When the Cold War paid a visit to Brainerd

Jennifer Imsande
Jennifer Imsande: Why Brainerd and not Baudette, for Pete's sake?
Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Imsande

Jennifer Imsande, a former professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is pursuing a degree in creative writing from Pacific Lutheran University. She lives in Pequot Lakes and is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.

The Soviet Union might have been gone for 20 years — it collapsed 20 years ago last month, in fact — but we shouldn't put our Cold War thinking under archival glass just yet. Remember, that's a former KGB guy, Vladimir Putin, who's giving Stalin a run for his money in terms of time served governing the Russian people.

And it's that same KGB that stashed two likely booby-trapped caches of weapons here in the Brainerd area during the Cold War. Those weapons have never been found.

Years ago, documents smuggled out by the head of Soviet intelligence archives showed that Brainerd somehow had rounded out a strategic infiltration plan, one that included a Texas pipeline and the California coast. Someone in Moscow apparently thought it was a good idea to hide weapons in Brainerd. If we're going to find those hidden weapons, we need to stop thinking Minnesotan and start thinking spy.

To a Minnesotan, a cache of KGB weapons in Brainerd makes no sense. Brainerd is a good three and a half hours from the Canadian border. Why not Baudette, for Pete's sake? Why not a place with at least a chance of some Communist sympathy — like the Iron Range?

As far as I know, Brainerd has only the one avowed Communist, and he's forever having potlucks. Would he really risk having people over for his famous vegetarian lasagna if it meant guests asking, "Those are some swell Stalin bronzes; and, say, are those guns wedged in your floor joists?"

Gain a Better Understanding of Today

MPR News is not just a listener supported source of information, it's a resource where listeners are supported. We take you beyond the headlines to the world we share in Minnesota. Become a sustainer today to fuel MPR News all year long.

But a spy would see Brainerd's potential. What do we have that the rest of the country doesn't? For one thing, lots and lots of unexamined storage spaces. Let's start with septic systems.

A few years ago there was talk of mandatory septic inspections in Crow Wing County. Some residents warned that any official who came onto their property to look into their septic tanks would find himself staring down the barrel of a gun. The talk was soon abandoned.

What's in folks' septic tanks that they don't want the world to see?

And is it by chance that the decline of mom-and-pop lake resorts coincided with the decline of the Soviet Union? Maybe those resorts were a Communist front all along. During the three-month tourist season, you could store weapons in the shed along with the snow blower. Then in the winter, when you need the blower, you move the weapons to the cabins, which aren't being used by anyone (except, perhaps, the occasional visiting Soviet official). This stuff isn't rocket science.

The Soviets gave the Brainerd caches code names: Aquarium I and Aquarium II. So it's not too big a leap to suppose that the weapons were hidden in or near bodies of water. And anyone who has lost her eyeglasses on top of her own head knows that the best place to hide something is in plain sight. Therefore, one of the "Aquariums" might be the supposedly "empty" Brainerd water tower.

And speaking of Brainerd's water supply: This town used to be famous as the anti-fluoridation capital of the country. Remember the scene from "Dr. Strangelove," where Gen. Ripper warned that the Soviets were attacking our precious bodily fluids? He may have had a better point than anyone knew.

I was just a kid when the Cold War ended, but I'm finally beginning to understand what the Red Scare was all about. I'm seeing Russian hand grenades and Kalashnikovs under my kids' beds. When an engine revs over at BIR, I imagine it's an incoming ICBM.

To take my mind off it, I thought I'd go to the movies. Let's see, what's showing?

"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Oh, great.