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Pilot originally from Wadena behind 'Musky the Muskrat'

Pilot Mark Anderson boards his plane with the well-traveled Musky the Muskrat in his backpack.

For some people, reading through the police log now known as the Police Scanner on the Pioneer Journal's news of record page is a brief diversion. For one man, it became a long-running practical joke.

Starting more than a year ago, readers of the Pioneer Journal started seeing odd letters to the editor allegedly written by a muskrat named Musky. Some chalked it up as a joke being played by the PJ's staff. Others dismissed the photos of a stuffed muskrat at landmarks like the Grand Canyon and the White House as trickery -- mere creations in Photoshop.

Wrong, and wrong.

Meet Mark Anderson, a 1976 graduate of Wadena High School, a decades-long subscriber of the Pioneer Journal who admits he still gets a kick out of some of the crazy things he reads in the paper from his hometown. To the son of former State Senator Don and Violet Anderson and brother of local G.P. Anderson, one particular entry in the police log from Oct. 12, 2000, always stayed with him.

According to Anderson, the entry said a muskrat, which was believed to be dead in an alley behind a Wadena business, sprang to life and evaded police capture by running down Minnesota Highway 29 toward Otter Tail Lake.

"It's just the visuals of this that are hilarious," Anderson said.

There were so many questions he had: how did the muskrat spring to life? How did it evade police capture? How did anyone know it was headed all the way to Otter Tail Lake?

It seemed like a story ripe for a practical joke. Anderson immediately set out to purchase a stuffed muskrat from a stuffed animal store at the Mall of America.

"They didn't have a muskrat," Anderson said.

There were beavers, bears, and all other sorts of furry mammals, but no muskrats. He looked online, but came up empty. For nearly a decade, he looked for a stuffed animal muskrat, and even entertained notions of buying a real one from a taxidermist before a stuffed muskrat he dubbed "Musky" was found in late 2008.

Anderson's occupation made what would have been a minor practical joke into a potentially huge one. He approached the Pioneer Journal in early 2009 and asked if we were game for him taking the stuffed animal all around the country with his job as a pilot and taking photos with it at national landmarks.

So Anderson set about his journey with Musky in his backpack. He brought the stuffed animal to the Capitol building in St. Paul, skiing in Telluride, Colo., to the Grand Canyon, Cancun, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, Lake Tahoe, Chicago, the Hoover Dam, New York City and Washington, D.C. The muskrat traveled in the cockpit of his plane, through security checks by Transportation Safety Administration personnel in airports, and to some of America's finest tourist destinations.

Did he get any strange looks?

"Oh, many strange looks," Anderson said. "They all thought he was real."

Anderson said while he was in line to have Musky's photo taken in front of the White House, he ran into another man doing almost the same thing, only with a stuffed Patrick the Starfish from "SpongeBob Squarepants."

Interviewed at his home on Gull Lake, Anderson said he thought when it was revealed it was him behind the Musky letters and photos, people would be surprised. He hinted that Musky would be making an appearance this summer at Wadena-Deer Creek's All School Reunion, and may have other things in store.

"You never know where he's going to pop up next," Anderson said.

After leaving Wadena in 1976, Anderson attended Augsburg College and bought a restaurant/bar on Gull Lake in 1982. After selling his interest in the business, he worked at a stock brokerage before going to the University of North Dakota's Center For Aerospace Sciences in Grand Forks and becoming a pilot, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Today, he flies private jets for individual clients, many for a Twin Cities-based hedge fund.

And Musky isn't the first crazy stunt he's pulled.

"On Dec. 17, 2003, I set a certified flight record with a friend," Anderson explained. "We used a private jet to fly around the entire border of the U.S. in 1 day, 21 and a half hours. And the day we set the record was the exact date of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother's first flight. We are listed in the book of World And United States Aviation & Space Records."

As of now, Anderson and Musky were grounded for a few weeks to enjoy Memorial Day at the lake. Anderson said he knows the local cops, meanwhile, will continue to respond to bizarre phone calls, but hopefully not any more undead muskrats.

"The things they see on a daily basis -- every day has to be crazy," Anderson said.