backroads Sinclair Lewis mural

When Browerville Minn. native Joseph Kiselewski completed his sculpted bust of Sauk Centre native (and Nobel Prize winning author) Sinclair Lewis in 1960, Lewis had been dead for nine years. The two central Minnesota artists were both in Paris in the 1920s, so they may have met each other. They both frequented Le Dome Café — although Kiselewski said it was too wild for his tastes.

By the mid-twenties, Lewis had published his three most well-known works: Main Street, Babbit and Arrowsmith. It was his 1920 satire on small town life, Main Street, which propelled him to fame; and for which he is primarily remembered in his home town of Sauk Centre. 

In fact, Sauk Centre has embraced Lewis and his many novels and short stories. In 1985, on the centennial of Lewis’ birth, Joe Kiselewski had a casting made of his Lewis bust. That sculpture can now be found in Sauk Centre’s recently renamed Sinclair Lewis public library. Outside the library is a life-size sculpture of the author. The sculpture, created by Kimball, Minn. sculptor Nick Christensen, was unveiled on July 1, 2019, and is one of the most recent additions to Sauk Centre’s celebration of Lewis.

Among the other Sinclair Lewis attractions in town are the museum of Lewis’ childhood home — on Sinclair Lewis Ave. Lewis, who was born in 1885, lived in the attractive two-story house most of his first 13 years. The Sinclair Lewis Foundation owns the house and has restored it to reflect the period in which the young Lewis lived there. Tours of the house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, are on hold during the pandemic.

Sinclair Lewis may have coined the term “Main Street,” which is now synonymous with small towns across America. Since Sauk Centre was the inspiration for the book Main Street, the town boasts the Original Main Street Historic District which stretches for ten blocks through the downtown area and is also on the Historic Register of Places.

Among the historic buildings in the Historic District is the allegedly haunted Palmer House Inn and Cafe. On the north side of the Palmer House is a three-story mural of Lewis, who is said to have worked there as a night desk clerk and thus would have been familiar with the establishment’s troublesome poltergeists.

The Palmer House mural was painted by prolific Sauk Centre muralist Roger Reinardy — as was the historic Sauk Centre mural, with another three-story depiction of Lewis, located kitty corner from the Inn.