Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Moose Lake Agate Days this weekend


Lois E. Johnson

Gary Pitoscia of the Carlton County Gem and Mineral Club holds a large agate in the palm of his hand.

Gary Pitoscia and Roger Biebl of the Carlton County Gem and Mineral Club are gearing up for another big show this weekend at the Moose Lake Community School gym and outside in the elementary parking lot.

"We have 32 vendors in the school and 50 outside," said Pitoscia in a recent interview. "The vendors come from Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and California, as well as Minnesota. I took over managing the indoor vendors five years ago and Carol Risdon takes care of the vendors outside. She has been doing that for 35 years."

This year marks the 47th Agate Days.

Floyd Clark of Moose Lake and Tom Olsen of Carlton started Agate Days in a tent in the parking lot across the street from the power plant on Douglas Avenue in 1969.

The gem and mineral show was held in the tent for several years until a storm came though one year and took down the tent, Pitoscia explained.

"After that they moved it to the school," he added.

Pitoscia said his wife, Jennifer, sparked his interest in collecting agates.

"I got into it when my wife and I were driving up from the Cities in the 1990s," he said. "We saw the sign that said, 'Agate Days.' Jennifer asked if I wanted to go see some agates. We drove around to the back of the school and met Scott Wolter."

Wolter is an expert on agates, and is the author of "Amazing Agates: Lake Superior's Banded Gemstone."

Jennifer's father, George Flaime, was a premier agate collector.

Pitoscia and Jennifer spent Sundays searching for agates in the gravel pits from Moose Lake on north to Duluth, where they live.

"We picked agates every night after work until dark and every weekend," said Pitoscia. "It was non-stop until the pits were closed."

Pitoscia explained that Jennifer left her job in 2003 to take care of her mother, and the couple started to sell agates on eBay. They now have an eBay store, JG Spanglers, and sell other items, such as magnets and puzzles, as well as Lake Superior agates.

"We have 3,000 rocks on the site right now," said Pitoscia. "It has become very popular. Often I am downstairs working on rocks and Jennifer is upstairs taking care of the store."

Pitoscia said he glues small agates on lighthouses, lamps, birdhouses and candlesticks. Those items will be for sale at their table at Agate Days. He also has large agates on display in a covered case.

Biebl spoke about the variety of stones available at the show.

"At Agate Days, you can buy stones from every continent on the planet and buy stones not from the planet," he said.

Biebl said he has pieces of meteorites that have fallen from the sky, including part of the meteorite that landed in Russia in 2012.

The Moose Lake show and one in Two Harbors are the only two shows where the Pitoscias bring their creations.

The Pitoscias tried bringing Lake Superior agates to shows in the south but found the local agates don't sell elsewhere.

"We had a table at a big fair in Branson but we couldn't sell Lake Superior agates," said Pitoscia. "Every state has its own agates that people want."

Biebl started his own agate collection after he found a red, white and blue agate when he was 5, he said in a telephone interview.

"I was praised for my stone," he said. "That praise encouraged me and I went on to become a geologist."

Biebl is the president of the Carlton County Gem and Mineral Club and is the manager of the agate stampede.

The agate stampede was held between First National Bank and Lake Theater in the early years, Pitoscia explained. Walt Lower brought the idea for the stampede after he had seen people diving into a pile of dirt digging for treasures in Arizona.

The stampede now has grown from that one short street to two full blocks on Elm Avenue. Two big dump trucks start back to back and dump rocks on the street that have been seeded with agates and quarters.

At the sound of a gun, people dive in to the long pile to grab the treasures.

"My mentors were Floyd Clark and Tom Olsen," said Biebl.

The stampede is now named for them, the Clark-Olsen Agate Stampede.

Over the years, Biebl has dealt with problems with the stampede.

"One year, they were paving Elm Avenue," he recalled. "We had the stampede on Douglas Avenue. A wire was too low when they raised the box of the truck so we had to have the wire taken down. Another year, it had rained and the truck dumped the load in one spot. Another year, the chain broke and the rocks didn't get spread out."

Biebl has also seen growth in the crowds that come for the stampede.

"It used to be that there were three or four people deep on the sidewalks before the stampede," he said. "Now it is 10 or 12 deep. It's quite a crowd. There has got to be more than 3,000 people or maybe close to 4,000 people that come for the stampede. It has gotten huge over the years."

Agates will make up the school's logo in the new school. Agates for the logo were furnished by the public and the Carlton County Gem and Mineral Club, Pitoscia explained.

"Carol Risdon is overseeing the cutting of the slabs of agate that will be put into the logo. It will be really nice. They have agates in the logo in the new school in Two Harbors, too."

Biebl spoke about the gem and mineral club's booth at the Carlton County Fair in the gold building.

"I'll be giving out small agates to the kids," he said.

Both Pitoscia and Biebl said the club needs more members, especially young members.

The club meets the third Thursday of each month, starting in September, at Trapper Pete's in Scanlon. A program starts at 6:45 p.m. and the meeting starts at 7:30 p.m.

"We have little programs at each meeting," said Pitoscia. "Those could be jewelry making to information about prehistoric items."

For information, contact Pitoscia at and Biebl at

Find the full schedule of events at the Moose Lake Area Chamber of Commerce website,


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