Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Feeling "Chipper" about Ancestral Sleuthing Finds

My parents and I spent the day in Crookston, the northwestern Minnesota town that was home to my great-grandparents a century ago.  Here are some things I learned:

1. The best color shirt to wear on a road trip to Crookston is green.  G. Oliver clearly didn't get the memo.

Dad, G. Oliver and me before the 3 1/2-hour drive from Alexandria to Crookston.

2.  Chocolate-covered potato chips ("Chippers") are delicious, and you can get them dipped in milk, dark or white chocolate at Widman's Candy Shop in downtown Crookston.

Mom with a milk chocolate "Chipper" from Widman's Candy Shop.

3. There are many reasons Widman's has been in business since the early 1900s, when G. Oliver lived in Crookston.  One reason: see No. 2.

George Widman, who owns and operates the candy store his grandfather George started in 1911.

4. If you meet a Widman in a candy store in Grand Forks, odds are good that his name also is George.

5. If you are pleasant and look trustworthy, Polk County Historical Society employees will let you borrow a huge framed photo and take it to the downtown photo shop to make a copy.

 This is a photo of the 1917 Crookston Juvenile Band.  Director G. Oliver Riggs is in the center, with son Ron on his left and son Percy on his right.  We hadn't known this photo existed until today.

6.  If you forget to look up during your visit, you could miss another photo that's hanging on the wall right above your head.

The Crookston Band in 1902.  Director G. Oliver Riggs is on the far right.

7. Searching for gravestones in a cemetery can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Except you can call the cemetery manager at home and he will talk you through the directions you need to follow to find your ancestors.  I don't think he can help you with that needle.

G. Oliver Riggs, Pioneer Minn. Bandmaster, Nov. 26, 1870-Jan. 25, 1946

Islea Graham Riggs, loyal wife of G. Oliver Riggs, Dec. 23-1874-Apr. 4, 1942

8. Most people in Crookston are friendly and helpful (See No. 7).

9.  If you go to the Irishman's Shanty and order a half-rack of barbecued ribs from the "lighter fare" section of the menu, you will be too full to finish it.  And you be too full to stop at the Dairy Queen later.

10. You can see an evening movie at the Grand Theatre, the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the country, for $4.50 per person.  They don't have a special price for former city band directors or cardboard cutouts.

G. Oliver and me in front of the Grand Theater, which opened in 1910.  G. Oliver lived in Crookston from 1898-1909 and again from 1914-1919. 

I look forward to another day of adventures: a walking tour of historic downtown Crookston, then on to Grand Forks!


  1. I really enjoyed this blog post! A fun format to share the finds from your adventure. I get a kick out of Islea's epitaph - "A Devoted Mother - A Useful Musician." I find it interesting that Islea's stone has more information on it that G. Oliver's. It brings up all sorts of questions for me - gravestones hold mysteries.

  2. Sounds like a fabulous trip!

  3. I love this!! Love Islea's tombstone "Devoted Mother - A USEFUL Musician!" That is great! Thank you for doing all of this Joy, Bill, and Anne! PRICELESS!!