"THERE's a land that I heard of," so goes a line of a song. "And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true," says another line.
Of course, you probably heard the song before. The title: "Over the Rainbow." Although it is very popular, not too many Filipinos know that it was Judy Garland (the mother of Oscar-winning Liza Minnelli) who sang the original song. It was featured in the film classic, The Wizard of Oz.
And the truth is -- my dream of going to that place where "dreams really do come true" finally came into fruition. Not just once, but twice. The first time was in 2000 when I visited my sister Elena and her family in Hibbing, Minnesota. It was just a quick visit since it was winter time and there was nothing to do.
The second time was when I visited my sister again recently. Having stayed in Livingston, Montana for several years, the Chase family -- my sister is married to Engineer Daniel Chase, with whom she has two sons, Erik and Phil -- moved to Grand Rapids (no, not in Michigan, but Minnesota).
What's so special about Grand Rapids? Well, it was in this city where award-winning singer and actress Judy Garland was born and grew up. In fact, there is a museum built in her honor by local artist Jackie Dingmann.
Located near the restored home where she -- then known as Frances Ethel Gumm -- spent her formative years, the Judy Garland Museum features some mementos from the movie: the carriage, the young star’s test dress for the movie, the winkie sword, the Over the Rainbow gold record presented to her, and the emerald city bell-bottom coat.
In addition, Garland's special Tony statuette and the original work permit (issued to her to allow her to perform her vaudeville act at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco, California, when she was only 11 years old) are also on display. More than 100,000 people have visited the museum, the person in charge at the museum told us during our visit.
Too bad, I visited the place during summer. I missed the award-winning festival that is being held every June to celebrate Garland’s life and talents. During the festival, my sister said that you can mingle with the original Munchkins and guest celebrities from Hollywood.
A couple of minutes away by car from the Judy Garland Museum is the historic Old Central School. Built in 1895, the school was designed in the Richardonian Romanesque style. It was in use until the 1970s.
Then, in the 1980s, it was turned over to the city government and was renovated. Today, Central School houses the Heritage Museum, maintained by the Itasca County Historical Society, as well as a number of unique shops with a distinct and friendly local flavor. This was the place where I bought some pasalubongs.
Grand Rapids, which was ranked 49th in the Prentice Hall publication, The 100 Best Small Towns in America, is the place where the grand Mississippi River -- the second longest river in the United States after Missouri River -- starts. ÿ(The rapids in the river reportedly gave the town its name.) Actually, the water comes from Lake Itasca. In 1832, Henry Schoolcraft determined that the lake is the river's source.
Actually, Grand Rapids started as a logging town in 1870. History records showed that in 1891 the town was incorporated and in 1902 the Itasca Paper Mill went into production. That mill has operated continually ever since and is now called Blandin Paper Company. It employs about 850 people, with another 2,000 jobs indirectly attributable to the company’s local operations.
Not far from the downtown is the Forest History Center. Here, you can step into the pages of the forgotten past and discover the history of the logging era. However, you have to use the power of your imagination to experience life as it was in December 1900 as related by the tour guide who is wearing the same clothing used during those times.
For instance, you can walk back in time to Northwoods #1, an authentically recreated white pine logging camp complete with cook shack, bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, office wanigan, filer's shack and horse barn. You can stop and talk with the cook, clerk, bull cook, blacksmith and other lumberjacks who may be in camp during the visit. Try your hand at sawing and pet the Percheron draft horses.
For finale, explore the visitor center's interpretive museum, which houses pictorial displays and exhibits to forestry and logging. This was where my two nephews had fun; they played those toys made of woods.
Grand Rapids serves as the southern gateway to the Chippewa National Forest, where nature’s finest wait in the towering pines, diverse wetlands and pristine waters (which are good for swimming, particularly during the summer months!).
Catch a glimpse of bald eagles soaring in flight as it is home of the largest breeding population of bald eagles. The so-called Lost Forty also awaits; a majestic stand of old-growth white pine ignored by lumber companies during the logging era.
The Chippewa National Forest is also home to a portion of the Edge of the Wilderness National Scenic Byway -- awarded the status of National Scenic Byway in 1996 -- and Suomi Hills, a semi-primitive non-motorized recreation area. Suomi Hills features kilometers of hiking, biking and Nordic skiing trails running through rolling forests and calm lakes.
If you love fishing, the Grand Rapids area is a fishing mecca. Fishing season begins just after the early spring warm-up and fishing opener in May, through summer and on to autumn when fish go on a feeding binge in preparation for freeze-up. However, the fishing doesn’t get put on hold with the thickening of lake ice during winter. Ever heard of ice fishing?
If hunting is your main thing, then Grand Rapids is the place to visit. White tail deer hunters can find a prime location within a short drive of the city.
Located just over three hours from the Twin Cities (Saint Paul and Minneapolis), Grand Rapids is an easy drive from the metro area. If flying is your preference, local charter service is available.
Commercial airline service in the nearby cities of Hibbing and Duluth is also an option.
Visit, see and have fun at Grand Rapids, Minnesota!