How is it that I never knew about fairy crosses, even though you can find them on the banks of the Blanchard Dam, the last stop on the northern branch of the Lake Wobegon Trail?
It’s one of few places in the world you find staurolite, also known as fairy crosses or fairy stones.
Stearns County German Catholics believe in saints and Noah and Adam and Eve, but not fairies (although Catholics in Celtic countries possibly do). But that's another conversation.
Located near Bowlus and Royalton and a few miles south of Little Falls, the Blanchard Dam falls 47 feet – the tallest hydroelectric dam on the 2,350 mile long Mississippi River.
As with so many places in Minnesota, you can also find agates at Blanchard Dam, and other geological specimens. Agate is the state stone of Minnesota. I loved hunting for agates as a child and found many in the alley behind our house in St Cloud before it was sealed over. Everyone knows about agates in Minnesota.
But it is the Blanchard Dam's bed of schist that makes it one of those rare places where you can find fairy crosses, cooked deep inside the earth's core millions of years ago to form small 'bricks' in the shapes of Roman, Maltese, and St Andrews crosses.
The name staurolite is from the Greek word stauros, which means cross. Usually no more than an inch in diameter, each staurolite is unique, ranging in color from black to dark brown to brownish red.
Staurolite is the state mineral of Georgia, while an abundant deposit is located about 330 miles to the northeast in Virginia’s Fairy Stone State Park. Outside of the United States, the stones can also be found in Russia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, France, Italy, and Switzerland.
Its visual resemblance to a crucifix gave the staurolite religious status; they were often affixed to church entrances in the Middle Ages.
An old folklore tale ties it back to its ancient name, fairy stones. It was believed that when fairies heard of the crucifixion of Jesus, their tears rained down, hardening into fairy crosses as they soaked into the earth.
Demonstrating the literal nature of our heavily Teutonic population, and ignoring the whimsy of staurolite's links to fairies, most Minnesotans just call them 'cross rocks'.
The famous pilot Charles Lindbergh grew up in Little Falls and carried a fairy cross as a protective charm, as did ex Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson, Thomas Edison, European crown heads, and many famous military officers.
Fairy crosses are said to bring luck, give protection, and have magical powers – just what you need if you are a military officer, a flying adventurer, a crown head at risk of assassination, or a busy President of the United States.
That Thomas Edison carried one shows touching awareness that magic and mystery have their place, too. The inventor knew that not everything can be explained by formulae and academic algorithms.
I need all the luck and protection I can get.
So I look forward to a few hours of searching along the riverbanks below the Blanchard Dam to find some fairy crosses, and maybe an agate or two, like 99 Rockhounding.
It’s illegal to dig using shovels or other implements, but those who find fairy crosses say it’s easy to spot them along the shoreline below the dam.
Search for your own fairy crosses by taking Hilton Road (approximately 8.6 miles) to 68th Street (take the path at the aptly named Dead End Road).
Update: Johnnie’s Lucky Fairy Cross
We tried to find the right spot at the Blanchard Dam to find cross rocks. But we had no luck that day.
It was a beautiful afternoon when we gave up searching for the dam.
The day was waning, and it was time to head back to St Cloud.
It had been a meandering few hours exploring rural Minnesota.
Holdingford. Bowlus. Royalton. Avon. St Stephen. Rice.
The old barns and bare fields and migrating flocks of birds flittered past.
We hadn't found any cross rocks, but we'd had a lovely day.
Fortunately, I had been given a fairy cross by my cousin’s husband. He likes fossicking for agates and fairy crosses too.
I wondered if it was true that a fairy cross will bring good fortune.
So I tried it out that week, and put Johnnie’s fairy cross on my cards at the Church of St Anthony of Padua Quilt Bingo.
I’ve never won a quilt at this annual event although Grandma Lena Zwack, my mother, and many other members of the parish’s quilting group made 40+ quilts for this important fundraiser every year.
We had a great time with old friends - Julie and I attended the parish school together as kids - and yes, I was finally able to shout 'bingo', and collect a quilt.
Did Johnnie’s cross rock bring us luck?
I couldn’t say.
But it was fun to finally win a quilt.
Photos 99Rockhounding, LenaMina.com