If you’ve spent any amount of time in Little Falls, chances are good you have caught a glimpse of this mural. It is the Gail & Ax Navy Tobacco painting on the outside of the Hauer Electric Building on 1st Avenue SE in Little Falls.
The giant wall is an advertisement for Gail & Ax Navy Tobacco, a company I don’t recall ever seeing behind gas station counters. A quick Google search lead me to the Antique Advertising Expert:
– The Antique Advertising Expert
The G. W. Gail & Ax Company produced smoking tobacco, cut plug, chewing tobacco and snuff. Along with the famous Navy brand, their second largest seller was call “Little Joker”. Most of their tobacco product was grown in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Maryland. The production of tobacco eventually reached over three million pounds of finished product and the Gail & Ax firm helped propel Baltimore to become one of the leading tobacco production cities in the United States.
So how did an East Coast tobacco brand find it’s way to Central Minnesota?
Originally painted by Pete Lind, the Little Falls mural was completed on December 17, 1906, when the temperature was 17 below zero. When it was set to be repainted in 2000, it was turned from an advertisement, to an anti-smoking statement piece.
To accomplish that, Frank Gosiak was put in charge of the project. It was commissioned in 2000 by the Freshwater Education District, and 11 students at the time gave the mural new life, and added an addition. To the right there is a painting of a cemetery. The tombstones depicted have increments of 10 years, with the total amount of smoking related deaths painted along side them.
The last panel of the mural shows a pack of tobacco going up in smoke. A strong statement in the battle to put an end to smoking and the death it causes.
As a person who has lost two wonderful grandparents to lung cancer (caused by smoking) I think this is a great public piece that reminds people of the dangers of the habit, and hopefully it makes people want to make the numbers on the tombstones lower and lower every year.
The next time you are in Little Falls, I strongly suggest taking 5 minutes to take in the mural for yourself, and maybe even snap a selfie.