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Hill Papers Come to the MHS!

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

James J. Hill after driving the Golden Spike

James J. Hill was a business legend. In the last quarter of the nineteenth-century, he transformed the near bankrupt Saint Paul and Pacific into the legendary Great Northern Railroad that ran from Saint Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington by 1893. The man known as the Empire Builder had amassed a fortune of more than $63 million by the time of his death in 1916. Hill’s son Louis inherited his father’s business acumen and energetically pursued railroad, mining, and development activities throughout the west.

In March 2008, the Minnesota Historical Society happily agreed to transfer 1400 cubic feet of Hill Family records from the James J. Hill Reference Library in Saint Paul to the History Center. These papers cover the family and business concerns of James and Louis, the family and social life of Louis’ wife Maud Van Cortlandt Hill, and the activities of the Reed/Hyde family between 1860 and 1920. Together these materials document late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social, political, economic, and cultural topics. By transferring the materials to MHS, the Hill Reference Library can better focus on its core mission: serving the needs of business owners and entrepreneurs with reference help and online tools. The Minnesota Historical Society, on the other hand, is uniquely suited to meet the needs of researchers, providing care for and access to the papers. The Society already has a number of resources that will complement and contextualize the Hill Family Papers. These include our collection of Great Northern Railroad records, a large collection of state newspapers, and an online database of historical images.

Generous support by the Northwest Area, Jerome, and Grotto Foundations will allow MHS to process the papers, create up-to-date finding aids, and produce a web site that will present web visitors with a single portal to access material relating to James J. Hill and his family. This work will be completed in 2010. In the meantime, limited access to the papers is available at the History Center library in Saint Paul.

Jennifer Jones, Head of Collections

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Individual Beliefs, Communities of Faith

Friday, October 31st, 2008

To compliment the Vatican Splendors exhibit, come see a new display of material from the MHS collection in the Library Lobby. Individual Beliefs, Communities of Faith highlights Protestant churches, Judaism, Native American spirituality, and the faiths of Minnesota’s most recent immigrants. Take a look…you can’t miss the pulpit chair! This will be on view until late December.

Boys' Choir, St. Clement's Church, Saint Paul

Boys' Choir, St. Clement's Church, Saint Paul

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The Younger Brothers: After the Attempted Robbery

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Everyone knows the story of the attempted bank robbery in Northfield by the James-Younger gang, when the townspeople rose up to defend their bank and thwarted the infamous would-be robbers. The gang fled the scene and split up; however, the Younger Brothers were captured later near Madelia, Minnesota. Government Records Specialist Charlie Rodgers tells the story of what happened to the brothers after their capture in this podcast.

 
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Modern American Regionalism

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Often, my favorite things are our most recent acquisition. This is certainly the case this time. These three untitled watercolors by renowned Minnesota artist Mike Lynch (b. 1938) were just acquired in September of this year. Lynch’s realist painting style is rooted in American Regionalism of the 1920s and 30s. His subjects include the urban landscapes and small town streets painted at dusk or dawn. Completed in the mid-1980s, two of the paintings capture familiar scenes of St. Paul, and the third depicts the beach in Grand Marais. All three paintings represent Mike Lynch at his absolute best and we are thrilled to include them in Historical Society’s collection of more than 6,000 works of art.

This is the second important acquisition of Lynch’s work in recent years.  In 2002, Lynch completed a major commission for the Minnesota Percent for Art in Public Places Program. The ten-foot by eighteen-foot painting View of St. Paul from Indian Mounds Park is located in the Stassen Office Building in St. Paul. MHS acquired an archive of more that 50 items that document in detail the artist’s step-by-step process of its creation.

Mike Lynch was born in Hibbing, Minnesota in 1938. He studied painting and drawing with Birney Quick at the Grand Marais Art Colony and attended the Minneapolis College of Art. Over the past thirty years, Lynch has exhibited throughout Minnesota, including solo exhibitions at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and group shows at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, Duluth Art Institute, and Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Lynch has been awarded artist fellowships from the McKnight and Bush Foundations, as well as the Minnesota State Arts Board.  In 2003, Lynch received the McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist Award.

Brian Szott, Curator of Art

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The City Beautiful

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Another one of those beautiful “must have” Minnesota books is:
Edward H. Bennett. Plan of Minneapolis: Prepared Under the Direction of the Civic Commission… Edited and Written by Andrew Wright Crawford. Minneapolis: Civic Commission, 1917.

In 1909, Daniel Burnham [chief architect for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and the subject of the 2003 bestseller, The Devil in the White City] and Edward Bennett published their Plan of Chicago. It was dubbed “Paris on the Prairie” by wags who couldn’t help but notice the influence of the École des Beaux-Arts where Bennett studied from 1895-1902. Also in 1909, a Civic Commission was formed to discuss a city plan for Minneapolis, consisting of a dozen Minneapolis organizations from the Woman’s Club to the Trades and Labor Assembly. They hired Bennett, who as Chicago’s chief proponent of The City Beautiful Movement believed that cities could be “White” like the Columbian Exposition and that people would be uplifted through their contact with art and beauty and order.

The author and editor of this work, Crawford, always gets short shrift so let me rectify that. He was a lawyer and art connoisseur who is most often associated with his hometown Philadelphia. Crawford was civically active with a strong interest in city planning and in the development of city parks. His interests made him the perfect choice to author Bennett’s Plan of Minneapolis. Crawford’s avocational interest in architecture earned him an honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects. For a bit of his prose and the rationale for the plan, let me present a few lines from Chapter 1 “The Coming Metropolis:”

  • Minneapolis is the commercial and officially designated financial capitol of an empire greater in size than Great Brittan, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Switzerland combined.
  • Minneapolis is now a large city. The greater city that the future is so surely and so swiftly bringing must be a more economic, a more convenient, a happier and a more generally beautiful city.
  • City planning is the exercise of municipal imagination. It is the scientific and expert vision of inevitable city growth, and the preparation of plans to provide for that growth. It is municipal prevision, municipal prevention and municipal preparedness. (bloggers note: The 3MP’s of planners?)

Ultimately very little of the Plan [of which 1,000 were printed and distributed] could be implemented because, in spite of the emphasis on science and imagination, none of the planners anticipated the most important shaper of 20th century American municipalities: the automobile. Still, it seems to me that they anticipated a refocus on the riverfront by 70 years and had countless other ideas that we might wish had been implemented.

I hate giving this much attention to Minneapolis, so allow me to mention the less grandious but 11 years earlier St. Paul eqivilant, Report of the Capitol Approaches Commission to the Common Council of the City of St. Paul, 1906. This would be another fine addition to a complete Minnesota book collection but at 31 pages we can not nominate it for our list of best books.

I would love to hear from architects, city planners, and the Met Council on our selection of Bennett’s work for our greatest Minnesota books list. Does anyone think about the issuses raised by the Plan? Know about this book? Study it? Still look at it from time to time? Click on “Comment” and let us know.

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Of Maps and Men: or Vigorous and Lusty Minnesota

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

The overwhelming response to our last post, admittedly one of the least significant of the best Minnesota books, makes me a little nervous about nominating one of the most significant books on our list.

A. T. Andreas. An Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Minnesota. Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1874.

Anyone remember door-to-door salesmen? Fuller brush men? Me neither. Musta been before my time. But in 1873 salesmen covered Minnesota like locusts, hawking a landmark publication: the first illustrated atlas of any state. These salesmen were not only looking for subscriptions to the forthcoming book but also appealing to their client’s vanity. They pushed subscribers to immortalize themselves by paying extra to have everything included in the book, from their portraits and biographies (at 2 1/2 cents per word), to images of their cows, to prosperous farms and businesses. While the salesmen were doing their work, a crew of surveyors were scouring the U. S. Land Offices consulting the work done out in the field and drawing their own maps. Andreas had chosen Minnesota for his bold experiment and departure from other map publications because we were prosperous, in spite of our youth, and Minnesota was cartographic virgin territory. For a detailed discussion of Andreas’s business model and methods see an 1879 article, in the MHS library, by Bates Harrington titled “How ’tis Done: A Thorough Ventilation of the Numerous Schemes Conducted by Wandering Canvassers Together With the Various Advertising Dodges for the Swindling of the Public.”

The result was a beautiful oversize volume of maps showing all the counties and significant towns, along with one map of the northern third of Minnesota that is virtually empty. A map librarian at the Library of Congress wrote that within the Andreas “… is an unexcelled historical, biographical, and pictorial record of Midwestern America in the vigorous and lusty Victorian era.” About 10,000 subscribers paid $15 for the atlas but because of the panic of 1873 many reneged on their promise. The text, which includes W. W. Clayton’s “History of the State of Minnesota,” was not especially new or interesting, but that wasn’t why people looked at the book. Some “deluxe” copies were sold with three panoramic or “bird’s eye” maps of St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Winona. (Collectors note: don’t settle for a copy without these stunningly beautiful panoramas.) Andreas showed the world a 16-year-old state in all its splendor; what an impact this must have made on the Minnesota psyche. We know from early letters that many people who had come early to this state were unsure they had made a good decision. This one book, the Andreas Atlas, must have at least temporarily eliminated this lingering inferiority complex. There could be no doubt that we were on the map to stay.

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Marschner Map of Original Vegetation

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

In late January 1966, a man was found dead on Washington Mall in a mid-season blizzard. He had no family, left no will, and despite being 83, was on his way to work when he died. This man was Francis J. Marschner, one of Minnesota’s greatest known map makers. Never heard of him? Well, don’t feel too bad. F.J. Marschner had never even been to Minnesota.

If you recall, a couple of months ago, our Government Records Specialist blogged about the original land survey notes we have in our collection. These are the notes that the original surveyors wrote as they trudged across Minnesota 150 years ago. The information in these notes is priceless; it paints a picture of what the land looked like on the fringes of European settlement, describing prairies, pine forests, and great bogs. If you want to study land change at a local level, these notes are invaluable. But to get a picture of the whole State, one would need to stitch together thousands of maps and hundreds of thousands of descriptions – a feat for even a computer today. Well, between 1929 and 1931, Marschner took on such a task.  From a desk in Washington, he went through the notes, word by word, and constructed a map of pre-settlement vegetation for the whole state of Minnesota.

A full-size copy of this map is now housed at the Minnesota Historical Society. It stands just under 5 feet tall in brilliant color. With a glance at it you can see a wide swath of yellow prairie on the western front. Anyone who has heard of the grasshopper plagues that devastated Minnesota’s croplands in the late 1800s will get a quick sense why. You can also see the great abundance of hard woods that once filled South Central Minnesota, and the areas of bogs that have been now filled in.

While we are quick to see the how European presence and industrialization strongly changed the land, we don’t get a complete picture with this map. We don’t see land prior to changes made by American Indians.  We see only what was captured by the surveyors on the day they recorded it. If there had been a windstorm or a recent fire this could have affected their notes, as would the high price of land containing White Pine. It is important to remember that any map represents the moment of its creation and the experience of the mapmaker.

In recent years, The MN Department of Justice, Department of Transportation and Department of Agriculture have made digital copies of the map. With new mapping technologies, Marschner’s old map can now be overlaid atop satellite images. Check out an overlay of the Minneapolis/St Paul airport. You’ll see that the land was once predominately prairie and deciduous hardwood forests. Imagine. Though F.J. Marschner died without ever seeing the beauty of Minnesota he described, his work lives on in this fabulous map, the Marschner Map of Original Vegetation.

Lesley Kadish
Curator of G.I.S. and Digital Maps

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Pigskin Review

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

If politics is not your favorite spectator sport, Minnesota history has a lot more to offer. Chief among these offerings is the golden era of the Golden Gophers football team. For 16 seasons Coach Bierman turned out winning team after winning team. Five National Championships! His record was 93 wins, 35 losses, and 6 ties, or a .727 percentage. Compare that to Jim Waker’s .291. Was that unfair? Sorry. I’ll stop talking sports and get back to something I know, books. Another one of Minnesota’s 150 best books is:

B. W. “Bernie” Bierman Winning Football: Strategy, Psychology and Technique. New York: Whittlesey House, 1937.

If you can find it, another fun book [what is called a little big book] to add to your collection is Coach Bernie Bierman’s Brick Barton and the Winning Eleven illustrated by R. M. Williamson.

As the season begins (the Gophers won their first game with 22 seconds left to play) let’s hopelessly pray that we will see the likes of those mid-century elevens again sometime before we die.

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Bruce Laingen Papers

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Bruce Laingen with President Reagan, 1981On August 19, 2008, Minnesota native Bruce Laingen visited the History Center to donate his papers and personal artifacts to the Minnesota Historical Society. In November 1979, Laingen was chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, and the senior American diplomat taken prisoner during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Laingen and 51 of his colleagues were held captive for 444 days, until their release in January 1981.

Born in Watonwan County, near Butterfield, Minnesota, in 1922, Laingen was raised in a modest farm community and enjoyed participating in 4-H events. He graduated from St. Olaf College, joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Philippines during World War II. Laingen studied at the National War College and earned a Masters degree in international relations from the University of Minnesota. He joined the Foreign Service in 1950 and stayed with the agency for 38 years. Laingen was President of the American Academy of DipAmerican flag presented to Bruce Laingen by President Reaganlomacy from 1991-2006.

Today Laingen resides in the Washington, D.C., area with his wife, Penelope (Penne). Penne originated the yellow ribbon campaign during the hostage crisis. Ribbons are still used to this day to bring attention to issues ranging from support for American combat troops to breast cancer awareness.

The Laingen collection includes personal papers and letters, the suit and tie Laingen wore while in captivity, and an American flag given to him by President Ronald Reagan after his release. The collection will serve as a wonderful resource for any scholar researching 1970s politics, U.S.-Iranian relations, diplomacy, hostage issues, rural Minnesota farm life and World War II in the Philippines. Some of the material will be featured in the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibit, scheduled to open at the Minnesota History Center on Memorial Day, 2009.

 Molly Tierney, Curator of Manuscripts

 

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The Republicans are coming… The Republicans are coming…

Monday, August 25th, 2008

It won’t/shouldn’t surprise readers of this blog that there are a couple of political titles on the 150 Best Minnesota Books list. So, as the invasion of St. Paul – popularly know as the Republican National Convention – begins, let’s nominate two of them.

E. V. Smalley. A History of the Republican Party from Its Organization to the Present Time; To Which is Added a Political History of Minnesota from a Republican Point of View… St. Paul: E. V. Smalley Publisher, 1896.

Robert Esbjornson. A Christian in Politics; Luther W. Youngdahl: A Story of a Christian’s Faith at Work in a Modern World. Minneapolis: T. S. Denison, 1955.

You may be surprised to hear this but it is hard to over emphasize the significance of the Republican Party in Minnesota. They built this state; all the great Minnesota institutions- like the Historical Society and the University- are Republican institutions.

Democrats won (or as Smalley argues, stole) the state’s first election but after that Republicans ruled Minnesota for the rest of the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth. In 1973, when my father became the first Democratic majority leader of the Minnesota Senate in 116 years, he wondered aloud how another Irish Democrat, Senator Richard Murphy, had screwed up so badly that Republicans had the run of the legislature’s upper body for more than 11 decades. E. V. Smalley celebrates this “continuous position of political power” in his 426 page oversize book that we have nominated as one of Minnesota’s best books. Smalley attributes this long run of success to the “progressive spirit” of the Republican Party. They were the party of regulation and fair taxes. Even when the party finally lost the executive branch in 1898 it was really just to “silver republican” John Lind, who was replaced two years later by another reform minded, trust-busting Republican, Van Sant.

The second book we are placing on the 150 best books list, Esbjornson’s biography of Luther Youngdahl, illuminates another important era in the history of Minnesota’s Republican Party. After the short reign of the Farmer-Labor Party during the 1930’s, Republicans reestablished their leadership. Youngdahl was emblematic of these Governors. His main gubernatorial initiative was known as the “humanity in government” program. He was concerned about the sorry state of mental hospital facilities, interested in civil rights, and worked to enhance public education. Influenced by the “social gospel” movement, he defined being a Christian politician quite differently than those running for office today.

From A Christian in Politics:

The Christian in politics…is not content with the measure of wealth and justice attained along the first mile of conflict and compromise. He sets out on the second mile, speaking for the un-represented groups and demanding benefits for the under-dogs, even though they cannot help him politically. He appeals to the consciences of men, not just their self-concern. He sub-ordinates his personal ambition to his public duty.

But as we know, history is the process of change over time. “[D]emanding benefits for the under-dogs”? Republicans don’t look much like Youngdahl anymore.

Gov. Youngdahl sets fire to various restraints at Anoka State Mental Hospital

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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs