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Christmas in Missoula, Montana

Dear Diary,
On Christmas Eve, the kids and I flew out to Missoula, MT to spend the holiday with Nick. He had a 30-hour overnight, and rather than he be alone, I wanted the four of us to be together.

Missoula is a college town, growing steadily, and has an active downtown scene. We stayed at the Double Tree, probably one of the nicest hotels in the city (and in my opinion).

The real draw, is the scenic mountain landscape.

We found this old rail depot.

Accented by what I suspect are bullet holes!

(Especially cool is that it's called The Milwaukee Depot)

Now it's known as an Explorer's Club of sorts, established in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt.

We were able to rent a car.

It was easy to feel small surrounded by the snow-covered mountains.


Nick and the kids CLIMBED THIS on Christmas Day - which I'm sure is a Christmas memory that won't soon be topped!

Mt. Sentinel provided one of the state's most popular hiking trails since forestry students cut its switchbacks in the early 1900s. There is an M on the mountain face, first built in 1909 with whitewashed rocks, and freshman gave it an annual cleaning until a concrete 'M' was built in 1968.

It was snow-covered when we were there, and difficult to spot. The 'M' is 125-feet long and 100-feet wide, and sites 620-feet above the Missoula valley floor.

(The view of Missoula from the top!)

Meanwhile, since I didn't pack footwear conducive to a mountain climb, I stayed at ground level. I explored the surrounding college campus.


This beautiful Victorian home was a family residence for 95 years, and built by miner/cowboy Clarence Prescott, Sr. The University of Montana acquired the home from Clarence Prescott, Jr., who lived in the house until 1993.

Thanks to donations, the home was restored in 1996 to its original splendor.

Today, it's used for special events.

(The stadium - Go Griz!)


(I love this old ticket window.)

The name of this Elks Lodge is a bit ominous, but the detailed architecture was charming. I loved the spooky gargoyles at its roofline.

Thanks to my husband's obsession with the show Gold Rush, I knew immediately what this was and was instantly curious if there's still "gold in them there hills."


I had to include this sign, because I came within a mile of achieving my dream of exploring an old west ghost town.

As we scaled the mountain, I was feeling equal parts nervous and excited - nervous, because the government shutdown meant there wouldn't be staff on site, but excited for the obvious.

Unfortunately, the unplowed switchbacks proved too treacherous for our rental (which was an all-wheel drive Subaru Outback) and we had to turn around. But, even Nick promised this is a "must see" next time he has an overnight in Missoula.

(A beautiful yet random waterfall we found along the Interstate.)

(The sea container completes the aesthetic of this motel - plus I like the 60s signage.)

After exploring, we enjoyed a Christmas dinner downtown.

And of course, on our way home, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise from high above the clouds. Nick piloted our ride home to Minnesota. It was a fitting end to our quick trip, and 2018.

Murder in Mississippi by John Safran

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click on a link, I may make a small commission off of your purchase, which I will use to buy more books.

Dear Diary,
To be a fan of True Crime means you are a consumer of someone else's tragedy.

It's vital that the utmost respect is paid, and the story is well-written.

['Murder in Mississippi' by John Safran]

This book, the Australian version, puts a different spin on the True Crime genre because it emphasizes shock value. A controversial Australian journalist with a reputation for pushing boundaries regarding race, pulls a public prank on a white supremacist in Mississippi. Upon learning of his murder, he befriends his black killer and writes this book.

The author visits "the murder house" where the white supremacist was killed, interviews the detectives, defense attorneys and prosecutors; talks to the families, reads the files, transcripts and reports - it's obvious he covered both sides, did his best to remain unbiased, and did his research. Any time he hypotheses one angle or direction, he's caught off guard by a revelation that presents more questions than it does answers.

In America, it's published under the title, God'll Cut You Down.

It was an interesting account, as it provided a perspective of America's disease of racism from a non-American. It noticed that the Confederacy is still revered, and the resulting oppression of a population is visible in the neighborhoods and businesses. White areas were maintained by the state and cities better than the black areas. White initiatives were better funded, and there were still "segregation schools".

I felt no compassion towards the victim in this story, which is atypical for a True Crime book.

Instead, and while I don't condone the act of murder, I felt an understanding towards the perpetrator. I didn't find the humor John Berendt, who wrote Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, referenced in his review of the book, but I do consider this perspective one everyone should read about.

Pinkie the Elephant - DeForest, WI

Dear Diary,
Driving I-94 from the Twin Cities through Madison and continuing on to Chicago takes 6 long hours. The drive is monotonous and tedious.

But then, rising above the pavement and farm fields, something surprising: Pinkie the Elephant.

Pinkie stood proud at this gas station since the late-1960s, when the owner sought a way to make his gas station stand out from his competition. It endures as a roadside attraction and a local landmark.

Her draw continues to be successful as well - it worked on us, choosing this slightly more expensive Shell gas station for this photo-op and fill-up!

This pink elephant, along with others, were produced by Sculptured Advertising in Sparta, WI.

Pinkie was first produced in 1963 and installed in front of the Pink Elephant Supper Club in Marquette, Iowa, and upon her move here, remains one of the last in the area. Only after Pinkie was installed at this gas station did she receive her cool, Buddy Holly-style glasses.

Other elephant statues can be found at car washes, antique malls and car dealerships in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee.

The gas station sells Pinkie merchandise (we were satisfied with pictures) and works to keep the statue clean. Unfortunately, she's a sometimes target for graffiti.

You never know what you'll find on the side of the road, but discovering new things is always worth it - like pink elephants!

Shell Gas Station
4995 County Road V
DeFortest, WI 53532-1966

Book Review: Bellevue by David Oshinsky

Note: This post contains an Amazon Affiliate link. If you use my link to purchase this book, or make any other purchase through it, I may receive a small commission which I will use to buy more books.

Dear Diary,
I work in public health, specifically in administration, and after 5 years I find myself fascinated by the chronology and history of modern medicine.

There have been things I've seen, overheard and personally experienced that have shaped a perspective I don't think I would otherwise have. It's true and unfortunate, that it takes an exposure to the "other" sides of things - both the unplanned and the unexpected, often painful - to become enlightened.

And regarding the topic of public health, America can do more. We can do better.

It was then I found the title, "Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital" by David Oshinsky. I read Alexandra's review of the book after she finished it, but what struck me most was this quote on the book's back cover:

"Bellevue is rich in anecdote, history, personality and narrative. It is an indictment of a society's failure, almost three hundred years on, to extend medical benefits to all, despite the efforts of this extraordinary hospital." (Nature)

Such truth resonated that I dove into it headfirst.

Upon coming up for air at last it seemed, as I finished the final sentence, my immediate reaction was, where did we go wrong?

What the f&%* has happened?

To call this book an indictment against the current state of our country's healthcare system is spot on, and is certainly not what I want my children to inherit when they age-off my employer's health benefits.

Though I don't hold a position of influence to effect any immediate change, I do believe this book enhanced my perception, my belief and what I envision for the improvement of this country.

Read it. This book is as fascinating as it is infuriating, and with the upcoming elections, I couldn't have finished it at a more proper time.

The Haunted Pfister Hotel - Milwaukee, WI

Dear Diary,
The Pfister Hotel is a historic landmark, a Milwaukee icon, and it was built in the Romanesque Revival style and opened in 1893.

(The Pfister's grand lobby ...)

It's beautiful. In fact, I struggle to associate a proper adjective that captures the hotel's grandeur and luxury. It is simply something that must be experienced in order for it to be accurately conveyed and understood. It's for this reason that the Pfister has hosted Presidents and celebrities.

It's also incredibly haunted.


Charles Pfister who, alongside his father, Guido; owned the hotel, was a big baseball fan and supporter of the local team. When he passed away, rumors began to circulate that he would haunt the visiting team's players with the hope that it'd give the home team a bit of an advantage.

Today, as professional baseball and basketball players stay at the Pfister when they're in town for games, recent reports may point to that rumor being true.

Rangers player Adrian Beltre said he heard knocking in the hallway and on his door when there was no one around, and there was pounding on his headboard.

Rays player Carlos Gomez said as he got out of the shower to get ready for bed, he saw an iPod on his dresser start to vibrate wildly, causing it to shimmy across the furniture. Still dressed in just his towel, he raced downstairs to the front desk stating, "get me outta here."

(I wonder how many guests ran out on this carpeting due to their fears.)


The hotel cost $1 million to construct and houses the largest collection of Victorian art in the world. At the time, however, it was completely state-of-the-art, boasting fireproofing, electricity throughout and individual thermostat controls in every room.

In 1962, movie theater mogul Ben Marcus purchased the aging hotel and renovated it to its former glory. A 23-story guest room tower was added to the structure as part of the Marcus investment.

And for over 125 years, the Pfister has served its community and beyond.


Yes, I have one.

I had booked a small suite in the barely-touched, historical section of the hotel. For my money and when I have the choice, I always opt for the historical experience. I admired the craftsmanship and attention to detail, and was delighted in the fact that this renovated hotel still celebrated its history.

One morning, I was drinking coffee in the suite's sitting area. I was the only one awake, and I was surrounded by silence.

Suddenly I was startled by a knock on the door. Before I could get up to answer it, I watched the door knob turn clockwise, then counter clockwise, and then snap back in place.

The stillness and silence that followed that moment chilled me to the bone. There was no one around. And I have no explanation as to how that could have happened. To this day, I am convinced the Pfister Hotel lodges both the living and the dead.

Stay, if you dare:
424 E. Wisconsin Ave.
Web site

Related Post: An Evening at (Eric) Church

Farmington Middle Creek Historic Cemetery: Revisited

Dear Diary,
A lot has changed since my last visit to the Farmington Middle Creek Historic Cemetery.

The fallen leaves and thick foliage cast eerie shadows on the slippery path.

The cemetery entrance at the summit of the hill was haunting.

But the most important change, was the fallen headstone I photographed previously was returned to its rightful place. It remains the only headstone with legible names.

The one constant that holds true of this site - information is hard to come by.

What I do know is this: originally called the Farmington Presbyterian Cemetery, the site was devoted as a final resting place in 1868. It was in use until the early 20th century, when for reasons unknown, it was abandoned and fell into neglect.

A grave robber is purported to have disturbed at least one grave in 1980.

It was largely undocumented about until a developer proposed building a subdivision at the site in 2001. As a condition of approval, the developer had to survey and stake the boundaries, and fence it in.

Then in 2003, its name was changed to Middle Creek Historic.

A stone sticks out from the leaves. I can't be certain if there are inscriptions on it, as the age, weather, and moss have rendered it illegible.

For whatever reason, this cemetery was not used after 1906.

By accident, I discovered a geocache hidden here.

In a way, thanks to the curious like me and those who geocache, this final resting place receives plenty of visitors. It is my hope that respect is paid, and it is my hope that the souls at rest remain at peace knowing they are not forgotten.

Related Post: Farmington Middle Creek Historic Cemetery

The Haunted Flamingo Hotel - Las Vegas, NV

Dear Diary,
On December 26, 1946, Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo Hotel.
Unfortunately, the opening night was a flop. Bad weather kept many Hollywood celebrities from the event, and because the gamblers didn't have rooms, they took their winnings and gambled elsewhere.
Bugsy's mug shot (source)
The casino lost $300,000 in its opening week, after investors fronted $1 million on the site that was already under construction by Billy Wilkerson. As you can imagine, Bugsy's mob affiliations were not too keen on how he managed the property, and he was murdered in his Beverly Hills Mansion in 1947.
The crime remains unsolved to this day.
(Taken during my visit in 2017.)
As you can imagine, The Flamingo underwent numerous management changes in its long-standing history. They've also tried to distance themselves from any association to Bugsy.
Instead, the hotel celebrates the distinction of being the third hotel opened on the strip, and the oldest in operation today.
My husband and I stayed there when we traveled to Las Vegas in 2017. The fact that my grandparents stayed there decades ago was enough of a connection and history to satisfy me, but then, I learned of the hotel's supernatural side.
(The flamingoes that live in the garden's wildlife habitat.) 


Nicknamed "Bugsy's Last Haunt," there are numerous reports of his ghost wandering the property.

He lingers perhaps, because The Flamingo brought upon his death. Or, because he never saw the success it has today.

Whatever the reason, Bugsy's ghost is most often seen in the hotel's garden near a memorial to the mobster. Despite the casino's initial endeavor to disassociate itself, there was just no escaping the connection. Now it's true that the ghost may not be Bugsy, but if that were true, the spector sure likes to be in the presence of the memorial.

Even now in the afterlife, it seems Bugsy isn't at rest and he is stuck between two worlds. For whatever reason, his spirit chose to remain at The Flamingo.

When I was in Las Vegas, I ventured into the garden with the sole intent of seeing the flamingoes. I didn't see anything out of the oridinary (even by Vegas standards) and I did not feel anything weird.

Still, the stories beg the question - when Bugsy was murdered, the Flamingo was his unfinished business. Perhaps his ghost is seeing through what his living self could not ... the success of the oldest hotel currently in operation on the Las Vegas strip?

See for yourself:
3555 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas
Web site

Related Posts: Las Vegas // Hoover Dam // Valley of Fire

Update on The Abandoned Farmhouse

Dear Diary,
I believe, in life - that the secret to being interesting is to be interested.

And while the topics that interest me aren't shared by many, I cannot deny the excitement nor the fascination that today's post has inspired.

You may recall this post I wrote a couple of years ago, The Abandoned Farmhouse.

We had lived in that neighborhood for 5 years, and we could see the apex of its roofline from our living room window.

We'd pass by each time we took the kids to school. The house both creeped me out and intrigued me. To this day, that remains true.

I couldn't figure it out. The lawn was always mowed, even though the shrubs were overgrown and in desperate need of a trim. The front of the house received a fresh coat of white paint, even though the other three sides were left to chip. Curtains remained hung in the upstairs windows, while the broken panes on the lower level were quickly boarded up.

By who, and when, was an enduring mystery.

With a 'No Trespassing' sign displayed prominently on the front door, I respected the boundary it established, though I paused often to ponder its story from the sidewalk. To the right of the house was an unpaved path. There was no driveway (that I could tell) and no garage - the farmhouse was old, stuck in an era that the rest of the neighborhood moved on from.

I tried to uncover the property's history, but without knowing the house number, my attempts came up empty. We've since sold our house and moved across town.

Then one day, as I passed the property to drop off my daughter at school, I saw a "For Sale" sign in the front yard. I was caught off guard by how excited that made me. As soon as I got to work, I went online to peruse the listing.

I finally had an address. It was time to put the research skills I fostered in my time as a reporter to use, and see what I could turn up. The 2-story farmhouse has 3 bedrooms, 1 bath and is approximately 1500-square feet. It sits on 1.38 acres and was built in 1925.

"... in need of love and attention," the listing described. "Property has potential for teardown and lot split."

NO. PLEASE DON'T TEAR THIS HOUSE DOWN. I hope Minneapolis' version of Joanna Gaines swoops in to save this historic property.

"... will be sold as is."

I want so badly to get inside.

Life in 1920s Minnesota

Everything about life back then was worse. Food was expensive, and the business of America was farming. Half of America's families lived in rural areas or in towns with less than 2,500 people. Owning a home was rare, and often, multiple generations of a family lived under one roof. Even though home values were around $75,000 in today's dollars, a down payment of 50% was required.

Plus, at the time of the farmhouse's construction, St. Paul's gangster era was in full swing.

Then I read that if a home was over 50 years old, the likelihood that someone died in it was very high.

Funerals were a private, family affair, often with the viewings held in the home's front room. It was this thought, combined with the images I took of the vacant property, that would contribute to the creepy feeling I'd get as we'd approach the farmhouse.

My research

I discovered who the current owner is, and even though the documents are public record, I will not reveal the name for the sake of privacy. What I will state is the record of sales I found going back 10 years - in 1998 the property sold for $30,000 and in 2009, for $105,000.

Was this intended to be an income property?

Why else would the current owner hold on to it for so long?

Is there a personal connection?

Why was it abandoned?

A clue that the property sat vacant for some time is in the low sale price from 1998. It makes me wonder how much of a time capsule the interior is, how many personal belongings remain inside and when it was last inhabited.

I'm trying to work up the courage to ask the listing agent if I could enter.

Meanwhile, I fear I've merely uncovered more questions than I have answers.