December 18, 2005

Look, There’s an Elf Among Us: Mr. Little Guy Keeps Magic Alive From His Home Near Lake Harriet

By Rhoda Fukushima, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn., Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Dec. 18--There's a small wood door in a hollowed-out tree near Lake Harriet where a kindly elf works his magic.

Mr. Little Guy isn't directly related to Santa. But like the more famous jolly old elf, he collects -- and answers -- 1,500 to 2,000 letters left behind his door each year. He has been hearing from children and adults alike for the past decade. He writes his responses on notes about half the size of business cards, and he uses only lower-case letters because "capitals are too big."

Mr. Little Guy has received national media attention before, back in 2003, when CNN and the "CBS Early Show" aired stories about him. Lately, his home has made it into the geocaching trend, in which people use GPS devices to find hidden sites.

Sometimes, visitors leave little gifts of rocks, sticks, leaves and coins for their favorite elf.

"If you leave a quarter, it just sits there," says Rae Ann Vandeputte, neighborhood coordinator of the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council and the mother of two young daughters. "Kids don't take that stuff. It's nice to see that."

Mr. Little Guy depends on the "kindness of tall strangers" to keep his magic alive and his identity secret. And it's working. The elf remains a mystery to some Lake Harriet community activists and others in the forestry division of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

"We all kind of like the thought that he is there," Vandeputte says.

"It's just so nice that it is not commercialized."

Just in time for the holidays, the Twin Cities' most famous resident elf agreed to an interview. Here are excerpts:

Q: Why do you do it?

A: To set the record straight on elves once and for all. Plus, a sense of social obligation.

Q: Do you answer the letters yourself?

A: Yes. Who else would be crazy enough to do this?

Q: Do you ever take a break?

A: The door is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which, interestingly, coincides with the elf holiday of Ladybug Liberation Day and the Ennui Festival.

Q: Is this your full-time job or a volunteer gig?

A: A volunteer obligation.

Q: How do you keep your identity a secret?

A: The same way Batman does.

Q: Does that mean you have a loyal butler named Alfred, a fireman's pole to slide down and a special car?

A: No butler, no fireman's pole, just a mini (of course).

Q: What do you look like?

A: I look just like my dad.

Q: How old are you?

A: Old enough to know better but not old enough to act like it.

Q: How tall are you?

A: Taller than my younger brother and shorter than my older brother.

Q: What are your favorite hobbies?

A: Elfball. In each game, there are two teams, a seven-player team and a nine-player team. I play left-of-center guard for the sevens. The game is played in three periods or until the nines find the lucky stone.

Q: What is your favorite food?

A: I love to eat minnow pizzas. And popcorn. Three kernels, and I'm full.

Q: Several years ago, you made national news. Has Hollywood come calling, or was that your 15 minutes of fame?

A: I believe it was about six minutes of fame, so I have a bit more coming.

Q: What do you do with all the gifts children leave for you?

A: I keep all the stuff because I don't know what else to do with it. I have a storage locker.

Q: Do you ever feel competitive with gnomes, fairies, sprites, trolls, etc.?

A: I like fairies, but they always want to talk about magic spells and shopping. Trolls are all right, but they tend to talk too much about digging for gold and investment banking. I'm an elf, and we are much more fun to chat with. Plus, we are very accomplished cooks. You should try my minnow cakes. They're delicious.

Q: You mention seafood -- minnow pizzas, minnow cakes. Do you have to watch your weight?

A: No, I am blessed with a schoolboy's figure (and Yul Brynner's hairline).

Q: Not including yourself, who is your favorite elf?

A: My daughter, Alta Lucia, and my wife, Martha.

Q: What does your daughter think about your letter-writing activities?

A: At first, she was disappointed to find out I was the letter writer. Then, someone pointed out to her it was like finding out your father actually, truly, really is Santa.

Q: What do you do to relax?

A: Cook, snowboard, and I have a full social calendar.

Q: What makes elves so magical?

A: I really don't know. Maybe, it's that we live in our own world away from mortgage payments, Starbucks and big-box retailers. However, it's not a picnic being an elf.

Q: What's the most touching letter you've received?

A: There are many that can break even the strongest elf's heart, but I am not at liberty to discuss them. It's sort of a writer/elf privilege.

Q: How can you tell people still believe?

A: Because of their incessant letters and good penmanship.

Q: You finish each letter with the encouragement: "I believe in you." Why?

A: Because it says I believe you exist, so, hopefully, you will believe I exist. And the fact that I believe you can be anything you want to be "¦ except, late for dinner.

Q: How long will you keep doing this?

A: How high is the moon?

Rhoda Fukushima can be reached at [email protected] or 651-228-5444. Inside

A close-up look at elves now and through the ages.

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Copyright (c) 2005, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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