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An afternoon in La Crosse


Sun, Sep 10th, 2000
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Monday, September 4, 2000

We were wandering around downtown historic La Crosse last weekend, which, I couldn’t help but notice, in places, looks a bit like downtown historic Lanesboro. The secret is out, if you want your town to be economically viable in the 21st century, you’ve got to restore it to its 19th century appearance. Although in La Crosse, we were able to easily find a parking space and we didn’t get run over by any errant bicyclists.

We’d come to the river city to research further into the life and legends of Dr. Frank David Powell, who you’ll remember, if you’ve been reading your Journal, preferred to go by his Indian moniker, White Beaver.

In 1881, White Beaver pulled up stakes in Lanesboro and moved his medical office to La Crosse where he performed surgeries of all kinds, sold his own concocted snake-oil potions and for four terms served as the city’s mayor. In his spare time he performed as a sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

On 2nd Street and Main, we walked into the historic Powell Building, which has been tastefully renovated and houses a few little shopping boutiques, the kind that I usually stay out of, as well as a restaurant called, aptly enough, Doc Powell’s.

Doc Powell’s logo is not, as one would expect, of the flamboyant and long haired White Beaver, but rather a cartoon sketch of a dude who bears an uncanny resemblance to the lantern-jawed late night comedian Jay Leno.

On their Web site, Doc Powell’s says that they are "affordable, reasonable" and a great place for "quality casual dining", and after the tasty tuna steak sandwich that I ate there, I certainly am not going to argue.

Doc Powell’s also advertises its adjoining brew pub as an "alternative to noisy sports bars", which downtown La Crosse, with its rabid Packer fans and unleashed college student drinkers, is notorious for. And true to its word, the brew pub and the restaurant section, where we were seated, were both as quiet as a library on a Saturday night, except, that is, for the noises that started coming from our infant son, Alex.

For almost ten months now, Alex has been the epitome of the good-natured and mild-mannered baby. Everyday, we’ve marveled at the smiling and graceful way that he’s taken to the world. Strangers have even stopped us on the sidewalks and skyways of downtown Minneapolis to dote on our boy. I’m only bragging a little and not exaggerating at all when I say that he’s got a sparkling glow about him that could melt a curmudgeon’s crusty heart.

"Look!" one otherwise grumpy old codger said, with heartfelt affection and awe on Nicollet Mall, a couple weeks ago. "That baby looks just like Winston Churchill!"

"I believe you’re right," I proudly replied.

But all this came to a screeching (literally) halt about the time we were seated in a booth at Doc’s last Saturday. It was at that moment, that our angelic little boy exhibited the first signs of behavior indicating that he had entered the developmental phase, known by pediatric psychologists everywhere, as the "baby from hell" stage.

He did settle down a bit when the waitress brought him a nutritious and calming bowl of chocolate ice cream and a few packs of saltine crackers. And because the place was deserted except for one table of business attired gentlemen, who were quietly talking about what a great president George W. was going to make, we didn’t feel like we were imposing too much on the public at large.

Later, we strolled down the block to a jewelry and antique store called Satori Arts, where I had been told there was a large collection of White Beaver memorabilia on display. But the White Beaver collection had been packed up by owner John Satori and taken to Madison that very afternoon, where Mr. Satori hoped to get it appraised by one of the antique experts of the PBS hit program, Antiques Road Show.

Bad luck and timing for us, but just think, if Mr. Satori and his White Beaver collection pass muster with the keen eyed and oh so savvy appraisers and actually make it onto the final aired version of Antiques Road Show, White Beaver might just end up becoming a household name across the entire nation

It’s a long shot, I know, but for my money White Beaver was every bit as interesting and complex a person, as his buddy, Buffalo Bill Cody ever was. It’s time he got a bit of recognition, besides the three weeks’ worth that I’ve given him here in the Journal – something, say, on the national level.

So until next time -- Long live the memory of White Beaver!

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