A Short History of the Ford Plant by Brian McMahon is the newest title in our digital imprint, MHS Express. It examines the history of the former Ford Plant in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood from 1925 to 2011.
May 16, 2013
May 14, 2013
We Are Still Here: A Photographic History of the American Indian Movement is a new book with photos by Dick Bancroft and text by Laura Waterman Wittstock.
An exhibit based on the book opens this Thursday at Mill City Museum. Dick and Laura will talk about their book at the opening at 6:00 pm, and they’ll also present at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul next Tuesday, May 21, at 7:00 pm for this month’s History Lounge.
May 13, 2013
Food, tradition, and culture make a home. Inspired by the book Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875 by Phyllis Louise Harris with Raghavan Iyer, a new thirty minute documentary co-produced by the Minnesota Historical Society Press and Twin Cities Public Television’s Minnesota Productions & Partnerships (tpt MN) celebrates Asian immigrants who have left an indelible and flavorful mark on Minnesota’s culinary, cultural, and economic history.
It’s hard to believe there was a time when you couldn’t go out for Chinese food in Minnesota, but there was—until brothers and entrepreneurs Woo Yee Sing and Woo Du Sing opened their Canton restaurant (later called “John’s Place”) in Minneapolis in 1883.
Culinary educator, chef, author, consultant and co-founder with Phyllis Louise Harris of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes, Ltd., Raghavan Iyer narrates this documentary highlighting the exciting history and array of Asian food in Minnesota.
Profiles and interviews with chefs, restaurant owners, business owners, and culinary professionals include Supenn Harrison, founder of Sawatdee; Reiko Weston of Fuji Ya; Mhonpaj Lee and her mother May Yia Lee, operators of Mhonpaj’s Garden; Ann Kim of Pizzeria Lola; Thom Pham; and Harry Singh.
Food connects homes left behind with where we live today. Asian Flavors is the story of adventurous people who made the arduous journey halfway around the world to live in Minnesota, fleeing oppression and persecution or in search of jobs and education, and who created new homes through food. Many cooks sought not only to make a living but also to preserve the memory of their homeland through the dishes set before family and patrons alike, to the great benefit of diners in the Twin Cities metro area.
Asian flavors have changed Minnesota’s tastes, just as the many, wide-ranging Asian cultural groups have reshaped the state’s history, culture, and communities.
The tpt broadcast schedule is as follows:
Premiere: Sunday May 26, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. on tpt’s Minnesota Channel (tpt MN)
Encore Broadcasts: Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 1:00 AM, 7:00 AM and 1:00 PM on tpt MN
About tpt’s Minnesota Productions & Partnerships
TPT’s Minnesota Productions & Partnerships (tpt MN) is the local production division of Twin Cities Public Television (tpt), the PBS affiliate for Minneapolis/St. Paul. TPT MN partners with local non-profit, educational, governmental, and public service organizations to reach broader audiences throughout Minnesota. These partnership programs educate and inspire Minnesotans on important issues using tpt’s distinctive storytelling skills, television and multimedia resources. Since its inception in 2003, tpt MN has created nearly 700 television programs and over 200 multimedia projects in partnership with over 235 non-profit and public service organizations. To view past tpt productions, visit www.mnvideovault.org.
May 9, 2013
The Great Gatsby is on the big screen, once again reminding us of the fabulous and tragic Jazz Age–and the author who was its best-known chronicler.
Minnesotans have a special connection to this famous American author: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul is around us. The elegant neighborhoods where he grew up as “a poor boy in a rich town” are still the city’s finest, beautiful to discover and enjoy. And the best way to do that is with A Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul, by John J. Koblas. You can explore the neighborhoods that shaped him and provided the scenery and plots for many of his most successful short stories. Handy maps, 35 featured buildings, and notes on 71 others make for fascinating self-guided walking tours.
And then, with The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Patricia Hampl and Dave Page, you can read many of those stories as well. Introduced with a graceful essay by Patricia Hampl, the book includes several of the Basil Duke Lee stories as well as some of Fitzgerald’s lesser-known classics. Brief introductions provide names and locations that you can find during your tour.
See the movie, read these books, and get to know the home-town author!
May 1, 2013
In recognition of Minnesota American Indian Month, we are pleased to offer 10 Native American history and culture e-books for the special price of $3.99 each during the month of May. Load up your e-readers!
Also, for a list of related events in the Twin Cities, check out the City of Minneapolis’s American Indian Month Community Calendar.
April 16, 2013
Here’s an excerpt from Augie’s Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip by Neal Karlen. Meet Neal this Thursday at 7 pm at Mill City Museum to hear more of Augie’s secrets. Click on the book title, above, for more information and events.
There were two words too powerful, too terrible, too ugly for my grandmother to pronounce fully aloud. She approached the first one in a normal timbre, then at the last second dropped her tone to sotto voce and whispered, in the heavy accent of her native Odessa, “kan-suh.”
The effect was mighty and dramatic. She would be sitting at the dining room table, with her almost-perfect son, my father, hiding behind the newspaper box scores and wax fruit, and she would say loudly, to no one in particular, in a full Merman-esque voice, “Mr. Anderson, I heard he has a throat full of”—then she’d whisper—”kan-suh.”
She said the offending word barely audibly, like she wanted no one in the room to hear it but my father, as if she expected him personally to cure malignancy forever: kan-suh.
The second ghastly word was what she deemed the vocation of her misbegotten younger brother, Augie, who to my father’s mind was the only interesting person in the entire family. She would say, as a prelude to damning her damnable brother, that “Augie is a no-goodnik” or “My brother is a scandal to the family!” which he sort of was, to a few, because of that place he ran, Augie’s Theatre Lounge, or maybe that speakeasy for drunken shikkers he had earlier, the White Swan.
She would conclude her sermon of fire and damnation, just saying his name, “Augie”—then dropping her voice an octave and—shhh!—say it: “geng-steh.”
“Geng-steh,” she’d whisper again, saying the word twice in overstated understatement, evoking images of gangland slayers like John Dillinger, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, Ma Barker and her boys, and Pretty Boy Floyd, whose name she’d translate from the newspaper, her English primer, as “Handsome Fegel”—and the later ones, Davie “the Jew” Berman and Isadore “Kid Cann” Blumenfeld. Amazingly, my father became aware over time, Augie knew all of them and liked almost all of them—and they all knew and liked Augie.
April 12, 2013
We are honored to have one of our books selected as the One Minneapolis One Read title for 2013. This year’s selection is A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks. (Last year’s was Spirit Car by Diane Wilson, also published by MHS Press.)
For more information on the One Minneapolis One Read program, please visit
About the book:
This compelling autobiography, first published in 1966, tells how Parks managed to escape the poverty and bigotry around him and launch his distinguished career by choosing the weapons given him by “a mother who placed love, dignity, and hard work over hatred.”
In 2010 we re-released the book with a new foreword by Wing Young Huie.
Gordon Parks (1912–2006)-–photographer for Life magazine, writer, composer, artist, and filmmaker-–was only sixteen in 1928 when he moved from Kansas to St. Paul, Minnesota, after his mother’s death. There, homeless and hungry, he began his fight to survive, to educate himself, and to “prove my worth.” Working as a janitor, railroad porter, musician, or basketball player in such places as St. Paul, Chicago, and New York, Parks struggled against poverty and racism. He taught himself photography with a secondhand camera, worked for black newspapers, and began to document the poverty among African Americans on Chicago’s South Side. Then his photographic work brought him to Washington, DC, as first a photographer with the federal Farm Security Administration and later a war correspondent during World War II.
It may be snowing in Minnesota, but bugs will be crawling out soon. Today we chat with Bruce “the Bug Guy” Giebink and photographer Bill Johnson, collaborators on Minnesota Bug Hunt, a new children’s book about insects big and small, fierce and friendly.
Find out why they are both fascinated by the Mantisfly.
How did you become interested in bugs?
Although I’ve had naturalist tendencies since I was a kid, I wasn’t especially fascinated with insects as a group until I took an introductory entomology course in college. I had no idea of the incredible diversity that exists in the insects. They come in a nearly endless variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, and more species continue to be discovered on a daily basis. Many truly do look like mini alien creatures! Once I began to study them more closely, I started to appreciate their amazing ability to survive and adapt to their environment. As a group, they interact with each other and the environment in some truly amazing ways. One area I find particularly fascinating is how insects interact with each other and plants on a chemical level. Although many insects live in a visual world, even more exist within an amazing world of smells.
One of my earliest memories is from around age three or four and I was looking at some hollyhock flowers and saw something fly into one. Being very curious, I walked up to the flower and for some reason stuck my finger in it. Well, the flower bit back. That was a big surprise for me! After a few seconds, I realized that it wasn’t the flower that bit me, but some large insect that quickly flew out of the flower. Later I determined that it was a large bumblebee that had stung me, only because I had just poked it. Because of that, I made it a point to find out what did that and why it did that. To this day, happily, that investigation continues.
If you were a bug, what bug would you be?
I’d want to be a praying mantis. Mantids are very active and alert predators with excellent vision. They have a very good idea of what’s going on around them. Within the bug world, they are a top predator, so there aren’t many other bugs you’d have to worry about eating you–except perhaps a larger, hungrier mantis! Most can fly, so you’d be able to fly around, just for the sheer joy of flying or to escape danger or to check out different habitats. For an insect, they also live a fairly long time (2.5–4.5 months).
How do you get such detailed images?
With the right equipment, patience, and practice, it’s really not that hard to do. The best lenses to use are referred to as “macro lenses,” specifically made for close-up photography. When working at such a small scale and subject matter, depth of field is almost nonexistent, so the addition of a flash or multiple flash units is required to achieve sharp detail.
What is your favorite cool fact in the book?
The crazy life cycle of the Mantisfly. By appearance alone, the Mantisfly definitely qualifies as a bizarre bug! It’s got grabbing front legs (like a praying mantis), a really long neck (about the only other bug I know with a long neck is the Giraffe Beetle, another bizarre bug!), and beautifully patterned wings (like a lacewing). The life cycle of the Mantisfly is so unusual and detailed that I had a very difficult time keeping the description as short as it is. I wanted to say a LOT more! The world of bugs is truly full of weird and wacky characters. The more you look, the more you find. If I had been a part of creating the movie A Bug’s Life you would have seen some REALLY WEIRD and CRAZY bugs, some behaving in a truly WEIRD manner!
I like the Mantisfly life cycle story. In the insect world, it’s eat or be eaten, and you do what you can to be successful in one and try to avoid the other. To do that sometimes requires being really sneaky or devious as well as being able to show off bright colors, startling patterns, and weird body shapes.
What do you hope readers will get out of this book?
When readers (or even those just looking at the pictures) pick up this book, I hope they’ll appreciate the incredibly detailed pictures and want to know more about what they’re looking at. When they read about a particular insect, I hope they’ll say, “Cool! I didn’t know they did that!”
After seeing all the different sizes, shapes, and colors of the insects in this small book, I hope they’ll appreciate the incredible variety or diversity that exists in the world of insects, even in a temperate location like Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. I hope this tiny glimpse into the hidden and mysterious world of insects will pique their interest enough to want to explore their own backyards, woods, and ponds to find their own bugs. Once they find them, I hope they’ll want to learn more about them, such as what they are, what they eat, how they protect themselves, etc.
More than anything, I hope they develop an appreciation for all the many important jobs that insects do and begin to realize how important they are to the natural world. In many respects they truly are “the little things that run the (natural) world.”
Meet Bruce, Bill, and some bugs tomorrow at Red Balloon in St. Paul at 10:30 a.m. Click on the hyperlink for the title, above, for more events with the authors.
March 28, 2013
War can strain the bonds of love. No one understood that better than Minnesotans Madison and Lizzie Bowler. During the American Civil War, Madison and Lizzie courted, married, became parents, and bought a farm. They attended dances, talked politics, and confided their deepest fears. Because of the war, however, they experienced all of these events separately, sharing them through hundreds of letters. Discover how Madison and Lizzie maintained their steadfast commitment to one another, even as they struggled to balance extraordinary duty and distance with ordinary life and love in time of war.
Written by Minnesota playwright Victoria Stewart, this original play is based on the Bowlers’ letters, held in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection and published in the 2008 MHS Press book Go If You Think It Your Duty by Andrea R. Foroughi. It is directed by Ivey Award-winner Craig Johnson, with popular and award-winning local actors Peter Hansen, Anna Sundberg, Dietrich Poppen, and Abby DeSanto. The play features live performances of Civil War-era music with original musical direction by James Lekatz.
There are two show times: Saturday, April 6, at 2 p.m. or Tuesday, April 9, at 7 p.m. Cost is $15 or $11 for MHS members. Advance purchase is required and can be made by calling 651-259-3015 or online.
This program is made possible with support from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, voted into law by the people of Minnesota in 2008.
March 21, 2013
In 1978 seven Norman Rockwell paintings and a supposed Renoir, later discovered to be a forgery, were stolen from Elayne Galleries in St. Louis Park. It is still the biggest theft in Minnesota history, and no one was ever convicted of the crime. Veteran crime writer Bruce Rubenstein, author of the new book The Rockwell Heist, details the story of the theft, the investigation, and the twenty-year quest to return the art to its rightful owners. Mr. Rubenstein recently answered some questions about his new book.
Why do you write crime stories, Mr. Rubenstein?
Because I always have something to write about. At least that was my standard answer when I was a freelancer selling articles to weeklies and monthlies. There is more to it than that, of course. People who write about business, or politics, or any number of other things always have something to write about too. But with crime your story has a dramatic hinge. And people are fascinated by crime.
Why were you drawn to the story of The Rockwell Heist?
It had everything a writer could ask for–feisty, sympathetic victims, bold villains who were part of a colorful local underworld, a sexy female con artist and her quasi-sympathetic dupe, a quest to recover the stolen paintings that went on for decades with one twist after another, hundreds of pages of files and many knowledgeable people to interview. And nobody got killed. I’ve been writing about crime for a long time, and I’m pretty tired of murders. This art theft and the many attempts to trade the loot for cash or something else of value seemed good-natured compared to the kind of crimes I’ve written about in the past.
Did you manage to solve the crime?
I found out who did it. So had the investigators. Like many crimes, it went into the books unsolved, even though the perpetrators, locally based professional criminals, were identified. There simply was not enough evidence to indict them. Their names were blacked out of the files, but I got in touch with one of the FBI’s informants and he told me who they were.
Why? Did he want credit? Notoriety?
No, in fact he went to great lengths to remain anonymous. It’s a phenomenon I’ve encountered many times. There are people who like to talk. There’s nothing in it for them. Just the opposite. In many cases they are risking their lives.
You say that the value of the paintings that were stolen has mushroomed to more than $1 million by now. How much did the thieves realize?
Not much. The value of Norman Rockwell’s work waxed and waned during the time they retained possession of the art, but it didn’t really take off until long after they’d turned it over for a pretty minimal price to the mobsters who’d hired them to steal it.
So the theft was a failure, even though they got away with it?
Not at all. It accomplished exactly what the real authors of the act, Miami-based mobsters, wanted it to accomplish.
What was that?
I’m afraid you’ll have to buy the book to find out. I’ll tell you this much: the Rockwell paintings were peripheral to their real objective.
Well, if the mobsters didn’t really want the Rockwell paintings, what did they do once they got them?
They offered them for sale through a stolen art network in Europe. The evidence suggests that the paintings were bought and sold several times there, and maybe again in Argentina, before someone who was attempting to enter Brazil surrendered them to the Federal Police in Rio de Janeiro, probably in return for expedited processing of an application for Brazilian citizenship. Brazil doesn’t extradite its citizens to face charges in other countries, and wanted criminals often seek refuge there.
How much are the paintings worth now?
Rockwell’s work has undergone a critical re-evaluation in the last decade or so, and several of his paintings have sold for more than $1 million. The collective value of the Rockwells that were stolen from Elayne Galleries is conservatively $4 million.
Bruce Rubenstein will talk about his book and sign copies next Thursday, March 28, at 7 pm at Common Good Books, and Thursday, April 4, at 7 pm at Once Upon a Crime. Please click the hyperlink to the title, above, for details.