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Northern Minnesota carver killed in totem pole toppling

RAY, Minn. -- Carl Muggli is determined to finish the totem pole that killed his wife before he leaves the Northland. Carl and Linda Muggli, married 24 years, carved totem poles most of that time and had become internationally recognized for thei...

Linda Muggli
Linda Muggli

RAY, Minn. -- Carl Muggli is determined to finish the totem pole that killed his wife before he leaves the Northland.

Carl and Linda Muggli, married 24 years, carved totem poles most of that time and had become internationally recognized for their work. They were carving the totem pole on their 20-acre property near Ray in Koochiching County nine days ago when something suddenly went horribly wrong.

"All I can say is we were having a wonderful day," Muggli said in a telephone interview Thursday. "The totem we're working on was progressing wonderful. I mean, it was just coming really good, and we were laughing and joking and having a great conversation, just ..." his voice trailed off.

"And then it was over."

Brian Jespersen, chief deputy for the Koochiching County Sheriff's Office, said the 911 call came at 12:03 p.m. Nov. 26. According to the police report, the log, weighing about 3,000 pounds, somehow rolled on top of Linda Muggli.


A Border Patrol agent arrived first and helped Carl Muggli get the log off Linda. She was taken by an International Falls Fire Department ambulance to Rainy Lake Medical Center, where she died later that day. She was 61.

The Mugglis had been carving totem poles since 1990 on their property just outside Voyageurs National Park.

It started as a whim on Linda's part, Carl Muggli said. "One year she said, I've just got to try this. I want to know what this is all about. So, kind of like a joke, I bought her a chainsaw for Christmas."

They carved one totem pole, then another. They opened a little gift shop and a petting zoo on their property. The totem poles were intended just for decoration. But someone made an offer, and soon they were in the totem pole business.

"And she woke up one morning, I couldn't tell you when, she woke up and she said, 'You know, I heard a lot about that www stuff, that Internet thing, and we need to buy a computer and we need to sell totem poles,' " Muggli recalled. "It just changed everything for us."

Muggli totem poles range in size from 16 inches to 50 feet. Several grace the Target Chalet at the Winter X-Games in Aspen, Colo. A Native Veterans Totem, honoring American Indians who served in the military, stands outside the Veterans Administration Hospital in Brockton, Mass. There's a Muggli totem pole outside the Chalet Geronimo in the French Alps.

And they carved three totem poles for the Princess Diana Memorial Park in London.

"It was wonderful," Muggli said. "They actually had us come over for the opening of the park. We had tea in a room with the queen, and it was just awesome."


People who knew Linda and know Carl marvel at their partnership. They spent part of their winters in Texas, where Carl enjoys hunting for wild boars. That's how he met hunting guide Randy Tausch of Seguin, Texas, in January. In that short time Tausch has come to think of Muggli as one of his closest friends. The men have talked on the phone each day since the accident.

"They were both very devoted to each other," Tausch said of the Mugglis. "They both loved each other to death. His dedication to her was an inspiration to a lot of us."

Tausch told of the trails Carl made for Linda in the woods on their property and how he kept them immaculate for her. "That was her little paradise," Tausch said.

"She just loved to walk, so we had trails all over we made, and yes, I kept them mowed nice all summer and I kept them plowed all winter," Muggli said. "And some of them we had lights on so we could walk in the dark."

Carl Muggli, 48, is part American Indian; Linda had no Indian blood. "She'd tell you she was Native in spirit," he said.

Both were fascinated by the Indian culture and scrupulously researched totem poles and their meaning. They would donate at least one totem pole a year to a worthy cause, often involving children.

"She was extremely passionate about her beliefs, as in children," Muggli said. "You don't mess with children -- child abuse, that sort of thing. She would corner anybody in the world and tell them how she felt about that."

They donated totem poles twice for fundraisers at the St. Croix Valley Family Resource Center in Baldwin, Wis., where their daughter, Apryl Mullvain, worked. An 8-foot totem pole brought $14,000 for a chapter of the Alzheimer's Foundation.


And the totem pole they were working on Nov. 26 is destined to be donated to their community to raise money for the Governor's Fishing Opener. "Actually, right now my goal is to finish that particular totem before I leave," Muggli said. "It really meant a lot to her."

Then he'll make the annual trip to Texas, where they already had arranged to rent a house from Tausch. But Muggli won't be back; he'll look for a place to buy. In addition to the totem pole business, he's a licensed contractor. But he's quitting that business.

"I just can't bear to be here," Muggli said. "I mean, if you walked around this property with me, it's just like everything we've done -- she is everywhere here. And she's in my heart and she's never going to leave that spot."

Will he stop creating totem poles?

"No. No," Muggli said. "Linda would not allow that. We both told each other we're going to die carving totem poles. I'm sorry, but I have to carry on."

The memorial service for Linda Muggli was Tuesday at Lake Kabetogama United Methodist Church. Burial was at Linford Cemetery. Arrangements were with Green-Larsen Mortuary of International Falls.

She is survived by her husband, her daughter, two grandchildren, her mother, two sisters and one brother.

The Duluth News Tribune and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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