The wall | News, Sports, Jobs
George A. Haven of Chatfield, Minnesota was a different man, not strange, but well-educated, and a guy that locals might say: “Goes his own way”. He was president of the Root River State Bank, a contributor to the Root River Trail, and loved to travel the world. And in 1927, a few years after the Great Depression, anyone who made it out of Olmstead County was “unusual.”
Not only did George Haven love to travel, he loved to collect memorabilia from the places and sites he had seen. For example, he sent home a stone from King Tut’s tomb, stones from the Sea of Galilee, stones from the Great Wall of China and from the Parthenon in Athens. (Keep in mind that this was at the turn of the 20th century, when regulations weren’t so strict when it came to collecting keepsakes.)
George Haven was also passionate about local artifacts. He couldn’t resist a stone from Chatfield Academy dating from 1858, United States Land Office, Fort Snelling, Sibley House, Alexander Faribault House, Gettysburg Battlefield, Fort Sumter and by Custer’s Last Stand.
Of course, what to do with his ever-growing collection has become a question and a problem. George Haven hated to admit it, but the collection he was so proud of looked like any old pile of bricks and stones.
It came to him in a dream. He sat down in the middle of the night and said: “I’m going to build a wall.”
And so George Haven started to build the wall in his backyard. He came back from the shore and slowly, one stone at a time, placed each stone by hand until darkness set in. Most of his stone came from a local quarry, and on that he didn’t use any mortar. The mortar was only used to secure his precious memories.
Why did George Haven build a wall? He had seen the Great Wall of China; he had read Robert Frost’s poem, “Repair wall”. He didn’t want to keep his neighbors outside or himself inside. It was just that a wall, especially a stone wall, was so permanent, when almost everything else was fleeting, including itself. More than a legacy, he didn’t want people to forget.
About halfway through the project, which lasted 37 years, George Haven began to notice darkness. Something was wrong. George Haven was going blind. Specialists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota told him there was nothing they could do.
George Haven took the news with mixed emotions. After several months of thinking he knew what he was going to do. He would finish the wall.
Night after night, stone after stone, George Haven worked on the wall. He could work until well after dark now, because he was completely blind. Sometimes he would smash a finger and bleed, but stone after stone hewn by hand, George Haven was working.
Neighbors and townspeople stopped to see how he was doing. Some of them would help George with his wall.
And then George heard the good news. There was experimental eye surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and doctors were looking for volunteers. George immediately signed up.
The miracle happened. George Haven’s sight has been restored – not to twenty-twenty, but good enough to read.
There was one thing George wanted to see more than anything else. He wanted to see The Wall. When he got home, he went straight to his wall.
He couldn’t believe how beautiful and sturdy it was. He ran his hands over it, remembering each stone. The wall would last forever!
The George Haven Wall still stands in Chatfield, Minnesota. It is 245 feet long and six to seven feet high. People often bring stones collected from around the world to add to the George Haven Wall. George Haven is dead, but his wall lives. The brick in the wall, shown in this article, reads as follows: “Slave Mkt Charleston, South Carolina”
Author’s note: I published this article in 2009. But on proofreading, I couldn’t help but resubmit it, with a little touch-up of course.
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