The beloved 80s sitcom The Golden Girls is filled with hilarious and heartwarming moments shared between its four main characters: Blanche, Rose, Dorothy, and Sophia. Perhaps the funniest Golden Girls moments of all, however, come via Rose Nylund’s (Betty White) tales from her hometown of St Olaf, a small town in Minnesota affectionately(ish) dubbed the “cradle of idiocy” by the other Girls.
From anecdotes about St Olaf’s most famous hairstylist, Vidal Sassbogadotter, to memories of Uncle Lester, who only had one tooth but still loved corn on the cob – they’d cream what fell on his pants and he’d eat it later – Rose Nylund is a bottomless well of nonsensical stories about her beloved homeland.
St Olaf is such a Golden Girls staple that the town is referred to in almost every episode. Though we only see it twice, we’re painted extremely colorful pictures through Rose’s rambling, often irrelevant, stories about its peculiar inhabitants and hilarious customs.
Every St Olaf story is a gem in its own right. These, however, are the best of the best.
Oh, THAT Great Herring War
“This is exactly what happened during the Great Herring War. … The Johanssons wanted to pickle the herring, and the Lindstroms wanted to train them for the circus. … Oh, not that kind of circus. A herring circus. Sort of like Sea World, only smaller. Much, much smaller. But bigger than a flea circus.“
Season 1, Episode 25: “The Way We Met”
No two St Olaf stories are exactly alike, but a lot of them mention herring. “You know what they say: you can lead a herring to water, but you have to walk really fast or he’ll die.”
Among the best herring-centric stories is the Great Herring War. Yes, THAT Great Herring War. Between the Johanssons and the Lindstroms, who couldn’t agree on what to do with the herring.
This scene is executed so masterfully and is so undeniably hilarious that Betty White’s costars, Rue McClanahan (Blanche) and Bea Arthur (Dorothy) burst into uncontrollable laughter when Rose explains that they only shot a herring out of a cannon once. “But they shot him into a tree. After that, no other herring would do it.”
Ingmar, the Bird Impersonator of St Olaf
“Now, I know no one wants to hear any of my stories right now… But you need to hear about my cousin Ingmar. He was different. He used to do bird imitations. … Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to park your car under their oak tree.“
Season 6, Episode 12: “Ebbtide’s Revenge”
This St Olaf tale comes as comic relief in a particularly deep moment for The Golden Girls. Sophia’s only son, Phil, just died from a heart attack while trying on knockoffs at Big Gals Pay Less. Sophia is grappling with the fact that her son wanted to be buried in women’s clothing and wondering what she did wrong to make him that way.
In an effort to show her that there was nothing wrong with loving Phil exactly how he was, Rose tells the story of cousin Ingmar, whose mother was so ashamed of him that it ruined her life. This is one of the rare instances in which Rose Nylund’s St Olaf story was not only relevant but helpful (albeit ridiculous).
The Herring Juggling Act
“Anyway, I’ll never forget the time they sang at our annual talent show right after the herring juggling act. … It was the herring who did the juggling. Tiny little Ginsu knives. Really very dangerous. I mean one false move, they could have filleted themselves.”
Season 4, Episode 14: “Love Me Tender”
Another herring-related tale, Rose shoehorned this bizarre story in while trying to relate to Dorothy, who was dating an unusual man thanks to the matchmaking efforts of Sophia. Sometimes opposites attract, Rose explained, like Ollie Canudenspringle and his wife Bridget back in St Olaf. The duo performed just before the herring juggling act at the annual talent show.
This one was so out of left field that it drew a classic Golden Girls zinger from Sophia: “I hate you.”
…Then We’d Call Lucky Gunther
“Boy, in St. Olaf, the mother was always with the daughter when she gave birth. And if the mother was out of town, then the mother of the father was there. And if she was out of town, then we’d call Lucky Gunther. … After the thresher accident, they replaced Lucky’s arm with a forceps. Yep. Lucky Gunther. He was in charge of delivering babies and handing out corn at the Rotary picnics.”
Season 6, Episode 1: “Blanche Delivers”
Of all the outlandish occupants of St Olaf mentioned in The Golden Girls (and there are quite a few), Lucky Gunther has to be top three. Mentioned in one of my personal favorite episodes, Lucky Gunther serves a dual role in St Olaf: delivering babies and handing out corn at the Rotary picnics. This…somewhat…explains why, when Blanche’s daughter goes into labor, Rose’s first reaction is to offer to put on some corn.
The Boy Who Didn’t Cry Wolf
“Back in St Olaf, there was this shepherd boy who tended his flock on the hill above the town. A wolf kept coming down and stealing his sheep, but the boy never caught him doing it. Because he never saw it happening, he became known around St Olaf as the boy who didn’t cry wolf. Anyway, one day the townspeople heard the boy on the hill yelling, ‘Wolf, wolf’. Well, they all figured, if the boy never cried wolf when the wolf was there, if he yelled wolf now, it stood to reason the wolf wasn’t there.“
Season 5, Episode 22: “Cheaters”
This St Olaf story isn’t often talked about and I have no idea why – it’s my absolute favorite and never fails to get a laugh. Rose brings up good old St Olaf to help Blanche and Sophia see that the right move is to report their blunder to the police after they were conned out of $2,000 by a pair of criminals at the mall. How does she do this? By spinning a tale about the boy who didn’t cry wolf.
The punchline in this St Olaf story is the epitome of Golden Girls humor. After explaining how the shepherd boy got his unusual nickname, Sophia sarcastically says nothing gets by St Olafians. With a look of pride, Rose replies, “Damn straight, it was a bear! A huge, ferocious grizzly bear.”
As for the boy? “He became known as the boy who cried continuously.”
A St Olaf Story From Another Golden Girl
“There was this farmer named Nils Nibelung. And he had a pig named Brunhilde, and she won all the blue ribbons at all the county fairs. Well, Nils also had a daughter named Fricka, and she won red ribbons, usually as runner-up to the pig.”
Season 5, Episode 13: “Mary Has a Little Lamb”
Perhaps the most popular St Olaf story in all seven seasons of The Golden Girls, this one is told not by Rose but by Dorothy! It’s, of course, secondhand information from our favorite airhead and just goes to show that, no matter how much the Girls complained about Rose’s ridiculous stories, they were actually listening to her all along.
In this episode, St Olaf comes up when Dorothy is attempting to convince a family friend to accept his teenage daughter back in his life after she confessed to an accidental pregnancy. She tells the story of Nils Nibelung – a story she admits she wasn’t listening to that closely when she heard it.
Rather than an unplanned pregnancy, Nils discovered his daughter with the local pig breeder. And like the neighbor, he banished her from his house and his life forever. Without his daughter, however, Nils had only his pig, Brunhilde, for company.
“So, after a while, he lost interest in the pig’s company and he ate her. And he died St. Olaf’s loneliest man.”
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