Bob Dylan lived here

A sense of belonging will keep students from kicking the glass out of bus shelters.

John Hoff

Students come and go, but since 1913 the Witch’s Hat Water Tower has stood as a pale, constant sentinel in Prospect Park. Hot and lazy days in July are like precious rubies, and a person wants to obtain the most value from each one, but a visit to the Witch’s Hat is well worth a summer afternoon.

It is rumored that Bob Dylan’s song “All Along the Watchtower” was inspired by the Witch’s Hat. For many months, I passed by the tower on the No. 16 bus, telling myself some day I would go up to determine the function and purpose of the structure.

Solving the mystery did not, however, prevent me from returning, over and over, to read the metal plaque and linger for the spectacular view of the Minneapolis skyline jutting through thick, tangled woods. I would tell you the purpose of the tower, here and now, but that would spoil your sense of discovery.

Here is a clue: water pressure. Very important.

Sometimes I think all we need to make life better in the neighborhoods around the University is a bunch of brass plaques explaining local history. If students feel connected to a place through its stories, that sense of belonging will keep students from, for example, kicking out the glass of bus shelters or climbing helpless little trees until the branches crack off.

Since students aren’t going to sit down and read history books about the neighborhood (unless it’s for a class, which would be a great class) then the optimum way to instill that sense of belonging and connectedness would be through historical markers.

Here are some suggestions for cool markers.

>Bob Dylan lived here. Besides the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house at 928 Fifth Street S.E., a marker should be placed at or near Loring Pasta Bar, to mark the fact that Dylan once lived in a room above it, back when it was Gray’s Drugstore.

>The Battle of Dinkytown. Students in 1970 risked their lives and shed their blood to keep our neighborhood fun and funky instead of cold and corporate. Let’s find some old brass bullets from the Vietnam War era, melt them down, and make a plaque. Flower power rules, man.

>Riverside Plaza – Utopia in 1970s pastel colors. Those tall, distinctive, multicolored apartments on the West Bank were built in a style called “modernist and brutalist,” with the idea of being a kind of utopia where diverse ages and income levels would mix and mingle. In the world of television reruns, the buildings are the home of Mary Tyler Moore.

I’d like to see big brass plaques out front, in a multitude of languages, explaining the history of this fascinating place. However, some have opinionated that the color scheme reveals the period of construction and, therefore, the unseemly aging aspect of the buildings. So, along with a spiffy new brass marker, it’s time to redecorate the building in a new and striking style. What if you took the flag of Somalia and sort of morphed it into the American flag, and put that on the exterior panels? Hey, just an idea.

In a place as rich in history as the neighborhoods around the University, many markers are possible. The point of the markers, however, is not to memorialize past deeds but to make residents who pass through this place think and feel, “This is my home. I love my home and know all its stories. Why would I wreck or trash my wonderful home?”

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