Sorry, Charlie!

The Twin Cities mark the occasion of Charles Schulz's retirement by scrambling to turn him into a hometown hero

 

A handful of kids are jumping around the plastic playpen at the entrance to Camp Snoopy in the Mall of America's core. As they bounce, the 50-foot inflated Snoopy wriggles and waves. Down the path kids are getting ready to embark on the Snoopy truck ride, while across the seven-acre indoor park the kite-eating-tree ride whirls as the youngsters shriek with glee.

The amusement park opened along with the mall in 1992. Developers had wanted to include Camp Snoopy because of its family nature; mall officials say it was only after the fact that they realized the extra bonus that Schulz was from here. It's quiet on this weekday afternoon, as dusk falls across the skylights. But wait, what's that around the corner?

An actor clad in an oversize, polyester-plush Lucy costume, replete with red coat and hat, waves at passing shoppers. A moment later Snoopy appears, big, soft, fluffy, in striped stocking cap and scarf. A little girl races up the trail and jumps into the beagle's arms, burying her laughter in the famous pet's squishy belly.

Perhaps pop culture expert Marling is right about this place, when she suggests it might be the Twin Cities' greatest possible tribute to Schulz. "It's a place of pleasure--for kids and family. That it alighted near St. Paul must have been fortuitous," she remarks. "It's as if fate is holding Schulz to this area, through he hasn't been here for many years."

In the ephemeral world of pop culture, it's hard to know what icons and images (if any) will last through the ages. Schulz, Marling says, was always at one with his work--and "that's what makes the strip so successful. To make Charles Schulz into a media idol seems to me to diminish him. If in ten years we slip a Snoopy into a park, he might like it better, and ultimately, we might, too. This is a man of shyness, invested in his art. We'd be false to Schulz to make a big deal of this." At that she pauses, and after a moment adds, "It would be a pleasant surprise if you were walking around a bush in Minnehaha Park and there were Snoopy."

Perhaps the fact that the strip--Schulz's life work--has so resonated with the public is already enough recognition, suggests Marling. "This is a person who has been honored. His immense popularity and presence around the world might be quite sufficient," she says. "Maybe a man's work is its own legacy."

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