RED LAKE COUNTY, Minn. -- Inside an ice shanty in northern Minnesota, there is a fish out of water, and I’m not talking about the walleye.
Chris Ingraham, dressed in his pea coat and snow boots with the tag still on, appears equally out of place.
Chris works for the Washington Post, and the only reason he’s out here is because of an article he wrote in 2015.
The article was about a seeming innocuous U.S. Department of Agriculture study that ranked every county in the country based on scenery and climate. And in that article Chris concluded, “The absolute worst place to live in America is (drum roll please) – Red Lake County, Minnesota.”
That was it.
“Yea, so I publish the story. The story goes up at like 9:32 on a Monday. By 9:37 the hate mail started rolling in,” Chris said. “Like on social media it was just fast and furious and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before.”
And all of it from the same ZIP code. Just about everyone in town took a shot at the messenger, except Jason Brumwell, who took a different tack.
“I wanted him to come here and see it for himself. You know, put his money where his mouth was, I guess,” Jason said.
So Jason invited Chris for a visit, and Chris agreed. He flew out here for his first visit in September of 2015.
“So I pull up to the courthouse and I get out of the car – and there’s a marching band playing,” he said. “And there were no pitchforks, no torches, no nothing. Just a bunch of beaming, smiling people. And the weird thing about the trip, when I got back, I couldn’t stop thinking about the place.”
Which brings us to the most unbelievable part. At the time, Chris and his wife Briana were not happy living outside Washington, D.C. They hated the long commutes and high cost of living.
So last year they packed up their twin toddlers and moved to, you guessed it, Red Lake County.
But this was the worst place in America!
“I believe the phrase was absolute worst place to live in America,” Chris said. “That’s what the spreadsheet said, OK. So coming out here and getting that ground truth, that kind of changed my perspective on it.”
And the data did not factor in the people.
Today Chris still writes for the Post but he works from home, giving him lots more time to spend with his family and all those internet trolls he now considers friends.
They really do love him here. Because they know it’s easy for reporters to lob judgements and generalizations -- but not many have the integrity to make this kind of correction.
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