Austin, MN

1/16/18 – 1/18/18: While we were on the Erie Canal, one of the people we travelled with (Brian) talked about how much he loved Spam (the Hormel meat product, not the junk mail variety). Kate mentioned that there was a Spam museum near Rochester, MN, and we joked about visiting it while we were in Minnesota. While we were in Scandia, we kept talking about going there, and after things settled down a little, we said “Why not?”. So, we packed our bags and made the trip to Austin, MN, home of the Spam museum!

Some people love it and some people hate it, but everyone has probably heard of Spam, and most people have probably tried it at least once. It’s hard to believe that there’s actually a museum dedicated to this meat product, but there is! We arrived bright and early on Wednesday morning, eager to learn all about this American delicacy. We were quite surprised just how informative and entertaining the museum turned out to be!

The museum is (obviously) dedicated to all things Spam. Circling around the ceiling is a conveyor belt with hundreds of cans of Spam moving along, simulating a production line. Interactive digital displays allow you to learn all about Spam, and also play some interesting games (one was like ‘Angry Birds’, where you fling a fork at a stone structure, trying to collapse it and freeing the ‘imprisoned’ cans of Spam). Other displays showed all kinds of present and historical Spam memorabilia: key chains, bottle openers, earrings, buttons, etc… There was a larger display showing the importance of Spam during World War 2, including a letter from President Eisenhower praising it’s benefits. One corner of the museum was set up with around a dozen booths, each representing a country in the world where Spam is sold, tastefully (no pun intended) decorated in the style of that country. Some were playing actual Spam TV commercials from that country. And, of course, was a small area playing a video of the famous Spam skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

We also learned more than we expected. For instance, we never imagined that there are actually 15 flavors of Spam, two of which can only be purchased outside the continental U.S. (one of those two can only be found in Hawaii and the other in the Phillipines). The only exception is that you can purchase all 15 flavors in the museum gift shop. Of course, we had to purchase a can of each of those two, just to say we have them. We also never knew just how popular Spam is in countries like Korea, China, and the Phillipines (the Phillipines alone generates 2/3rds of all Spam sales worldwide – over $110 million)! We knew it was popular in Hawaii, but we never knew there was a yearly Spam fest there that attracts over 40,000 people annually.

The entire visit lasted about 2 hours (including the obligatory shop at the museum store), and it was before noon when we finished. We didn’t want to go back to the hotel room and sit around, so we took another short side trip to the Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, about 40 miles west of Austin. The statue is 55 feet tall and was built in 1979 by a local radio station owner. He had hosted a radio show where he interviewed local travellers and handed out cans of Green Giant vegetables which were canned in the local plant. When Interstate 90 was built and bypassed Blue Earth, he knew his local radio show was coming to an end. So, he solicited donations from local businesses to build a giant statue next to the new Freeway, hoping it would attract visitors he knew would now bypass Blue Earth. The Green Giant company would not donate, and he couldn’t find land next to the freeway, but he managed to raise enough donations, and found a small plot of land in town. And even though it was hard to see from the freeway, the statue was erected anyway. Today, the radio show is no more and the Green Giant company no longer owns the cannery, but the statue remains, now a roadside attraction.

The statue itself is 55 feet tall, green, and has stairs leading up the base to between the giant’s feet where visitors can have their pictures taken. It was cold and windy the day we visited, so we quickly snapped a few pics in front of him, and also up the stairs by his feet. Then we hightailed it out of there and back to the warmth of our hotel room. Even though the weather wasn’t cooperative, we still had fun visiting this little (no, big) oddity.

Even though the museum and statue were unusual and a little quirky, we still had fun visiting them. After this trip, and a brief visit back in Scandia, we are planning a drive to Sierra Vista, AZ, to visit Pat’s dad and his wife, Lin. We are really looking forward to the visit (and the weather)!

Pics of Austin

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