History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Grasshoppers were a scourge locally and all around

The Rocky Mountain locust, no welcome visitor in the 1870s.
(Warning: This post could drive you buggy!)

The St. Urho's story has been crafted for the sake of levity. I know, true "adherents" will wrinkle up their forehead and act like they're taking offense at such a thought. Really they're irritating the people who cherish St. Patrick's Day.
St. Urho's Day is placed on the calendar just before St. Patrick's. The story or "legend" is similar. But instead of snakes as the nemesis, it's grasshoppers! Grasshoppers were supposedly threatening the grape crop in Finland. (Is there a grape crop in Finland?) St. Urho with his incantations saved all.
This story has been passed down after first being discovered carved on the thigh bone of a prehistoric bear, so we're told. I'll laugh regardless of how "adherents" might react. We're lucky such a story exists for mere levity today. For there was a time when the insect was more than a mere nuisance.
Pioneers in the Midwest could fear grasshoppers as much as any natural disaster. The annals of Morris history tell us as much. Grasshoppers would "come down just like rain," according to an eighth grade lass in 1903 who spoke at Morris Congregational Church. The church no longer exists. It was across the street from the Carnegie Library (now the museum) in west Morris. The Morris newspaper published Emma's presentation in June of 1903. She actually shared a great deal about old times when Morris was truly fledgling.
"The lakes around here now are not half so numerous or large as they were before," she said.
I was surprised to read there was a time when Lake Crystal was connected to Pomme de Terre River. The lake "abounded in different kinds of fish," Emma said. There were wild buffalo here! They roamed on the east side of the river. Elk, deer and lynx joined in the wild and pristine panorama. We could spot large eagles nests aloft in the largest trees along the lakeshore, according to Emma's account.
Lake Crystal is still known to attract "our national symbol." I was called there by Irene Henjum to photograph one such nest once. (I was active in the print media at the time.)
Wildlife is more of a novelty now like when that black bear came to town. No elk anymore. Domesticated buffalo can be seen as you approach Glenwood. We have nature pretty well harnessed and under control today.
We hear stories of the travail faced in the early times. I'm not sure the various menaces like blizzards were actually worse, for the most part. Settlers just had limited means to adapt. There is one particular menace that was worse: grasshoppers. A farmer might be feeling wholly content one day about the state of his crops. But as Emma explained, "the grasshoppers often destroyed all and left the poor farmers with saddened hearts. (The grasshoppers) would come down just like rain and so many of them would get on one stalk of corn that it would bend clear over to the ground."
The menace ate everything that was green. In an eerie sort of way they "made a very pretty picture," Emma said, "as they descended down from the sky. They resembled large snowflakes, as their large white wings were the only part of them to be seen."
One such spectacle happened here in August of 1876. The 'hoppers appeared out of the north and northwest. They proceeded as if a cloud. The wheat was very ripe and not susceptible to much damage. Not so with barley and oats that largely succumbed to the scourge.
The grasshopper spectacle of 1876 was actually far-ranging. It was in June when this "plague" of sorts arrived at Cold Spring. Ethelyn Pearson wrote about this in her book "It Really Happened Here!" She's the mother of retired Morris High industrial arts teacher Larry Pearson. In her research, Ethelyn learned that "a haze that became a dark cloud obscured the sun."
I wonder if my old friend Greg Cruze of Cold Spring has ever heard this history.
The onslaught of grasshoppers gave the impression of a cloud, so countless they were. They weren't even standard 'hoppers, rather they were "huge, ugly things with fat bodies three inches long," Ethelyn wrote. They ravaged "everything edible in sight plus some items never meant for food." They actually weren't native to these parts, rather they were Rocky Mountain locusts often referred to as "choppers." The tender stalks of young wheat were no match for them. Pastures, gardens and tree leaves were consumed in short order. Clothing on clotheslines were targeted. Settlers reported they could actually hear the jaws of this menace working.
Historical records showed that "choppers" had invaded before in four separate instances.
In 1876, when Morris was five years old as a city, the magnitude was especially great. Farmers tried using sheets of tin covered with tar to combat. Burning? Not enough vegetation was even left to burn. Nets were fashioned at the end of long sticks. Man's efforts vs. nature's wrath were largely futile. Burning oil was applied. The Stearns County board voted to offer bounties for the choppers "and their smeary yellow eggs that covered every available surface," Ethelyn wrote. Bounties were paid "by the bushel!"
If all else were to fail, winter would come along and settle matters. It wasn't man's efforts that eradicated the "choppers" and their wrath, it was God's way with seasons of the year. The harshness of winter brought no complaint as 1876 gave way to 1877. Farmers' spirits were lifted anew, albeit with a sense of limitations. The settlers sought to be undaunted - an inherent trait of theirs. 
New wheat was put in the ground. Alas, that undaunted spirit was to be tested again. "Sinking hearts" became the rule, Ethelyn reported, as again the winged things arrived in multitudes. She wrote "farmers stood in groups of three or four on the corners in Cold Spring and neighboring towns, a story of gloom and despair written on haggard faces."
I'm reminded of the original "War of the Worlds" movie. The menace of the invading Martians seemed eerily similar. Man's efforts couldn't extinguish the menace. We retreated to churches as our last flickers of hope were nurtured with rubble all around. Churches meant prayer. It meant we exhausted all other options.
Governor John Pillsbury designated April 26, 1877, for prayer and fasting. The people around Cold Spring were Catholic. They pleaded to "Mother of God" and pledged to build a chapel to offer up prayers of thanksgiving, "if only their terrible lot could find some relief," Ethelyn wrote.
A small chapel made of timber was built on a hill at the edge of town. It included a statue of the Blessed Mother and Child at an altar. A tornado came along in 1893 and destroyed the structure although the statue was salvaged. The statue was put in storage.
It wasn't until 1952 that inspiration grew for rebuilding the chapel. Catholic officials led the efforts: Bishop Peter Bartholome of St. Cloud and The Reverend Victor Bonellenfitsch of Cold Spring.
Construction proceeded on the original footing. The structure is made of durable granite, a product available in abundance around St. Cloud. The Blessed Mother and Child are there. People visit who want to engage in meditation and prayer.
It's called Assumption Chapel. Each summer the bishop presents a solemn pontifical mass to the Blessed Virgin there.
Are the prayers heard? It would appear that just like in "War of the Worlds," a sweeping hand of relief came on the scene. The Martians were done in by bacteria. In the case of Cold Spring's travails in the 19th Century, we learn that on August 15, 1877, four months after the chapel was built, "for some mysterious reason, those winged emissaries of the devil arose as one into the sky and flew back from whence they came," Ethelyn wrote. "Not once in the intervening hundred years have the choppers returned."
It wasn't St. Urho coming on the scene. Let's celebrate St. Urho's Day with its levity, thankful the grasshopper plagues of the past are left in history books. Those locusts can stay in the Rockies.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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