Kinney, Minn. secedes from the U.S.: On this day in history

A "passport" from the Republic of Kinney
The front of a "passport" from the Republic of Kinney, declared by city officials in Kinney, Minn., on July 13, 1977. The move was an effort to draw attention to difficulties in securing state and federal money to improve the city's water system.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News file

It was on this day 45 years ago — July 13, 1977 — that the tiny town of Kinney, Minn., on the Iron Range sought to gain independence from the United States.

The Mesabi Daily News headline read, “Move over Monaco. Here comes Kinney.”

On its surface, the move was a publicity stunt. The town had an aging water system; mineral deposits in the pipes had caused fires and turned linens yellow. And though it sought aid, Kinney couldn’t seem to secure a grant to fix the system.

“It is much easier to get assistance as a foreign country, which we need badly, and there is no paper work to worry about,” Village Attorney Jim Randall wrote in a letter to then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

The back of a "passport" from the Republic of Kinney
The back of a "passport" from the Republic of Kinney includes the "secession letter" city officials in Kinney, Minn., sent to the federal government on July 13, 1977. The move was an effort to draw attention to difficulties in securing state and federal money to improve the city's water system.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News file

The move quickly became national news — from the front page of the Mesabi Daily News to NBC Nightly News. The city created passports — former Gov. Perpich was a passport holder.

Duluth’s frozen pizza tycoon Jeno Paulucci gave the “Republic of Kinney” its first official foreign aid — a 1974 Ford LTD to serve as a police squad car, and 10 cases of frozen pizza. To this day, Kinney still celebrates March 5 as Jeno Paulucci Pizza Day.

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Marchers in a parade
A parade entry from the Kinney-Great Scott library passes a building with a "Republic of Kinney" sign during a Republic of Kinney 30th anniversary parade in the northern Minnesota community in July 2007.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News file

But behind the novelty of it all, the move was a reflection of the attitude of the region — and of the town’s mayor, Mary Anderson, an outsized character in her own right.

“Mary Anderson is something of a political legend up on the Iron Range,” said Jennifer Kleinjung, a former education coordinator at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.

“She was the first woman mayor of the town of Kinney and actually led a government at the time in the 70s … that was run by women. She owned and operated the local bar, Mary's Bar. That was definitely a hot spot, particularly in the ‘80s, for politicians of all levels to kind of come and launch campaigns, including Paul Wellstone, I believe Dukakis stopped by there, she was very connected to Governor Perpich at the time, and I would say was something of a kingmaker.”

Kleinjung said Anderson was “larger than life” and “knew how to get things done.” The secession was just one example of that.

And as for the grant issue? The initial letter was met with a lot of silence — but after the stunt became national news, a grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board finally came through, Anderson said, for $60,000. And then another for $200,000.

The city was finally able to repair its aging water system.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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View a transcript of this conversation below. 

Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: So we're going to launch a new Minnesota history segment on the show right now. Listener Bill Palmer even gave us a name for it Minnesota Now and Then. Back then, some 45 years ago on this very day, July 13, 1977, the tiny town of Kinney, Minnesota, on the Iron Range, sought to gain independence from the United States. True story. Imagine the United State of Kinney, Minnesota.

The Mesabi Daily News headline read, move over, Monaco. Here comes Kinney. The Kinney city council had voted to secede from the United States because of a dispute over a federal grant. Here to tell us the details is Jennifer Klein Young. She's the former education coordinator at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm, Minnesota, formerly known as the Iron World Discovery Center. Jennifer, welcome.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: Hi. Thanks, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Kinney is a really small town. Even in the '70s, I think it only had about what, 500-600 people. Pretty kind of unmapped out. So to think it would declare its independence is funny. I understand a lot of this revolved around a federal grant. What was the deal with that?

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: Mm-hmm. Well, the story of that was that the tiny town of Kinney had a failing water system. The infrastructure for its water system was really in trouble. They couldn't get decent water pressure. Actually, to put out a fire that had happened in the home of Mayor Mary Anderson's family home had burned down because of lack of water pressure. The citizens in Kinney had mineral deposits in their water that was turning their laundry orange and brown.

And the city government had been trying their hardest to apply for any federal grant, any state, local grant, any option for getting money to fix the failing water system because that was money their city government just didn't have. And what you're referring to as the secession of Kinney really was a final straw after Mayor Mary Anderson and other city officials had tried everything they could.

And at one city council meeting on July 12, 1977, in frustration, the comment was thrown out there, "You know what. I bet it would be easier if we were a foreign country to get foreign aid from the United States. That would fix our water system instead of being the tiny town of Kinney in Northeastern Minnesota."

And an offhanded remark, [LAUGHING] a joke actually turned into something that city attorney Jim Randall drafted a letter addressed to the Secretary of State Cyrus B. Vance at the time. That then on July 13, 1977, was actually sent via registered mail to the US Secretary of State saying we declare that we are seceding from the union.

If necessary, we're willing to declare war and surrender real quick because our mayor is a nurse in a nearby hospital. And many of our council members work in the nearby mines and can't get the time off of work. [LAUGHING] But declaring our independence it was amazing.

CATHY WURZER: Yes, oh my goodness. I want to go back to Mayor Anderson for just a moment because the range is full of characters.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: Oh, yeah.

CATHY WURZER: And Mayor Anderson, she was an outsized force on the Iron Range, kind of a memorable character. Tell me a little bit about her.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: Most definitely. Mary Anderson is something of a political legend up on the Iron Range. She was the first woman mayor of the town of Kinney and actually led a government, at the time in the '70s, as of 1976, that was run by women this small town.

And she owned and operated the local bar Mary's Bar that was definitely a hot spot. Particularly, in the '80s for politicians of all levels to kind of come and launch campaigns, including Paul Wellstone, I believe Dukakis stopped by there.

She was very connected to Governor Perpich at the time, and I would say, is something of a kingmaker. I view Mary Anderson, and Veda Ponikvar are definitely in the same league, just as women of the Iron Range who were larger than life. Who knew how to get things done, and weren't afraid to think outside the box.

CATHY WURZER: Veda, of course, was a longtime newspaper editor on the range.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: Mm-hmm.

CATHY WURZER: Mm-hmm. She was a force to contend with. So getting back here to the secession effort. If I'm not incorrect, didn't Jeno Paulucci-- remember, for folks who remember that name, he was kind of the frozen food King out of Duluth.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: Mm-hmm.

CATHY WURZER: Jeno gave Kinney a used Ford to replace the City Police car, which I think no longer ran, and gave them 10 cases of frozen pizza. He was part of this whole thing, too, I think.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: Yes. [LAUGHING] He was part of the story. It was actually really fabulous because the letter was sent in July of '77. There was no response. There were crickets. And then, as you were saying, quoting that article that came out in the Mesabi Daily News the following February. Nothing was really said until that following February when that article ran, and then that initiated everything.

Including Jeno giving the city of Kinney or the independent Republic of Kinney, I should say, its first foreign aid, which was a 1974 LTD for use as their squad car and 10 cases of frozen pizza mix. And I believe there were even used tires included in that foreign aid delivery, which was pretty epic. So actually, the [LAUGHING] independent Republic of Kinney does celebrate as an official holiday March 5th every year is Jeno Paulucci Pizza Day.

CATHY WURZER: I did not know that.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: Mm-hmm.

CATHY WURZER: Now, did they make passports?

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: They did. Yes, when the media coverage really took off in late February, March, April, passports were created, and I believe around 1,600 were issued. They were sold in Mary's Bar in Kinney, and also sent to particular people.

A lot of who's who of state and local politicians. I believe Governor Perpich was passport holder number six. I know Jim Oberstar was a passport holder. [LAUGHING] There were passports sent to Twin Cities television stations, so.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, of course. Of course, you wouldn't happen to have seen any of these passports?

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: I did not see any of the originals issued. But in 2007, when I was the Education Coordinator at Iron World, there was an effort to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the secession. So the city of Kenny reissued passports.

CATHY WURZER: Oh.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: And I am the proud holder of passport 4,063 of the second version.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, see how it's grown. It's grown.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: Exactly. [LAUGHING] There are a lot of citizens of the independent Republic of Kenny out there. You just have to go looking.

CATHY WURZER: Now, this is a pretty innovative publicity stunt. Did Kinney ever get the funding for the water system? I don't remember.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: They did. They did. It took a while. The interesting thing is, as I mentioned, it took a while for the media to catch up and get this story. But within a month of the story breaking in the Mesabi Daily News, a grant did come in from the IRRRB, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, for $60,000.00.

That started that water system repair work. And then, it was followed up the following December with another grant of a little under $200,000.00, and the water system was fully repaired.

CATHY WURZER: So I'm assuming that the water is no longer orange in Kinney, and everything is OK.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: That's the idea.

CATHY WURZER: OK, I'm glad to hear that. Jennifer, you did a beautiful job explaining this. It was really a lot of fun talking to you.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: Yeah. Well, it's my favorite story from Iron Range history. So happy to chat about it whenever. Happy Kinney Independence Day.

CATHY WURZER: And thank you, and to you as well, Jennifer. Take care of yourself.

JENNIFER KLEIN YOUNG: You too.

CATHY WURZER: Jennifer Klein Young is the former education coordinator at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm, Minnesota, that was once known as the Iron World Discovery Center. If you want to know more about the Kinney secession effort, you can go to the Minnesota Historical Society online.

And by the way, we did a story, of course, we did, we're MPR News. We did a story how many years ago now? Several, about the time Kinney, Minnesota, seceded. Seceded, that's a hard word to say. Seceded from the Union. Check it out by going to mprnews.org.

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