My husband and I took a day trip on our motorcycles last weekend. We had planned to visit Darwin, MN and check out the “biggest ball of twine”up close and personal. We’ve actually been there before but the shop wasn’t open the last time and we didn’t get to truly have the whole twine experience.
To be completely accurate, Darwin’s ball of twine is no longer the biggest, but they still boast that it is “the world’s largest twine ball rolled by one man.” Apparently other states have towns with giant balls of twine as well, but those copycat balls were team efforts and don’t even come close in comparison to Darwin’s wonder ball.
Francis Johnson, creator of the giant twine ball, kept it rolling for twenty-nine years. No one seems to know why he started, or better yet, why he continued rolling and rolling for four hours a day. Was there no Wal-mart nearby where he could get a part-time job as a greeter?
Anyway, we rode our bikes all the way to Darwin and lo and behold, they were having The Twine Ball Day festival. A parade was forming and people were gathering faster than… twine on a ball. We saw girls wearing balls of twine on their heads. Standing together they looked like a cluster of planets in a galaxy far far away.
We left the crowds of Darwin and stopped in the next town down the road. The town of Dassel truly has something to boast about. Even better than a giant twine ball. The Universal Laboratories Museum – Ergot, is off the beaten path, but definitely worth driving those few blocks to the North end of town in order to check it out.
You probably have no idea what Ergot is. I certainly didn’t.
The nice lady at the museum, a retired teacher and enthusiastic tour guide, took us through the building and explained that Ergot is a fungus that grows on grains. Apparently it’s been around forever and has been suggested as one strange explanation for the Salem Witch trials. When consumed, this fungus is similar to LSD and causes hallucinations, among other things – such as death.
But the most interesting thing for me was why this laboratory opened during WWII. Infected grain was gathered from farms in Minnesota and the surrounding states and brought to Dassel. Women, whose men were off fighting, found work at this same laboratory, manually picking contaminated seeds from Rye. This fungus, so deadly in its natural form, was sent to pharmaceutical companies and turned into life saving drugs, among them a blood-clotting agent, saving soldiers from bleeding to death on the battlefield.
Small town history can be a powerful thing. Darwin boasts about a guy who spent the better part of his life wrapping twine into a ball. Did I mention that he was the son of a Democrat Senator? Dassel boasts about drugs that saved lives, through the shenanigans of a horrible capitalistic company.
From this experience, I realized that as you travel further and further along a Minnesota highway you can quite literally see the evolution of man. Of course that depends on what direction you’re headed…