By David R. Schleper
Before Valleyfair and the Renaissance Festival, there was the Stagecoach Museum. From 1951 to 1981, Ozzie and Marie Klavestad, proprietors, dressed in old western garb and greeted the visitors one by one. The Stagecoach Museum was located on Highway 101 between Savage and Shakopee.
Ozzie and Marie developed the Stagecoach Museum complex to preserve Americana. It was built on the site of the former Gellenbeck Stage Stop (1849-1880). The area is a valley near the Minnesota River, and near the Dakota’s Maka Yusota, or Boiling Springs.
The museum and restaurant displayed a collection of 3,000 guns that Ozzie owned. A lifelong collector, Ozzie amassed an assemblage of firearms including engraved rifles belonging to Jesse James, Annie Oakley, and Buffalo Bill Cody on the walls. A four-barrel, percussion plains rifle of Chief Shakopee was also there.
The restaurant had waitresses dressed as cowgirls, with earrings that were little tiny six shooters that actually shot. Ozzie often came out looking like Wild Bill Hickok, shooting his pistols into the ceilings. One area had a Silver Dollar Bar, with silver dollars under glass. Heads of dead animals, such as buffalo and elk, were on the walls. A player piano played by itself and an old vending machine, called a mutoscope, had picture shows on it – put in a penny, turn a crank on the side, and watch the pictures flip through to appear like a movie!
Behind the museum was Sand Burr Gulch, which was a replica of a western town with over 20 buildings containing 75 animated life-size figures synchronized with recordings in appropriate settings. It recreated an Old West street complete with blacksmith, barber shop, saloon, an underground gold mine, and the Palace which had an animated band playing Sousa’s music. On Sundays fast-draw shoot-outs happened in the Old West town.
Next to the museum was the Bella Union Opera House, where actors put on “mellerdramas” of yesteryear, where the audience could hiss the villains and cheer the heroes as loud as they wanted.
The Stagecoach Players Company was founded in 1962 by Wendell Josal (president and managing director) and Robert Moulton (vice-president and artistic director) to perform melodramas with musical olios in the opera house of the Stagecoach complex. In 1971, Moulton was succeeded by Lee Adey. The troupe mounted 44 productions in 18 years, playing to over 300,000 people in 1,898 performances as a commercial company.
Ozzie loved guns. He bought his first cap gun at the age of five and owned over 100 before he turned 18. He also was fascinated with the western frontier. Ozzie loved history. He read all the time: history of the West and Civil War history. The Stagecoach became a public display case for his obsessions.
For 30 years, Ozzie and Marie ran their enterprise, with help from a few hired hands who helped run the restaurant and the theater, and kept the place running. By 1981, Ozzie and Marie Klavestad retired and sold the property. Though it was supposed to carry on the tradition, nothing happened, and the Stagecoach Museum began the slow descent of time into rubble. When Ozzie died in a nursing home in 1986, his abandoned dream museum was already in broken fragments.
In 1996, five fire departments burned the remnants of the restaurant, bar, Sand Burr Gulch, and Bella Union Opera House.
And so, the Stagecoach is just a memory.
(Information from Bea Nordstrom, Scott County History Museum, and “How the West Was Lost” by Joseph Hart, City Pages, Oct. 9, 1996.)