Adventure awaits. For those at a loss of interesting things to see and do, or those who’d love to entertain out-of-town guests through nature, art, science, history and innovation, one local writer wants to help you experience a bit of the unexpected right here in the metro. Julie Jo Severson has written Secret Twin Cities: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
The book unlocks some of the most intriguing, entertaining and arcane attractions that will definitely broaden your knowledge of local trivia. For example, do you know in which building a notorious gangster was once chained to a radiator? Or where there is a park hidden 120 feet below street level? Reedy Press sought a local writer to compile such a guide and now you have another great gift idea heading into the holiday season.
Severson has a B.A. in English and Communications from College of St. Benedict where she was heavily involved with the campus newspaper. She says, “That extracurricular experience had a huge impact on my career after graduation. Every job since, whether in-house or freelance, has been somehow related to journalism and storytelling.”
So, when the publisher reached out to Julie Burton, founder of Modernwell, a local co-working, writing and wellness studio in Minneapolis where Severson had been participating in the writing studio, Burton recommended Severson for the project. “Julie knows my skill set, interests and deep Minnesota roots enough to know this would be a project I’d pour myself into,” Severson says.
Her research took her all over. She says, “I picked the brains of everyone and anyone, from neighbors and old college friends to archivists and bartenders. I devoured local books and websites and neighborhood newsletters and old clippings and information signs. And most importantly, I got out and about and rediscovered my hometown.”
As for the style of this particular reference guide, Severson says, “Right away, I decided that I wanted Secret Twin Cities to be not only a fun, quirky guidebook but also a keepsake that makes for an entertaining armchair read loaded with rich, relevant backstories and deep local ties. That was my compass as I made decisions about what to include.” She says the hardest part was trying to determine what most other people already knew. “My biggest fear was to have readers saying, ‘Oh, pffft, I already knew all this.’ I’m happy to report that so far, I’ve haven’t heard anybody say that.”
The book was released in mid-March which unintentionally made it a great resource for outdoor social distancing types of outings. But now that temperatures are dipping, it gets trickier for Severson to make recommendations for indoor locations because news about re-openings have been frequently changing, and so her current recommendations error on the side of caution.
The Blue Rhino Studio is the place where each hair was painstakingly glued onto Woolly Mammoth, now part of the Ice Age diorama at Bell Museum.
—excerpt from Secret Twin Cities: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
“The Bell Museum on the [University of Minnesota] campus has taken a very measured approach to re-opening safely and with advanced reservations,” says Severson.
Frankenstein Laboratory at Bakken Museum
She says, “the Bakken Museum located inside the West Winds mansion on Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun) is another cultural gem. They are in the midst of some renovations but are back open on a limited basis. I really enjoyed the Mary and Her Monster exhibit where you learn about what inspired Mary Shelley, the fascinating author of the novel Frankenstein."
Jim Lawrence feeding the swans in his backyard at Swan Park in Monticello.
If you’re not comfortable going inside, early December through early March is the perfect time to head northwest a little bit to Monticello and visit Swan Park.
For more information about the book, go to secrettwincities.com.