Typewriter of the moment: Sigurd Olson, a typewriter in the wilderness

January 11, 2011


Chuck Wick with Sigurd Olson's typewriter, in Olson's Ely, Minnesota, Home.  MPR photo
Chuck Wick knew Sigurd Olson and now owns Olson’s Ely home and writing shack. Olson’s old Royal typewriter, his pipes, photos, duck decoys and rock collection are still in the shack, where they were left after Olson died more than 20 years ago. (MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher)

Sigurd Olson, in his spare time, ghosted part of the National Wilderness Act, always fighting to preserve and protect his love, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area — on this typewriter.

It’s just a small shack, really an old garage — a drab olive green with a pair of windows on each side, tucked under a few shade trees in the corner of the yard.

When you enter, you hear the spring of a weathered, wooden screen door, and the slap when it closes behind.

Inside, it’s mustiness and old pine. The faded Royal typewriter still waits on a broad oak desk. Olson’s pipes are in the shallow bowl to the right.

Sigurd Olson at Quetico

Sigurd Olson at Quetico

From this typewriter, and this shack, Sigurd Olson captured in words the spirit of wilderness. Olson’s poetic writing has been compared to Henry David Thoreau’s, or John Muir’s. Chuck Wick owns the shack now.

“There’s all kinds of stuff here,” Wick says, fumbling a metal axe head pulled from a wooden drawer. “This piece here — this is an interesting one here. This is a trader’s axe that’s back from the voyageurs era.”

As he worked in his shack, Olson worried that 20th century America was fast gobbling up the nation’s last wild places.

Read the story at Minnesota Public Radio.

Read Olson’s book, The Singing Wilderness, or visit the website for the documentary on Olson with the same title, by Peter Olsen.


It is wonderful to have national parks and forests to go to, but they are not enough. It is not enough to make a trip once a year or to see these places occasionally over a long week end. We need to have places close at hand, breathing spaces in cities and towns, little plots of ground where things have not changed; green belts, oases among the piles of steel and stone.

Sigurd Olson, “Our Need of Breathing Space,” at a Resources for the Future, Inc., forum, Washington, D.C., early 1958.

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