A History of Famous Minnesota Couples – Mpls.St.Paul Magazine

For decades, if Minnesotans needed to stay informed about coupling and uncoupling, they had one real option: C.J.’s column in the Star Tribune. Well, after nearly 30 years of gossip, C.J. retired in September, and now it’s up to us to make sense of it all, just in time for Valentine’s Day. So, what is love? Is it, as Shakespeare wrote, smoke raised with the fume of sighs—or, in February, are we just seeing our breath?


1863

Young steamboat entrepreneur James J. Hill meets a teenage waitress, Mary Theresa Mehegan, in the Merchant Hotel’s dining room. After sending his fiancée off to finishing school, he marries her four years later in the parlor of Bishop Grace’s St. Paul home. Why not a church wedding? Hill isn’t Catholic.


1890

Laura Ingalls Wilder and her wheat-farming husband, Almanzo, move in with his parents in Spring Valley. Their first four years of marriage stir up biblical disasters—recounted in the last book in her Little House series, The First Four Years.


1904

Ida Dorsey, an African American madam, carries on an affair with Carleton Pillsbury, the grandson of Mayor George A. Pillsbury. After Carleton’s death, in 1916, Dorsey begins referring to herself as “Mrs. Ida Pillsbury.”


1921

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, with their young daughter, Scottie, nearly make it through the summer in a cottage at the White Bear Yacht Club. That is, until the club tosses them for drinking too much. The couple leaves in the fall for Great Neck, N.Y., never to return.


1958

Andy Knutson, the husband of Minnesota’s first congresswoman, Coya Knutson, becomes insanely jealous of his wife’s success. He begins signing a series of “Coya, Come Home” letters, written by her Republican rivals and published in national newspapers. Coya loses the ’58 election.


1960

Bob Dylan asks his U of M girlfriend,  Bonnie Beecher, for a trim before visiting his mother back in Hibbing. Dylanologists suspect Bonnie to be the fabled “Girl from the North Country”; she’s definitely responsible for the much-bootlegged “Bonnie, Why’d You Cut My Hair?”


1961

On April Fools’ Day, Tammy Faye LaValley marries Jim Bakker in the basement of the Minneapolis Evangelistic Auditorium (now Music Box Theatre), where Jim works as a youth pastor and Tammy sings in the choir. (Fun fact: Their son, Jay Bakker, preaches Sundays at Bryant-Lake Bowl.)


1971

Wearing white bell-bottoms and macramé headbands, gay rights activists Michael McConnell and Jack Baker marry in a Minneapolis apartment. (Baker first changed his name to “Pat Lyn” to obtain a license.) It’s the first gay marriage in the U.S.


1982

After a four-year stint with a nationally syndicated show, Steve and Sharon Edelman return to Hubbard Broadcasting with a daytime talk show, Good Company. It will become the highest-rated local TV show in America.


1983

On the Iowa set of the farm film Country, Sam Shepard becomes “overwhelmed with the desire to propose” to his girlfriend, Jessica Lange. He offers her an antique sapphire ring and she accepts. They move together to Stillwater—but never actually wed.


1985

Attending his 25th high school reunion, in Anoka, Garrison Keillor reacquaints himself with Ulla Skaerved, a former foreign exchange student—and leaves his longtime partner and producer. When the Prairie Home Companion audience turns on him, Keillor and Skaerved go into exile in Copenhagen.


1989

Kim Basinger moves to Minnesota to hang with Prince. Fearing that she’s under some sort of sex spell, her family arrives unannounced at Prince’s house and drags her back to L.A. Their fears are confirmed with the release of the 19-minute-long “Scandalous Sex Suite.”


1995

Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner dumps his girlfriend of 13 years and starts dating Winona Ryder. Somewhere in Hollywood, Johnny Depp hears “Runaway Train” and wistfully rubs his tattoo.


1997

Barbara Carlson publishes This Broad’s Life, a tell-all that details her 12-year marriage to former governor Arne (they divorced in ’79). She labels her erstwhile spouse an “indifferent lover” but admits to stabbing him—twice.


2005

Vikings safety Fred Smoot rents two yachts from Al & Alma’s Supper Club and Charter Cruises and organizes a Lake Minnetonka orgy for the team’s bye week. Seventeen players and nearly 100 flown-in sex workers participate in the team-building exercise.


2011

Seventy-two days after marrying in a $20 million, two-part wedding ceremony, broadcast on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kim Kardashian files for divorce from local ball hog Kris Humphries.


2019

Rep. Ilhan Omar files for divorce from her husband, Ahmed Hirsi, amid allegations of her affair with a political consultant. The divorce mercifully ends one of the most confusing marriages in state history.

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