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We Love You, Ely’s Referee Santa

Plus honoring Native ancestors, busting Trader Joe's union, and roundin' up MN holiday films in today's Flyover.

2:59 PM CST on December 23, 2022

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Forgive the artistic license we were forced to take. We don’t have permission to use photos of Pope taken by Jed Carlson of the Superior Telegram. But do check those out!

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily midday digest of what local media outlets and Twitter-ers are gabbing about.

Northland Man Is Both Santa, Ref

Mike Pope divined a conceptually incongruous persona. Santa, annual giver of gifts to non-naughty kiddos, is beloved; the sports referee, constant caller of phantom penalties that rob the home team, is maligned. Yet the heavily bearded Ely resident makes it work, as we learn in great detail throughout the Duluth News Tribune feature, "Bad call? You better watch out, Ely's Santa Claus is watching you." Pope captured imaginations statewide when he worked this past November's high school football tournament at U.S. Bank Stadium. Fans couldn't help but notice the jolly ref, who hasn't shaved since 2000, bobbing down the field with his dove-white, wooly beard. And get this: Motherfucker is an actual Santa!

“I’d always been looking for suits at garage sales or secondhand stores and that kind of thing,” the Navy vet said of his early reluctance to invest in a bona fide suit. “I’m not going to throw a bunch of money into this willy-nilly." A few years back his wife bought him a genuine Santa suit for his birthday, and now Pope delights as a volunteer Kris Kringle at schools, retirement homes, and churches. (He notes that “the doggone money’s not bad" with his other passion, officiating, but that's not why the retiree dons the stripes.) No, this Santa ref's motivations appear as pure as the driven snow: “What people don’t realize is, it’s a proven fact— it’s science—that doing volunteer work or helping somebody releases endorphins and makes your mood better.” Ain't that the spirit of the season?

MPR Beautifully Captures a Depressingly Beautiful Ride

As you're hopefully aware, Minnesota has the shameful claim to the largest mass execution in U.S. history. During the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, over 300 Dakota warriors were sentenced to death in Minnesota. President Abraham Lincoln, to his partial credit, personally whittled that list down to 38 as almost 2,000 other Dakota people were held in the de facto internment camp known as Fort Snelling. The day after Christmas, in 1862, those 38 men were hanged in Mankato, and two additional chiefs were executed in the following years. To honor the Dakota 38+2, a group of direct descendants recently set out on a 330-mile horseback ride from South Dakota to the site of the hangings. MPR's Hannah Yang and Ben Hovland captured the journey, and the still-raw emotions of those making it; Hovland's photographs are particularly powerful. “We’re here to show them that we’re still here,” LeAnne RedOwl, a descendent of hanged Dakota man Marpiya Okinajin, tells Yang. “We’re still making noise. We’re not going anywhere and we’re proud of who we are.”

So, How Are Things at the Nation's 2nd Unionized Trader Joe's?

Bad! That's according to this new five-minute video from A More Perfect Union. In it, workers Sarah Beth Ryther and Ava Alsens from the downtown Minneapolis Trader Joe's detail the grocer's (alleged!) union-busting behavior, including (allegations of!) bad-faith, purposely dragged out bargaining sessions and retaliatory actions against union workers. (In June, Racket had the scoop when local TJ workers went public with their union, which won NLRB certification in August.) Check out the video below. And, as Ryther told us this past summer: “Come into the store and say hi. Tell somebody in a Hawaiian shirt that you’re super happy we’re unionizing.”

Locally Angled Holiday Film Roundup!

Ho, ho... How about three links to stories about holiday films with Minnesota connections? First up, our pals at Bring Me the News, um, bring us the news of Patrick Casey and Josh Miller, the Bloomington buddies who co-wrote the new, David Harbour-starring Christmas bloodbath Violent Night. "When you're pitching something like, 'It's Die Hard, but with Santa,' you get an idea if you have them sold within the first 30 seconds... it's pretty self-explanatory," Casey tells 'em with a laugh. Nice to see BMTN take a stab at A&E feature writing—great stuff! Elsewhere, MPR News rounded up seven holiday movies that were set or filmed Minnesota, spanning The Bishop’s Wife (1947) through A Simple Plan (1998). And, finally, I'll never pass up a chance to re-plug my Arnold-sized oral history of one film on that list: 1996's Jingle All the Way. (Behind-the-scenes intel: One of my sources for that fun story, retired Gov. Arne Carlson, recently chatted with me by phone to express his displeasure with University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel's conflict-ridden side hustle in the insurance sector.)

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