Sunday, May 14, 2006

Friday, May 12, 2006

He Drove the Grasshoppers Out of Finland . . .

Menahga, Minnesota honors St. Urho (Pronounced "oorlho"), the patron saint of Finland, with a bizarre statue recreating his mythical battle with giant grasshoppers. He is reputed to have used his "splendid and loud voice" to chase the grasshoppers out of pre-Ice Age Finland (when the climate was much milder) and save the grape harvest. The Finns love him.
At least, the ones in America do. St. Urho was reportedly invented in the 1950s by a couple of Minnesota Finns as a joke. Today it's taken seriously enough that St. Urho Day (the day before St. Patrick's Day) is officially recognized in all 50 states.
St. Urho was originally supposed to be carved out of a one-ton block of laminated oak in 1975, but a Minneapolis woodcarver took Menahga's money and never delivered. In 1982 Menahga gave the block to Jerry Ward, a traveling chainsaw sculptor, and he finally produced their 12-ft tall St. Urho. Oddly, the statue now standing along Hwy. 71 is a fiberglass replica; the original is stored in a mausoleum in the Menahga cemetery.
We do not recommend the traditional summer night visit. The statue is the only well-lit milestone along thirty miles of highway, and the air is thick with mosquitoes. We ask: who is Menahga's patron saint, who will drive all the blood sucking bugs out of Minnesota?
One St. Urho statue is not enough. There's another in Finland, MN, along Highway 1. It's an "interpretive" Urho, very much like an arty Peter Toth Indian head, carved by the late Don Osborn in 1982. It was originally planned to be 30 feet tall, but the wood was rotten, so its 18 feet will have to do. Urho has a grasshopper on his hat, no body, and he's poorly positioned facing north, assuring mediocre photos in all seasons. Actually, we preferred the statue across the street -- a 10 foot long chainsaw sculpture of a fish holding a beer keg.
Finland hosts a St. Urho's Day Celebration in mid-March.