Letterbox Name: The Great American Pin-up Series: Mary
Location: Afton, MN
Distance: 2.5 miles
Once upon a time, there were eight lovely sisters. They were born in Lake County, Illinois, and were raised in an old farmhouse and, after they had grown up, they made their way out into the world. They found nice nooks and cozy niches to call home, and found themselves receiving all sorts of visitors.
But every so often, the sisters longed for a bit of adventure themselves, and hit the trail to go and see their cousins, who lived in all kinds of interesting places. One day Raven got a call from her cousin Mary, inviting her to Minnesota for a visit. As girls, Raven and Mary had often spent long spring weekends together in Minnesota, walking in the woods or playing in the sand on the shores of the St. Croix River. Raven was thrilled by the prospect of seeing her cousin again, and immediately began making preparations for her flight.
For her part, Mary made certain that she had the weekend off of work, and gave some thought to how she wanted to spend the day with Raven. She thought that a hike would be nice, and maybe a picnic in the hills above the river. So she made her plans, and waited anxiously for the day (and her cousin) to arrive. They had agreed that Raven would meet Mary on Friday afternoon, in the park across the street from the building in St. Paul where she worked as a model for a local artist.
On that afternoon, Mary was in a bubbly mood, and couldn’t wait for the day to end. Truth be told, she could barely sit still, and that could be a real problem in her line of work. But sit still she did, and the minutes ticked away until the weekend arrived. Mary grabbed her umbrella, for it had looked like rain earlier in the day, and headed over to the park.
Now when Raven and Mary spoke on the phone, Raven had filled Mary in on a few of the more important details of the last few months. She’d moved out of the house she’d grown up in and, perhaps most notably, discovered a few new “talents” that she possessed. And though Mary trustingly scanned the skies for a sign of her cousin, she could not help being completely stunned to see Raven descending through the gray clouds, astride a broomstick. She’d always known that Raven longed to soar through the sky. But to actually see it happening was another thing entirely. She was filled with amazement, disbelief and, most importantly, happiness at the sight of her cousin.
The two went into town for some dinner, and Mary told Raven about all that had been happening in her life. She’d found work as a model, but had found the travel to be a strain. Then, as luck would have it, she heard from a friend about a Mr. Elvgren, who worked out of a studio in St. Paul, painting pictures for the Brown & Bigelow calendar company. So she’d gone to meet him and found his paintings to be charming and fun. And for the last several months, he’d offered her a steady stream of opportunities to sit for him.
“Well, Mary,” said Raven, “I can’t say I’m surprised in the least. You always were stunning.”
Mary blushed at the compliment. “Thank you, Raven,” she replied. “There’s something so wonderful about seeing a newly-finished painting and knowing that I’m the one in the picture.”
“And it sounds like this Mr. Elvgren does some interesting work,” said Raven with a knowing smirk.
“Oh, you mean the calendar girl pictures,” smiled Mary. “Well, some of them are a bit silly, I suppose. But I like the work that Gil does. It’s like there’s a story in the picture, and there’s something else that he captures. It’s like the scene is completely far-fetched, and yet there’s something very real. I’m afraid I’m not explaining it very well.”
“You’re explaining it just fine,” laughed Raven. “He’s able to capture something real about you, and the other girls he paints too. And then he goes and puts that real, pretty person into a ridiculous predicament that just happens to always result in an exposed thigh or two.”
“Well, it’s not like that’s all that the pictures are about,” Mary retorted, with a slight pout in her voice.
“It’s lovely work, really,” replied Raven, trying to soothe her cousin’s hurt feelings. “Let’s go get some sleep. We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
And with that, Mary’s smile returned and the two left the restaurant arm-in-arm, both looking forward to a Saturday in the park.
When the morning arrived, it brought with it a cloudless sky and a warm, sunny breeze. Mary and Raven headed to Afton State Park, just southeast of St. Paul. When they arrived at the Visitor’s Center, though, they found that it was closed for an event of some type. So they took a few of their things with them, and began to hike, headed north toward the parking lots.
As they made their way past the final parking lot and the picnic area, they found a stairway that led down towards the river. They decided to take the stairs down the hill, and followed a paved path to an intersection near the river. The paved path veered to the left, toward the beach. But the path to the right was a gravel path that led along the riverbank. And it was this River Trail that they chose to walk along as the morning gave way to the afternoon.
They walked slowly, and talked about the good times they’d had as girls, playing near the river. They talked about the good and bad of their lives, and how much they treasured the friendship and support that they’d gotten from their families over the years. It was then that Raven said, “Look, about what I said last night.”
Mary smiled gently, saying “Raven, you’re entitled to your opinion of Gil’s work, whatever it may be.”
“I just didn’t mean to offend you,” replied Raven.
“I know that some of the paintings are goofy, but there’s a beauty to them, and I really like doing this kind of work. I can’t always explain it, but it makes me happy.”
“You really do like what the paintings capture, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. It’s like the paintings show a side of me that I really like. It’s sensual and fun and somehow strong. And the stories are fun, I think.”
“Well, I guess that settles that, then,” said Raven with a sly grin. And with that, the two continued walking southward along the river, past small groups of people carrying packets of white and green paper.
Eventually, they came to a group of five or six boulders all in a row, lining the trail. Nearby, they saw a yellow “State Park” sign facing the river on the east side of the trail, and a large Y-shaped branch sticking out overhead from the west side of the trail. They sat down by the fifth stone, which was the largest of the bunch (about 2.5 feet square). They ate their lunch, looking out at the river.
“I like it here,” said Mary.
“Me too,” replied Raven, “But I should be getting home soon.”
“I know. Do you plan on flying back from here?”
“Yep,” said Raven, holding the broom which had, to that point, served as a walking stick.
So they hugged and said their farewells, and Mary watched as Raven gently ascended across the river, and southeast toward Illinois. Then Mary returned to the boulder where the two had eaten lunch, and looked behind the stone. On the ground, behind the boulder was a group of smaller rocks, and some branches. She yawned, stretched, and laid down for a nap, nestled between the rocks, covered by the branches.
She’s there waiting for you to find her, but please rehide her well so that others can find a picture of Mary, as painted by Minnesota’s own Gil Elvgren.
The Great American Pin-up series is, first and foremost, a celebration of the style, femininity, and fun of pin-up art over the years. While great care was taken to select images that would not offend, it’s worth noting that some letterboxers, including those traveling with younger children, might find the images to be “rated PG”. That said, we hope that you enjoy the images as much as we’ve enjoyed selecting and carving them.
Please note: The stamps are a bit large, and will require a 4”x 6” space for stamping. We also strongly recommend inking pens, to bring out the full detail of the stamps.
Note about the park: In 2008, the daily fee to enter the park is $5.