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Maps on Endpapers

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Mostly Mississippi endpages

Of the many uses of maps, one of our favorites is to decorate the endpapers of books. As the new exhibit in the Library Lobby shows, endpaper maps can be both beautiful and helpful to the reader. Works of fiction and nonfiction use this illuminating and artistic technique to enhance books. Come take a look!

This Library exhibit complements Minnesota on the Map, the exhibit which runs through Labor Day.

Minn of the Mississippi

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Frightening map

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Effect of a 20-megaton bomb

As the curator of the currently showing “Minnesota on the Map” exhibit an elderly gentleman asked me if I could do the entire exhibit again with completely different maps. My immediate response was “I wish,” and then I told him that with another 23,000 maps in our collection to choose from it would be easy to do a sequel. In fact now that the map exhibit has been up for a few months I have been second guessing some of my decisions anyway.

One of the maps I had originally planned to put in the exhibit was a product of the revival of the “Ban the Bomb” movement which flourished briefly during the Reagan administration. It was known as the “Nuclear Freeze Movement.” The Friends for a Non-Violent World collaborated with Northern Sun Alliance [known for their creatively graphic anti-war merchandise] to produce a horrifying map titled “Effects of a 20-Megaton Bomb On the Twin Cities Ground Zero – State Fair Grounds, Detonated at Ground Level.”

Using data from the United States Office of Technological Assessment the maps shows a series of concentric circles overlain on a simple map of the state’s urban core. In few words and plain language they describe what would happen to people, plants and buildings in each zone. Some examples: in the six to eight mile radius “Total causalities;” ten miles, “People in basements survive 15 – 30 minutes;” fifteen to sixteen miles, “Ignition of buildings, grass, leaves, car upholstery.”

I wish I picked this map to be in the exhibit – which is coming down on Labor Day – as it is a perfect example of a strikingly successful use of a map for a political purpose.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

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Highlights from the Hill Family Collection

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Hill project cataloger Jillian Odland shares some fun and quirky objects, photos and letters she’s found while working on the papers of St. Paul railroad baron James J. Hill, his son Louis W. Hill, and other Hill family members.

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Picturing Minnesota

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

ElevatorsBrown County Fair

This blog has at least one faithful reader. He comments on every entry but insists on privately leaving his criticism off the blog. So in order to protect his anonymity let’s refer to him pseudonymously as TO’S. TO’S noticed that the list was favoring the wordy over the graphic and suggested that the next ten selections have pictures in them. I at least agree that there needs to be more illustrated books on our list of the 150 greatest Minnesota books. So here are two books that no Minnesota library – hell, let’s say no Minnesotan – should be without:

John Szarkowski. The Face of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958.

Bill Holm (essays) and Bob Firth (photography). Landscape of Ghosts. Stillwater, Minnesota: Voyageur Press, 1993.

The unusually accomplished artist/curator/critic Szarkowski began his professional career at the Walker Art Center after his service in World War II. As Minnesota approached its Centennial he was approached to commemorate the anniversary with this photo project. The result was a wondrous success capturing this place – these people – in a moment in time that words alone could never describe. If your heart doesn’t first swell with pride and then break from nostalgia while perusing this book then I’d say, “You’re not from around here are ya?” Szarkowski’s text is surprisingly interesting and, because the images are so compelling, too often over looked. He does an excellent job of summarizing mid-century understanding of the history and geography and geology of the state. He integrates text from postcards to government reports, one of which, a 1956 “Report of the Governor’s Committee on Higher Education” [see page 186] is as timely now as ever. His photos, shown here, are from Red Lake, pre-yuppified Grand Marais, Bloomington, and the Brown County Fair.

Father and Son, Red LakeGrand Marais, MNBloomington, MN

TO’S wisely suggested another book of photographs done 35 years after Szarkowski. Since I wholly agree, and could not say it nearly as well, here is his nomination in his words:

Take a look at Bill Holm and Bob Firth’s LANDSCAPE OF GHOSTS (Voyageur Press, 1993) for my candidate for best MN photo book: fine balance of text and image (not “illustrating” but echoing each other); real depth in Holm’s writing, with the expected humor and attitude and erudition; delicious color plus a slightly quirky sense of composition and subject matter in Firth’s photos that sets them apart from the scenery porn that’s common to photo books; crisp design and right size, good in the hand and on the lap; and a bonus in the poems that Holm sprinkles thru the text, a little anthology of MN prairie writers (Bly and Bly, Philip Dacey, Phoebe Hansen, Mark Vinz) and oh yeah, Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers and Willie Yeats to boot. If someone asked me what rural MN or the Midwestern prairie is all about, I’d send him a copy of this. How can you not love a book that starts, “Here is a book full of pictures of stuff nobody wants to look at and of essays on subjects no one  wants to read about”?

I prefer the peopled landscape of Szarkowski but this is not a competition so all I will add is that it is especially gratifying to see some themes and images that overlap in both books and encourage you to look at both works side by side.

Grave yards

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Selected James J. Hill Digital Scans Now Available Online

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

James J. Hill letter to Grandmother, 1856

Digital scans of 1,047 selected correspondence, clippings, and reports from the James J. Hill papers are now available on the web. These files, in pdf format, are accessible through an online inventory,  which lists a description of each item and provides a link directly to each digital version.

The digitized material comes from the General Correspondence series and the Northern Pacific Reorganization materials within the James J. Hill papers, and cover topics including the attempted merger of the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads between 1893 and 1905 and the debate among Hill and other financiers over a potential loan to England and France during World War I.

These digital files came to the Minnesota Historical Society along with the Hill Family Collection, and we’re pleased to make them available to users.  The original documents can be found in the James J. Hill papers, an inventory of which is also available online.

Jillian Odland, Hill Family Collection Cataloger

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The Gun that Wounded John Dillinger

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Gun that shot Dillinger

With all of the excitement over the new John Dillinger movie, Public Enemies, we remember that the notorious gangster spent time in St. Paul. In those days of crime and depression, St. Paul had something of a truce with criminals: so long as the gangsters didn’t tear up the city, local authorities would not bother them. The city became a popular place to hide between sprees.

John Dillinger came to the Twin Cities in March 1934 after robbing a bank in Mason City, Iowa. He and his girlfriend, Evelyn “Billie” Frechette, rented a room at the Lincoln Court Apartments in St. Paul. The apartment manager grew suspicious of the couple, and reported them to the FBI. On March 31 two FBI agents, joined by Detective Henry Cummings of the St. Paul Police Department, knocked on the apartment door. Frechette stalled, an accomplice stumbled onto the scene, and a gunfight erupted. Dillinger burst into the hallway with a blazing machine gun and fled down a back stairway, but not before being hit in the leg by Detective Cummings.

Dillinger escaped, but his time was short. The FBI caught up with him in Chicago and killed their most-wanted man in an ambush on July 22. Detective Cummings, a 26-year veteran of the St. Paul force, retired shortly after the Lincoln Court duel. After he died, Cummings’s heirs donated his Model 1905 Smith & Wesson Hand-Ejector revolver to the Minnesota Historical Society. This .38 gun is the very weapon Cummings fired at Dillinger on that fateful day. Today it is a vivid link to an exciting – if not terribly proud – chapter of Minnesota history.

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator

John DillingerEvelyn Frechette

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