The Golden Girls are having a moment.
They’re on BuzzFeed lists, phone cases, T-shirts, leggings, bar crawls, and tons more —even Blanche’s trademark banana leaf bedding is hot right now!
Those of us who’ve followed the Girls since the days it played 24/7 on Lifetime know the series’ excellence. It has everything: sassy old ladies, sex, crime, toxic exes. It’s also got the many, many crazy stories about St. Olaf, Minnesota, as told by proud native Rose Nylund (played by Betty White), much to the chagrin of her roommates Dorothy, Blanche, and Sophia.
St. Olaf does not exist. (Though yes, the Girls did take a trip there in one episode.) There's a college with that name, of course, but it’s actually found in Northfield, Minnesota. And, sadly, Northfield is not a quirky Swedish-American hamlet featuring insane holidays, eccentric characters, macabre deaths, and monks whose daughters wind up telling whacky stories to baffled housemates in Miami.
But to a real Minnesotan, certain elements of Rose’s tales seem plausible. For example, why wouldn’t there be a Norwegian word—“gerkonernaaken,” Rose says—for the exact moment the dog poop turns white in the winter?
Usually, Rose offers her stories as a lesson, or to make a helpful point about something happening in the episode. As the series went on, Rose’s anecdotes only seemed to get more outlandish, becoming less helpful and more hilarious.
We collected a few of our all-time favorite St. Olaf stories (plus a bonus one set in pre-St. Olaf Norway) for your reading … pleasure, but be sure to read them with Blanche and Dorothy grumbling, “Oh shut up, Rose!” in your head.
The town dentist, a story with a real moral
Earnest T. Minkie was St. Olaf’s librarian. He was also our town’s only dentist. He had his office right in the library where he could do both jobs at the same time. Everybody hated Minkie; he seemed to take great pleasure in giving other people pain. They hated him so much that nobody ever went to the dentist or the library.
In 1938, you could tell if someone was from St Olaf—they were illiterate and had teeth that looked like Indian corn. One summer, I worked up enough nerve to check out the latest Nancy Drew. Mr. Minkie was stamping my book and his tie caught in the stamping machine. He would’ve choked to death if I hadn’t cut his tie with my Girl Scout knife! He was so overwhelmed with gratitude, he let me check my book out for a whole week. Usually he’d only let you check one out for an hour. He always said books belong in a library! The point is, some people you think are mean might need a little kindness.
Rose’s [adoptive] dad
When I think of my father, I always picture him pulling a giant tuna up main street. It wasn’t a real tuna; it was made of chrysanthemums! It was the float in the Founder’s Day Parade. You probably don’t know this, but my home town was founded by Heinrich von Einderdonnan, the first man to can tuna in its natural juices!
It was the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of our town, and my father was chosen to pull the float. He thought it was because he had the newest tractor, but actually it was ‘cuz he was the only one small enough to fit in the mayonnaise jar costume. Oh, I’ll never forget the moment we caught sight of him.
Something must have happened to the tractor because there he was, this lone little mayonnaise jar dragging this giant tuna up the hill, past the reviewing stand. I don’t think I’ve been prouder in my life.
St. Olaf’s angel of death
Gunilla Ulfsdattir was a nurse at Cedars of St. Olaf Hospital. One night, she was taking care of Sven Bjornson, and he asked her if she’d get him more mouth moisteners and then kill him. She brought the moisteners right away. The killing thing seemed to go against everything she’d been taught, but he begged and he begged, and by her coffee break, she couldn’t stand it anymore. So she pulled the plug and he died.
She was wracked with guilt that night; not only had she parked her car in a doctor’s spot, but she was never sure whether Sven’s pleading was the pain or the medication talking, or the guy in the next bed talking. The guy in the next bed was Ingmar von Bergman, St. Olaf’s meanest ventriloquist.
Dorothy: Rose, we are going somewhere with this right? If not, I’m gonna cut out your tongue.
Rose: Yes! Sven came back to haunt Gunilla! Since then, every Tuesday night at 10, 9 central, she hears noises. Some say it’s the wind, but some say it’s Sven’s voice whispering back from the other side, saying, “Turn around quick! His lips are moving!”
A morbid tale
Gustave Lundquist got sick from something mysterious and he nearly died. Well, he did die in fact. At the cemetery, Beatrice, his wife, kept screaming, “HE’S ALIVE HE'S ALIVE I CAN HEAR HIM FROM THE GRAVE!” Everybody thought it was the hallucinations of a grieving widow so they sedated her. When she woke up from her sedation, she told them that he woke up from the grave, saying “We never paid our ‘78 through ‘86 income taxes!” His partner [Bergstrom] said, “Only Gustave would know that! He must be alive!” They all raced to the cemetery and the town started digging like crazy, kneeling by the grave, even using their hands, dirt flying, Beatrice screaming.
When they opened that coffin, there he was, dead as a doornail. The point is Gustave didn’t die from his mysterious disease, he lived and recovered. Trouble was, he recovered while he was buried, so when they got to him, he’d died of suffocation. The other tragic aspect was the IRS was waiting at the cemetery to arrest Gustave’s partner, so [he] killed himself right then and there by grabbing the gun from Sherrif Tukvist and shooting himself. What they did then was, since the grave was still open and everybody was right there, and Gustv and Bergstrom had been partners, they put Bergstrom in with Gustav and had a double burial. Unfortunately, later they found out that Bergstrom wanted to be cremated.
The 4th of July in St. Olaf
Mrs. Gunderson, our grade school teacher, was the nicest woman you’d ever want to meet! As the years went by, she got her facts a little confused. In biology class, she started telling kids that the human body was made up of 80 percent Ovaltine. While we were studying World War I, she told us mustard gas was something you got from eating too many hot dogs. That’s why, to this day in St. Olaf, everyone celebrates the 4th of July with a thin omelet on a bun.
The Great Herring War
It’s like the Great Herring War between the Lindstroms and the Johannsens! The two families controlled the most fertile herring waters off the coast of Norway, so naturally, it seemed like it would be in their best interest to band together. Boy, was that a mistake! You see, they couldn’t agree with what to do with the herring. The Johannsens wanted to pickle the herring, and the Lindstroms wanted to train them for the circus!
Blanche: Weren’t they hard to see riding the elephants?
Rose: No, it’s a herring circus. Kind of like Sea World, but smaller. Much smaller, but bigger than a flea circus.
Dorothy: Tell me, Rose, did they ever shoot a herring out of a cannon?
Rose: Only once! But they shot him into a tree. After that, no other herring would do it!
Blanche: You’re making this up!
Rose: I am not – my grandfather told me that story! Of course, he also used to call me by my sister’s name. Sometimes, he’d wear his underwear on the outside of his pants. Guess he wasn’t a very reliable source.