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birthplaces of the quasi-famous

I tow on county roads and off-brand highways whenever possible. If you’re not in a hurry to get to Point B, avoid the mega freeways; that’s the best way to spy a sign that reads “Welcome to [Podunk]: Home of [Vague Celebrity]”.

Many “home of” towns have legitimate claims to fame, like Winterset, Iowa (birthplace of Marion Morrison) and Millville, Indiana (birthplace of Orville Wright’s brother Wilbur). 

Famous frontier writer Louis L’Amour was born in Jamestown, North Dakota. L’Amour’s Writer’s Shack—a single room dedicated to his work—is maintained at Frontier Village, a recreated prairie town and classic tourist trap. A small display documents L’amour’s life and work, and his novels cover a wall. Revered as “America’s Storyteller” by lovers of Western fiction, L’amour completed more than one hundred books including Hondo, which was made into a 1953 movie starring John Wayne (there he is again) in the title role.

Other towns are so sweet to champion their minor native sons. Hockey player “Tomcat” Johnson is from Baldur, Manitoba. Astronaut Tom Stafford has his own museum in Weatherford, Oklahoma. Roslyn, South Dakota is the home of Myron Floren, Lawrence Welk’s accordion player. The town of Faith is where Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex was discovered in South Dakota.

Seize the opportunity to visit these sites, and stand in the shadow of “greatness”. Absorb through osmosis the essence of your idol or just some accomplished nobody. Perhaps breathing their same air molecules will rub off and you’ll be able to perform Lady Of Spain or write a great dime store novel.

Other towns boast a “history made here” significance. Hawley, Minnesota is where Robert Asp’s Viking ship the Hjemkomst was built. In Montana stands the home where Lizzie Borden’s maid, Bridget Sullivan, lived—Sullivan witnessed the famous “forty whacks” murders of Borden’s parents, but kept quiet her whole life until blurting out the truth on her deathbed in Anaconda.

‘Streamer beware: Many tempting “So and So’s Birthplace” signs don’t announce how far off the highway they are until you’re committed to a narrow two-lane road with no suitable turnarounds. (They know if they posted the mileage you’d never go there.)

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