Land of 10,000 "Capitals"

1:32 AM, May 20, 2008   |    comments
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Do you know another "capital"? Email us: The bakery at 200 South First Street sits in neither Saint Paul nor Washington D.C., but it is in a capital city. "The Kolacke Capital," points out Jule Franke, who married into the family business started by her father-in-law in Montgomery in 1914. "These are kolacke that were baked this morning," says Jule as she takes the wraps off a large tray of the fruit-filled pastry, among the 50 dozen kolackes baked by Franke's Bakery each day. "We have a lot of Czech people around here who were brought up with it, " she said. Never mind that the recipe came from Europe. Montgomery has claimed the title "Kolacke Capital" of the whole world. Montgomery is hardly alone. For a humble people, Minnesotans spare neither pride nor fiberglass when it comes to stoking the flames of community pride. "Over 50 feet tall," says Nancy Standfuss, executive director of the Olivia Chamber of Commerce about the giant molded ear of corn that sits atop a gazebo along State Highway 212. "We are the Corn Capital of the World," she proudly states. Olivia figures its many seed corn companies entitle it to capital city status. "You don't call it the corn cob," says Nancy about the town's most prominent landmark. "You call it the ear of corn monument." We like our roadside monuments in Minnesota. But Baudette went a step beyond its fiberglass fish last year when it trademarked one of the state's most coveted titles, the "Walleye Capital of the World." Worthington settled things differently after discovering competition for its title, "Turkey Capital of the World." It now competes with Cuero, Texas in an annual Turkey race (one heat run in Worthington, the other in Cuero) to decide which city can rightfully call itself "Turkey Capital" for the next year. The pace of the competition isn't nearly so frantic in Longville where a series of summer events have prompted the city to badge itself, "Turtle Racing Capital of the World." Moose Lake has its own summer festival, in which several buckets of Lake Superior agates are mixed into a truck load of gravel and dumped down the city's main drag. It's the kind of scavenger hunt you'd expect in the, "Agate Capital of the World." Anoka started its annual Halloween celebration in the 1920s as a diversion for young people who might be inclined to soap a window or tip over outhouses. The celebrating continues to this day in the, "Halloween Capital of the World." Dorset wasn't about to be left out. Folks there figured four eating establishments in a town of two dozen people should qualify for something, so it cooked up, "Restaurant Capital of the World." Bemidji set its sights a tad lower, geographically speaking, in declaring itself, "Curling Capital of the United States." Several other cities are content simply claiming capital status in the state. Thus, Rothsay calls itself the "Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota." Caledonia is, the "Wild Turkey Capital of Minnesota." And Franklin is, the "Catfish Capital of the Minnesota," as noted in bold letters on the city's water tower. The state legislature named La Crescent, "Apple Capital of Minnesota." Former Governor Rudy Perpich proclaimed Braham as the state's, "Homemade Pie Capital." With 800 turbines dotting the landscape, Lake Benton has taken to calling itself, the "Original Wind Power Capital of the Midwest." It's to the point you could put a hole in the ground and some town is going to try to make something out of it. "Welcome to Fountain," greets assistant city clerk Sharon Speer. Yes, it's the "Sink Hole Capital of the World." The southeastern Minnesota community has claimed the sinkhole title since 1991. "No one's contested it," says Speer. Her husband Stan, Fountain's city clerk, estimates there are, at least 500-600 sinkholes in the surrounding area. "It's starting to get more recognized all the time," he said. For tourists, Fountain offers a picnic table and charcoal grill near the rim of one sink hole, while another sports a wooden viewing platform for a close up look the hole. And what do visitors make of it? Sharon laughs, "They just jump up and down." Turns out civic boosterism flows across state lines to western Wisconsin too, where Ellsworth is the state designated, "Cheese Curd Capital." Elmwood, WI continues to milk a series of 30-year-old sightings, as "UFO Capital of the World." And Barron, WI takes a page from Worthington and Cuero, proclaiming itself, "Turkey Capital of Wisconsin." Why do we do it? "I think it's taking a pride in the area you live in," says Olivia's Standfuss. "It makes a trademark for the special place that you call home." Which means in Minnesota a "Lutefisk Capital of the World" was probably inevitable. Others have vied for the title over the years, but these days it belongs to Madison, which heralds its status with a giant fiberglass cod at the edge of town. And if Madison is the lutefisk capital, Jerry Osteraas is most certainly its king. "Jerry is definitely a legend in this part of the country," says Maynard Meyer, who runs the local radio station. Known for his insatiable appetite, Jerry has downed more than eight pounds of the lye-soaked cod a single sitting. "Nobody could keep up," he says between bites of the gelatinous goo. Jerry has been crowned Madison's lutefisk eating champion 17 times. It would have been 18, if Jerry hadn't succumbed to contest's "retainage" rule. "(Which) means you have to keep it down at least a minute," explains Maynard. "The only thing about it, is it looks the same either way." In The "Land of 10,000 stories," Madison may have earned its title more honestly than most. For any man to eat eight pounds of Lutefisk should be a capital offense. Click here for more KARE 11 News Extras
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By Boyd Huppert, KARE 11 News

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