My grandpa gave me a copy of this story that was printed in the Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society newsletter. The man interviewed, Ernie Lantto, was my great-grandfather:
A Miracle Man? A Shaman?
Old John Saari was a man onto himself. Many a stories have been told about this man with unusual powers. In 1983, after interviewing several people from the French Lake area, Batson, a writer from the Minneapolis Tribune published this story. A condensed version follows:
John Saari came from Finland. He lived in Cokato before moving to French Lake Township. Ernie Lantto, whose father, Abraham, bought the French Lake store 74 years ago knew Saari from boyhood. "I helped him move into his last cave," Lantto said, "he dug it himself." Saari slept under a cowhide with the horns and tail still attached. He possessed a magical tablecloth with which he controlled the weather by positioning it in different ways to bring rain when needed or sunshine at haying time. One summer Saari was hired to dig a ditch. It turned dry and stayed that way. When people asked why he didn't bring rain he said, "Be done digging in three days. Then you'll get your rain." And this is when it rained, reported Pat Pajari, one of the French Lake people interviewed.
In an article written by Ralph Andrist as part of a WPA project in 1939 he describes Saari as a hermit, living in several caves scattered throughout the area. He worked for various farmers as the desire struck him. If he didn't want to work, he would just say he had no time as he had to "ripen the grain." One could not miss him coming down the road. He was dressed like none other. His hair and beard were long and he wore a Scotchman's cap with a hole in the top, through which he pulled a thick lock of long hair. Sometimes he wore a cap made of calfskin with a calf's tail hanging down the side. He had a wide belt of squirrel fur with tails hanging down all around. He called this his power belt. He also claimed he got his power from his hair and beard, which he never cut.
The Batson article tells of his strength. "No question, his strength was awesome. Even as an old man, Saari easily lifted barn timbers that the strongest men of the township couldn't budge." Melvin Erickson used to tell of the great tug of war between French Lake and Albion. These contests took place at the annual creamery picnic. French Lake enjoyed a string of triumphs but its team was getting old and Albion had recruited a bunch of young giants. French Lake turned to John Saari and said they needed his help. John agreed and the battle was on. John wrapped the end of the rope around his belly, lifting his beard out of the way. He planted his feet and grasped the rope, declaring "This rope will only move one direction today." And that was the way it was. Albion's finest could not budge Old John Saari.
Got to get to that wiring soon.
5 months ago