Tuesday, November 28, 2000
Washington A few months ago Garrison Keillor went looking for Lake Wobegon, the fictional village he created. And he found it ï¿½ sort of. Right where he left it.
The Minnesota Public Radio storyteller reports on his search in the December issue of National Geographic magazine.
For years, Keillor says, people have asked the location of the village where his weekly stories are set, and seem disappointed when he tells them it is fictional.
Lake Wobegon is based on Keillor's memories of living in Stearns County, in central Minnesota.
When the county designated a bike path Lake Wobegon Trail, Keillor writes, "I decided I had better spend a few days driving around the area, to see if it was there or not."
"The eastern approach to Lake Wobegon is Division Street, St. Cloud, a four-mile strip of free enterprise in full riot," Keillor reports.
But, "Holdingford (pop. 638) is the town that looks most Wobegonic to me," Keillor adds. "It has a fine little downtown of elderly brick buildings."
Keillor visited New Munich's dramatic brick church and was overwhelmed by the "high columns with figured capitals, the rose windows in the transepts, the lovely statues with the compassionate faces."
He admits that he had tried to base Lake Wobegon's Catholic church, Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, on the one in New Munich. But, returning there, "I could see I didn't get the baroque feel at all. ... If I'd put it in Lake Wobegon nobody would have believed it."
In Freeport, "I saw a man walk out of the post office who reminded me of Florian Krebsbach (Lake Wobegon's Chevrolet dealer), a man a brown porkpie hat and pale blue polyester suit and green plaid shirt with a string tie with an agate clasp and wearing white shoes."
The Sidetrak Tap in Lake Wobegon was modeled after Freeport's Pioneer Inn, Keillor reports, "a gloomy smoke-filled sour-smelling tavern, cluttered with neon beer signs and deer heads and mottoes (Don't Sleep in Our Bar, We Don't Drink in Your Bed), except the Pioneer Inn has been cleaned up and remodeled and the sourness expunged."
And it was in the Pioneer Inn that Keillor found Lake Wobegon.
For it was there, he recalls, that he often sat at the end of the bar listening to the locals.
"As I sat in the Pioneer Inn and recalled the years I spent in Stearns County, it dawned on me where Lake Wobegon had come from. All those omniscient narrator stories about small-town people came from a guy sitting at the end of a bar, drinking a beer, who didn't know anything about anything going on around him."