Published: July 4, 1995

Section: NEWS

Page#: 01A

Lake walkers leave notes for tree elf, and he writes back

By John Windrow; Staff Writer

Yes, Virginia, there is an elf.

He lives in the City of Lakes, down the garden path where the fountains sparkle in the sunshine and the lush, perfumed roses bob in the breeze like ballerinas on their toes.

Down where the ducklings scatter and bunch up like bits of fluff on the crisp lake water, where the big fish leap and make silver plumes splash against the bright blue sky.

If you walk around a certain lake (we won't say which one, but watchful lake visitors will know) and keep your eye on the ground - not on the leafy bowers overhead, not on the shining downtown skyline across the water, not on the elegant "V" of geese on the horizon - no, on the ground, you may spy a chipmunk-size door at the base of a tree.

It's a very handsome door, wooden with ornate hinges and a lion's head with a knocker in his teeth. That's where the elf takes his ease in his cabin by the lake.

Those regulars who jog, skate, skip, stroll and bike about the lakes have never seen the elf, but they do correspond.

The 5:45 Running Group recently left a note behind the door and received a reply in tiny, elegant type, thanking them for writing and asking that they run softly so as "not to wake me when you run by. The Missus and I like to sleep in. Have a nice day and be sure to do your stretching exercises."

Another note says: "Dear Matt B., A troll like me can't have too many fishing poles. Thank you."

Caroline and Duncan Otis of Minneapolis check on the elf's house daily. They said people regularly leave notes and gifts, tokens of affection: toys, coins, trinkets and baubles. The elf always replies in his neat, typed script, referring to himself as Mr. Little Guy, Thom, Elf and Troll.

"I thought it was originally a romantic gesture between two people," Caroline said. "But, clearly, someone stopped and left notes, probably children, and it snowballed."

Duncan sat by the elf's door, gazing at the lake. "It makes a magical place even more so," he said.

"But what a thrill," Caroline said. "Can you imagine a little boy or a little girl leaving a note for Mr. Troll and coming back in a day or two and there's an answer? What a wonderful experience."

She left Mr. Troll a note of her own. "You're adding lots to everyone's summer, a lot of magic." She also alerted him that a reporter was "checking out your house as I write." Caroline departed with a warning not to break the spell. "We shouldn't know who he is," she said.

Other notes:

"Dear Gillan, Sonia, Kate and Elizabeth, Thank you for the stickers. They were so nice I have put them up in my bedroom and look at them every night before I go to bed. This is my cabin. My real home is farther away. . . . You have to be really sharp to see me."

He refers often to his fishing exploits and urges Rachel, Robby and Martin to try minnows fried in olive oil.

Another letter addressed to Lindsay thanks her for the gift of a wreath and assures her that "I'll try not to fall in the lake. But, you know, the other day I did just that. I was fishing not too far from here when a big minnow caught my line and I went flying."

Lois Stahl and Millie MacDonald of Minneapolis stopped to open the door and peek inside. They said the elf has received flowers, a toy locomotive, a leprechaun, pog stickers and a piggybank.

"We always check to see," Lois said.

A lady named Ella happened by (she didn't care to give her last name) and said she photographed the troll's digs one day, but passersby thought she was taking a portrait of a nearby portable toilet. She fears they may have considered her a bit eccentric.

Peter Cornelison of Minneapolis also goes trolling when he walks around the lakes. He's a big fan. "I think it's a great idea," Peter said. "It's created a whole lot of interest with the people who walk regularly. The guy who started it deserves a pat on the back."

Then who should come thundering up but the 5:45 Running Group? Pat Faunce, Maisie Cromie and their friends, all regular elf correspondents, run the lakes Monday through Friday at 5:45 a.m. "We run whether it's 40 below or 90 above," Pat said. They said they love every moment of it because it makes them "feel healthy, strong and Amazonian."

Pat offered an interesting insight into the natures of the lakes. Lake Harriet is the "small-town, family lake." Calhoun is the "active, jet-set lake" and, for her, Lake of the Isles is the "intellectual lake."

So which one does our elf-troll favor? What kind of guy is he? Is Mr. Little Guy sitting on the sandy shore of Lake Calhoun with a tiny boom box? Composing existential verse in some dreamy, secluded fen at Lake of the Isles? Being comfy and down-home at Lake Harriet? Take a stroll and seek out his door; leave a note.

A reporter left his card inscribed, "Mr. Troll, who are you? Inquiring minds want to know." But the scribe went away with the feeling that the elf doesn't go on record with the press. And remember, you have to be really sharp to see him.

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Published: September 30, 1995

Section: VARIETY

Page#: 01E


By John Windrow; Peg Meier; Staff Writers


Elf update

The Lake Harriet Elf, who has delighted some 2,000 elf enthusiasts with his letters behind the tree door this year, has closed shop for the season. A message on his handsome little door says he has moved to his "castle in the East" and will return with the spring.

So, kids, look for the return of Mr. Little Guy with the tulips and the daffodils. -John Windrow

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Published: June 16, 1998

Section: NEWS

Page#: 01B

Lake Harriet's elf tree survives a brief scare

By John Windrow; Staff Writer

Published: June 16, 1998

Section: NEWS

Page#: 01B

Lake Harriet's elf tree survives a brief scare

By John Windrow; Staff Writer


Rest easy, The Little Guy is safe.

Considerable consternation broke out along the scenic shores of Lake Harriet on Monday when word spread that what's known as the elf's tree had a big red X on it.

Fish were jumping and mallards with their ducklings paddled by, but stroller-pushers wore worried looks when they saw the X on The Little Guy's abode, a green ash with a tiny wooden door at its base - a door where children have left cards and letters for the mysterious, benevolent Little Guy since the spring of 1995.

Could it be that the park people were going to cut down the elf tree?

Tricia Conroy, who was there with her 2 1/2-year-old son, Sam, was saddened at the prospect. "We love the elf," she said. "We visit it every time we walk around the lake. And this is Sam's first summer of visiting the elf."

Sam, who seemed unusually talkative for a lad of two summers, said, "The elf isn't here."

His mother asked him what was on the elf's tree. "X," Sam said with a frown.

"That's right," Conroy said, "The big, sad, X."

The elf tries to answer the notes that folks leave behind his door. He usually signs himself "The Little Guy." The elf, who asks that his name not be used, gets about 1,500 letters a month in the summer.

The tree "is always surrounded by kids," Conroy said.

Be sad no more, Tricia and Sam Conroy, it's a false alarm.

"It looks like a prank," said Lynn Parker of the forestry division of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. "It's not our paint and there's no reason for the tree to come down." Parker drove out to look the elf tree up and down when he heard about the big red X.

By midafternoon the red X had been painted over.

The Little Guy expressed relief when interviewed at his office away from the lake. "Now it's back to minnow fishing," he said.

The Little Guy said the letters are quite an obligation. "I write answers to the letters early, I write them late, I write them in my spare time," he said.

He pulled a note written on the back of a McDonald's receipt from a grocery bag he keeps near his desk. The bag was filled with scrawled letters and offers of tribute: trinkets, chewing gum, key chains and a whistle. The letter read:

Dear Mr. Little Guy,

I am Emily. I am four years old. I have a cold. I am going to make you a yellow valentine.



Mr. Little Guy said, "I don't know if Emily's going to come back. But I have to answer her. How can I not answer her?"

How indeed? And with the tree intact, The Little Guy will have the chance.

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Published: July 11, 1999

Section: NEWS

Page#: 22A


Should I stay or should I go?

By Mr. Little Guy

It's not easy being six inches tall. Granted it's better than male pattern baldness but it does make life challenging. For instance, forget about finding a decent billiard table my size, woodchucks give me no respect and I'll never drive a real car, like a Jaguar. I'll always have to settle for a minivan. And I mean a mini-mini van.

I'm an elf. You probably know me as Mr. Little Guy, my friends call me Thom. In the summer I reside at Lake Harriet, U.S.A. We summer in a tree with a wee door. You call it the elf door, we simply refer to it as our front door. Go figure. You may know the drill. People leave messages in our tree and I answer them. The rest of the time I live in a castle to the east of Harriet, with my wife and our five-year-old daughter, Alta Lucia, the princess elf. Our castle has a copper door, marble walls and a cat named Whizzbang. If you can find it, stop by for a slice of minnow pizza.

Life is good, but I have to tell you I am getting a little discouraged with some Big People. Our cottage is being visited with an undo portion of hostility this summer. Someone keeps taking the darn door. So far this summer, the landlord has had to replace the door nine times and he's not happy. Truth be told, he would love for us to move out so he could replace us with squirrels. I know a couple of squirrels, Stella and Jo-Jo, who would die for this lakeshore property. But I am hesitant to move. We love the city - as you know elves are urban by nature - and I refuse to be cast out of my home by some overgrown bully. Of course by our standards you're all overgrown, but that's another matter.

You may think being an elf is all hi-jinks and samba dancing (well, actually it is) but it's really not any easier being an elf than it is being a Big Person. The fact is our lives are pretty much the same. We put our jodhpurs on both legs at the same time just like you. We fish for minnows and fry them up in olive oil (preferably on the beach) just like you. And we worry about the future just like you.

Elves by nature try to leave a legacy. Some work for S. Claus and put up with his demanding hours and rather cold working conditions. Others like the Keeblers, make an outstanding cookie even though they appear in those ridiculous TV commercials. Trust me those cartoons on screen no more look like a real elf than you do. For me the legacy is answering letters to kids who seem to have an unfathomable depth of interest in wanting to know about elves. How tall are we? (In my case I am taller than my younger brother and shorter than my older brother.) What do we eat? (Minnow pizzas.) Do we have a pot of gold? (I wish.)

Here's an elf question for you. What's your legacy? It could be as simple as making sure the ducks have food in the winter. Or that people do. It could be mentoring ladybugs (in your case, maybe kids) in something you're good at and they're not. It could be getting rid of the south Minneapolis airport noise that is driving Boomer the Chipmunk crazy. And trust me, you don't want Boomer the Chipmunk crazy.

Of course one elf's legacy might be another elf's pain in the jerkin. For instance, I know a couple of elves who want to make ElfBall their legacy. ElfBall our national pastime, is a game of two teams, a seven-player team and a nine-player team. I play left-of-center-guard, for the sevens. The game is played in three periods or until the nines find the lucky stone. In the first period we use a red ball, then add a yellow ball in the second period and a blue in the third.

The big discussion right now is funding for a new stadium. Believe it or not we have Lake Harriet and Lake Nokomis battling each other over who gets the stadium. Lake Nokomis, with an eleventh-hour proposition is promising us Little Beach, free commissary popcorn and play-off games at Bossen Field. Lake Harriet is so up in arms about this, they are promising us a special elf-sized light-rail trolley that would run from our tree over to the water pump. While a few of us elves understand the need for publicly assisted sports facilities, there are also a bunch of elves, trolls and dwarves who are very much opposed to to their hard-earned gold coins going to something as frivolous as a new stadium. This legacy thing isn't always as easy at it might seem.

But like I said, some ne'er-do-well keeps taking the door.

What to do? Move to the suburbs? Thank you, but I'd rather move to Mars. Fellow elves think I'm crazy not to move. They say this is the perfect chance to stop answering letters. Just blame it on the Big People. After all, they say, this is the way things are in the last fitful hours of the twentieth century. Just accept it. But I beg to differ. No way does life have to be this out of control. We need to help each other. For instance, the other day I met a couple of blue jays visiting from out of town. They had no idea how to find their way to Sebastian Joe's. Rather than turn my tiny little back to them I called my buddy Spike, the cardinal, and we flew them right to the ice-cream counter. We didn't even wait for a thank-you cone. Now if more of us just helped each other, why the next thing you know Jed would be a millionaire.

Humor me a goofball analogy. Years ago I slipped into Cuba to attend a troll's wedding. As an elf it was pretty easy. When I arrived in Havana I was amazed by how lovely the city must have been but how deplorable it looked now, after 40 years of neglect. It reminded me of an elegant old man walking down the road. From a distance he looks tall and regal in his dark suit and determined step. But as he closes in, we find him stooped in the shoulder, his pants stained and tattered and a pathetic shirt that has seen better days. In his tired eyes we can see what he once was. That was Havana for me. And I worry that we are walking down a similar road, but ours is paved with indifference and resignation until one day we'll look in the collective mirror and no longer see ourselves in a future we dreamed of as children but some shadowy, sad figure and wonder to ourselves, "My God, how did I get here?"


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Published: July 26, 2003

Edition: METRO

Section: NEWS

Page#: 1B

THE ORIGINAL LAKE HARRIET ELF (In business since 1995)

A COMPETING LAKE HARRIET ELF (Now open, 30 yards away)

By Paul Levy; Staff Writer

He's only 6 inches tall, so the Lake Harriet elf might feel foolish pounding on a tiny door at the base of a neighboring tree and declaring, ``This lake ain't big enough for both of us.''

There apparently is a new elf in town. And that's huge.

For eight years, children of all ages have left cards and letters inside the wee wooden door at the foot of a green ash along Lake Harriet's scenic southern shore. This, according to legend, is the home of a mysterious little elf, who leaves dated, personalized responses on silver cards smaller than Post-it Notes to each of the estimated 1,500 letters he receives each summer.

But now Mr. Little Guy has competition. Thirty yards east of the thin, legendary ash by Lake Harriet's walking path stands another tree with another tiny door - one crammed with rain-dampened letters featuring children's scribbles and drawings.

``Our society is based on competition, sure, but couldn't they go to another lake?'' asked Kim Cooke, 44, whose two young children have been leaving the original elf notes for years.

As Cooke's dog, Ginger, sniffed the tree with the new door at its base, Cooke said, ``When I saw it, I thought maybe it's an in box and the other tree is the out box.''

It's a complex case with lots of ins and lots of outs, certainly.

The identities of the elves - assuming they really are elves and there's more than one - remain shrouded in secrecy.

``Do they live in the ground?'' asked Hannah Brausen, 5, of Shorewood.

Nobody seems to know. It is not certain if the elves have petitioned to have a light-rail line pass beneath and connect the new tree home to the home of the original elf. That tree is surrounded by a flower garden, brick-high stone wall and was recently decorated with two miniature American flags.

Nobody knows if the elves have even met. Potential sources such as the Keebler elves and Santa Claus could not be reached for comment.

But dog walkers, strollers, runners, bicycle riders and curious children have discovered several clues since opening the door to the Lake Harriet elf's world. For instance, within the tree's hollow area behind the door one recent day, passersby found a plastic bag with nearly 200 lengthy, computer-printed responses to children's inquiries.

``How nice of you to write. Sorry I was not here,'' the responses all begin.

Read on and learn that the elf's name is Thom, even

 though he always signs as Mr. Little Guy. His wife's name is Martha and their daughter Alta Lucia is 9. The elf says he's taller than his younger brother and shorter than his older brother. They all like to samba.The elf eats minnow cake and pizza, loves baking chocolate chip cookies and gets a lot of his jokes from ladybugs. He cooks on a grill made from a walnut shell. His bicycle is the size of a mushroom. His bedroom is wallpapered with notes written by ``big people.''

But even before the new elf moved in, it had been a tough month for The Little Guy. Dozens of his recent responses included the story of the bottle rocket that caught his coat while whizzing by on July 4th, carrying the startled elf across Lake Harriet. He also wrote about pesky squirrels throwing nuts at him.

At least young Adam Brausen, of Shorewood, returned the 15 cents he found inside The Little Guy's door. ``I guess he needs it,'' said Adam, 9. ``But the other elf may need it more. His door isn't as nice.''

Unlike the original door, the new one does not fit snugly into a hollowed area of a tree. In fact, the door and its highly visible frame seem oversized. The space the door covers is an indentation small enough to cramp any elf's style.

``It's not as creative as the original,'' commented Mary K. Roberts, 56, of Eden Prairie. ``More is not necessarily better.''

And the original Lake Harriet elf is a good thing, according to strollers who believe in the elf's existence.

The orignal elf, who spoke on condition of anonymity, professed not to be worried about competition. One reason is the workload.

``No one knows how hard it is answering all those letters,'' he said Friday as he prepared for a dinner party, lamenting that he's 60 people behind in answering letters.

``While I've tried to get in contact with my other elf, unfortunately he's even more elusive than I am. I walked over with a gumdrop, but unfortunately no one was home.''

The fact that the elf presence is spontaneous, not created by officialdom, is appreciated.

``What's great is that this is not the Chamber of Commerce trying to increase tourism,'' said Rick Miller, 56, of Minneapolis. ``This is advertising that is strictly word of mouth. Look how it's steamrolled.''

``Enjoy the summer,'' the elf always writes. ``I believe in you.''

And people who frequent Lake Harriet believe in the elf.

Maybe both of them.

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Published around the world via Associated Press: August 20, 2003

Children, parents love Mr. Little Guy

Three-year-old Nicole Dunn of Minneapolis drops off a card for Mr. Little Guy.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Four-year-old Shira Rabkin wanted to ask just the right questions, so she thought long and hard.

''Dear Mr. Little Guy,'' she finally scrawled in big letters across a sheet of paper. ''Do you like mints?'' After some more pondering, she added, ''and going to Camp Snoopy? Love, Shira.''

Mr. Little Guy was nowhere in sight this early August evening, so Shira stuffed her letter behind his door at the base of a hollowed out ash tree. It's always open and always full.

The elusive elf has enchanted Twin Citians ever since the 6-inch wooden door appeared eight years ago, just off a walking path around popular Lake Harriet. Double takes led to messages and messages to answers.

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