It's agate time!
Agate Days this weekend
Tom Olsen shows Mrs. Vernon Janssen and daughter JoAnn some of his agates.
Several community members, who were also agate pickers, came up with the idea for Agate Days after they had often seen people walking along the Soo Line railroad tracks, looking for Lake Superior agates. Gravel from the Soo Pit, located just north of the city, had been spread along the Soo Line railroad tracks throughout the region.
The two originators of the idea were Floyd Clark and Walt Lower of Moose Lake.
Lower had been to Wickenburg, Arizona, and had seen an event that he felt would work in Moose Lake for Agate Days.
“They had a sluice box made with a screen and boards,” he said. “There was a gold mine there. They would fill the sluice box with water and slide the dirt in the box back and forth to separate out the gold. The gold would fall to the bottom. They built a sluice run on the street.
“Floyd had brought up the idea of hauling in a load of dirt and dumping it in the campground.
“I had a better idea. I said that we could dump it on Elm Avenue.”
Those ideas led to the first Agate Days in 1969. But the event wasn’t without controversy.
“The merchants just hated it,” Lower said. “None liked it. They would have shut it down if they had their way.”
The Carlton County Gem and Mineral Club became involved with the event, and the first show was set up in a tent located between the bank and the theater on Elm Avenue.
“It poured rain that day,” said Lower. “We had it in the parking lot by the power plant for a few years, too.
“When we moved the Gem and Mineral Show to the school, the basketball coaches didn’t like it. They said that the rocks would ruin the floor.”
The event drew many rockhounds to the community, and a neighboring community wanted some of the action.
“The Gem and Mineral Club had a lot of members in Carlton and Cloquet,” said Lower. “Cloquet wanted it every other year. I could see what would happen, it would end up in Cloquet all of the time.”
Despite all of the threats to the annual event, Agate Days remained in Moose Lake, and Moose Lake became known as the Agate Capital of the World. A 108-pound agate, the largest ever found, is on display in the window of the First National Bank.
“It wasn’t easy to keep it going,” said Lower.
Tom Olsen, president of the Carlton County Gem and Mineral Club at the time, was instrumental in the success of Agate Days, and the stampede is now known as the Clark-Olsen Agate Stampede.
Both Clark and Olsen have passed on, but their legacy, Agate Days, lives on.
The stampede, held this year on Saturday, July 13, at 2 p.m. on Elm Avenue, draws hundreds of people from far and wide. At the sound of a cannon firing, people of all ages dive into two large loads of gravel that have been spread out along Elm for a block and a half, seeking agates and quarters that had been seeded into the loads.
“It’s the funniest thing that you ever saw,” said Veronica Fenice, executive director of the Moose Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Lake Superior agate, a video will be shown at the Moose Lake Public Library, located in the civic and community center building on Elm Avenue, before the stampede. Or they can go to the Moose Lake State Park, where there is an agate museum. The park is open for free on July 13 and 14.
Admission to the two-day Gem and Mineral Show, held at the Moose Lake school gym and elementary parking lot, is free, and exhibitors come from all over the nation. Rocks are brought in from all over the world. Most are for sale in raw form or mounted on jewelry and other products.
The show is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
A young girl drew a name out of the box held by Floyd Clark during the Gem and Mineral Show at the school in 1977.
Rockhounds can search for agates themselves in several of the gravel pits in the area but they must have a permit. The permits are available for free at the chamber of commerce visitors’ center, located at the intersection of Highway 73 and 61.
Due to the large crowds that come for Agate Days, parking is available at several parking lots in the community, and shuttle service is provided by Moose Lake Motors. The shuttle brings attendees on a regular route to the school and city park, downtown and to the state park.
The shuttle service is available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Parking is available Hamlin-Hansen-Kosloski Funeral Home, Hope Lutheran Church and Lake State Credit Union.
Other events that weekend include Art in the Park on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with live music and food, and the Moose Lake Volunteer Fire Department Steak Fry at the Emergency Response Center on Saturday, starting at 4:30 p.m.