Viking at Val Chatel: A Minnesota Legend

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…

18 thoughts on “Viking at Val Chatel: A Minnesota Legend”

  1. Adam,
    I just read your blog. Very nice. You seem to have a great recollection of that summer in 1988. I agree with you, it was a larger than life type of event. I still think about those days, and wish that some how, some way, the production could be revived. The three summers I spent doing Viking were the best times of my life. I was getting to do what I love to do and get paid to do it. While it wasn’t a lot of money I would have done it just for the privilege of performing. Nothing can beat being able to say you are a working actor.
    I still keep in touch with Patrick, in fact he came out and visited last September. Send me an e-mail and I’ll send you his e-mail address.
    Thanks for the blog, and the kind words. It was nice to read what you wrote, and to have all those memories come rushing back. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hello Adam,
    I found your blog this morning because I was review old photo albums and found the one I have from when I was an I was an actor in Viking in 1987. The year before you joined the cast and the first year that Thad Lamey was our lead Viking. Good heavens I can’t remember his charaters name. LOL
    My character was Sven. Thad and I were great friends. We started out the summer at a “resort” on one of the many lakes and ended up at a house in town. I remember it being one of the best summers of my life. And as Thad said in his comments it was a privelege to be a working actor.
    If you have any contact information for Thad or Patrick or any other Viking cast and Crew I would live to try to get in touch with them. Please feel free to give my email address to anyone that asks.

  3. Hi
    My name is Hannah Breitweser…. i am16 years old and i lived in the vikings theatre for 6 years with my mom dad 3 brothers and 1 sister, we moved out in the end of 2007 when we moved to a house 2 miles from PR…. but my dad still lives there in the summer [i just had my 16 bday party up there in nov]. my older brother dale and i had so much fun playing in hollyrock and sledding down the hills in the winter.
    But yeah it still is the most amazing place ever!!!

  4. Adam,
    How’s it going? I just read your blog and, wow,what a flood of memories. You’ve got a great recollection of that summer. Being able to participate in that production was one the greatest experiences of my life, as it appears have been yours. I started out the first year as “oldest child” and by the third year got the privilege of playing “Tall Eagle” across from Thad. I truly grew as a person through those years just like my characters did. One of my fondest memories was all the games and jokes we’d play on each other in the middle of the show. I also remember when I lost my loin cloth during a dancing scene, standing out there with just my indian skivies on, and Kay Dee Sanders (Sulani) embarrassing me infront of the audience by calling attention to it. Thank god for the makeup we wore.
    Thank you for putting your memories down on this blog. When I get back from this trip I’m on I’m going to dig out my Viking! box and refresh my memories even more. I learned to ski at Val Chatel, and have great memories from there also, so thank you for those recollections also.
    I would also be interested in getting anyone’s emails that you might have and feel free to pass mine out to any that are interested. Take care and hope to hear from you soon.

  5. Adam,
    I have enjoyed reading your blog. I grew up in Park Rapids and spent a lot of fun time at Val Chatel, either skiing or eating. I eventually worked there during my college years and even married one of the Peterson brothers. It’s nice to know that the place is remembered so fondly. The family worked so very hard to make it what it was. Peace.

  6. Adam,
    I work for a real estate office in P.R. that is listing the property for sale and was looking for a little history about the place as I am not a life long P.R. resident and know nothing of the lodge. It sounds like it was a wonderful place to be in the summer and winter! And like you said, it’s a shame that my income will not allow me to purchase it and restore it back to it’s former state. It also sounds like the play was a great time! How neat to hear from some former cast memebers! Take care!

  7. I lived at Val Chatel for over 15 years with my late husband Will Bedford. The place had a life of it’s own. We did a lot of work on the place for years but never did open it. We converted the viking theatre into a livable home and was my favorite building on the property. Val Chatel had sort of a majic and peaceful healing energy. Although it was also full of memories and every summer we had many cars drive down with people wandering what we were going to do with the place. I was honored to be able to live there for all those years and some of the most beautiful pictures I have ever taken came from Val Chatel. The best thing about the place was the lake. Waking up to the sound of the loons and being in the canoe early in the morning with the mist over the lake. Heaven on earth it was! But in the end the place has a way of having a mind of it’s own. Everyone wanted to own it and everyone seemed to be envious that we lived there. In that aspect it was a strange existance. One time during a full moon, we had a pack of wolves come right up to the lodge while we were sleeping, they were yipping and howling. THey woke me up at 3 am. Lot’s of deer and some cougars there too. The best fishing ever. I will always have fond memories of my husband and I fishing taking walks and sitting on the deck watching the sun set over the lake. It was where we fell in love, where we parted and where he died. A sad love story, but a large part of my life that I will always cherish.

  8. I was a cast member at the end of the ’86 summer and all of the ’87 summer. In ’87, I played the part that Thad Lamey played the first summer,1986. I had a class with Thad’s younger sister at Moorhead State University. Thad and I are both Moorhead State Alums. His is actually 6’7″ or 6’8″.

    Bob Sylskar

  9. I worked 3 seasons at Val Chatel while attending BSU from 1973-1976. I also worked a Summer there, using my Jeep to mow the hills. In the Winter, I enjoyed the skiing, and worked at the top of the hill watching the tows and lift. I was always busy filling in ruts with snow. To work outside amidst such beauty more than made up for the minimum wage I received which I recall as being around 1.80/hour back then.
    I also had my first date while a freshman with Susan, whom I married. My 3 kids are grown, and I now enjoy retirement and the freedom of travel. Someday, I’d like to see the place again, since I’ve not ever been back to the area since I graduated.

  10. Thanks for sharing about Viking! I have been trying to find that music digitally. I had a cassette that I wore out.

    Could you email it to me or post the soundtrack name details? I’m sure it is long out of print…

    I grew up in nearby Walker, MN, and recall seeing Viking! and loving it!

    Fish

  11. Wow…so neat to find this blog still going…I also remember Val Chatel and the Viking. Some very good memories for me. I would like to catch up with Thad Lamey if he is reachable. I heard he is in California. Does anyone have an email or something?

  12. My name is Lance Fox. my family moved to Bemidji when i was 1 year old from Sonoma, Ca, in 1970. my dad was Rodney Peterson’s cousin, who then owned and operated Val Chatel. Some of my earliest memories were etched into my brain from that mystical place. I learned to ski there, learned to drive an old military jeep at age 5 there, and definitely experienced the best fishing EVER there! Broke a leg there, almost drowned there, met some bears there, and inspected the esophagus of the biggest St Bernard ever there when he mistook me for a midmorning snack!!! i could go on and on! cross country skiing in the full moonlight at 2 AM. just scratchin the surface. i tell my wife stories of that place and she insisted i try finding out whats going on with it, and ended up here. my mom and dad both worked there off and on for the next decade, and i spent all my time just absorbing all the things that place had to offer. the Petersons were gung ho with that place and i remember that parking lot being COMPLETELY FULL of cars, with eager adventurers waiting to see what this place was all about! i remember often wondering to myself, why is this huge place, with numerous accomodating rooms, a gigantic top notch restaurant and bitchen kitchen and bar tucked away in such a remote location where only a SELECT FEW could experience its warmth and beauty? it made me feel not only lucky, but truly blessed! i would like to thank all my cousins (Rodney, Helen, Tom the fooseball expert, Scott, Jimmy, Cathy, Kim, and Heidi!) for allowing me to be included in their slice of paradise and letting me run amok like a ten year old should! I havent tracked them down since but i would love to hear from any one of them. and it sounds like Sharon from a previous post is a family member i have not met (and im sure there are plenty more!) so if anyone happens to be reading this and remembers the crazy blonde kid who would ski even when it was 20 below, that would be me and i would love to catch up and learn of what may has come to pass. i think my info is on there but here it is anyway… Lance Fox email at foxl72@yahoo.com or Lance Fox on facebook and i live in Fort Bragg ,Ca now. thanks for reading and peace to you all!

  13. Thanks for bringing back so many happy memories. I came to Northern Minnesota to do costumes and act in “Viking!” in the dead of winter in 1986 and helped to bring the show to life. Was in the ’86 production, met my (now-ex)husband there, took 1987 off to have my daughter who was also in the 1988 production as “the Baby”. Fond memories. I was sad to see the amphitheatre sink back down the hill but I know it was used and loved as a residence for many years after the play’s run ended. I sewed every one of the leather costumes, most by hand. I recall the night “Alex’s” loincloth came flying off. I landed pretty much in front of me and to not comment would have been weird. Thank God for full body paint(mixed with bug repellant) and lots of Schick razors as all the guys who played native characters had to shave off all their body hair. That is dedication to theatre, when y’all had just worked so hard to grow it. 🙂 Hehe Thanks for the awesome memories..If anyone wants to get in touch I’m at sanders@paulbunyan.net…Yep I stayed in the North. Skol

  14. Hello my name is Adam Allen and I also was in The play Viking every year that it existed my father actually was the general manager of the show Jerry Allen and we got to live on site on the property so I know exactly what you’re talking about. I was the little Indian boy who’s wig was almost as big as he was. I spent my summers and every holiday and one winter going to school in Park Rapids Minnesota. Richard Jerome Alan died in August 2007 and I still can hear the music in my head today I can still remember the songs I can still remember the smell of the torches that they burned. I also had a pet deer named Buck whowas also in the play. It’s too bad that the banks close down the show even though they were profiting by the third season. My father went on to manage another theater in West Virginia called theater West Virginia where he oversaw three different shows a week Hatfields and McCoy’s honey in the rock and South Pacific. We actually started a pilgrimage back to the theater together in the year 1998. My sister Jennifer Allen also acted in the play and even though she was young she was hanging out with some of the older cast members that I can remember what a great time we had my sister Jennifer Allen also acted in the play and even though she was young she was hanging out with some of the older cast members that I can remember . wow what a great time and an amazing experience for young kids to be able to have we actually found an old shack in the woods up on the hill that you couldn’t see during the summer because the trees are too thick but in the winter time you could see it as you come down the main drive to wow what a great time and an amazing experience for young kid to be able to have we actually found an old shack in the woods up on the hill that you couldn’t see during the summer because the trees are too thick but in the winter time you could see it as you come down the main drive to valves to tell Val chattel and my dad and I painted it camouflage so that I could spend the night and I can remember hearing bears at night. I can also remember during the winter being almost completely snowed in by blizzard and we were on the second floor of the houses that were still being lived in at the time of the show. I would like it if anybody contacted me so I’ll leave my phone number 561-777-3490

  15. Pictures! Who’s got pictures??? I had a couple left until a couple years ago, but I had one move to many. I even had a program. I was in the production the first two years. I was Karl, and I climbed ALL the way to understudy the lead. The actor was Phil some one who was lead before Thad. Thad and I did a comic stage combat piece the second year because we had already authorized with SAFD. Amazingly my $87 a month there saved me after a house fell through in MPLS. With understudy pay I climbed to $110 a week the second year.

    Adam, I remember you! So Many memories, as you all say it was a magical spot. I met my first wife there the second summer.

    What happened to the woman from Drake University whose leg I mangled in the mens shower? No really it was all innocent fun!!! If you folks find pictures send them along. Rapier fool@gmail.com

  16. Pictures! Who’s got pictures??? I had a couple left until a couple years ago, but I had one move to many. I even had a program. I was in the production the first two years. I was Karl, and I climbed ALL the way to understudy the lead. The actor was Phil some one who was lead before Thad. Thad and I did a comic stage combat piece the second year because we had already authorized with SAFD. Amazingly my $87 a month there saved me after a house fell through in MPLS. With understudy pay I climbed to $110 a week the second year.

    Adam, I remember you! So Many memories, as you all say it was a magical spot. I met my first wife there the second summer.

    What happened to the woman from Drake University whose leg I mangled in the mens shower? No really it was all innocent fun!!! If you folks find pictures send them along. Rapierfool@gmail.com

  17. I saw the 1986 production of Viking as a kid. I have the program and a couple photos (not of any of the cast). I tried to paste them in comments but it didn’t work. I can email what I have to anyone interested. kirstenmitchell@bellsouth.net
    I remember this being an amazing place. I was going through an old scrapbook with my dad and it was fun remembering the play; it left a huge impression on us and my great-uncle, an old
    Norwegian who, my dad said today, talked about that play until the day he died (well into his 90s around 20 years later). Thank you for your performance that night, cast members!

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