Today’s guest post comes from Steve Grooms.
My home is unusual in several ways, starting with the fireplace. It is so ugly that I have often thought about replacing or remodeling it. My home is feminine, with soft curves everywhere: in the roof, in the sidewalks, in the round-top front door, and elsewhere. But in a home where everything is Marilyn Monroe curvy, the fireplace is straight as a ruler. Most fireplaces are wide at the base and then they taper gracefully above the mantel. My fireplace is a straight column, like a big tombstone. Most fireplaces have some kind of mantel for visual relief, but not mine. It is just a big pile of bricks.
According to legend, the fireplace was designed by the architect of the home, Joe Lutz, a man who designed this house for his own family. Joe was a bricklayer as well as an architect, and very proud of it. I’ve been told that Joe sat cross-legged for almost a day on the living room floor, fiddling with bricks to design the fireplace. There are six ways bricks can be combined in construction—six and not five or seven. Joe Lutz finally created a design that would combine all six of those bricklaying techniques. So my fireplace isn’t just a fireplace; it is a showcase of the bricklayer’s art.
Because of its history, I’ll never change the fireplace. It meant a lot to the man who designed my home, and I’m compelled to respect his intentions. I am only the current custodian of this home, and the only appropriate program for me is to be humble about making big changes in the place. The fireplace has rights that are greater than my rights.
And it is one of a kind. I’ve got the only one like it in the world.
US Highway 2 cuts across northern Wisconsin, running east and west. It’s a famous road. Not famous is the tiny town of Oulu, which lies just north of US 2. If you want to go to Oulu, you drive a bit east of Brule to Oulu Rock and follow the big blue arrow on it to Oulu.
Oulu was created and is mostly inhabited by folks of Finnish ancestry. They have names like Aho, Lampinen, Kohlemeinen, Reinikainen and so forth. The town doesn’t have much going for it. Its one unusual feature is a glass-blowing gallery. Other than that, Oulu is another tiny unincorporated Wisconsin town just like a thousand other such tiny towns.
And yet there is one other distinctive thing, something in which Oulu’s residents take great pride: the Oulu Rock.
A very long time ago, people needed a way to spot that little road that runs north from Highway 2 to Oulu. Citizens of Oulu placed a large rock at the intersection and painted the rock white and blue, the colors of the Finnish flag. And they painted “Oulu” in large letters, with an arrow to point the way.
Not long ago, the Wisconsin Highway Department informed the folks of Oulu that their rock had to go. Highway design specifications require the erection of a standard highway sign to point the way to Oulu.
The highway bureaucrats were unprepared for the ferocity of Oulu’s response. They didn’t want no frickin’ highway sign and they didn’t need one because they already had a frickin’ rock. Almost nobody ever wants to go to Oulu, to tell the truth, and if they do want to go they probably know the way already! The Finns of Oulu told the highway department folks just where they could stick their standard highway sign.
The highway department countered with all the predictable arguments. They argued for the virtues of standardization. They said a reflective sign would be easier to read than a rock. They said they operated under mandates from the legislature and didn’t have the power to make an exception like this. They said The Law demanded that Oulu accept a highway sign. End of argument.
Cynics say you can’t beat city hall, but Oulu beat the Wisconsin Highway Department. Civic pride and Finnish obstinacy crushed the bureaucrats and their boring laws. When Highway 2 was widened recently, the Wisconsin Highway Department even helped move the rock a few feet north. And it is there today, proudly pointing the way to Oulu.
No other town in Wisconsin has what Oulu has. There are a thousand unincorporated villages in the state, but only Oulu has a highway rock. It is one of a kind.
What have you encountered that is absolutely original . . . one of a kind?