By Regan Carstensen, Red Wing Republican Eagle
“Everyone told me, ‘You’re never going to get a ticket,’” Katrina Karlsen recalled.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Northfield resident snagged the very first spot in a long line outside of Cannon Falls City Hall this morning, guaranteeing her one of a limited number of tickets to President Barack Obama’s speech Monday at Hannah’s Bend Park.
Karlsen didn’t let herself get discouraged by her friends’ pessimism. Instead, she considered several scenarios to ensure she’d walk away with a ticket in hand, including canoeing to town — an option her husband, Mark Carlson, wasn’t keen on. Her other idea, repelling from the roof of City Hall, could have certainly gotten her a prime position in line if she could avoid police officers and get her husband on board.
In the end, extravagant methods proved to be unnecessary as the couple got themselves a pair of tickets the traditional way, by driving to City Hall and waiting patiently on the sidewalk.
Expecting to compete with large crowds, Karlsen and her husband arrived in town Saturday night only to find signs posted near City Hall saying that camping out would not be allowed.
“We’re City Hall, we’re not a campground,” Cannon Falls Police Chief Jeff McCormick said. “It comes down to health and safety.”
Karlsen left the area several times, but never wandered too far.
“Every hour on the hour we’d come back to monitor the situation,” she explained. “I met all the officers. They each took turns throwing us out.”
By 6 o’clock this morning, an anxious crowd of early risers formed an official line and was welcomed over to the City Hall parking lot to get settled, many of them bringing chairs, books, food and games. Umbrellas ALSO were popular and started to pop up throughout the morning — not for protection from rain, but to provide a hint of shade as the sun beat down on the blacktop.
Some people were lucky enough to be seated right next to the building where they could bask in the shade, including a group of five Cannon Falls High School seniors who arrived at 4 a.m. Upon hearing the news late last week, all five immediately planned on getting tickets, but they each had different reactions about Obama speaking in Cannon Falls.
“I didn’t believe it and I thought everyone was joking,” Shaylin Nguyen said.
“I didn’t want my dad getting his hands on a microphone,” James Rolfes added, describing his father as “very conservative.”
The students were just a few of many people who waited more than nine hours for the tickets, while others endured much shorter wait times as people continuously showed up to City Hall later into the morning.
Doors opened at 1 p.m. and police officers hoped to avoid pushing and shoving by ushering the crowd inside by small groups of 15.
While some people walked out of City Hall with huge smiles and hands in the air, others left the area disappointed after White House staff ran out of tickets around 2 p.m.
Consequently, the same parking lot that held more than a thousand hopeful people just two hours earlier was completely emptied out by about 2:30 p.m.
Cannon Falls, south of St. Paul, has been buzzing since Thursday as residents and business owners heard rumor after rumor about the possibility of Obama making a stop.
“Everyone’s very excited. Yesterday, it was probably the best worst-kept secret,” McCormick said Friday afternoon.
When rumors were finally confirmed, the buzz only increased. And phone calls to City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce were endless.
“It’s been ringing off the hook for about three hours. It’s insane,” City Hall administrative assistant Dianne Howard said Friday morning.
In addition to constant calls, City Hall and the chamber also got their fair share of visitors Friday as area residents, television stations, radio reporters and newspaper writers searched for details about the event. But with plans only starting to be made late Thursday and Friday, there wasn’t much to share.
“It’s so all-of-a-sudden,” chamber President Pat Anderson said. “It isn’t like we’ve had months to think, ‘OK, what should we do when the president comes?’”
McCormick has been one of many hustling to get organized for Monday, but he and the police department are receiving lots of local help.
“It’s very short notice and everyone is bending over backwards to help us,” he said.
McCormick has been in contact with White House staff, making plans to be sure the town is as secure as possible before the president’s arrival, but Cannon Falls police and White House security are not tackling the commotion alone.
“We’re certainly looking to agencies within the metro, and to the south, west and east of us as well,” McCormick said.
The Red Wing Police Department is on board and will assist with things like crowd control and standing security before and during Monday’s event, Police Chief Tim Sletten said.
The Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office is also providing support. Sheriff Scott McNurlin said officers will set boundaries around Hannah’s Bend Park — where the president will speak — and members of the public without tickets into the park are asked to respect the boundaries.
“They need to stay outside the bounds of that perimeter that will be noticeable by the presence of law enforcement,” McNurlin explained.
Law enforcement officials aren’t the only ones getting ready for Cannon Falls to be the center of attention. Local businesses are changing their hours for Monday’s crowds.
Hi Quality Bakery is typically closed Mondays, but owner Julie Disch thought it’d be a good idea to have treats available as the masses flock to Cannon Falls. She said the business will most likely be open at its standard weekday time of 5:30 a.m.
Bakery employee Robin Knauer is hoping to get her hands on two tickets to Obama’s speech, so she can take her 10-year-old grandson.
“He likes to follow Obama because he’s half-Kenyan also. So to him, it’s somebody just like him,” Knauer said with a smile.
“When I first heard it I didn’t believe it was true,” Anderson said. “It’s not often you get to host a sitting president.”
Not often, but it does happen. In fact, this won’t be the first time Cannon Falls has gotten such a rare opportunity. In 1928, the town played host to President Calvin Coolidge, who came to dedicate a memorial to Civil War hero Col. William Colvill.