Thawing a Frozen Moment
A Photograph and the Diary That Brought It to Life

Emily F. Ganzel


The photo pictures employees at the U.S. Customs Bureau on January 2, 1901, in their office on the second floor of the newly built federal courts building in St. Paul, Minnesota (now Landmark Center). The photo doesn’t seem that unusual, yet it holds a small secret I only discovered when reading the diary of James Shields (fourth from the right). On January 2, 1901, he wrote, “Soon after eleven, a photograph of the office was taken, which included the Collector, Lyman, Steven, Murphy, O’Grady, Howell, Tobin, Mr. Masterson, Mitchell, Heino, Miss Cohn, and myself, while Hanks, who rushed in at the last minute to get the receipts, was inadvertently included and formed the ‘picturesque background.’” You now notice Hanks, standing behind the counter at the back of the room. With Shields’s entry the photo no longer appears “frozen”; the information about Hanks’s arrival adds movement to the photo that it otherwise would not have. The idea that a photo is frozen comes from Patricia Hampl, who, in her memoir The Florist’s Daughter, writes, “Photographs are frozen moments, the icons of ancestry, the dead staring that non-committal historical gaze.”(1)
      I discovered the photo, and Shields’s diary, while conducting research at the Minnesota Historical Society for “Uncle Sam Worked Here,” a National Endowment for the Humanities–funded exhibit in Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul. The exhibit examines the history of this building from the time of its construction as the Federal Building in 1900 until it was decommissioned in the 1960s. The exhibit focuses on the people who worked there and the functions this building served. I researched other agencies that occupied the building, but the customhouse (which occupied the building from 1900 to 1905) proved to be the most difficult to find information about. With Shields’s diaries and scrapbooks, I discovered why: a 1923 newspaper photo in Shields’s scrapbook showed the employees of the St. Paul customhouse (including Shields) standing with a mountain of customhouse documents that, following a directive from Washington, DC, they were about to destroy.(2)
      After my initial discovery of Hanks, I continued to “thaw” this image. The different perspectives of the sources I used gave a three-dimensionality to the group in this photo and the world in which they lived. In addition to Shields’s diaries and scrapbooks, my sources included newspaper articles I found from diary references, the Official Register of the United States, and a historic map of downtown St. Paul. Using these various sources, I have organized my findings into the following three topics: depth of character, unique perspective, and man of the moment.

Depth of Character
The photo includes James Shields; the “tyrannical” supervisor, Arthur Lyman; a purported embezzler, John Heino; and, perhaps most unsettling, Thomas O’Grady, who died in a work-related accident just one month after this photo was taken.

The Diarist: James Shields
The photo reveals what the diary describes—that Shields preferred to be a commentator on the world around him rather than a participant. In the photo he seems to be hiding from the camera, and in his diary he mentions the excuses he made to avoid social gatherings with office coworkers. Shields was born in 1863 in Faribault, Minnesota, the great-nephew of James Shields, who was a general in the Civil War and one of the first two U.S. senators from Minnesota. (Shields refers to him as “the general” in his diaries.) He kept a daily—legible!—diary from 1881 when he was eighteen years old until his death in 1949 in Ramsey County at the age of eighty-five.(3)
      From 1893 to 1933, Shields worked as a clerk in the U.S. Customhouse in St. Paul, with a starting salary of three dollars a day. He was also a member of the Minnesota Historical Society, a fact that probably accounts for the historical society’s possession of Shields’s papers.(4)

The Supervisor: Arthur Lyman
My general understanding of the people in the customhouse comes from Shields’s comments on his fellow workers. But I found information on specific people he mentions in newspaper articles, including one from the February 2, 1901, St. Paul Dispatch that lists the names of all the people in the photo.(5)
      In the January 25, 1902, edition of the St. Paul Dispatch, a reporter describes meeting the deputy collector Arthur Lyman (seated third from the left in the front row of the photo) and collector John Peterson (seated fourth from the left in the same row). In the article, both Peterson and Lyman are seen as informed, intelligent representatives of the custom office. Shields, on the other hand, describes Lyman as mean, petty, arbitrary, and vindictive, referring to him as “the prime minister.” Shields’s papers include a letter (circa 1899) to the Secret Service Division of the Treasury Department, written on his behalf by his aunt Sarah Worthington, attempting to have Lyman fired. (It was not successful.) In the photo Lyman appears the most relaxed and self-assured of all the people assembled. Informed, confident deputy collector? Or mean-spirited, dictatorial tyrant? Thanks to the diaries and the newspaper article, both descriptions seem plausible. Together, they give the man pictured here a complexity that we would not see with just one source.(6)

The Embezzler? John Heino
The cashier, John Heino (third from left in the back row of the photo, wearing a brimless cap) was born in Finland. He made $1,600 a year as the customhouse cashier. In October 1903, he was accused of embezzling $1,500 from the customhouse. As the newspaper tells the story, Heino sent the office’s cash receipts to the customs office in Chicago. Because of the risk associated with sending the money, cashiers were bonded, in Heino’s case by the National Surety Company. On March 5, 1902, the money that arrived in Chicago was $1,500 short. The St. Paul collector, John Peterson, paid the difference and then sued the National Surety Company for reimbursement. The surety company argued, apparently successfully, that they were not Heino’s insurers on March 5. At that point, Collector Peterson had Heino arrested to get the money from Heino directly.(7)
      This view of Heino as an embezzler contrasts sharply with Shields’s accounts. The relevant diary entries include these:

      March 14, 1902 [nine days after the $1,500 disappeared]: “Mr. Masterson occupied the cashier’s desk today in the absence of Heino who claimed to be sick.”
      March 31: “Heino was on hand after nearly a month’s absence through illness.”
      June 2: “Heino . . . resigned last week, previous to his departure for Aiken in the near future.”
      September 23: “a quiet day, signalized by a call from Heino who was warmly welcomed.”

And a year later in 1903:

      October 30: “The Collector’s case against the National Surety Company was decided for the defendant.”
      October 31: “Mr. Masterson occupied the cashier’s desk in the absence of Mr. Teisberg who was subpoenaed in court at Minneapolis.”
The last two entries were the key to discovering the articles in the St. Paul Globe and the Minneapolis Tribune.(8)
      From these extracts, it appears that Heino “claimed” to be ill for a few weeks after the shortage was discovered. (Was this guilt? Coincidence? Was he really ill?) He did resign on good terms, apparently, and a few months later he was “warmly welcomed” by his former colleagues. It seems that Heino was well liked in the office even after the shortage was discovered. His coworkers must not have thought he was guilty. The combination of diary entries and newspaper articles gives a better picture of Heino and turns him from just a name into a personality.

The Victim: Thomas O’Grady
A month after the photo was taken, Shields on February 1, 1901, wrote about “O’Grady who was struck down by the motor this morning and badly injured.” (O’Grady is the first person on the left in the back row.) On February 3, he reported, “O’Grady died last night at 9 o’clock and his body was taken to his house soon after.”
      From reading this, I was not sure whether the accident would be reported in the newspaper. If O’Grady was hit by a “motor” crossing the street, would that make the news? When I checked the newspapers, I discovered that the “motor” was a train engine—not an automobile—and that O’Grady was killed on the job, making an inspection at the Great Northern yards on East Third Street. The St. Paul Dispatch reported it with dramatic effect, with headlines such as “Struck by Motor” and “Doomed to Die.” The articles also gave his age (fifty-six) and his address (471 State Street). With the address and a downtown St. Paul street map, I determined that O’Grady died very close to where he lived and perhaps had stopped to make the inspection on his way to work. The diaries, the newspaper article, and the street map tell a story that none could reveal alone.(9)

Unique Perspective
From the second floor of the Federal Building, Shields had a close-up view of events that took place in the street below: the burning of the People’s Church, January 29, 1902; President Theodore Roosevelt’s parade, April 4, 1903; and Colonel Andrew Keifer’s funeral, May 7, 1904, for examples. His detailed descriptions of parades and processions give a personal touch to the newspaper accounts of the same events.
      When the People’s Church at the corner of Chestnut and Pleasant burned in January 1902, the event garnered two “snapshot” photos on the front page of the St. Paul Dispatch, but the paper included no story and gave no real sense of how great the fire was. Shields’s diary reports, however, that “The People’s Church was burned this afternoon, the conflagration being very plain from my window.” A map of St. Paul shows the distance between the church and the Federal Building to be about five blocks. If Shields could see the fire from that distance, it was a great fire indeed. The combination of the newspaper photos, the diary entry, and the map creates a greater understanding of the fire.(10)
      There is no such brevity in the St. Paul Dispatch’s description of President Theodore Roosevelt’s visit to St. Paul on April 4, 1903. It garnered a special “Extra” section that included details about the parade as well as about the president’s speech at the capitol. Shields noticed the parade as it went past the Federal Building: “[R]eturned to the office and saw the President who rode through the town escorted by the militia regulars and G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic], the last being the guard of honor.” He concludes this almost reporter-style entry with a more vivid description of the street scene: “Walked around considerably and came home very tired, not waiting at the capitol as the crowd was too dense.”(11)
      From this, we get a view of the president’s visit not presented in the patriotic fervor of the press. While Roosevelt is reported as remarking, “this is a wonderful sight,” as he looked out over eighteen to twenty-five thousand people, Shields suggests what it felt like to be inside the “dense” crowd. With both sources, we can see the event from the public and personal perspectives.
      The funeral of Colonel Andrew R. Keifer, a former mayor of St. Paul, created a great deal of press on May 4, 1904—and a lot of ink in Shields’s diary. He describes in detail the funeral procession: “After dinner went to view the remains of Col. Keifer which lay in state in the mayor’s room and later saw the imposing funeral procession pass up 5th to the People’s Church where Dr. Smith delivered the eulogy.” But it was the newspaper that explained just how “public” his well-attended funeral was. Shields offers a more “personal” perspective—viewing the remains “after dinner” and skipping the funeral itself.(12)

Man of the Moment
Shields was a man who read headlines rather than made them and observed and reacted to historical events rather than precipitated them. Yet his accounts of contemporary (but now historical) St. Paul events reveal the personal impact of events that we would not have just by reading the newspaper. Three examples: the state’s forty-fifth anniversary, May 11, 1903; the Liberty Bell stop in St. Paul, June 6, 1904; and the building and opening of the new capitol, 1905.
      Perhaps not surprisingly, the state’s forty-fifth anniversary was not a large affair. One newspaper gave a brief description on page two of a ceremony at the state fairgrounds, while another made even less of it, remarking (on page five), that it coincided with Governor Van Sant’s fifty-ninth birthday. (When was the last time a Minnesota governor was older than the state?) But perhaps most telling is Shields’s entry, quite remarkable for a man as in tune with state history as he was: “We celebrated the forty-fifth birthday of the state and the fiftieth anniversary of Mayor Smith’s arrival by getting off Form 1 [a standard customhouse form].” Apparently it was the birthday of both the governor and the St. Paul mayor.(13)
      So, while none of the accounts gives a definitive report of the day, together they confirm the subdued celebration suggested by the others.

In June 1904, the Liberty Bell traveled from Philadelphia to St. Louis for the 1904 World’s Fair. Newspaper photos and articles showed the popularity of the bell’s stop in St. Paul, yet it is Shields’s entry on June 6, 1904, that reminds us why the event is so auspicious: “At noon, went to the foot of Broadway and saw the famous Liberty Bell on its way to St. Louis from Philadelphia.” Shields, who never traveled farther than Faribault between 1900 and 1905, probably imagined that he would never travel as far as Philadelphia and that this glimpse of the “famous” bell might be his only chance to see it. We can assume this was typical of many St. Paulites at the time, so the occasion was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event. The newspapers’ public accounts and photos describe the event’s popularity; Shields’s diary explains it in the context of the world in which he lived.(14)
      The building of the present state capitol was a long process, and I was interested to see when it became noteworthy to Shields—the transition to a building from a construction site. In May 1905 he began to observe the building on his way home from work, and on May 8 he noted, “Murphy [a co-worker] waited for me, and then walked with him as far as the new capitol.” The ceremony during which the battle flags were moved from the old capitol to the new on June 14, 1905, appears to mark the official opening of the building. A front-page story in the St. Paul Dispatch gives the occasion pomp and circumstance, and Shields’s diary reinforces this. He wrote, “This afternoon the war flags were removed from the old capitol to the new with a solemn procession of the veterans, Spanish-Americans and Regulars to escort them.”(15)
      The previous diary entry, however, shows that the building was a recognized landmark even before the flags were moved. It reminds us that historical newspaper articles announcing something new are sometimes just confirming what contemporary readers are already aware of—it is only generations later that we think of the newspaper article as documenting something novel.

The research I completed on this photo only scratches the surface of what can be discovered. I have touched on four of the people in the photo—the nine others remain a mystery. Who, for example, is the lone woman? What does her somewhat unprofessional pose tell us? The events that occurred—in front of the Federal Building or in the city at large—could each be explored in more depth. Every discovery leads to others.
      While incomplete, I hope my discussion that begins with and is spurred on by this photo has provided some ideas on the sources and approaches available to help us enliven “that non-committal historical gaze,” as Hampl calls it, and to thaw many a “frozen moment.”

 1. Diary, vol. 17, p. 2, James A. Shields Papers, Minnesota Historical Society. Patricia Hampl, The Florist’s Daughter (Orlando, FL: Harcourt Inc., 2007), 68.
 2. “Destroying Some of St. Paul’s History,” St. Paul Daily News, Nov. 13, 1923, vol. 77, Shields papers.
 3. Vol. 19, p. 3, Shields papers. “St. Paulite, 85 Today, Survives 2 Mishaps,” St. Paul Dispatch, Nov. 25, 1948, vol. 77, Shields papers. Minnesota Death Certificate Index,
 4. Official Register of the United States (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1895).
 5. “Collector of Customs Peterson and His Clerical Staff in the New Federal Building, St. Paul,” St. Paul Dispatch, Feb. 2, 1901, 5.
 6. “Collecting Customs for Uncle Sam’s Strong Box in Minnesota District,” St. Paul Dispatch, Jan. 25, 1902, Shields papers.
 7. Official Register, 1901; “Embezzlement Charge,” Minneapolis Tribune, Oct. 31, 1903, 7; “J. R. Heino Accused of Embezzlement,” St. Paul Globe, Oct. 31, 1903, 10.
 8. Shields’s diary, vol. 18, p. 28, 35, 61, 122; vol. 19, p. 136, 137.
 9. Shields’s diary, vol. 17, p. 16, 17; St. Paul Dispatch, Feb. 1, 1901, 8, and Feb. 2, 1901, 5.
 10. “Snap Shots of the Burning of the Peoples’ Church,” St. Paul Dispatch, Jan. 30, 1902, 1; Shields’s diary, vol. 18, p. 11.
 11. “The President Visits St. Paul,” St. Paul Dispatch, Apr. 4, 1903, extra section; Shields’s diary, vol. 19, p. 44–45.
 12. “Is Left with the Dead,” St. Paul Dispatch, Apr. 5, 1904, 1; Shields’s diary, vol. 20, p. 34.
 13. “Will Celebrate Birth of State,” St. Paul Globe, May 11, 1903, 2; Shield’s diary, vol. 19, p. 62; “Double Anniversary,” St. Paul Dispatch, May 11, 1903, 5.
 14. Shields’s diary, vol. 20, p. 47.
 15. “Moving the Battle Flags,” St. Paul Dispatch, June 14, 1905, 1; Shields’s diary, vol. 21, p. 3, 21.

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