Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Fountain of Controversy- Fountain, Minnesota- that is

A few days ago, Rip-and-Read posted about Fountain Minnesota and it's run-in with Today Show Travel Commentator Peter Greenberg.

Fountain, a tiny town of 343 people in South Eastern Minnesota, bills itself as "The Sink Hole Capitol of the World". Greenberg has included it in his book Don't Go There and joked on the Today Show about spelling mistakes in the town's brochure and quipped that children might fall into a sink hole while bike riding.

After a reading of the story, the first thing that popped into my head was an image of George Baily (of It's A Wonderful Life) delivering a Capra-esque diatribe on behalf of Fountain to Peter Greenburg, whom I mentally cast in the role of mean old Mr. Potter.

It amused me, and so I ran with it. In the end, my sympathies are with Fountain, after all, this is a tiny little town that has one claim to fame, is by all reports a pretty nice little locale, and there is no reason for a big city commentator to go trashing the place.

It also put me in mind of the Red State/Blue State theory of America, in which "The Heartland" of small towns is in conflict with the Big Cities and Sophisticates of the Coasts. So, adopting (with what I hoped was obvious sarcasm) the tone of a Right-Wingnut commentator, I pictured small towns across America rallying behind a resurgent Sarah Palin for revenge.

I have to admit that I found the whole story kind of funny and didn't feel that there were any serious issues at stake. After all, in one corner, you have a town which bills itself as the Sink Hole Capitol of the World, and, in the other corner, you have Peter Greenberg shamelessly plugging his book; which, as Greg Sellnow in the Rochester Post Bulletin points out relies on 40 year old Cleveland jokes for humor- so how good can this tome be?

Not to mention that fact, that, after a nail bitter of an election, I needed something light to write about, and this seemed like appropriately light fare- a travel writer vs. a sink hole...

This story seemed harmless.


This story is still making waves here in South Eastern Minnesota, and the Post Bulletin ran another opinion piece about Fountain/Greenburg Feud today.. In his piece, Greg Sellnow, takes great pains to describe Fountain as:

... a pretty, quaint community. The Root River Trail bike path runs through town. Its main street includes one of the area's last surviving small-town groceries, "Willie's Meat and Groceries."

Greenberg is taken to task for giving the place an "undeserved poke in the ribs".

Here at Rip-and-Read, one anonymous commentator has left no doubt that they were not amused by our take, and they share their opinion that we at Rip-and-Read were guilty of "bigotry" and a "cheap shot"...

The comments attached to Sellnow's Post-Bulletin piece are in the same vein:

"Shame on you Mr. Greenberg...
I thought how uninformed he must be and how stupid he must think everyone must be."

The story, at least around here, has struck a nerve. People have been leaping to the defense not just of Fountain, but also Cleveland, Galveston and, yes, Tracy B and Friend Russell: The CORN PALACE...all places skewered by Peter Greenberg in his book.

...so my question is: what nerve has been struck. And what does it mean, if anything, in a Blue State/Red State Dynamic..? Are we looking at the symptom of something serious here after all?

Comments are always welcome.

Greenberg's book is called "Don't Go There." The original article in the Post-Bulletin was by Laura Gossman and is here.


Anonymous said...


This is Fountain's "Fillmore County History Center" Assistant Director, Debra, checking in with a comment. Viewing statistics for our website, I noted the incoming link from your blog.

Firstly, welcome to Minnesota. Secondly, I'd like to extend a welcome to Fillmore County and the village of Fountain, in particular.

We'd love for you to visit our museum. Over the past year, we’ve had 1500 people sign our guest book. Many are from the tri state area- but we’ve had visitors from all over the country- even from...Wasilla Alaska! And no, it was not Gov. Palin, though she would be most welcome. As would be any politician, travel writer, or radio advertising producer. Mr. Greenberg's brouhaha is not colored red or blue. History, sinkhole topography, and tourism are strictly non-partisan...and beyond borders. We’ve welcomed visitors from London, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Germany, and Liberia West Africa. It is frequently commented that our facility ranks up amongst the best museums in the country. Recently, an elder hostel group stopped in on a tour. One of the gentlemen took me aside to say that he’s been to all the renowned American museums and yet it was his opinion that the scope and condition of artifacts in our little museum in a tiny town on the Midwestern prairie shine amongst the best.

As to Mr. Greenberg, he obviously doesn't know a sinkhole from a hole in the ground. We'd love the opportunity to change his view, and viewpoint. Sinkholes are just one of those things you must experience firsthand to be able to comment intelligently upon.
As a natural formation, their very presence provides scientific data and research opportunities. As a unique part of southeast Minnesota's landscape, they're rich in history and lore.

Your “It's a Wonderful Life” clip voice over was clever. We have sinkholes; we also have a sense of humor. No offense taken. However, we do take offense to mistruths broadcast to the nation about our town and published by an author out to sell books, utilizing belittlement and controversy as a means to do so.

That said, we're expecting this sudden national exposure might be to our benefit. As a nonprofit, our limited operating budget doesn't allow the luxury of out-of-area advertising. We couldn't put ourselves on the map; therefore, in that respect we appreciate the backhanded shout-out from Mr. Greenberg.

On behalf of Fountain, Minnesota, I invite you to come visit us, Alex. There's a welcome mat, your choice of sinkholes, and small town hospitality awaiting your arrival.

Alex said...


Thanks for stopping by Rip and Read! Thanks even more for your comment.

I am looking forward to a trip to Fountain, actually, and will stop by the history center...

Good Luck with the whole Peter Greenberg thing, but I think it will play out in your favor...looking up "Greenberg" on the web reveals a host of disgruntled towns....perhaps you should all get together and write a book called: Go There.

I see that the Corn Palace also made his list, but, long before the book came out, I've had friends from all over the country asking me if I was anywhere near it and wishing they could go.