Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Book Nook: Secret Twin Cities - A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure

Minnesota native Julie Jo Severson has a longtime passion for preserving life’s rich and whimsical stories before they fade away, whether it be through her personal online memoirs or her work as a freelance journalist.
Reedy Press is pleased to announce the release of her new guidebook, Secret Twin Cities: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. Whether it’s your first visit, or your lifelong home, this easy-to-flip-through guide will broaden your Twin Cities itineraries, bucket lists, and trivia vaults with a treasure chest of offbeat, extraordinary sights, milestones, and legacies.

A few highlights from the book include:
  • The "junkyard with a sense of humor" hidden off I-35  
  • A former immigrant shanty town hidden 120 feet below the streets 
  • The spot that is considered the center of the earth by many Dakota people
  • A public art park molded and sculpted by a long-time Macalester College art professor who called it his “60-acre sculpture”
  • And oodles of roadside curiosities and public art installations including the world's largest Lite-Brite, the world’s largest Snowman, a Sidewalk Harp, and a giant Bus Stop Bouquet
I had a chance to interview her to learn more.

Why did you write this book?
For a freelance journalist like myself, this was a dream project. And the opportunity practically dropped into my lap. The publisher, Reedy Press, was looking for someone in the Twin Cities to write a book like this. In their search, they reached out to Julie Burton, founder of Modernwell, a co-working, writing, and wellness center in Minneapolis where I'm a member. Over the years, Julie has become very familiar with my strengths, my interests, and my deep local ties. So lucky for me, I was the one she recommended for the project. I took the opportunity and ran with it! And I've had the time of my life doing so. 

How are you able to find "secrets" that aren't widely known?
I had an advantage from the start being a Minnesota native and having a deep appreciation for local history and the more whimsical side of life. But, of course, I wanted the perspectives of many. So I picked the brains of lots and lots of locals, from former college classmates and colleagues to bartenders and archivists. I also conducted expert interviews, read a huge amount of community newsletters, newspapers, websites, brochures, information signs, and took dozens of self-guided tours to experience all of this myself. I even got bounced "into the sky" by the Saint Paul Bouncing Team so that I would know what that felt like before I wrote that particular vignette. 

Will long-term residents still find something new?
Oh, absolutely! I wrote this book primarily for locals. The feedback I'm getting from readers is that even though they've lived here their entire lives, they didn't know about the majority of the locales and legacies featured in this book. 

What was the most surprising find you made?
I was surprised by SO MANY things! Can I name more than one?
1.) The Twin Cities is home to the world's largest Lite Brite! 
2.) There are places in the Twin Cities where you can stand exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole! (That's a great geography lesson for kids). 
3.) Many Dakota people believe the spot where the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers meet, below Fort Snelling, is the center of the earth! (That story is an incredible history lesson for the entire family, and I include a website in the book where you can listen to Dakota voices talk about it before you go). 

I could go and on about my surprising finds, but it's more fun to read about it in the book. 

Where can the book be purchased?
The book is available wherever books are sold. But for signed copies, you can order the book at, where I am also donating 10 percent of my proceeds to Open Arms Minnesota, a non-profit that cooks and delivers nourishing meals to those suffering from life-threatening illnesses in the Twin Cities. 

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