Why does man create? Is it man’s purpose on earth to express himself, to bring form to thought, and to discover meaning in experience? Or is it just something to do when he’s bored?

-Calvin and Hobbes

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In 1950 Francis A. Johnson began making a ball of twine. The Darwin, Minnesota farmer enjoyed his newfound hobby immensely, and soon took pride in the size and the roundness of his ball. Supportive neighbors brought Francis their own used sisal twine, the only kind of twine he would use, which he untangled and square knotted together into lengths.

The growing ball of twine started drawing admirers. For fear that someone might steal it, Francis chained the ball to a tree.

It is estimated that Francis spent four hours a day for nearly three decades working on his ball of twine. A respiratory illness, possibly the effect of inhaling too much twine dust, left him unable to enjoy twine-related pastimes in 1979. By the end of his little project Francis had created a 12 foot tall, 17,400 pound behemoth.

“Francis was by all accounts a character,” said Josh Johnson, mayor of Darwin. “I remember him from when I was very young. A bit eccentric, but a kind man, generous with his time, and always happy to show off his prized possession. Francis’ relatives gave the ball of twine to the town when he passed away, so in his memory we’re still showing it off for him.

“The Darwin Community Club built a giant gazebo for the ball of twine so all can come to see it. The ball’s glass case preserves it quite well, and when the lights shine up on it in the nighttime it’s like there’s nothing between you and the ball at all. When the weather permits, one of our volunteers will open up the case so you can take in a whiff of the old twine. There’s a certain mustiness to it, like you would expect.

“The ball of twine museum is staffed regularly by our volunteers. We usually welcome over 100 people a day in the summertime, and it’s an honor to share Francis’ story with travelers from all across the world. It’s the only place where you can get official Darwin ball of twine T-shirts, postcards, playing cards, coffee mugs, and more. We even offer “Weird Alley” road signs in honor of Weird Al Yankovic, whose song “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” helped a lot to get the word out.

“Ours is the largest ball of twine made by one man. I believe that the twine ball in Cawker City, Kansas is bigger because anyone is allowed to add to it. The problem is they don’t actually rotate it like Francis did, so it’s only getting wider and no longer has that exceptionally spherical shape which Francis worked so hard to attain. They’re still good people, though, I’m sure.”

Some people might think that Francis’ giant ball of twine is silly. Those people would do well to remember that Francis A. Johnson has an entire museum in his honor, and they do not. We should all pilgrimage to Darwin this summer to see the old man’s lifework and bask in its musty glory.

Please message the Darwin Community Club in advance to make certain a volunteer will be present to greet you. Their page is facebook.com/DarwinMNTwineball.


By David Scheller