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David Mruz is leaning into the passenger side of the parked car, rummaging through a canvas bag laden with his books and flyers. "I'm just going to do something crazy," he says in a giddy whisper. "I'm going to ring the doorbell and see what happens."
Ninety seconds later we're standing inside the front door of the little stucco house at 473 Macalester St. in St. Paul. The cozy living room is made cozier by an enormous Christmas tree looming in one corner. Like the tree, Mruz himself seems a tad too large for the room; at six-foot-three, he has a round face and round body that shake in time with his wildly gesticulating hands. He's bubbling over with information.
"Do you know whose house this used to be?" Mruz asks, excited. Owner Charlie Weier, stroking a large gray cat, says he learned about the home's quasi-historic value shortly after he and his family moved in about a year ago. Mruz hands him a sketch he photocopied from a cartoon anthology; it's a black-and-white drawing of a boy with glasses and a little Snoopy smirking in the background. "Charles Schulz was here!!!!" the paper shouts. It's a self-portrait, Mruz explains, drawn by the famous creator of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, and the rest of the Peanuts clan.
"Take a look at this," he says, handing Weier a copy of Peanuts: A Golden Celebration, a new coffee-table book published in honor of the comic strip's 50th anniversary this coming October. Then he launches into the history: After the Schulz family moved briefly to Needles, California, when Schulz was a child, they returned to St. Paul and lived in the Macalester home until Schulz's mother was diagnosed with cancer. When her pain worsened, the family moved to an apartment above a pharmacy on the corner of Selby and Snelling avenues. Mruz has told this story countless times, many of them during the days and weeks since Schulz's December announcement that he would retire the strip to concentrate on his battle with colon cancer; by now the dates and facts seem to turn somersaults with each other. But his enthusiasm, his affinity for Schulz and Peanuts, is so infectious that the details don't seem to matter much at this moment.
"Are you a fan?" Weier asks, obviously bemused by the visitor. Mruz laughs. "I'm sort of a fan. I ended up being the keeper of the faith." Then, in a moment of true Peanuts evangelism, Mruz tells Weier to keep the Peanuts book. At that, we make our way back out into the cold January evening.
This is the last stop on our Charles Schulz Twin Cities tour. By "keeper of the faith" Mruz means that for a quarter-century he has studied the history of cartooning in Minnesota and has an unusually expansive knowledge of Schulz and his local ties. Mruz, dressed a little like a Peanuts character himself in sneakers and jeans, chatters without pause about Schulz and the Lake Harriet trolley he used to ride, Schulz and his award for best caddy at a St. Paul golf course, Schulz and all that he's done to engender respect for cartoon artists.
We've already been to the site of the correspondence art school where Schulz learned and later taught his craft (it's a parking lot today). We've been to the Highland Park Golf Course, where Schulz worked as a young man. We've been to O'Gara's pub at Selby and Snelling (the original bar has taken over the space where Schulz's father Carl had a barbershop, and upstairs, in Apartment 2, Schulz drew the first Peanuts characters). We've been to the former ice rink in Minneapolis where Schulz would come to watch skaters rehearse for the Ice Follies (it's now the Uptown Rainbow Foods).
And we've been to the intersection of Ninth Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, the site of the apartment building where Schulz was born (the house has been torn down to make way for parking lots and a construction site). There, Mruz taped up his flyers on a nearby telephone pole. That corner is where he'd like to see a statue erected, perhaps of Carl and Dena Schulz with their little son Charles. He says he's tried for years to get the City of Minneapolis interested in such a marker, to no avail. In fact, Mruz says, he's tried more times than he can count--always unsuccessfully--to get some sort of public recognition of the cartoonist in his hometown.
Mruz says he has campaigned to have the Selby apartment and the site of Schulz's birth registered as historic places, with no luck. He also talked to the St. Paul government a couple of years ago, when Schulz turned 75. "We wanted the City of St. Paul to do something," he remembers. "They were really disinterested."
Even as far back as the 1970s Mruz and other local cartoon historians asked the Minnesota Historical Society to recognize the lasting lines Schulz has drawn on popular culture. "I was hoping eventually there'd be some permanent display recognizing that Charles Schulz was from here," he explains wistfully. "One little tiny wall, or one tiny photograph, even a mention that Snoopy was created here." The museum, he chortles indignantly, even has an exhibit recognizing the creator of the children's game "Cootie"! (Little does Mruz know that the same exhibit does offer a minor indication that the creator of Peanuts, the world's most popular comic strip ever, hails from the Twin Cities: a palm-size white yo-yo with a "campus cool" Snoopy on it, on the floor of a modest display case.)
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