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Nearly 70 Years Old, World's Largest Ball Of Twine Still Reels 'Em In

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- With summer vacation coming up a lot of families to hit the roadways, and along the way certain roadside attractions will catch their eye.

Among those will be the World's Largest Ball of Twine made by one man, which is located in Darwin and is quickly approaching its 70th birthday. But as it ages, its popularity seems to be increasing, thanks in part to a famous singer and entertainer.

In this week's Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen heads to Darwin in Meeker County to show how the city has become entwined with the twine ball.

On a sunny, spring morning in Darwin, all road markers and street signs point to one destination.

"It's just amazing. This is unique," visitor Dan Schmidt said. "How do you do that? How do you roll that twine on there and make it round?"

That's a question that's been asked thousands of times. The giant twine ball caught the attention of Schmidt as he drove cross country from Maryland. He made a detour just to see it.

"A lot of perseverance. A lot of bales of hay looking at it," Schmidt said.

But even people who grew up nearby still roll with it.

"I remember going by as a kid and seeing it get bigger and bigger and bigger," visitor Todd Roethemeier said.

"That's so big and that's the biggest in the world," visitor Elvia Flores said.

And it was all done by one man.

Worlds Largest Ball of Twine
(credit: CBS)

In 1950, Francis Johnson began twining, though no one really knows why.

"I can't say I know the reason either. A lot of people say, 'Why did he do it?' He did it because the twine was there and he had the time," Mayor Josh Johnson said.

Count the mayor among those who has tried to unravel the mystery. The "how" is less mysterious. Johnson used twine from his family farm and when other people got word of what he was doing they donated as well. He would square knot it all together and spool it up. And as it got bigger, he needed bigger tools. Eventually he rolled it with a railroad jack which also helped keep it round. He finally finished in 1979. It took 29 years to accomplish the feat.

"Yeah, four hours a day, every day. Twelve feet tall. Forty feet around. 17,400 pounds."

That's nearly 9 tons of twine.

And in 1991, it was moved by flatbed truck from Johnson's farm to the town square. A gazebo was built around it, alongside the museum right next door. But that wasn't the first time it was moved. In 1958, Johnson flew it by plane to New York City to be on the show "I've Got a Secret." That was just the beginning of its celebrity status.

"Weird Al" Yankovic wrote a song about the ball, which the mayor says really helped bring twine ball awareness to the rest of the world. He estimates that about one-third of their visitors are now "Weird Al" fans.

"For Weird Al fans it's like their Mecca. It's kind of like required pilgrimage for them to take at some point," Johnson said.

Today, the town of 350 people celebrates their prized possession every August. Ripley's "Believe it or Not" once tried to buy the it from Darwin but the city said no. Because, as it nears its 70th birthday, they are now stewards of the sphere. And it's hard to remember the land before twine.

"The community is exceptionally proud to display it. I would say it's the twine that binds in Darwin," Johnson said.

Twine Ball Days in Darwin is held the second Saturday in August, but people can also visit the twine ball and its museum year-round.

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