreary week, here in Loonfoot Falls. Rain, overcast skies, the ‘swoosh' of cars driving on damp streets. I seem to remember seeing a bit of blue sky, it might have been Tuesday: but apart from that, daytime has been shades of gray.

Rain falling listlessly on windows, but finding no rest: droplets gathering on the glass to form caravans before continuing their downward journey.

Drivers out at noon, headlights glaring in the sodden gloom.

Householders wonder: does the furnace work? The more forethoughtful among them have had someone come out and see what repairs need to be made.

Extra blankets on the bed. Hardware stores selling caulking and plastic sheeting to people who firmly intend that last winter was indeed the last for some familiar draft.

Flu shots at the pharmacy. Should I get one this year? Would it help? Could anything help?

Summer closeout sales have ended. Candy and strange, disembodied faces haunt the store shelves. Halloween approaches: perhaps the leaves will be dry by then.

Raking in the rain. Chilling rivulets infiltrate the jacket, finding no resistance as they run down my back. Leaves, heavy with rain that came too late for their all-too-brief summer. Why should I rake? The leaves are beyond cares of this world. Soon the winter's snow will hide leaves, grass, and that hoe I forgot to bring in.

As I contemplate the rake, the hoe, and the woeful drizzle, a truth: unbidden, unsought, unwelcome comes. I have caught a cold.
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