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


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.

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

  1. James Hanley says:

    I don’t know where in Ely Olson’s shed is, but Ely is one of my favorite places. Whenever I go up there to go canoeing in the Boundary Waters, I get a thrill driving up the hill in the middle of downtown (past the Zup’s grocery at the top of the hill), and down the other side to get to Canoe Country Outfitters (coincidentally, run by a family named Olson). It’s just a great little town, hard on the edge of the wilderness, and would be a great place to get away to to be inspired by the wilderness and write about it.

    Sig Olson was a treasure, and his town still is. And it’s nice to hear that someone’s caring for his writing place. Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a chance to see it someday. If I get even luckier, I’ll be able to re-create it in my backyard.


  2. Peter Olsen says:

    Well thanks! I would be grateful for any ideas or names you might come up with. And I think you are right – Sig’s day is due. He had some prescient ideas about the toll that modern society, technology, and our separation from wilderness can take on our souls. And that was way before Facebook, iPhones, Twitter…


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    I know very little about Sig Olson — my interest, via this blog, was in the typewriter (which is how I found the photo).

    However, wilderness and conservation are lifelong concerns of mine. So, when I stumbled on the typewriter and the description of Mr. Olson as an author of the Wilderness Act, I was hooked.

    You need funding? I’ll e-mail you some details when I get back to my home computer. From my long-ago work with the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, I may have some names of people who would like to help you, either giving funding or aiming you to people who could.

    Sig Olson appears to me to be one of the under-appreciated, under-studied heroes of conservation. Somebody needs to record the history.


  4. Peter Olsen says:

    I love how I accidentally signed my last name with the wrong spelling.

    – Peter OlsEn


  5. Peter Olsen says:

    Thanks for exhuming the MPR article – I had not seen it – and for linking to my site. The film is a work-in-progress and very much in need of attention and (financial) support. Curious about your interest in Sig Olson…

    – Peter (no relation) Olson


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