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‘Unveiling Nimuué’: Story of Minnesota’s ‘Glacial Woman’ to be revealed in original theatrical work

Jennifer Winn, representing Arvig, recently presented a check to Phletus and Sally Williams, directors of the non-profit Glacial Minnesota Woman Organization (GMWO). Arvig is sponsoring the GMWO event “Unveiling Nimuué,” set to premiere this Thursday, Sept. 21 at the Historic Holmes Theatre in Detroit Lakes, starting at 7:30 p.m. (Submitted photo)

Detroit Lakes’ Historic Holmes Theatre will be the setting for the debut of an original theatrical work, “Unveiling Nimuué,” which premieres this Thursday, Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m.

This historic and unique piece of theater depicts the discovery of the “Glacial Minnesota Woman,” a 20,000 year old skeleton found near Pelican Rapids in 1931, as well as examining how she might have lived, and died, during prehistoric times.

Presented by the Glacial Minnesota Woman Organization (GMWO), with support from Arvig, this event will include dancing by the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet – to original piano music created by Pelican Lake resident Phletus Williams –  and performances by local actors and dancers.

“The discovery of Nimuué brings a degree of illumination to an ancient, largely mysterious chapter in the history of this region,” says Sally Williams, who along with her husband, Phletus, serves as a director on the governing board of the nonprofit GMWO. “Uncovering the nearly complete skeleton of a young woman, perhaps once lying beneath the waters of Glacial Lake Pelican, was an electrifying event for scientists and laymen alike. Her ancient presence in this area, along with the contents of her gravesite, provides a precious link to the area’s long-distant past – a past where huge glaciers and melted glacial waters once dominated the landscape.

“She is a vehicle to help today’s residents and visitors understand more about those pre-historic times and the impact they had in forming the western Minnesota that exists today. Nimuué is a bridge to assist us in our understanding of who we were – and who we are.”

The Williamses have compiled and collected hundreds of pages of research, news clippings and stories about the Minnesota Woman, whom they have affectionately dubbed “Nimuué,” or “Lady of the Lake,” from all over the United States – and they’re still not done.

“We’ve been working on this since 2005,” says Phletus.

“We still keep discovering more about her,” Sally added.

Their passion and enthusiasm for the subject of Nimuué is obvious – which is why they were more than willing to step forward and serve as producers for this show.

“It’s been a lot of work,” Sally admitted – but at the same time, very exciting. “We did all this research, and decided we needed to share her (Nimuué’s) history with the community. One of the ways was through the creation of this play.”

About the show

“Unveiling Nimuué” is actually a two-part theatrical work, Phletus added. The first half features an original piano composition that he created, “Essence of Nimuué,” which will be interpreted in dance form by members of the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet, interspersed with selections from another musical piece, “On Golden Pond.”

The second half is a play that was authored by Detroit Lakes’ own Doug Schultz, with a little help from Tribune columnist Lynn Hummel. Schultz also serves as the play’s director, and plays one of its key roles, Dr. Albert Jenks — the University of Minnesota archaeologist who did most of the original research on Nimuué.

“We certainly want to recreate some of the circumstances surrounding the finding of the Nimuué skeleton,” says Schultz. “Yet just as important, we wanted to give her a personality. She was a real person walking this land some 20,000 years ago. She may have been 15-16 years old, but she was a skilled hunter and – along with her clan – knew how to use the land and its resources, both for sustenance and protection from predators.

“Different artistic disciplines – music, dance and theater – are being used to recreate the finding of her bones and to bring her, albeit briefly, back to life,” he added.

The story focuses on how the female skeleton was discovered in 1931, between Pelican Rapids and Detroit Lakes, by road workers who were repairing a frost boil in the road. The road workers were primarily from Detroit Lakes, according to Phletus Willliams – and many of their families still make their home here, he added.

The cast features mostly local actors – one is from Fargo, while the rest live in and around Detroit Lakes – as well as dancers from Mari Radke’s Summit Dance, portraying the guardians of Nimuué.

“I’m really excited about this show,” says Amy Stoller Stearns, executive director of the Historic Holmes Theatre. “The story of Nimuué is very intriguing to me. Who was she? What was her life like? I love that by creating her story they’re exploring the history of our area through music, dance and theater.”

The GMWO and Arvig’s contributions

The GMWO is a non-profit organization p who bestowed upon the Minnesota Woman the name Nimuué, which means Lady of the Lake. Their work focuses on promoting the legacy of the young woman by increasing knowledge and awareness of her story, while treating her with respect and dignity. The organization’s volunteers plan activities like “Unveiling Nimuué” each year, to help visitors and residents identify this area as a site contributing to the state’s archaeological history, and to develop knowledge of the ice age that formed the land in western Minnesota.

Local telecommunications provider Arvig provided financial support to the production as well.

“Arvig is proud to sponsor 'Unveiling Nimuué' at the Historic Holmes Theatre in Detroit Lakes,” says David Arvig, the company’s vice president and chief operating officer. “This event is a celebration of Minnesota’s history, and we’re honored to help share Nimuue’s story with our local community.”

If you go

‘Unveiling Nimuué” will premiere at the Historic Holmes Theatre this Thursday, Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $22 for adults, $11 for students, and may be reserved by calling 218-844-7469, visiting www.dlccc.org/holmes.html, or stopping by the Holmes Box Office, located at 806 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes. Tickets will also be available at the door the night of the show.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454
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