Archive for January 4th, 2005

Viking at Val Chatel: A Minnesota Legend

January 04th, 2005 | Category: General

Val Chatel
To preface this entry I’m about to write, the Val Chatel opened in 1953 by a family with the last name of Peterson. No surprise in this neck of the woods that one of the “sons” (Anderson, Peterson, Johnson) families would open such a place! This was a ski-resort that had everything. A visitor of the legendary “Sugar Bowl Lodge” near Lake Tahoe would have a hard time not comparing itself to Val Chatel. The only difference is the Val Chatel was a little smaller. Tucked back in the north woods of Park Rapids, it had an excellent scenic view of a large hill over a picturesque lake which doubled for ski runs in winter. Val Chatel sported a fabulous restaurant decorated with Nordic and Alpine influences and a small play area for children just outside. I suspect the beautiful slate tile that I remember in the lobby was added sometime in the 60s but I wasn’t even born yet so I wouldn’t know. I do know that my grandparents frequented the lodge in the seventies. Having a lake cabin in the area we dined with my grandparents there many times.

I recently contacted Thom Peterson, one of the “kids” of the original owners of Val Chatel. In my mind that place is sort of a “Park Rapids legend”. I was nervous about asking him about the place and botched my introduction. I was trying NOT to sound like a reporter–but ended up sounding like a Midwestern Dan Rather. At first he was a little apprehensive about my calling and drilling him about his knowledge of the place. But I could hardly avoid it. A Google search on “Val Chatel, Minnesota” brought me right to him. I [for one] have always wondered what it would cost to buy the land, own and operate the hotel and restaurant and turn it back into the magical memory that I have. Granted, the memory is more of an imprint as I never actually stayed there. But the enchantment of this place must have touched me quite profoundly as a kid because I cling to the memories of the days that my grandparents stayed there. I hinted that I would be interested in buying such a place someday and Thom caught the gist of what it was I was asking. How much would such a piece of glorious land cost these days? We wagered between the recent boom in real-estate and elevated costs of living that the land is worth probably more than 1 million dollars. Sadly, my Systems Administrator salary will not permit me to invest in such a project. I asked him if he’d ever considered re-opening the place. He explained to me that they have never really thought about it because it was more than a full-time job. He went on to explain that they never stopped working. They rented out rooms as apartments and ran a hotel. They ran the restaurant. They were open all year long. To put it simply” the work never ended. His mother now owns and operates 3rd Street Market in downtown Park Rapids and he and his wife recently opened a coffee shop just next door. My mom LOVES the 3rd street market! Apparently Thom’s coffee shop is located right between my mom’s two favorite stores in Park Rapids: 3rd Street Market and Beagle Books. I’ll definitely have to stop in and patronize their new establishment. And I’d like to thank Thom personally for chatting with me on the phone to give me a few tidbits to write about.

The property was sold in the mid 80s to the Headwaters Society. This was a group that would go on to take the land at Val Chatel and convert a portion of it into an extraordinary outdoor amphitheater.

Viking! A Minnesota Legend
And so we’re up to the Viking portion of my story. Four score and seventy-five pounds ago, I was in a little known production called: Viking! At Val Chatel. The year was 1988 and the production had changed most actors, technicians and even the director. Mr. Warren Magnuson originally of Burnsville, MN (and at the time a local resident in the Park Rapids area) was now in charge of this exceptionally professional production. Although I joined the production company in the last year the play was performed, the memory is still vivid. Many of the names escape me today, but I will attempt to recall them as best I can.

You might ask how I remember the year so well. The reason I remember it being 1988 it was this: I was 15 when the production started. I had just earned my learner’s permit and was able to drive a friend’s car to “work” almost every day. Anne Carter was also in the production as an understudy for the lead and one of the other characters in the play as well. Ann was into Bruce Hornsby and the Range and Genesis at the time. At least those are the cassettes that sat in the center console of her 1979 grey Ford Mustang with red interior. Of course, it wasn’t the fast Mustang. She likely would not have let me drive if it was. This was during the K-Car years of the mustang. It was a 2.4 four-cylinder mustang. But hey! I was driving and that’s all that matters. In addition to this staple in my life I was also listening to the current music at the time. I remember shopping at K-Mart in Bemidji just an hour out of Park Rapids where Anne’s and my family’s cabins reside. I bought Kenny Loggins, Back to Avalon and Peter Cetera’s One More Story. Also you may remember that year that Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” had become quite popular.

The lead “Sahelia” Indian in the play, Patrick Michael, was into Oingo Boingo and women. He is probably still into women but Oingo became just Boingo and the Danny Elfman went on to be a prominent force in the film scoring community. Patrick goes by many last names. I think he was Patrick Michael Williamson or Patrick Williams and a few others. IMDB does list him as you will see by clicking his name above but they don’t list his credits in both Star Trek V in which he is an extra on the shuttle in the scene where it crash lands in the Enterprise docking bay. He is also in Star Trek VI playing the character who finds the “missing boots” in crewman Dax’s locker. He even has a line: “Look, Sir!” Patrick was also a host on the 1996 series called “Travelers”. If Pat ever reads this he will wonder who that 15-Year-Old boy was that has kept such close tabs on his career.

Thad Lamey was the lead Viking in the play. He stands 6″ 4″ and weighed a muscular 262 pounds. At least that’s how I remembered him. A typical Viking, he had long dishwater-blonde locks of hair and blue eyes. Very Scandahoovian. I remember a couple of things about Thad. One, he was one of the nicest guys in the cast. And two, the girls at the local Hardee’s treated him like he had descended from Valhalla to be their personal love slave. I wasn’t jealous. How can you be jealous when he eclipsed the view? I remember one night in particular when they personally delivered his ice-cream cone to him. “Thad?” they inquired from their sultry Hardee’s uniforms, “Do you want your ice-cream cone now?” Sheesh. I also remember he was dating Kim one of the cast members. Anne and Kim were great friends. One night Thad, Kim, Anne and I all hung out and watched “No Way Out” with Kevin Costner. I think it had just come out on video. Ironically, Thad had ended up in acting in the Star Trek franchise as well. He plays the human version of the Devil in the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled: Devils Due. Thad and I corresponded a bit when I was in High School, but I’ve not seen or heard from him since. I hope he is doing well.

I also remember a girl named Katie and her friend–her name escapes me. Starts with an L or maybe a D. Wait. Not D. I think it was Dee. Ah HA! DeeAnn! DeeAnn was dating Alan. They were all from the Bemidji area. I remember having a terribly serious conversation with Katie. I had come to suspect that she had a crush on me. Arrogantly I confronted her and told her I had someone at home (Lori Tucker for those of you that care) and that it just wasn’t meant to be. Alan also had another friend that was very talented. His name also escapes me but he had long brown stringy and greasy hair. He wore glasses off stage and was the Indian that “scalped” me impromptu the day I lost my Indian wig on stage. I remember the two of them did a comedy sketch the night of the annual talent show that was a cross between star wars and star trek. Being a huge fan of both at the time I remember laughing uncontrollably.

Some other quick highlights: There was some red-headed dude there that played George Michael’s song “Monkey” EVERY NIGHT we rehearsed.

Duane, a Park Rapids Local, loaned me his Pet Shop Boys album “Actually” my first real exposure to them outside of radio play.

John, the lead tech, had managed to land his Pacer in the mud. We learned how heavy pacer’s can be. I pretended to push while Thad and a horde of Vikings pushed the Pacer to safety.

Lia Nowen? Lia told me she didn’t believe in God and that she had a lung removed years ago. In a scene from the play, the canoes come in from stage left and land on the beach of the outdoor amphitheater. I was steering. Thanks to my steering ability and the front heavy canoe, I successfully made it appear as though my character was drunk and unable to steer into shore. After some work we successfully “landed” much to the chagrin of Lia. The audience thought it was funny. There was noticeable snickering coming from down stage. I think Lia was from Bloomington. And she had some crazy stories about her and one of the other cast members who’s name I don’t remember either.

There was a cool tunnel that ran underneath the amphitheater seating. You were NOT allowed to go through it unless your part demanded it. There were bats in there too.

Trevor. Trevor was one of our punk cast members. I think he was the ONLY punk cast member. In the introduction the play there is a line that reads something like, “Look. The Sun-Warriors approach from the east!” I think Trevor may have been a user of wacky tobacky. The exchange always went like this in the minds of his fellow cast members:

1st Indian: Look. Something aproaches!

Trevor Indian: “Dude. The Sun-Warriors approach from the east. (smoking a Peace Pipe) Dude. Maybe it was the west?”

The other memory is of all of us in the community shower washing off our Indian paint. I remember doing my hair up like Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day off with a distinct féaux Mohawk. To my terror Trevor commented to me whilst in the shower, “Maybe we do have something in common.” He grinned as we both sported the same shampoo-fin hairdo.

It was also a tradition that when your birthday came the entire cast treated you to a rousing, purposefully off key rendition of “Happy Birthday”. I turned 16 in the summer of 1988. I got a guitar, the 2 tape VHS set of Indiana Jones movies and a whole summer at the cabin working on Viking!

So what does this all have to do with the title of the blog entry? To truly understand you must be given a back story. Now that you have part of it you will understand what this next part means to me.

The Music of Viking
Two weeks ago we were cleaning up our new house for our gala Christmas event. While cleaning out one of the back rooms that had become a catch-all for my junk, I had begun importing music from old analogue sources to my computer. To put it simply I have been taking records and tapes that are “out of print” and transferring them to my computer digitally.

Entry to be continued…

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