The first time I ever heard of ball of twine was in a song by Weird Al Yankovic. It appears on his soundtrack album for the movie UHF. The film bombed at the box office, has since become a cult classic.
I always assumed it was a fictional story. I had no idea that the ball of twine was a real thing that anyone can see for themselves. It’s really located in Minnesota. The name of city is Darwin, which seems ironically appropriate.
Francis A. Johnson began constructing a ball out of leftover twine from his family’s farm when he was 45 years old. A reporter from the Minneapolis Tribune asked why it had gotten so large.
Johnson replied, “My mother taught me not to waste anything.”
Francis was a thrifty man, but he was also a collector. He once had 7,000 pencils. The ball of twine was just one of his many, though it became the most important.
Francis pulled in leftover twine from nearby farms, square-knotted the pieces, and added them to the enormous sphere in his yard. To spin the ball and maintain the roundness, he used a railroad jack. For a while he hung the ball from a tree.
From 1950 until 1979, Francis wrapped his twine ball strand by strand. He only stopped because he developed emphysema. He then died in 1989. His family believes that because he didn’t smoke, his ailment was caused by twine ball dust.
After his passing in 1989, the ball was trucked into Darwin’s downtown, where it is still located today. Now it’s a major tourist attraction. The nearly two-ton twine ball averages 150 visitors a day during the summer months. It now lives inside a glass-walled gazebo in a museum. If you ask nicely, they’ll unlock the gazebo to let you get within sniffing distance of Francis’s creation.
Maybe it’s time to plan a trip! It’s not that far from the Twin Cities Metro.