I met author Dick Ramsey when he came in to the Edina History Museum to research the area of 44th and France for his book titled (logically) 44th and France.
While every other writer who has visited the museum has produced a history book, Ramsey wrote a fictional story set in Depression era Morningside.
As the cover shows, history affected the story but Ramsey didn't try to replicate the neighborhood exactly. Businesses inspired by Carlson's Odd Shop (Ordinary's Odd Shop) and Griffen Drug (Ralph's Drug Store) among others show up in the story, but necessarily in their real locations.
The book is available at the museum gift shop for $10, cash or check only, during regular museum hours.
Find out more about the book in this Q and A with Dick Ramsey:
Q. What inspired you to write a book set at 44th and France? Did you grow up in the area?
A. Yes, I did grow up in the area, at 46th and Drew. Yet, my second home was 44th and France and my realization in 1942 and ’43 that the shops within contained all the goodies anyone would want for a lifetime. But the key to such treats for us six and seven year-olds were discarded or forgotten pop bottles worth two-cents each at the A&P Grocery Store. Then, with 12 to 15 pennies bulging in our front pockets, we could choose from a chocolate soda for twelve cents at Ralph’s Drug Store, ten-cent cutouts of Superman from Carlson’s Odd Shop, or a ten-cent ice cream sandwich from the Dairy Store, part of the Convention Grill.
The fun, however, did not end when we were out of money. We could always cross Sunnyside Road to the Westgate Theatre and gaze at the still photos of the movie being shown. Why, it might be John Wayne, and an entire afternoon’s contemplation. But first, a visit to Art’s Edina Motors was always high on our docket. There, we watched the mechanics work on—and yell and scream at—temperamental automobile engines before we left to fight World War II in the vacant lots and alleys on the way home.
Q. Even though this book is fiction, you did some research at the Edina History Museum while writing 44th and France. How much of the book is based on actual Morningside places and events?
A. In both 44th and France and an earlier book With One Hand Tied…, the Edina and Morningside setting was not necessarily used to showcase particular local events. Instead, it represents more of a nostalgic look back at an area that, during the Depression and World War II, helped frame our development.
We treated the jaunt to 44th and France as almost automatic during the course of typical days. It was a hub of activity where, even if you had no money, you could always place bottle caps on the street car tracks and have them flattened by the next car coming. You could put them in your pocket and pretend while gazing at the arrangement of strange plants with ominous looking leaves in the window of the barber shop before going in the hardware store to check-out the zillions of nails, screws, nuts, and bolts in hundreds of sizes sitting side by side in metal bins.
Q. This is the second book featuring the character Gail Stuart. Tell us about him and his story.
A. Gail Stuart is introduced in With One Hand Tied... It opens in November of 1954 at the fictitious Eastern State University in fictitious New Cambridge, Iowa where 18-year-old Gail is a freshman. He is suddenly falsely accused of stealing a midterm Geology test. How he extricates himself from this difficulty tells the rest of the story, which is a romp with duplicitous administrators who perceive their morality above reproach, with double-dealing fraternity hacks, with sleazy self dealing reporters, and a whole host of characters, many wacky, who either want Gail innocent or guilty.
In contrast, 44th and France plays out in 1938, when Gail is only two and consequently a minor character. It tells the story of nine year old Pat Koskuisko who inadvertently overhears his fourth grade teacher being blackmailed by a St. Paul private detective. Gail's mother, Charlotte, never one to back away from giving people what they deserve, designs a neat scheme to blackmail the blackmailer.
Q. Will there be a third book? Will it be based in Morningside or Edina?
A. I have a third book, just underway, picking up in 1957 with Gail now 21 and a senior at Eastern State. The setting is again Eastern State University with some segments in Minneapolis, Morningside and Edina.
Q. What do you do when you're not writing?
A. I work about half the time for a publisher of city and state histories and economic overviews used by chambers of commerce, cities, and economic development organizations to interest companies in relocating. Otherwise, I read history and historical fiction, maintain an interest in philosophy, play golf, attend concerts, shows, and listen to my companion/editor complain in advance about a future book the length of With One Hand Tied… Hmm. Could eleven-hundred pages produce cracks in a 25-year relationship?
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