Over the past several months I've been working with a group of old friends to hold a reunion of former Arnolds Park employees. I'm happy to announce that we will be holding our little reunion at the end of the month.
As many of you readers know, I like to recount some of my adventures working at the storied amusement park. With this reunion fast approaching, some of those old adventures have be floating to the surface of my old dusty memory.
From the time period between 1988 to 1996 I worked with a lot of people at Arnolds Park. But there was always a core group of us that hung-out and were a tight-knit bunch of young go-getters. We worked hard and played even harder, and at the Iowa Great Lakes, that was an accomplishment.
Most of our activities occurred after the Park was closed for the day. A number of my group were summer residents at the Lakes and many had cabins and we would usually end up at one of them.
Sometimes, we would hit a restaurant or bar to meet up and then proceed from there on our nightly adventures. We mainly just sat around and talked and played games and did what any young adults did with their friends at that age.
Some of our more daring activities would be midnight swimming or bridge jumping or taking our gang on the road and visiting area campgrounds. There were many sunrises witness by the gang.
One of our favorite destinations to hang out was Loon Lake, Minn. Loon Lake is located just north of Spirit Lake, right across the Iowa boarder. It's a great place to hang out, it has a couple of fabulous watchtowers, campgrounds, shelter houses and a pioneer cemetery.
Urban legend has it that a witch named Mary Jane is buried there. The story goes that if you jump over her grave three times that you would offend Mary Jane and she would forever curse you. I never really believed that there was something unnatural about the cemetery, but it was just a destination to me. Mostly it was a great place to take young ladies to get the hair on the back of their neck to stand up.
The legend grew within our group one summer when I found a book called 'Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.' A story in that book confirmed our urban legend and one night during one of our nightly gatherings I was reading that story aloud at one of my friend's cabins.
A neighbor of my friend named Galen, who could be found most nights at the cabin with us, got really excited about the story and wanted to go see Loon Lake right then and there. It was late that night and we talked Galen out of going to Loon Lake but promised that next time we go that we would take him along.
The next evening we got off work a little early and we tracked Galen down to tell him that we're heading to Loon Lake. We waited patiently at the cabin for the rest of the crew to get off work from the Park and then headed off. There were about four or five car loads of us and may be a dozen or so people all together.
The first stop was of course the cemetery, which laid about a half-mile or so from the campground. You have to walk along a trail surrounded by tall grass to a small hill where the cemetery lies.
One thing kind of spooky that I will confess to is that when you walk on that path the wind will blow until you step through the gates of the cemetery. Then suddenly, the wind would suddenly die.
Some others of my friends have sworn that if you looked back while on the trail you would see a pair of red eyes walking towards you.
Galen was like a kid in a candy store while on our tour of the cemetery. After the tour was complete we started for one of the watchtowers, as was tradition. But right before we left the cemetery Galen turned to my buddy Jeff and asked, "Isn't something strange supposed to happen now?"
Jeff, who was no stranger to the occurrences of Loon Lake, said in a calm dry voice, "Just wait and see."
I can still remember the cavalcade of us clowns slowly making its way to the watchtower by marching through the dark woods while whistling that song from the movie 'The Bridge on the River Kwai.' As we approached the tower we could make out a couple of strangers that were already on top of the tower. The man yelled down at us and made a comment that we were loud enough to wake the dead.
We laughed and started to climb the stairs. As everyone began to climb, Galen stopped at the first step and had a strange look on his face. I asked if he was all right and he quickly snapped out of his funk and said he was OK. We joined the others who by now were engaged in a conversation with the couple that were already at the tower.
It was the usual type of conversation, Where are you from? Do you know so and so? It turned out that the couple was from nearby Jackson, Minn. and the pair were longtime friends out for the night.
The guy all of a sudden asked if any of us knew this one kid from Jackson. Of course none of our group did, but as it turns out Galen was also from Jackson. During our conversation with the mysterious couple, Galen was hanging out by himself in the corner of the watchtower.
He suddenly walked over to the group and said that he knew the kid the man had referred too. "Ya, I know him," Galen said. "He's my half-brother," he continued.
The man quickly straightened up and replied, "Are you Galen?"
Then he added, "Let me see your hand."
Galen was missing a couple of fingers on one of his hands due to a childhood accident. Upon hearing the man's request Galen extended his hand and the man grabbed it to give it a closer inspection. He held if for a long time and then started to shake Galen's hand.
He then said, "I don't know how to tell you this but I'm your dad."
Things got real quiet after that and the only sound any one could make was, "No way!"
The man then asked Galen if he would like to go and have a talk and the two of them headed out into the woods.
They were gone for what seemed to be a long time. During their absence the man's friend told us that he had recently moved back to Minnesota and always wanted to reconnect with his son that he had not seen since he was a child but was to afraid to make that leap after so much time.
Galen and his father had a long talk and shortly thereafter began their relationship anew. Galen soon got to know the rest of his father's side of the family and that night began filling a hole in his life that he lived with since childhood.
Sadly, the years slowly passed by and I lost touch with Galen, along with many of my friends from those years. But every time I've told this story I can't help but think, what are the odds?
What if I never bought that book? What if we went to Loon Lake the night before? What if Galen's dad never went out that night?
So maybe that's why I'm so excited about seeing my old friends again. I know we will be sharing this story and many more during our reunion, but the best part is that we will be making new memories.
And who knows what will happen this time?