Rod Bernu

Special to the Dispatch

In the 1930s, as a young boy living in the small town of New York Mills, Minnesota, with a population of some 600 people, news and entertainment outlets were available to our family in bits and pieces. My parents were able to scrape together enough money to purchase a small radio; and, they subscribed to the weekly edition of the Fergus Falls Sunday newspaper. This was a true blessing because it exposed me at an early age to Robert Ripley.

I learned that Robert Ripley was born in 1890 and passed away in 1949 at the age of 59. In his early years he was best known for publishing small picture cartoons in many syndicated newspapers; and later, appearing on radio and television, all under the heading of “Believe it or Not.”

I always looked forward to reading the newspaper and Ripley’s mind-entertaining caricatures of people and events. For example, he would show a sword swallower sliding a long sword down his throat; a man eating glass, another sleeping on a bed of 16 penny nails, another drinking gas and blowing a flame of fire, a person with two heads, ten fingers on each hand, etc., etc., and on and on he went with these unimaginable life’s oddities.

Because of my early interest in Ripley’s drawings and stories, my curiosity in unusual events and talented people always stayed with me. When I was ten-years old my buddy Eddie and I were walking back home along the railroad tracks after trapping pocket gophers to earn a little bounty money. As we reached what was commonly referred to as the “bum jungle,” we stopped to listen to a young man who was playing his guitar and singing to a group of itinerant travelers who were waiting for the next boxcar ride out of town.

We were fascinated by his playing and singing so we stopped to watch and listen. To this day, I still remember the lyrics as he sand “So long it’s been good to know you, but I’ve got to be rolling along.” His traveling companions clapped and said, “sing another,” he proceeded to strum his guitar and sing “This land is my land, this land is your land.”

After he finished his songs, he spotted us standing nearby so he waived us over and asked, “You lads live around here?” “Yes,” I said, right down the tracks a half-mile; and I quickly added, “You sure are good with that guitar and your singing. Are you a stage performer?” “Well,” quite modestly, he said, “From time to time, as I travel around our great nation, I get invited to sing on the radio and perform on the stage by those who I’m acquainted with.” “I said, I want to remember you, what’s your name?” He kind laughed and said, “Woody, Woody Guthrie.”

Believe it or not.