The lunchtime tourist

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June 18, 2002 // UPDATED 1:25 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Linda S. Koutsky
Linda S. Koutsky

Father Louis Hennepin statue Basilica front lawn, 88 N. 17th St.

Whether you know it or not, every time you pass the Basilica you're blessed by a statue of Father Hennepin. Who was this namesake of Downtown's main thoroughfare and Minnesota's most populated county?

Born in Belgium in 1626, Franciscan priest Father Louis Hennepin was the first European to explore the upper Mississippi River. While working as a missionary in Canada, Hennepin perfected his skills as a wilderness explorer. Soon Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle brought Hennepin along on an expedition through the Great Lakes. In 1680, La Salle sent Hennepin to explore the upper Mississippi by canoe.

His party of three was soon captured by Sioux Indians and brought to a village near Mille Lacs Lake. Two months later, leaving one man as a hostage, Hennepin was given permission to retrieve supplies La Salle left at the mouth of the Wisconsin River. Paddling down the Mississippi he came upon the falls and named them St. Anthony after his patron saint. (Little did Hennepin know the Chippewa and Sioux who inhabited the area already knew the falls as Kakabikah, Minirara, and Owahmenah -- but his name stuck.)

Eventually Daniel Greysolon Sieur de Luth, a North Shore explorer, rescued the group and Hennepin returned to France where he wrote three books about his adventures. Thomas Jefferson owned first editions of the books and the Lewis and Clark Expedition used Hennepin's maps. He died in Rome in 1701.

Fred Slifer designed the 19-foot copper statue gazing at the city's progress. More than 15,000 people attended the statue's unveiling during a three-day celebration in 1930. The base is Minnesota pink granite with an inset bronze relief panel based on a painting by Douglas Volk. The next time you travel on Hennepin Avenue, remember the Franciscan explorer whose name dots our maps.

LUNCH TIP: The specialty at Joe's Garage on Harmon Place is mashed potatoes with various toppings. Sit on the rooftop deck or a sidewalk table overlooking Loring Park.