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Hazel Thorson Stoick Stoeckeler: A Retrospective

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Fish House, Lutsen

During her rich and varied career, Minneapolis-born Hazel Thorson Stoick Stoeckeler (b. 1918) has been an educator, designer, university professor and world traveler. Above all, one profession has remained constant over the last seven decades — visual artist.

This retrospective exhibit examines the artist’s career with over 40 works of art spanning more than 60 years. It begins with work from the Society’s collection that date from the late 1930s and continues with prepatory sketches for a mural completed in 1945 for the University of Minnesota. The exhibit concludes with a series of watercolors that document Stoeckeler’s trips around the globe. These small, exquisite images are featured in a book titled, “Porthole Views of the World.”

Lenders to the exhibit include the Cook County Historical Society, Grand Marais, Minnesota; University of Minnesota Archives and Libraries; Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, University of Minnesota and the artist. This exhibit will be on view until January 17, 2010, at the James J. Hill House.

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Tools of the tailoring trade

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Tailoring tools

Recently, we acquired well-worn tailors’ tools used by a custom tailor in Duluth.  C. Paul Nelson emigrated to the U.S. from Sweden with his four daughters in early 1900.  Though tailoring has traditionally been a craft dominated by men, two of Nelson’s daughters – Sophie and Hanna worked as “tailoresses.”  According to the 1910 census, Sophie, Hanna and their father were working in Duluth.  In 1930 both Sophie and Paul Nelson were still working – Paul as a coat-maker and Sophie as a vest-maker.  In the 1900 Minneapolis City Directory, vest making was a woman’s occupation.  Six women listed their occupation as vest-maker.  Often women worked on lighter weight garments or women’s tailored clothing in a dressmaking shop rather than a tailor’s shop.   In this same city directory, of the 724 tailors listed, 89 were women.

Though cutting and measuring are the hallmark skills of a tailor’s art, these pressing tools – a tailor’s clapper, tailor’s blocks, trouser board, sleeve board and tailoring iron (a 15.5 lb weight) – donated by a member of the Nelson family are essential to giving the wool its proper shape and a crisp finish to the seams of a garment.

Included in this donation is an image of tailors at work in the shop of A. V. Ljungkvist in 1908; see below.  Paul Nelson is seated in a modified tailor-fashion at the far left.

Linda McShannock, Objects Curator

A. V. Ljungkuist tailor shop

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How Your Library Book Gets to You

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Patrons of the Society’s library know that it has “closed stacks.” Reference Assistants retrieve your requested books and bring them to you. In this episode, Acquisitions Librarian Patrick Coleman takes us behind the scenes to see where the books are stored, and how they make their way to the reading room.

 
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Veterans Grave Index

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Fort Snelling National Cemetery

Beginning in 1927, Minnesota statutes required that the Adjutant General maintain a permanent registry of the graves of all persons “who served in the military or naval forces of the United States and whose mortal remains rest in Minnesota”. In 1943 this duty was transferred to the Commissioner of Veterans Affairs who later enlisted the help of funeral directors who were required to send information on deceased veterans to the Department of Veterans Affairs. By 1969 the program had become quite large and expensive and so was officially discontintued, but some 55,000 records of veterans had been compiled. Between 1970 and 1975 several counties and Fort Snelling cemetery continued to add records.

The report forms cover individuals from the Civil War through the Vietnam War who are buried in Minnesota. The information provided incudes: name, date and place of enlistment, rank and organization, date and place of discharge, residence, birth date, date and cause of death, name and address of next of kin, place and location of burial. Some forms also include photographs and clippings relating to the veteran. The collection is indexed on the MHS web site. Photocopies of Veterans Grave Registration records can be ordered through the index.

Hamp Smith, Reference Librarian

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Home Grown Smut

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Capt. Billy's Whiz Bang, 1921Capt. Billy's Whiz Bang, 1932

Wilford (Billy) H. Fawcett returned to Minnesota from World War I with a footlocker full of dirty jokes. On a slow night in 1920 while he was working at the Minneapolis Tribune he sorted through the jokes and put them into a pamphlet he titled “Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang” [whiz-bang being the sound shells made during the war]. So our next best Minnesota book is:

Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang

The content was loosely organized around Whiz-Bang farm in Robbinsdale, the original Lake Woebegone. Characters included Gus, the hired man; Deacon Callahan, whose daughter, Lizzie’s virtue was always being designed upon; and Pedro the bull who rejected unworthy author submissions. The masthead read “explosion of pedigreed bull.” The jokes were juvenile, sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, and haven’t aged well.

The Girl: “You mustn’t come into my dressing room.”

The Man: “Why not? Am I not good enough?”

The Girl: “You might be worse.”

Or “Harold” said the pretty young teacher, “in the sentence ‘I saw the girl climb the fence’ how many i’s would you use?”

“Bofe of ‘em teacher” replied Harold with a grin.

Fawcett found a printer and enlisted his sons to distribute the press run from their wagons to Minneapolis at baseball games, drugstores and local hotels where the consigned blue humor was held under the counter. Word of mouth fueled sales. The magazine went from an initial press run of 5,000 to half a million once Fawcett created a distribution network that revolutionized the industry. Soon the “Whiz-bang” was in newsstands, hotels, and trains, all over the country.

By the end of the decade Fawcett had twelve magazines. “True Confessions” was the first followed by titles like “Screen Play,” and “Modern Mechanics” [which was sued by "Popular Mechanics" beginning a seemingly never ending series of lawsuits]. Roscoe Fawcett, Billy’s brother, was brought into the business and much of the work during summers was done on Pelican Lake at Fawcett’s Breezy Point Lodge.

When Billy divorced his wife Annette, who he referred to in his publications as the “henna-headed heckler,” she used his money to purchase a competitor of the “Whiz-bang” called the “Eye-Opener” and moved it to Minnesota. For a period of time Minnesota was the capital of indelicate literature.

The company eventually moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and played perhaps an even more important role in dictating literary taste. Fawcett Publication began Whiz Comics, staring Captain Marvel, and a line of original paperback books under the Gold Medal imprint.

The Company kept the same “Whiz-bang” sensibilities. The Gold Medal Books editor in 1964 stated that they were trying to blend the “shoot ‘em up sex novel” with a helping of good literature. When Gold Medal Books editor -in-chief, William Lengel received a scathing review of a manuscript his inclination was to publish it rather than pass on it. One such title was Mandingo a title that sold two million copies in its first five years.

It is hard to understate the impact, for better or worse, Fawcett had on American culture. By the mid 1960’s the Fawcett brothers presided over an empire with $75 million and 200,000 million units in annual sales.  CBS bought the company for $50 million in cash in 1977 [$ 160 mil in today's dollars].

The Minnesota Historical Society library has a nearly complete run of “Captain Billy’s Whiz-bang” and has microfilmed it for posterity.

Whiz comics

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Conserving Minnesota’s Battle Flags

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

The Minnesota Historical Society recently began a project to conserve several Civil War and Spanish American War battle flags. Doug Bekke, Assistant to the Textile Conservator, explains the painstaking process of examining and treating each of these historic banners.

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