Thursday, June 27, 2013

Vignettes: 19th-century brothels and the lost history of prostitution on the Minneapolis riverfront.

Penny A. Petersen is author of Minneapolis Madams, the surprising and riveting account of the Minneapolis red-light district in the late nineteenth century and the powerful madams who ran it. In their heyday Minneapolis brothels constituted a substantial economic and political force in the city. Penny digs deep into city archives, newspapers, and other sources to illuminate the Minneapolis sex trade and its opponents. Usually written off as deviants, madams were actually crucial components of a larger system of social control and regulation. Here are a few vignettes that didn't make it into the final book.

Minneapolis' First Street red-light district on the Mississippi River. This is a portion of the map "Bird's Eye View of Minneapolis," published by A. M. Smith in 1891.

“Five Women Arrested for Contempt of Police Commission”

One 1887 newspaper reported a telling interaction between African American madam Ida Dorsey and a police captain who paid an early morning visit to her First Street district bordello. From the beginning of her career in Minneapolis, Dorsey was a source of fascination and frustration to those in charge. There was the urge to mete out harsh punishment to her, coupled with the resigned recognition that Dorsey was usually just beyond reach because of her connections to the elite.

Dorsey “danced the nac-nac [can-can, a dance then banned in the city] and otherwise disported herself in a wild and bacchanalian way. She also expressed a contempt for the immortal police commission and doubted the ability of the policemen to find anything but their way home after dark.” In the captain’s estimation, Dorsey’s speech “amounted to sacrilege” and arrested all the women in the house “with the exception of the profane and impious Ida,” who had miraculously escaped.

With a few words, Dorsey had goaded the policeman into arresting her staff for something they did not do, that was not illegal namely speaking ill of the police commission, and letting her go free. Her actions heaped ridicule upon the captain, who was described as having “an exalted idea as to the importance of his own position,” while providing her establishment with free publicity. The reporter concluded that the women would probably appear in court “this morning for contempt of the police commission and Capt. McKernan.” [1]

“Police Court”

As two 1871 newspaper articles illustrate, the commercial sex industry was tolerated in Minneapolis and St. Anthony, then a separate town on the east side of the river, but certain conventions had to be observed. In one account, “four wild gazelles [prostitutes], Lottie Prarauche, Mollie Ellsworth, Mollie St. Clair and Jennie Jones were fined $10 and costs for residing in a house of ill-fame.” This was the standard fine for such an offense and the four would likely return to the court the following month to repeat the process.

The story reported that “Officer Day arrested two women on Seventh Street, near Buchanan [Northeast] named Jennie Green and Vonia Roberts, who have been keeping for some time a house of ill-fame in the said locality. Their violation of the propriety and dignity of the statute of the city has been flagrant.” The women were brought before the court, pleaded guilty, and were fined only $5, on the condition they leave town immediately. While recognized red-light districts had not quite coalesced along the riverfront on Main Street and First Street at this early date, bordellos would not be accepted in some neighborhoods. Apparently, Green and Roberts had blatantly broken too many rules and were forced out of the city. [2]

“Places of Sin”

Early in 1894, Alderman P. W. McAllister proposed a “startling ordinance” to register all prostitutes in Minneapolis as well as “the names of owners of property used for immoral purposes.” McAllister was hoping to compel all, not just some, sex workers to pay the monthly fines and “to get at the people who rent property to the women at exorbitant prices.” The suggestion produced “an uproar, everyone laughing and talking at once” in the council chambers. Apparently, McAllister’s action inspired the Penny Press to compile a list of all the property owners of bordellos and the madams who operated within the city. The list and several accompanying articles were later reprinted in the Minneapolis City Council Proceedings.

One account opened with the question of who is “interested in the houses of ill-fame in Minneapolis besides the ‘madams’ who run them, and who owns the property?” Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer was a broad swath of citizens had a stake in the commercial sex trade, ranging from the clients who patronized it, to the landlords who extracted exorbitant rents from the madams of “$100 to $150 per month for a weather beaten structure for which they could not get $25 per month from anyone else.” Many madams could “tell startling stories of being imposed upon shamefully by merchants who pose as highly respectable church members,” all the while supplying bordellos with overpriced goods and services. Newspapers also benefited from the established bordellos. One article noted that McAllister only “gave the technical [legal] description of the property, instead of the street and number, so that the average man is greatly in the dark as to precisely where all the houses of ill-fame referred to are located.” The Penny Press helpfully supplied the missing addresses of the bordellos, which likely increased newspaper sales in the process.

Despite the fact that prostitution was illegal, it had operated openly in the city for so many years “that it has come to be regarded as a semi-legitimate business, so long as the women pay their licenses–or fine, if you like the word better–every month, and keep what is known as an orderly house.” Noting it was obvious “to everyone who has read the laws bearing on the subject” that the police could shut down every known bordello, but “experience, however, has taught public officials that such a policy is not the best one, nor conducive to the best interests of a city.” Closing brothels operating within established red-light districts moved the businesses to other parts of the city making it harder for law enforcement to maintain surveillance and disturbed a whole new group of neighbors. Perhaps it was not unexpected when McAllister withdrew “his motion for the numbering and registration of all lewd women of the city” and those who owned the bordellos. [3]

“Well-Known Christians See a Few Sights in Minneapolis”

In 1890 a Saint Paul newspaper carried an account of an apparent competition between two Minneapolis branches of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in their fight against liquor and prostitution. The contest had begun when Rev. G. L. Merrill had “personally conducted [an] excursion to the haunts of vice” both to spread the gospel and to gather material for future sermons.

Subsequently, a group of about ten men and women from the rival Central W. C. T. U., armed with copies of a religious tract called “The Sure Road to Eternal Bliss,” conducted their own tour of the entertainment district near the First Street red-light district. The reformers had followed the path of the more typical pleasure-seeking clients starting at a saloon that offered live performers as well as alcohol and then moving on to bordellos, although with a different purpose in mind. Their first visit was to the Jumbo Saloon on Washington Avenue South, “where they sat in the wine rooms, listened to a short-skirted, sharp-voice female” give a vocal performance. From there, they found “their way to the somber-hued, oriental classic retreat [bordello] owned and operated by one Ida Dorsey” located at 116 Second Avenue South. The visitors sat there silently “while the dusky damsels who there abide chewed gum, stared and talked in an unintelligible jargon.” When it became obvious that the visitors would not order alcohol or pay the piano player, they were told to leave. Next the group visited a brothel at 201 First Street South operated by Jenny Irwin, but were told at the door “unless they would spend their sacred shekels for beer and in all ways conform to the ancient admonition, ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’ they would not be allowed in. These representatives of nineteenth century high moral ideas asserted their willingness to conform to custom, but basely betrayed their hosts, and once in the parlor they sat down, but none of them said ‘Open a bottle.’ The men looked scared and the women foolish.” The writer contrasted their behavior with that of Morrill, who when he “went slumming he paid his score like a man” offering money in exchange for information. The madam told the visitors to “buy some beer and be sociable or get out.” She ordered the “professor” to start playing the piano and “one of the devotees of pleasure slightly elevated her skirts and began the can-can, but the visitors had had enough” and fled, abandoning their plans to visit “several gilded palaces of sin” in the course of the evening.

The reporter asked what good had come from this excursion, observing if the reformers really wanted to talk to the bordello inhabitants about changing their lives, an afternoon call would have more effective instead of interrupting the women while they were working. He did not believe the reformers were improved by the tour as the “knowledge of evil never did any one any good. This expedition simply gratified a whim and furnished the participants something to talk about for the next few weeks.”

The reporter, who likely accompanied the group, had also gotten something from the adventure, namely a subject for his story that highlighted the absurd actions of people in rival Minneapolis. [4]

“Wayward Mabel–Prefers a Life of Shame to Home Comforts”

Women entered the nineteenth century sex trade for any number of reasons with economic necessity probably being foremost. Some, however, chose it for reasons that are harder to unearth as illustrated by an 1894 newspaper account. Eighteen-year-old Mabel Folstrom favored the life of a parlor prostitute over living with her mother. After Mrs. Folstrom had, with the aid of the police, removed Mabel from a First Street bordello, the young woman was arraigned in municipal court where she “maintained an indifferent careless demeanor, which shocked” the regular observers, saying she might go home with her mother, but “I will not live there.” Despite her mother’s efforts, Mabel “has been frequenting bad places for a year, and says she would rather live there than at home.” Perhaps for Mabel, the attention, excitement, independence, and relatively high “wages of sin” were more appealing than life at home. Judge Holt sentenced Mabel either to sixty days in the workhouse or a stint in the House of the Good Shepherd, a reform organization. [5]


Penny A. Petersen is a researcher for a historical consulting company in Minneapolis. She is author of Minneapolis Madams: The Lost History of Prostitution on the Riverfront and Hiding in Plain Sight: Minneapolis' First Neighborhood, a history of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. She has worked as a historic site interpreter and site technician for the Minnesota Historical Society at St. Anthony Falls.

"An utterly engrossing, behind-the-bordello look at the collision between the Mill City’s commercial sex industry, civic corruption, and advocates for sexual purity in the 1800s, Minneapolis Madams is always empathic, never prurient, but often shocking. A gem of sexual and social history, this book illuminates the boudoirs of the long-forgotten red-light districts with insight, wit, and humanity."
—Paul Maccabee, author of
John Dillinger Slept Here

"Penny Petersen’s unique and well-researched history of a group of Minneapolis madams in the late 19th and early 20th century poses universal fundamental questions that are as relevant and controversial today as they were then. This book will challenge as well as enlighten readers."—Arvonne Fraser, author of She’s No Lady and former U.S. ambassador to UN Commission on the Status of Women


Blog source material:
[1] “A New Charge–Five Women Arrested for Contempt of Police Commission,” St. Paul Daily Globe, August 22, 1887.
[2] “Police Court,” Minneapolis Tribune, May 18, 1871 and January 7, 1871.
[3] “List,” Penny Press (Minneapolis), February 14, 1894; “List,” Penny Press (Minneapolis), March 3, 1894; “Places of Sin,” Penny Press (Minneapolis), March 8, 1894; Proceedings of the Minneapolis City Council, March 9, 1894, 170-177.
[4] “Visited ‘Tough Joint’s–Well-Known Christians See a Few Sights in Minneapolis,” St. Paul Daily Globe, August 10, 1890.
[5] “Wayward Mabel,” Penny Press (Minneapolis), February 14, 1894.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Prism leak reminds us to be critical of the seemingly essential—but risky—tools we use every day.

Assistant professor of communication studies at the State University of New York, College at Oswego

If leaked information about the surveillance program Prism is correct, the U.S. government is treating every citizen of the world as a potential terrorist. If the sign of a true democracy is that even the rights of the criminal, the foreigner and the dissenter are respected, what does that say about a system that violates everyone’s rights because they could be potential threats to the system?

We should begin by trying to understand why something like Prism exists today. It is not because all other options to make this a safer world have failed. It is simply because certain kinds of information have become extremely inexpensive and profitable to collect. Intelligence agencies have borrowed algorithms and models from the corporate world--sometimes collaborating with them directly, in a perfect marriage of surveillance, fear, and profit--and applied them at a global level, collecting and analyzing vast amounts of what they claim is “only” metadata (data about our actions, but supposedly not the actual content of our electronic interactions with others). The reasoning is that if person X turns out to be a troublemaker, records of his or her exchanges with others might prove useful.

Fair enough.

The problem is the notion that in order to be able to go back and examine those records, authorities need to collect all the records from every single individual, which, for the first time in history, is relatively cheap and easy to do.

Ease of surveillance

Because technology makes mass surveillance of this sort possible, the government has assumed it has the right to make it possible. The illusion (yet unconfirmed) that this data can make us safer has proved too strong to resist, and in the process the very rights that define a democracy have been suspended.

To be fair, the battle over “casual” surveillance (which metadata collection represents) had already been lost long before Prism. We all played a passive part in it through our technophilia and careless consumption. The leaked information about Prism may have confirmed the worst fears of the conspiracy theorists among us, but despite the outrage, I imagine I am not the only one who feels unable to stop voluntarily contributing to the invasion of my own privacy. Sure, I have managed to avoid Facebook, despite the jokes and accusations that doing so is irresponsible of me. But can I do without Google, which if nothing else is my employer’s “free” provider of email and other IT products? Can I do without the convenience of a smart phone and GPS?

Furthermore, the battle has also been lost at the cultural level. While flipping through channels in a UK hotel, I see a show in which teenagers are secretly recorded while they drive around committing minor infractions. Why would they and their parents consent to have their follies broadcast to the whole wide world? For the 15 minutes of fame and for the entertainment value, I suppose. Plus, I bet the show’s producers argued that monitoring and exposing teenagers this way can deter others and make our roads safer. It’s a much more benign version of 1984.

Thus, the project of surveilling oneself (with the help of corporations, authorities, and the media) turns out to be voluntary, compulsory, and for the greater good. The rationalization is that if you are not doing anything (excessively) wrong, why should you mind if the government collects data that you yourself agreed to have collected by a company when you impatiently scrolled down and clicked the “I accept” button on the Terms of Service page?

Essential—but risky—everyday tools

The kind of breach that Prism constitutes goes beyond these rationalizations, however. Unfortunately, instead of taking the architects of Prism to task, what we can expect from the mainstream media is a regurgitation of news releases about which politicians and which CEOs can deny involvement in, or knowledge of, the program. Will the larger question of the legality of Prism and the responsibility of citizens to react to this increased level of surveillance remain marginal, or gain momentum as people consider whether in fact to turn against the corporations and authorities that betrayed their trust?

I think it’s more complicated than simply closing our Facebook account and putting away our Yes We Can posters.

Right now, for instance, I am writing this from Granada, Spain. While my wife participates in a critical Muslim studies workshop, I have been talking to activists in the 15M movement about their use of the Internet. Without hesitation, the few people I have talked to thus far agree that tools like Facebook and Google are essential to organizing their work and spreading their message. At the same time, the activists understand there are risks involved in using these media, and they fear new forms of repression as the government attempts to protect itself against local Arab Springs (suggested changes to the Spanish penal code would make it possible to criminalize those who organize protests using the Internet). But in spite of their use of products they know are watching them and being used to watch them, they are aware of the importance of increasing involvement and outreach through any means necessary. As one person told me: “Demonstrations are no longer enough.”

Because of this, and because digital networks can be powerful tools, the point is not to reject them but to develop a more critical and selective attitude towards them. As I argue in my open access book Off the Network, we must begin from the understanding that as digital networks increase opportunities for civic and social participation, they also increase opportunities for exploitation, surveillance, and alienation that contribute to already widening inequalities. Thus, we must figure out which digital networks to join and which ones to abandon after they have served their purpose; we must figure out when to reject a social media product and when to intensify the social possibilities it allows us to imagine, making the tool itself eventually obsolete.

This would require a more vocal and demanding consumer, a more critical Internet user, and a more engaged citizen. It might seem too much to expect from those who have been merely watching recent revolts from afar. But if under Prism everyone is treated like a subversive, perhaps more people will be radicalized into behaving like one.


Ulises A. Mejias is author of Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World and assistant professor of communication studies at the State University of New York, College at Oswego.

"This is an extraordinary book. The ‘paranodal’ critique made in Off the Network demands that we look both at the social spaces that lie between, and are ignored by, network nodes; at the material basis on top of which supposedly immaterial networks rest, and at the vertical structures of political economic power that control the apparent horizontality of networks. In doing so, Ulises Ali Mejias delivers a devastating intellectual slam against conventional thinking about the Internet from both the left and right."
—Nick Dyer-Witheford, coauthor of Games of Empire

"Off the Network shows us that centralization of online services is not accidental. Take a look behind the social media noise and read how algorithms condition us. Mejias carves out a post-affirmative theory of networks. No more debates about whether you are a dog or not. Identity is over. Power returns to the center of internet debates. Off the Network disrupts the illusion of seamless participation and sides with the resisters and rejecters. The book teaches us to unthink the network logic. His message: don’t take the network paradigm for granted."
—Geert Lovink, author of Networks Without a Cause

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pigeons. Cockroaches. Grasshoppers. Just what is a 'trash animal'?

So-called trash species—including pigeons, gulls, coyotes, carp, and cockroaches, among others—cause wonder as to why some species are admired while others are reviled.

M.A. in philosophy from Colorado State University and a graduate student of anthrozoology at Canisius College in New York

What is a ‘trash animal’?

I am often asked this question when someone discovers that I am an editor of a collection of essays with a title of the same phrase.

Long answer: The phrase "trash animal" is used to describe many animals. Fur trappers deem non-target species caught in traps as “trash animals.” Some people—even animal-loving people like birders—will call certain common or ubiquitous species like pigeons or starlings “garbage birds.” An angler may describe fish such as carp, catfish or bi-catch as “trash fish.” This phrase can apply to animals considered vermin, varmints, exotic or invasive species and may also refer to problematic, ugly, dangerous or otherwise unwanted wildlife. Seagulls, mice, coyotes, rattlesnakes, feral cats, prairie dogs, and grasshoppers, are some of these so-called “trash animals” featured in the Trash Animals collection.

Short Answer: No animals are trash.

Everyone seems to have an animal they despise above all others. My friend Alyson can’t think of one good reason for grasshoppers to exist. My mother can’t stand seeing a squirrel at her birdfeeder. There are legions of pigeon haters, coyote hunters and ophidiophobics (people who have a phobia of snakes). Most of us would be happy to never experience another mosquito sting or to see a cockroach run across a countertop. Some frustrations with animals are all too real, while other perceived conflicts are revealed as figments of imagination. But no matter how much a person loathes an animal species there is no justification to deem an animal as trash.

Trash is a human-generated category—one that does not exist in nature. Garbage, waste, rubbish, effluvia and filth are all ideas humans impose upon the natural world. What is deemed trash can change depending on the historical context, culture, or individual. Therefore, trash is highly arbitrary. Because of the highly subjective nature of the category, the phrase “trash animals” does far more to reveal human frustrations with the natural world than it does to describe actual qualities possessed by an animal. Trash usually refers to inanimate objects, from an gum wrapper to an old iPod. The phrase “trash animal” has the potential to create moral loophole of sorts—used to justify treating animals as if they are lifeless objects to be disposed of. The Trash Animals collection challenges readers to reconsider attitudes about maligned species and, ultimately, to reimagine our ethics of engagement with problematic wildlife.

Many troublesome species defy being neatly categorized by humans. Domestic animals, like cats and pigeons, forge autonomous lives in our cities and in the wilderness, complicating notions about the wild and domestic and challenge the limits humans have to control animal lives. Other animals in the collection forage on human trash or are otherwise associated with trashed landscapes. These animals challenge the nature-culture dichotomy.

This connection between animals and trash is illustrated in a startling way by a recent film about animals eating trash. “Midway: Message of the Gyre” is currently being filmed by artist Chris Jordan to document a wildlife tragedy playing out on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. 2,000 miles away from the nearest continent, albatross are dying from a startling number of plastic items in their stomachs. Jordan draws out the tragic connection between human trash and animals through photography and film. Sadly a large amount of trash has made its way into the ocean and albatross do not differentiate between bottle caps and squid, toothbrushes or fish when hunting for food. Eventually the accumulation of plastic in the birds’ bodies kills them. Jordan shows image after image of a decomposed bird’s body encircling a pile of colored plastic. While humans can differentiate between trash and habitat, many animals, like albatross, cannot. Instead of looking to our consumer habits for creating these environmental harms, we often despise animals that scavenge on trash, like seagulls, pigeons and raccoons—which often become scapegoats for human excess and pollution.

Like Jordan’s film, some of the information about human-animal relationships is troubling or disturbing. Some conflicts between humans and animals can be humanely resolved through changing human behavior combined with a better understanding of animal behavior. Other conflicts between humans and animals remain unresolved.

While frustrations with so-called trash animals remain, many of the contributors to Trash Animals find value or humor in their in relationship with rodents, insects or carp. Though Michael P. Branch hears the battle cry when he finds his daughter’s pacifier in a pack rat’s nest in the crawlspace under his house, he still searches for humane-conflict resolution with “Rat Bastard.” Jeffery Allan Lockwood discovers value in being vomited and defecated on by a large harmless grasshopper. Phillip David Johnson II finds beauty fly fishing for carp in a city municipal pond. And Carolyn Krauss tries to lure cockroaches out of her house with her favorite beer.

The essays in Trash Animals give fresh perspectives and voices to difficult questions about human relationships with some species. We may be reluctant to embrace these new stories about wildlife because many of these species remind us that we are living in a postpristine world, full of trash, polluted landscapes and invasive species. Animals that successfully inhabit new environments, alter landscapes, and disrupt ecosystems remind us, uncomfortably, of ourselves.

We can’t call an animal “trash” without implicating ourselves. Maybe we can find a kind of redemption in the idea that we always have the ability to change our attitudes toward wildlife. As Charles Bergman states in his essay for this collection, “Our relationship with animals cannot be reduced, or confined, to the comforting absolutes of a biologist’s graph. In fact, the virtue of seeing our relationships with animals, both personal and cultural, as something we can choose, as a scenario created by us rather than determined for us, is that we are not bound by what has been. This view gives us the hope of freedom and change in our relations with animals.”


Kelsi Nagy is co-editor of Trash Animals: How We Live with Nature's Filthy, Feral, Invasive, and Unwanted Species. She holds an M.A. in philosophy from Colorado State University and is a graduate student of anthrozoology at Canisius College in New York. She received a 2012 Culture and Animals Foundation grant for her research on cattle in human culture. She lives and works in Fort Collins, Colorado.

"I highly recommend Trash Animals for anyone interested in learning more about the amazing animals with whom we share space and time."
—Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Talk to the (all-star!) hand: A Vacationland supplementary.

One (likely snowy) evening this past April in Minneapolis, a group of local literati gathered at the Turf Club's Clown Lounge to celebrate the launch of Sarah Stonich's latest novel, Vacationland. Writers Carol Connolly (St. Paul's Poet Laureate), Peter Geye, Marty Kihn, Danny Klecko, Pamela Klinger-Horn, Kathryn Kysar, and Andy Sturdevant joined in the good cheer and read (or interpreted, in some cases) select passages from Sarah's book. We've put together a brief video with clips from the festive meeting, complete with a track from "The TackyNites." We hope you will enjoy.

As a supplement to the trailer's release, author Sarah Stonich has provided a character exploration of a mysterious, silent figure in the novel that those who know Vacationland will immediately recognize and interested readers will be intrigued by. This figure appears in the opening chapter of the book, so there are minimal spoilers here for those who haven't read it yet.

Best-selling author of These Granite Islands and founder of


You might say I had a hand in it. I mean the story. I was in it. Then out of it. Then back in.

Up this way folks don’t much presume to know what’s in the head or heart of the guy on the next stool, but I will tell you this with one hundred perfreakingcent certainty: if you are in possession of a pair of hands at the ends of your arms and they are in good working order, you’re taking them for granted. One minute I was working on a run of aromatic cedar bead-board for closets in a McMansion cabin and the next instant I’m zooming out the double doors and over the dumpster past the deer fence. Sheriff Janko was right, those bandsaws pack some torque. Make a nice clean cut, too.

The snow had started falling around lunchtime and it was a payday-Friday at the mill so everybody was a little rushed already, then very rushed looking first for something to jerry-rig into a tourniquet, then for me.

The dog in this story, which I had petted a week before the accident, is the granddaughter of a wolf paired with a malamute. Most of the snarl bred out, but still with a wolf-lanky set of haunches on her. Probably you’ve never wondered what it’s like to travel a mile in a snowstorm in the jaws of a wolf mix? Imagine a Lincoln Town Car as the Labrador retriever of conveying prey – bred as they are for delivering fowl intact with not a feather ruffled. Now think of a Jeep with a cracked axle and bad shocks.

So, over the river to the kitchen at Naledi, where I’m dropped to the linoleum as an offering for Meg, the painter who keeps leaving and coming back. I’d heard the husband was a real stick but he seemed hospitable enough – gave me a bowl of ice and slid me into the fridge next to a jar of fancy jam. When the door is shut, in case you didn’t know, the light really does go out.

Ever sit for a portrait? At first it’s weird being stared at, especially when you are freaking someone out just for being a disembodied appendage. After a while Meg breathed easier and just stared, like I was only an object, a shape. Posing in front of a painter’s gaze will make you very aware of the outline you fill. At one point she got pretty into it and even twined her fingers with mine and drew that view – which is probably when she realized there was life in me yet.

The ride in the cooler on the snowmobile was just a muffled buzz, and things only got dimmer during the flight in the chopper (low as I was on essential fluids, i.e., blood). Landing at St. Sebastian’s Medical got sort of exciting – so much attention, and I did look forward to hooking up with my old wrist. But an eleven-hour surgery and a long hospital stay I cannot recommend. Six weeks trussed up like a cotton burrito with only fingertips getting any air and the occasional prick from nurses or the vascular surgeon watching for twitches.

While still in the hospital I was handed the OSHA report stating the safety on the band saw was faulty. I knew then we could make a stink in court and be rich, but maybe also bankrupt an employer I had no complaint with. That day at the mill I was fifty percent hasty and they were fifty percent negligent, so splitting the difference seemed fair. Many jokes about a severance package later we settled. Misfortune provided down payment for the original Lefty’s, the building, all the fixtures and stock. The rest was work. There are sixteen shops now and we have our own fly-tying supply line, still-water lures made here in Minnesota and the motto Bait Locally.

I could say I’ve "touched" lives, had my "fingerprints" on a few things, but will keep the uncle humor to a minimum. As for my handprint on our little corner of Vacationland, I’ve cast many a line over these waters, knotty-pined my share of cabin kitchens and hoisted many a twelve-pack counterward at Walt’s.
Next page you turn in Vacationland? Think about the ease of your fingers just doing it automatically, without your even thinking.

And thank Dog.


Sarah Stonich is author, most recently, of Vacationland, and the best-selling author of These Granite Islands, translated into seven languages and shortlisted for France’s Gran Prix de Lectrices de Elle. The founder of, she lives in Minneapolis and spends summers in northeastern Minnesota.

"Vacationland showcases Sarah Stonich's incredible talent and ability to insert humor and startling details into the narrative without disrupting the story. In her capable hands Vacationland becomes a destination you'll want to visit again and again."
—Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang

"A deeply mined narrative of place and people, elegiac yet life-affirming."
—Kirkus Reviews

"For fans of Richard Russo and Margaret Atwood, this is a brilliantly engaging novel, focusing on the power of memory, new discoveries, and shared experiences. A triumph."
—Booklist, starred review