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Published May 25, 2012, 12:00 AM

Museum tracks Peggy Lee’s history

Wimbledon, N.D. - As a young woman, Norma Egstrom is said to have sometimes snuck out of the railroad depot in Wimbledon where her family lived. What she was looking for is anyone’s guess, but the young woman later known as Peggy Lee ultimately found fame in places like Hollywood and New York.

By: Dave Olson, INFORUM

Wimbledon, N.D. - As a young woman, Norma Egstrom is said to have sometimes snuck out of the railroad depot in Wimbledon where her family lived.

What she was looking for is anyone’s guess, but the young woman later known as Peggy Lee ultimately found fame in places like Hollywood and New York.

Wimbledon never forgot Lee, however, and now the three years she spent there, from 1934 to 1937, are a big part of the Midland Continental Depot Transportation Museum, which will hold its grand opening Saturday.

The museum memorializes both Lee, who died in 2002 at 81, and the depot where Lee and her family lived while Lee’s father was the depot agent in Wimbledon.

The depot, which opened in 1913 and closed in 1970, was intended to be part of a railroad that was to extend from Canada to Texas.

But only a small segment of track, running roughly between Edgeley and Wimbledon, was built, said Linda Grotberg, head of the committee that restored the depot and established displays telling about the building and Lee’s time in Wimbledon.

Grotberg said Lee left Wimbledon with her family after graduating from Wimbledon High School in 1937.

Lee’s time in Wimbledon wasn’t always happy and the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepmother is well-known. She later explored those experiences in the song “One Beating a Day.”

“There are many stories of Peggy Lee,” Grotberg said of the singer’s years in Wimbledon. “I think sometimes she would crawl out of a window to go to things. She was quite involved in the Wimbledon High School.”

After leaving Wimbledon, Lee ended up in Fargo, where she did some singing at WDAY Radio.

Ken Kennedy, a radio personality at the station, is credited with changing Egstrom’s name to Peggy Lee.

The restoration of the railroad depot took about five years of planning and work.

A $20,000 donation from Myrna Bultema, a museum board member who passed away, got things started. That donation was followed by others, including more than $200,000 in federal stimulus dollars, grants from state agencies such as the North Dakota Historical Society and North Dakota Tourism, “and lots of local funding,” Grotberg said.

The story of the Midland Continental Railroad is told through exhibits on the main floor of the depot.

“It’s like walking up to a working depot,” Grotberg said. “You go in and this working depot has a waiting room and a ticket office and a freight room.”

Part of the upstairs is a re-creation of the living quarters as they would have looked during Lee’s years there, including a kitchen and two bedrooms.

The other half of the upstairs is called the Peggy Lee Room. Displays on the walls tell her story with pictures, clippings and memorabilia.

“It’s a really nice story,” Grotberg said. “There are theater chairs in the middle of the room, where you can listen with headphones to Peggy Lee songs.”

There is also a display case containing clothes and other items once owned by Lee.

“We call this our love letter to Peggy Lee, and I think it’s going to be exactly that,” Grotberg said.

The date for the museum’s grand opening was chosen for a reason, according to Grotberg.

“It would have been Peggy Lee’s 92nd birthday,” she said.


If you go:

- What: Grand Opening of the Midland Continental Depot Transportation Museum Featuring Peggy Lee

- When 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday

- Where: Wimbledon, N.D.

- Pop culture connection: Depot was home to a young Peggy Lee from 1934 to 1937


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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