Purple Rain film site 3

Henderson Station Road along the Minnesota River saw much more activity during the filming of Prince's 'Purple Rain' than it does today. Photo by Pat Christman

HENDERSON — When Minnesota's music superstar died unexpectedly last week, New Orleans bathed the Superdome in purple light. Cities from Montreal to Los Angeles switched to lavender on the decorative lighting of their city halls to pay tribute to Prince.

And in Henderson, a Sibley County town of 875, city officials issued a map showing Henderson Station Road shaded in lilac.

The scenic byway just east of Henderson was the site of some of the most memorable moments of Prince's 1984 film "Purple Rain." The Henderson map shows where Prince and co-star Apollonia Kotero share a lengthy motorcycle ride, backed on the soundtrack by their duet "Take Me With U."

"Purple Rain" at Henderson map

The city of Henderson recently posted this map on its Facebook page.

The map also indicates the "Rail-Road Trestle and 'Lake' Scenes," marking it with a star — which might be the same icon young males in 1984 would have chosen. That's the spot where Kotero skinny-dips, attempting to pass Prince's initiation and get his help in breaking into the Minneapolis music scene.

Henderson City Administrator Lon Berberich said the city's Facebook page has never seen a reaction like the one since the map was posted.

"We got over 40,000 views already," said Berberich, noting that the map has been shared 180 times on Facebook. "It's insane."

Minneapolis' First Avenue nightclub is the primary setting of "Purple Rain," but the scenes shot along the picturesque "Henderson Station Road" are among the most indelible. There's the romantic motorcycle ride along the leaf-covered road through the forested Minnesota River valley, long enough to fill the entire length of "Take Me With U."

Preceding that is the scene where Prince and Apollonia stop beside a body of water, where she asks for career help and he refuses, saying she wouldn't pass the initiation. After she asks for details, he answers: "Well, for starters you have to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka."

Apollonia hesitates, then quickly undresses and runs toward the water. "Hey, wait a minute that's ...," Prince says as she leaps from a log into the freezing water. She hears him say "Aw, hold it" as she crawls back onto shore and shouts "What!"

"That ain't Lake Minnetonka," he answers with a grin.

What the body of water actually was has been in some dispute, even in stories written since Prince's death. Several publications have reported it was Cedar Lake in Minneapolis.

But Henderson residents are convinced it's their own Minnesota River. That rural Henderson was the setting of the motorcycle ride has never been in dispute, and there's solid evidence it was also the location for the not-Lake Minnetonka scene.

The Los Angeles Times did a story in 2014 celebrating the 30th anniversary of "Purple Rain" in which reporter David Farley interviewed Kirk Hokanson, who worked as a location scout on the film.

"With a thick three-ringed binder he'd unearthed in his apartment — the binder he worked from when he was scouting and on set — we set out to find as many sites as we could," the story recounted.

"... And that Lake Minnetonka, the one that Apollonia jumped into? Hokanson thought for a moment. 'That was actually the Minnesota River, just south of the city.'"

Exhibit 2, in Henderson's claim, would likely be a 2014 interview with Kotero by the Star Tribune's Jon Bream (which deemed the phrase "You have to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka" the most quoted line from the movie). Bream's story says the scene was shot in the Minnesota River near Henderson.

There's also the detail provided by Kotero that might be the clincher for southern Minnesotans familiar with the Minnesota River: "A stuntman was stationed in the water to catch her and keep her from getting stuck in the mud."

During the shooting, an ambulance was nearby, ready to treat Kotero for potential hypothermia because it was Nov. 2, 1983, and it was cold enough that a few flakes of snow had fallen earlier in the day.

By the time the scene had been repeated four times, Kotero was feeling the Minnesota cold.

"I couldn't breathe when I got out," Kotero said. "I wanted to check my body parts to see that they were still on me. ... I felt delirious. They took me to a tent where they dried me off and there was a nurse."

Kotero, by the way, told the Star Tribune that she never realized during the filming that the miserable, muddy, mind-numbing Minnesota River scene was destined to be so unforgettable for "Purple Rain" fans.

"I had no idea that it was going to be such a standout scene," she said.

For devotees of the movie and other Prince enthusiasts, Henderson has added the filming locations to its "Explore Henderson" mobile app. The city, working with the two townships involved, are also planning to add plaques commemorating the sites by late fall, Berberich said.

The road, the first on the eastern side of the Minnesota River from Henderson, is also slated as part of the route of the long-planned Minnesota River Trail from the Twin Cities along the Minnesota River to its headwaters near the South Dakota border.

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