After the devastating fire ravaged Northfield’s Archer House in Northfield last year on November 12-13, a television reporter asked me as a Northfield historian about any famous people who had stayed at the iconic 1877 hotel over the years. Uh oh. Brain freeze.
Brain unfrozen, I can now tell you about a famous person who did indeed sleep here. I should have remembered, since I have written about it twice in Historic Happenings! On May 3-4, 1992, actress Betty White stayed at the Archer House when she came to Northfield to visit St. Olaf College. In NBC’s popular sitcom The Golden Girls, White played the part of Rose Nylund, a naïve Norwegian American from the small (fictional) farming town of St. Olaf, Minnesota, who gave humorous, often strange, accounts of life in her hometown.
Dan Jorgensen, who was public relations director at St. Olaf College, arranged for White and her assistant, Gail Clark, to stay at the Archer House. After he had picked them up at the airport, they came upon a farm dog sitting on the road. White, fearing the dog would get hit, insisted that he stop the car and she shepherded the dog into a ditch. She told the dog, “Stay!” and returned to the car. “There! I feel better!” said White, a well-known animal welfare activist. When Jorgensen looked through the rear view mirror, he saw that the dog had already resumed his position on the road.
Jorgensen told me that the visitors “really loved” the Archer House. White bonded with Dallas Haas, the owner who had renovated all the rooms after purchasing the rundown hotel in 1981. Jorgensen noted, “And, of course, Betty being a dog lover extraordinaire loved meeting Dallas’ two dogs and playing with them in the lobby. She and Dallas hit it off discussing dog care and his stories about the Archer House.”
White engaged in a whirlwind of activities during her visit. She had breakfast at the Ole Store and a tour of the Northfield Historical Society museum where she commented on a photo of the outlaw Jesse James: “Look at his eyes. Is it any wonder Fonda played him?”
A picture of her at a St. Olaf women’s softball game went out to newspapers across the country, she spoke to theater majors and she joined the St. Olaf Choir in singing the college fight song, Um Yah Yah.
When White wrote to me about her visit in 2008 and included a photo for The Entertainment Guide, she said, “I was a little apprehensive as I was afraid they would resent the fact that Rose wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but they couldn’t have been warmer and more welcoming. To this day I have my Uff Da cup and shirt.”
Jorgensen said that White “told me on the way back to the airport that it was one of the nicest hotels she had stayed in during her many travels, but more important than that was the nice people she met both there and in downtown Northfield.”