I’m going out of town this week. I’ll be having fun and celebrating my kid’s graduation from high school and I’ll be conducting research for The Skoghall Mystery Series. But wait, there’s more. I’ll also be making a literary pilgrimage.

How’s that for a long weekend?

The Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre is famously haunted. It’s been on TV and everything. My kid and I will be spending the weekend with a group of paranormal investigators and mediums, exploring the hotel, an old cemetery, and other haunts. I believe on Friday you’ll find us outside, howling at the full moon.

I’m sure I’ll have stories to tell about things that go bump in the night, all great material for The Skoghall Mystery Series. That covers the celebration and research part of the trip, but what about the pilgrimage?

Sinclair Lewis (1885 – 1951) was born and raised in Sauk Centre. He worked at the Palmer House Hotel. He’s also said to be one of the spooks haunting it. Part of our weekend includes a visit to his childhood home.

Sinclair Lewis, the writer behind the pilgrimage

Sinclair Lewis in 1914

Not sure who Sinclair Lewis is? I know, he’s not as famous as Hemingway or Fitzgerald. But he is the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. Maybe I’ll get the chance to ask a Nobel Laureate for writing advice.

Sometimes when I’m in used book or antique stores, I buy any old book that looks like fun. One day I picked up Lewis’s Mantrap. I hadn’t found the time to read it before now, but figured I’d better know even a little of his work before I meet the man. Er…ghost. (One can only hope!)

The book received mixed reviews. It seems it was a bit of disappointing genre fluff coming from the pen of a Pulitzer Prize winner (the Nobel came later). Others, however, enjoyed it well enough. Well enough that it was first serialized in Colliers Magazine. The serialized version ended in May 1926. The novel was released in June of the same year. It seems to me someone expected a fair demand for Mantrap. What’s more, my copy is from the fifth printing in September 1926. I don’t know how many books they printed at a time, but it only took a few months for them to run the fifth printing. And it inspired two movie adaptations, in 1926 and 1940.

Are you having the same thoughts as me about the literary-genre divide? And isn’t it reassuring to know that it seems even a Nobel Laureate faced that particular criticism?

Here’s an excerpt for your reading fun.

Our hero, Ralph, has been encouraged to escape the city and travel with an obnoxious companion through the wilds of Canada. In chapter 2, he has ventured as far afield as the department store.

The expert clerk, whose training in perilous exploration had not been entirely within the establishment of Messrs. Fulton & Hutchinson, but had included three weeks in a Y.M.C.A. camp on Lake Chautauqua, unloaded upon Ralph a few large red bandannas, coat and trousers and hat of oilskin, self-ventilating gloves, folding slippers, woolen socks especially made by some special firm for some special purpose about which the clerk was a little hazy, high laced boots, low laced boots, and shoes of canvas with rubber soles an inch thick.

By this time Ralph was recalling Wes Woodbury’s tense prayer, “Whatever you do, for the love of Mike, keep your outfit small!”

He escaped from the seventh floor after buying, under the clerk’s ardent counsel, a duffle bag so large that if it were entirely filled no Indian yet born could have carried it across a portage. It was a charming and tricky duffle-bag. It had inside pockets, outside pockets, and topside pockets, each with straps and flaps and delightful little padlocks. It had loops and whorls and thongs. There was only one trouble: the top flap was so ingenious that there was no way of fastening it to prevent its bulging open and admitting all the rains of heaven. Ralph did not discover this until he was in a canoe on Lake Warwick.

For a first adventure in outfitting, Ralph had really been very self-denying, when it is considered with what dreadful hypnotized fascination he looked at tents with phonographs and folding ice-boxes and portraits of Roosevelt; at lovely duck-hunting suits of grass, like the costumes of Hawaiian dancers; and compellingly real wax models slumbering with every sign of comfort in eiderdown sleeping-bags.

Alida's copy of Mantrap

My copy of Mantrap.


As someone with an REI membership and growing supply of gear for various endeavors, let me just say, I know, right? 

I am far from finished reading Mantrap, so this jury is still out, but I expect an adventure tale will make for pleasurable weekend reading—even if it is low-brow for a Nobel Laureate and all!

And who knows, maybe while I’m there I’ll get my copy signed by the author.


Do you have any literary pilgrimage stories to share? Post them in the comments below.

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