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New York writer Carolyn Quinn has been researching Farmington's history as part of the background for her book, "Mama Rose: Gypsy Rose Lee's Indomitable Stage Mother." Through her research Quinn found a link between Farmington and the legendary burlesque entertainer's family.

New York writer is researching Farmington for forthcoming book

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When New York City writer Carolyn Quinn releases her book, "Mama Rose: Gypsy Rose Lee's Indomitable Stage Mother," Farmington will be part of the tale.

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It turns out, Farmington has a tie to the burlesque entertainer, Gypsy Rose Lee. Her mother, Rose Thompson Horvick, once fled from a fire in a Farmington candy store.

There is no concrete information to indicate Gypsy Rose Lee ever spent a night in Farmington - much less, performed in the city - but Quinn's research has dug up a connection between the racy star's ancestry and this community.

Quinn stumbled upon the connection once she started researching Rose Thompson Horvick, whose legacy is that of a notorious, manipulative, overbearing stage mom. The details Quinn has come across, though, show a different side of the woman.

The family of three

Rose Thompson Horvick was the mother to Rose Louise and Ellen June Horvick. "Mama Rose," as she was called, decided to get her daughters into vaudeville at an early age. The younger, who went by June - and later changed her stage name to June Havoc - stole the show, leaving the elder Louise in the background.

While June Havoc went on to become a stage star, Louise found her success as a striptease artist. She changed her name to Gypsy Rose Lee, and found fame by tantalizing her audiences with her suggestive acts.

Plenty of citation on the internet shows Rose Thompson Horvick to be a crass, aggressive and relentless woman bent on promoting her daughters as performers. Gypsy fueled the collective opinion when she wrote, "Gypsy, A Memoir."

It was that book that inspired the musical, "Gypsy," which produced hits including "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and "Let Me Entertain You."

A history fan and writer, Quinn found herself asking questions about why Rose Thompson Horvick was the way she was. She read through accounts more closely, and started to notice inconsistencies.

And then she started to dig into the family secrets.

Research

Quinn started researching her book back in 2008. The family, it turns out, has had so many marriages and divorces that tracking down the Horvicks' heritage has been a challenge. She jokes about "the Leaning Tower of Rose," a stack of papers that is overtaking the couch in her Brooklyn home.

"The research has been an uphill battle, to put it mildly," Quinn said.

She was given access to the Horvick family archives in New York. She went to the library one afternoon, and emerged five hours later with a different understanding of Rose Thompson Horvick.

"I just couldn't get enough of it," she said. "There are a lot of rumors about her.... The real Rose wasn't like that. She was more refined. More charismatic. It was like nothing I'd read in the books added up."

About two years into her research, Quinn found a reference to Farmington. She'd never heard of Farmington, but did a little checking around online. That digging put her in contact with Rebecca Schneider at the Dakota County Historical Society. One request later, Quinn had more than 200 pieces of new, fascinating information at her fingertips.

A family tree

This is where it gets interesting, and a little confusing. Apparently, Gypsy Rose Lee's great-grandfather was one of Farmington's first firefighters, and the family-run business was burned to the ground in what is known locally as the Great Fire of 1879.

Here's how it goes: Rose Thompson Horvick was the daughter of Anna Egle and Charlie Thompson. Charlie Thompson was a railroad man, so the family moved wherever the jobs were. On occasion, that brought them back to Farmington.

Anna Egle was one of five children born to Mary Louise Herber Egle Stein and Lawrence Egle. Anna was the only of Mary Louise's five children to survive.

Lawrence Egle was one of Farmington's early settlers. He owned a saloon and hotel that was located on Oak Street, between Second and Third streets. Lawrence Egle was also a member of Farmington's first Hook and Ladder Company, named as a first assistant foreman when the community's first fire company was formed Jan. 11, 1873.

Lawrence Egle died in 1879, about six weeks before a gush of wind carried a spark from a train smokestack to a pile of corn stalks and set most of the young Farmington on fire. In that fire, Mary Louise lost the hotel she had been running since her husband's death.

In 1884, Quinn found, Mary Louise's only daughter, Anna, and her family were all living in Farmington when a fire destroyed the candy store Mary Louise operated. A young Rose Thompson was saved from the building.

Quinn has shared her findings with Gypsy's son, who never knew the name Egle to be part of his past. His mother was born in Seattle, and moved around most of her life.

In her memoir, Gypsy refers to her grandmother as Big Lady. It turns out, Anna Egle was that same person.

Quinn's research is nearing completion. She recently contacted members of the Farmington Fire Department to see if they had more information about the Hook and Ladder Company for her files. She's got a publisher lined up, and she's expecting to forward her material to be printed soon.

In the meantime, Quinn has also fallen in love with what she knows of Farmington. In an email this week, she writes, "I have got to get to Farmington at some point to take a look around. This may sound a bit unusual, but I'd even like to put some flowers on the Egle family's headstones. They were amazing."

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Michelle Leonard
Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and is the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 
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