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Old Three Legs.
Old Three Legs, famous killer wolf, now safely behind glass. At his feet: the gun that killed him.

Becker County Museum Oddities

Field review by the editors.

Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

A hundred years ago, Becker County stood on the frontier between civilization and the North Woods, a place with abundant pioneer quirkiness and settlers who had the foresight (or stinginess) to take good care of their weird possessions. That's the only theory that we can offer as to why Becker County's modest museum exhibits an inordinate number of unusual things.

The Detroit Lakes Meteorite.
Largest meteorite in Minnesota. It sat for years, apparently unwanted, in a Detroit Lakes house.

The most popular exhibit in the museum is the stuffed carcass of "Old Three Legs," described in a handout as "the most famous wild animal in the history of Minnesota."

Old Three Legs roamed the Detroit Lakes region for years, eluding capture and eating livestock, before being shot dead on November 21, 1926. Beyond those broad facts lies a range of conflicting opinion. While Old Three Legs has modern-day defenders who say that he wasn't that bad, older legends claim that he once tried to smash his way into a log cabin to eat a baby, and that he slaughtered 40 sheep, a cow, and a heifer on one farm in one night. The shock of this massacre killed the farmer's wife, and the farmer later froze to death trying to kill the wolf.

2-headed calf.
Two-headed calf was used as a conversation icebreaker in a local hotel lobby.

Eric Kann, a museum assistant, showed us Old Three Legs and told us how the wolf lost his fourth leg in a trap that would have fatally crippled any normal animal. "Whenever I mention that he got caught in a trap," said Eric, "everybody always asks, 'Did he chew his foot off?' I always find that interesting, especially when seven-year-olds ask it."

Several odd items in the museum are the legacy of Mary E. Lewis, who ran the Lewis Hotel in town. According to various displays, Mary was constantly battling her boarders, who were mostly foul-mouthed railroad and lumber men. Trying to civilize them, Mary filled her hotel lobby and dining room with "rare or interesting objects" that "would give folks at the hotel who were not acquainted a way to start a conversation" -- this according to the sign attached to her stuffed two-headed calf.

Replica World's Smallest Gas Station.
Exact replica of the World's Smallest Gas Station. A floor hatch led to an underground bathroom.

Displayed next to the calf is Mary's great personal accomplishment: the World's Largest Ball of Store String, 42 pounds and 140 miles long. An accompanying newspaper clipping states that Mary began the ball on November 7, 1918, after reading a newspaper account of another string ball so large that its creator had to move to a bigger house. "Several of my boarders laughingly suggested that I attempt such a feat," Mary says in the clipping. "Of course, they took it more or less as a joke, but I was firmly decided on making a large ball."

The article concludes that, "Mrs. Lewis is very proud of her huge ball of string and it is placed on a pedestal in the lobby of her hotel. She is still adding on to it almost daily, and expects to have it much larger in the future." Mary died only a year later, but her surviving ball may have inspired an even more massive Minnesota creation: the world's largest ball of twine.

The twelfth parrot.
In life, this parrot refused to learn swear words. Now it's dead -- and haunted.

Years have passed since the museum acquired most of its unusual artifacts, and the subsequent turnover in staff has left their details lost to time and fading memory. In one showcase sits Minnesota's largest meteorite, which apparently kicked around, unwanted, in several area homes before it made its way to the museum. Weren't there any scientists in Detroit Lakes? The space rock is displayed next to a plaque cast in metal from the doomed USS Maine in Cuba -- how did that get here?

Downstairs, visitors are surprised to find an exact replica of the World's Smallest Gas Station, which stood in Detroit Lakes until 1951. Covering an area only 3.5 x 4 feet, the station had a subterranean bathroom that could only be reached through a trap door in the floor (It would have been a warm place to sit during Minnesota winters). The gas station, like Mrs. Lewis's string ball, officially became an oddity by appearing in Ripley's Believe it or Not. It was rebuilt for the museum using its original blueprints.

We asked Eric what the story was behind the stuffed parrot next to the gas station, whose photos appear all over the museum. Eric called it "the twelfth parrot" because it was supposedly the twelfth and final parrot owned by Mrs. Lewis. "She kept on getting new parrots," said Eric, because her old parrots were constantly being taught profanities by her spiteful boarders. When Mrs. Lewis died (1931), this last parrot deliberately starved itself to death.

Where did Mrs. Lewis get a dozen tropical parrots in Detroit Lakes? Eric didn't know, but he did know that this final parrot is haunted. "A paranormal team spent a night at the museum," Eric said, "and one of the things they said they heard was a parrot squawking."

No swear words, however; the twelfth parrot died unsullied.

Becker County Museum Oddities

Becker County Museum

714 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes, MN
In the Becker County Museum. From Hwy 10 turn south onto Summit Ave. and drive two blocks to Front St.
Tu-Sa 10-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $5
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Huge Kid Reading a BookHuge Kid Reading a Book, Detroit Lakes, MN - < 1 mi.
Minnesota's Largest Purple Martin HouseMinnesota's Largest Purple Martin House, Audubon, MN - 7 mi.
World's Largest LoonWorld's Largest Loon, Vergas, MN - 11 mi.
In the region:
Indoor Minnesota-Shaped Swimming Pool, Fergus Falls, MN - 38 mi.

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