"The Incredible Truth About Minneapolis"


A version of this was originally published, and is incredibly still accessible at epinions.com. Thanks to a link at the perpetually popular “Belgium Doesn’t Exist!” page, I will be required to keep this in a prominent location at every version of my blog until the Internet burns itself out (which should be in the next six months or so – but that’s ANOTHER story). I just did a long-overdue rewrite, so I’ll put it here up front instead of back in the archive.

For those of you who are considering to include Minneapolis, Minnesota in your future “See America” plans, there is something you need to know. But let me first explain how I came to learn it.

It started when I attended a 1998 event at Hollywood’s Museum of Broadcasting saluting “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. The emcee, Gavin McLeod, announced that all of the show’s original writers were present “except for Allen Burns, who, as you probably know, is so busy with the Minneapolis Project.” There was a scattering of applause, and I, puzzled, asked the sunglasses-wearing-indoors person next to me what the writer/producer was doing in Minneapolis.
“No, man, he’s not doing anything IN Minneapolis, he is DOING Minneapolis.”
And he went on to explain that the metropolitan area of Minneapolis/St. Paul was the totally fictional creation of Hollywood writers, devised to provide a location for the popular ’70s sitcom.
“Now wait a minute, I know there was a Minneapolis before that. Didn’t the Lakers basketball team start there?”
“Yeah, that’s where the name Minneapolis got started. It was some deal between the NBA and Hubert Humphrey Sr. to avoid admitting that the state didn’t have a single city with a population larger than 20,000. The MTM Show people picked up on that, and, of course, and hired Allen Burns to the writing staff because of his prior experience.”
“What ‘prior experience’?”
“When he wrote for the Bullwinkle cartoons, he invented the town of Frostbite Falls.”
“But what about St. Paul, the other ‘Twin City’?”
“The way I heard it, there was some early disagreement with the Governor or some other state officials over what to name it. Adding St. Paul was part of a compromise and it actually helped keep up the deception by adding some confusion… you know, ‘I couldn’t find this place in Minneapolis’… ‘Oh, that’s because it was in St. Paul’…”
My mind was reeling as he went on to explain how, after the Mary Tyler Moore show ended, Burns was recruited by the State of Minnesota to manage the project – to “produce” the city. One of his biggest contributions was the “hometown entertainers initiative” which gave support to performers – actors, musicians, comedians – if they’d claim to be from Minneapolis.
“I mean, think about it, do you really think a character like Prince could have come from anywhere in the Midwest?”
“Yeah, that one’s a stretch, but what about Garrison Keillor?”
“Oh, now that was genius. A perfect example of what magicians call misdirection. Everybody thinks Lake Wobegon is a fictional town…”
“It’s real?”
“Yep, apparently just before the 1980 census, the state house passed a law re-allocating a percentage of the population in all the towns to go toward Minneapolis. Trouble was, a few of them lost enough numbers to fall off the map. Keillor picked one with a good name, and the rest is media hype history.”
“But his Prairie Home radio show…”
“Done in New York City from day one. He’s renting the Ed Sullivan theater from Letterman on weekends.”
“Well, what about the Mall of America?”
“Oh, that’s for real, it kind of ended up getting built as a substitute for an urban infrastructure. And it’s another great bit of misdirection. I mean, after you’ve been in that massive shopping complex for a few hours, you usually just forget whether you’ve seen anything like a regular city.”
He left me with a cryptic warning: “This is Hollywood, the place that makes things come true that really aren’t. Things like Minneapolis where the reality is an ‘open secret’ that you don’t spread around. And it’s certainly not the only one. I probably shouldn’t have told you this much, but you look like you’d understand. You do understand don’t you?”

I understood. The story was unbelievable, but I later realized that I personally knew several people who had moved to California from rural Minnesota, but nobody from Minneapolis. Either it’s such a great place to live nobody ever moves away, or it really doesn’t exist! I assumed the latter and went on with my life.

A couple years later I stumbled upon an office for “The City of Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce” in a North Hollywood strip mall, next to a “99-Cents Only Store”. The only worker there at the time was a middle-aged man with a noticeable “upper Mid-West/Canadian border” accent who didn’t want to speak on the record, but said that they had no reason to hide anything and nothing to deny. He did admit that they were still having problems caused by the 1980 population reallocation.
“What kind of problems?” I asked.
“Well, somehow, it got Jesse Ventura elected governor.”
I decided to let him get back to work, but as I headed for the door he said “”Hey, at least we’re doing better than the Arkansas Project.”
The Arkansas Project? Sure enough, another office in the same building was labeled “Arkansas Tourism Board”. I decided I really didn’t want to know.

UPDATE: The August 2007 collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge nearly resulted in the public exposure of the Minneapolis deception. It was one of several “local landmarks” that had been built as facades by Hollywood setmakers, but had come into actual use by local residents. It fell when, for the first time, more than seven vehicles tried to use it at the same time. Minneapolis Project employees posing as “local officials” managed the press, hastily inflating the casualty count while actors were bused in to portray most of the 100+ injured; as for the 13 deaths reported, I’ve heard that all of the highway fatalities for the state for a three-day period were ‘re-allocated’ to the bridge disaster, which adds a rather macabre aspect to the ongoing charade. As it worked out, the disaster helped reinforce the public perception that Minneapolis is really a city.

I have also learned more about the “Arkansas Project” than I’m willing to report right now. But let me just say that it really helped me to understand the political careers of both Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee.

2 Comments (so far) about

"The Incredible Truth About Minneapolis"

  1. by Wendell.Me. Says:

    […] The Incredible Truth About Minneapolis […]

  2. samsamsonsoy Says:

    This is a prime example of why Google needs to section off sites into categories in the search engines. This site should be located in the entertainment/comedy/humor sections and not be found in a search for facts.
    This is a funny site! However to the blatantly ignorant it does detract from research sites. They sometimes can’t distinguish fact from fiction. But I read the whole page because it was funny .

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