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Writing the Biography of Frederick Weyerhaeuser, 1834-1914

Posted byAlison Aten on 03 Jun 2013 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Frederick Weyerhaeuser and the American WestToday’s post is by Judith Koll Healey, author of Frederick Weyerhaeuser and the American West. Weyerhaeuser was one of the great industrialists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and founder of the international timber corporation the Weyerhaeuser Company.

Judith will be reading and signing at Common Good Books in St. Paul on Wednesday, June 5, at 7 p.m.


Biography is the stepchild of history and the first cousin to fiction. The history is necessary for accuracy: the details of the times, the sights, the immediate background to set the scene. The reader has to enter the period with the writer as guide. Even more important, the writer must be as accurate about the subject’s life as possible. So the questions continually arise: What to  put in? What to leave out? How to tell the honest story as closely to how it happened as possible?

But certain elements important to fiction must also inform the story. What was the main character like? How did he feel? What was he thinking in his youth that changed later in life? How was he with his family? His grandchildren? His tough-minded associates? Did he ever doubt himself? Was he generous or close fisted? Quick to decide or careful? The fiction writer must create these details that bring a character to life. The biographer must chase down the material that allows the honest creation of the character as a living human being, of interest to others.

We were fortunate in the Frederick Weyerhaeuser project to have an unprecedented amount of primary material from which to work. As the Weyerhaeuser family office moved from the First National Bank building in St. Paul, Minnesota, to a new space, many letters surfaced that had been long forgotten. Some were business letters, others far more personal. There were letters between Frederick and his wife Sarah when they were separated by his long winters in the Wisconsin forest. There were later letters to the sons, and the grandchildren.

And there were diaries from the early years in the long Wisconsin winters and later reflecting his anguish when his honor was challenged publicly by an associate who wanted a favor that Frederick refused to grant.

An astonishing and valuable cache of letters kept by one branch of the family was stored in multiple boxes in an attic at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. These were freely offered and the biographer was delighted. In those boxes rest a century of Americana, letters from the 1880s and 1890s that drew a fine picture of Frederick and Sarah’s later years through the correspondence of their daughter Margaret–who lived with them–and her husband Richard, who was teaching in a foreign land.

Even more wonderful were letters discovered in Saulheim, Germany, Frederick’s birth village. The family was given all of his letters, and those of the villagers in return make a composite picture of Frederick’s warm, funny, and personal relationship with his childhood friends and their now-grown children.

The Weyerhaeuser Company in Tacoma also had material, as did the Laird Norton group office in Seattle.

Finally, there was a remarkable resource created in the 1930s by Frederick and Sarah’s youngest son, also called Frederick but referred to in the family as F.E.  This man, the youngest of the seven children, collected letters and recollections from many friends and associates of his father and put them into a five-volume work called A Record of the Life and Business Activities of Frederick Weyerhaeuser, 1834-1914. He added many of his own recollections, and there are many amusing anecdotes sprinkled among more serious stories and letters. In the interest of gentlemanly behavior of the times, some of the anecdotes involving others were crossed out in the work, apparently with the feeling that someone might take mild umbrage. An example is the description of Frederick’s brother-in-law and first partner, F.C.A. Denkmann, as having a “peppery disposition.” As the reader might imagine, these excised parts were among the more descriptive of the work and are a welcome resource to the later biographer. Many are included in this biography.

With this plethora of material and trips to east and west coast and eventually to Saulheim, Germany,  to meet the descendants of Frederick’s childhood friends, a one-year project turned into four years. The result was satisfying. The book does its best to present a fascinating character in all of his stages, his business accomplishments and challenges and his family life.

This writer was grateful for the support of the family in opening archives and resources, in correcting my early misunderstandings of the differences among timber, logs, and lumber and, most of all, in never asking me to alter the text or remove personal  anecdotes. This allowed me not only to get to know this fascinating nineteenth-century character but to draw freely a literary picture of him in this biography that is honest, accurate, and, in all of its humanity, real.

Before Gatsby

Posted byregana on 09 May 2013 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Guide to FSF\'s St. PaulSt. Paul Stories of FSF

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!

A Warm Welcome to Researchers

Posted bypennefesm on 12 Feb 2013 | Tagged as: Uncategorized


by Debbie Miller, MHS Reference Specialist

The MHS’s Gale Family Library welcomes researchers with new and expanded hours, which became effective December 1, 2012.

–Tuesday, 12 noon to 8 p.m.

–Wednesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

–Closed Sunday and Monday

Scholars and other authors now have a chance to work all day on a project, and those visiting from out of town can plan a trip that uses their limited time more efficiently.

Remember that the library houses all levels of government records for Minnesota, as well as vast collections of manuscripts, newspapers, periodicals, and books.  Maps, photos, films and videos, oral histories, and music are all available. Reference staff are happy to help with any questions you have about your research and to suggest related sources, if you like.  More and more manuscript and archives collections have finding aids online.  Try this site, or when you find a collection that interests you in the library catalog, check to see if there’s a link to a finding aid.

Rebirth of a Nation

Posted bypennefesm on 08 Feb 2013 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

The United States officially recognized the government of Somalia on January 17. In a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and new Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the secretary called for a new chapter to begin. The people of Somalia, a country ravaged by civil war and once considered the most failed state on the globe, have “fought, and sacrificed to bring greater stability, security, and peace to their nation.”

images1The African Development Center of Minnesota is hosting public and community forums with Dr. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, former prime minster of Somalia, who will share stories about developing a road map to Somalia’s future.  On Friday, February 8, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Cowles Auditorium, Dr. Ali will offer remarks and facilitate an open discussion in English. On Saturday, February 9, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Dr. Ali’s remarks and the ensuing discussion will be in Somali.  Join in this celebration of nation building in our time.

Introducing MHS Express . . . History on the Run

Posted byAlison Aten on 29 Jan 2013 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

MHS Express

A little learning can go a long way. Dazzle your colleagues at the water cooler with insights gleaned from these quick reads from MHS Express, our new digital imprint of short-form e-books. Available through major e-book sellers.

Be they essays or excerpts from published works or forthcoming titles or original pieces, MHS Express e-books present relevant and compelling topics such as the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and what it means to be “a good Hmong girl” in America–both covered in our inaugural list.

Please click on the MHS Express link, above, for a full list of titles.

Cocktail Inspiration for the New Year

Posted byAlison Aten on 31 Dec 2012 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

North Star CocktailsLast minute bar tending inspiration from North Star Cocktails by Johnny Michaels.

Check out these links for recipes:

“Handsome Devil” and “Parlez-Vous” on The Heavy Table

Mogwai are the Stars

Happy New Year and Be Safe!

Last Minute Minnesota Gift Ideas!

Posted byAlison Aten on 21 Dec 2012 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

One Frozen Lake phpW002i6 The Minnesota Book of Skills

One Frozen Lake by Deborah Jo Larson with paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

Canoeing with the Cree Collector’s Edition by Eric Sevareid

The Minnesota Book of Skills by Chris Niskanen

Living Here, Loving Minnesota with Will Weaver

Posted bylucia.randle on 23 Aug 2012 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

phpyDC97BAn occasional series highlighting local authors and their favorite ways to spend a Minnesota weekend.

1. What is a typical weekend for you?

Weekend? What? For most writers I know, when things are going well with a new book, the weekend is a great annoyance. Just one more distraction perpetrated by the real world (Thomas Mann alsophpA0Ydyf said this of the telegraph).  But there’s a fine line between being in a writing groove and being a crabby stick-in-the mud husband or friend. Therefore, even if my writing is going never-better I try to take at least Sunday off and be cheerful and available even though my fabulous wife and fine friends know I’m faking it. And, if I have been suitably present and a good companion throughout a weekend, I often get back to my computer Sunday evening and position myself to start writing first thing Monday.

2. What are some of your favorite local Friday-night activities?

In the long days of summer, Friday night is a time to socialize and eat a piece of walleye somewhere. Come winter, I tend to stay home with my wife and kick back around the fireplace. My biorhythms are driven so much by the weather specifically and by seasons generally.  In the summer, northern Minnesotans get “light drunk” and manically social from the long days; in winter, the converse happens—it feels like a great chore to leave home and be forced to talk to people.  (Not a good sign–and time for more vitamin D and aerobic exercise.)

3. What/where do you eat on weekends? What’s a typical Sunday breakfast for you?

My small city of Bemidji has a limited number of good restaurants, so I get to know their menus well. I eat less meat these days not from ideological but more for digestive reasons (six ounces is a great plenty). I eat a fair amount of local fish, some of which I catch in the Mississippi River, which passes by my house (the Upper Mississippi, only twenty miles from the headwaters, and where the water is clear and clean). Sunday breakfast? Usually later and bigger, often with my wife’s made-from-scratch pancakes, bacon (rationed to once a week by my cheerful young physician), and maple syrup or jelly I’ve come by from friends or family.

4. What’s your weekend reading like?

Usually the newspapers and the New Yorker which I’ve gotten behind on during the week. I seldom read books when I’m writing one, and since I’m usually writing one . . . . Well, you see the irony here.

5. What is your top Minnesota getaway?

Duluth is always great, especially for the Bayfront Blues Festival in August, though I also greatly enjoy the bluff country around Red Wing.

Will Weaver is the author of four MHS Press books–Barns of Minnesota; Sweet Land; Red Earth, White Earth; The Last Hunterand a contributor to the anthology Libraries of Minnesota. Will’s newest novel for young adults is The Survivors, a sequel to Memory Boy. To learn more about all his work for adults and young adults, visit

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Short Story Published in the New Yorker

Posted bylucia.randle on 14 Aug 2012 | Tagged as: Authors, MHS Author in the News, Uncategorized

phpVMQ1pEAround 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the St. Paul-born author who wrote the American classic The Great Gatsby, penned a short piece called “Thank You for the Light,” which was rejected by editors at the time. The story is about a woman who steps into a Catholic church for a smoke break and, after she lights up, goes through a miraculous experience. Deemed a little strange by some readers, it may have been intended as part of a larger project. The story was finally accepted by the New Yorker when Fitzgerald’s grandchildren resubmitted it recently and is included in the August 6 issue.

Fitzgerald’s Minnesota connection is well documented here: see A Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul and The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example. As for his more famous work, keep an eye out for The Great Gatsby film, set for release next summer.

Blueberry Summers!

Posted bylucia.randle on 25 Jul 2012 | Tagged as: Authors, Food, Uncategorized

phpl5koGUJuly is National Blueberry Month. This delicious fruit is at its tastiest during the month of July, and the berries are inextricably linked to Minnesota summers. Author Curtiss Anderson writes about the season in Blueberry Summers.

Now is the time to enjoy blueberries as much as you can. Why not try this perfect summer treat, courtesy Potluck Paradise?


Red, White, and Blueberry Buckle

1 pint fresh blueberries — washed and picked over to remove under ripe or over ripe berries and stems

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter

Buckle Base
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
1/2 cup soft butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Make topping by combining dry ingredients and then cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter until crumbly. Set aside. Lightly grease a 9-inch square pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt (if using) and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, stir the butter and sugar together. Add the egg and mix well. Stir in half the flour mixture, then the milk, followed by the remaining flour. Spoon base into greased pan. Kerplunk berries on top; spread out evenly so they are only one berry deep. Sprinkle with topping. Bake until topping is just turning golden, berries are bubbly, and the base has pulled slightly away from the sides. Serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftover.


Try this recipe and many more as you celebrate blueberry month and Minnesota summer.

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