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These Lawless Times: The Fiberglass Rooster Mystery

Why do bad things happen to good, giant fiberglass animals?

by Joe Pastoor - August 2003

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Weldon Johnson underwent a triple bypass on April 1. Twenty days later, his rooster was gone. “It sure didn’t help his recovery any,” said his daughter, Colleen Johnson, when The Rake discussed the incident with her.

Mr. Johnson first installed the nine-foot fiberglass rooster in front of his Two Harbors gift shop in 1965. Prior to this incident, pranksters had kidnapped the bird twice, and each time he was retrieved in good condition. This time was different. In the early hours of April 21, suspects ripped the defenseless roadside attraction from his pedestal without so much as loosening a nut. Crime scene photos show the cracked and shattered remains where his feet were left behind.

When he was fished out of Amity Creek off Seven Bridges Road, the Johnsons discovered even more extensive damage, including a critical wound to the back of the head, and a section missing from his once-proud comb.

When we visited the Johnsons at their store in July, they were upbeat about the prospect of an arrest. After all, there was an eyewitness to the getaway. The ICP (Initial Crime Report) from April 21 states, “A motorist called and reported a brown pickup headed toward Duluth with a giant chicken in the back.” The Johnsons said the witness also got a partial license plate number, and that the suspects were identified as “Easties,” a word which here means, “spoiled rich kids from Duluth’s affluent East Side.” But more than three months later, no arrests have been made, and Two Harbors police report no progress since the recovery of the victim. In fact, they react a bit wearily to inquiries.

It’s possible that the THPD has grown cynical about the matter. Media saturation of the case reached as far as the New York Post and even Minnesota Monthly, while crime against humans has maintained its pace without regard to the story. Even so, the fiberglass population of the state remains among the most vulnerable to such attacks. From his office in Sparta, Wisconsin, Jim Schauf told us about numerous oversized fiberglass attractions that have been targeted by pranksters and vandals. “A fiberglass skier we made for a resort out here, someone shot an arrow through it. We also had a monkey stolen. That was a felony. That thing was worth $7,000 dollars.” Shauf’s business is called F.A.S.T. (Fiberglass Animals Shapes and Trademarks). They not only manufacture most of the oversized icons of roadside culture we know and love, but they are often the first responders when tragedy strikes. Five years ago, in Frazee, Minnesota, the world’s largest turkey went up in a fireball. F.A.S.T. saved the day with a replacement even larger than the first. While the flameout of “Big Tom” was caused by a stray welding torch, Schauf chalked up most incidents to “high school mascot stuff” and football rivalries.

Some victims, however, are never made whole. Few in Blue Earth have forgotten the day when Little Green Sprout was decapitated. Even the Jolly Green Giant was powerless to stop the carnage when Sprout’s lifeless head was dangled from a highway overpass by Fairmont vandals. He has not been replaced.

The Weldon rooster has come out of his scrape considerably better than Sprout. Workers from the Northwest Airlines A320 maintenance base in Duluth came to the rescue, meticulously restoring the rooster in their fiberglass studio, at no cost to the Johnsons. What brought about this uncharacteristic act of corporate citizenship is hard to say. Flightless poultry, however grand, doesn’t generate the marketing image a struggling airline typically wants. But there is that matter of the $838 million bailout from the state that required NWA to build the Duluth base in the first place, followed shortly by $850 million in union concessions negotiated by U.S. Rep. James Oberstar. NWA may have decided it was time to give something back. The proud fiberglass sentinel is back at his post and looking more alpha than Al Cecci at the height of his powers.

But with the case unsolved, is Two Harbors law enforcement concerned about its image? I wanted to help, so I called up north to offer a detective tip I picked up. Has the victim had a chance to pick the suspects out of a lineup, I asked? “We didn’t have a visual,” said Chief of Police Rick Hogenson. “The rooster didn’t talk to anyone when we found him. He was pretty much comatose.”

—Joe Pastoor