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Archive for February, 2011

Donation Decisions: An Inside Look

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Bringing a new donation into the collection isn’t a simple matter. Curators evaluate each offer based on its physical condition, its unique story, and its potential exhibit and research uses. In this episode, we take a behind-the-scenes look at the Minnesota Historical Society’s thorough and thoughtful donation process.

 
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Civil Defense gas mask and case

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Civil Defense gas mask and case

U.S. Office of Civilian Defense issue gas mask is made of gray rubberized fabric with plastic occuli, a network of gray elastic straps to fit over the head, and a gray plastic exhalation vent at the left cheek. It is attached to a filter canister by a circular metal band that tightens by means of a screw. The canister is painted gray and has instructions printed on it in black. The name “Jim Schwietz” and an address are scratched in the paint. The olive drab canvas bag has a carrying strap with metal buckle for adjustment, the cover flap has a metal snap, and there is a metal grommet on the bottom for a drainage hole. Manufacturer unknown, circa 1950-1959.

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Winter on the Hill

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Winter on the Hill

Each year, the staff of the James J. Hill House, 240 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, presents a display of historic Winter Carnival memorabilia in the Music Room of the house.  The display coincides with the Winter Carnival in St. Paul, and provides a view into the past, highlighting the involvement of the Hill Family in the Carnival and winter sports activities.  The display showcases examples of the breadth and depth of the Society’s collections which includes items representing 125 years of Carnival history.

000_0002Winter on the Hill

The objects in the display date from 1887, the second year of the Winter Carnival, to 1917 when Louis Hill was involved with its revival.  The lap robe and snow shoes belonged to James J. and Mary Hill, respectively.   The objects inside the case are ephemera from Carnivals in 1887, 1888, and 1916, and are a good representation of graphic and advertising styles from those years.  They also document early St. Paul businesses marketing Carnival souvenirs.

Paul Storch, Collections Liaison, Historic Sites and Museums Division

Winter on the HillWinter on the HillWinter on the Hill

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Souvenir autograph fan

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Souvenir autograph fan

Ladies wooden autograph fan of mahogany mounts and natural colored wood leaves with a purple silk ribbon insertions. Fan contains penciled writing on each leaf – memories of a summer in Minnesota. Belonged to Cora Gray who married Hascal Brill in 1873 in St. Paul. Circa 1871.

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Minnesota-Eye Views of the African-American Experience

Thursday, February 24th, 2011


Iron CityIron City, back cover

Minnesota has always had more than its fair share of great African American books and authors. From a very crucial time period in the history of the Civil Rights Movement came two such works that should be on our list of the 150 Best Minnesota Books. Although both are written by journalists, one is a work of fiction and another non-fiction.

Lloyd L. Brown Iron City. New York: Masses and Mainstream, 1951.

Carl T. Rowan South of Freedom. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952.

Lloyd Brown has one of the more interesting biographies on our list. He was born in St. Paul in 1913, raised in local orphanages, became a leftist labor leader for the CIO, went to Europe to cover the anti-fascist movement, served in World War II, and afterward became managing editor of the literary journal “New Masses.” His novel Iron City was based on a true story and his own experience as a labor organizer (Iron City being the prison where the novel is set). Brown is perhaps best known for his biography of Paul Robeson, who said of Iron City: “Here are people, richly characterized, warm, honest, tender, angry human beings, struggling, fighting, suffering, and triumphantly living the problems and answers.” We can’t say that better so we will simply encourage you to read and discuss this book which is still in print by Northeastern University Press.

South of FreedomSouth of Freedom, back cover

We claim Tennessee born and raised Carl T. Rowan as a Minnesotan. Remember our criteria for a Minnesota author: one has to have lived in Minnesota long enough to have been affected by the culture or to have affected the culture. Rowan received a M. A. in journalism from the U of M, wrote for the Minneapolis Spokesman and St. Paul Recorder and then worked at the Minneapolis Morning Tribune covering Civil Rights issues until 1961. Rowan’s provocatively titled first book South of Freedom began as a series of articles for the Trib which were his observations based on his visits to the south and for which he received a “Service to Humanity” award. Rowan also served as president of the Minneapolis Urban League before moving on to become a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Rowan saw himself “simply as a newspaperman.” I like the wording on the dust jacket of this book – “an ace Negro Journalist”!

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“Monopoly” special edition commemorating Gorbachev’s Minnesota visit

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

On June 3, 1990, U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev made a highly publicized trip to the Twin Cities. In honor of his seven hour stopover, Parker Brothers issued this special Russian edition of the ultimate capitalistic board game Monopoly to commemorate the communist leader’s visit.

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Fragment of Execution Rope

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Fragment of Execution Rope

This short length of rope is a fragment of the execution rope used on February 13, 1906 in the hanging death of William Williams at the Ramsey County Jail in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Williams had been convicted of murdering John Keller and his mother in Saint Paul in April of 1905. The grisly slowness of Williams’ death led to the abolishment of capital punishment in Minnesota. Williams’ was the last execution to take place in Minnesota and the death penalty was removed from state criminal law in 1911.

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“Country First” campaign button

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Presidential campaign button

“McCain / Palin” button. Button has color portraits/photos of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, John McCain and Sarah Palin. Button was distributed during the 2008 Republican National Convention, held in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center.

And while we’re on the subject of Washington, come Discover the Real George Washington, on display at the Minnesota Historical Society from February 22 - May 29, 2011. Happy Birthday, George!

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Minnesota State Training School for Boys Inmate Case Files and Commitment Papers

Friday, February 18th, 2011

St. Paul was once well known as safe haven for thugs, hooligans, and ne’er-do-wells like the Barker Gang and John Dillinger.  But it also held to its bosom one of Chicago’s gangland luminaries—and Al Capone’s chief rival—George “Bugs” Moran.  Moran was born as Adelard Cunin on August 21, 1891, in St. Paul.

Investigation report documenting Cunin’s initial attempt to escape from the schoolIn her 2005 biography, The Man Who Got Away: The Bugs Moran Story, Rose Keefe notes that “Records pertaining to [Moran’s initial lawlessness] are meager, so the details are incomplete” but that he was pinched for a robbery in downtown St. Paul in 1909.  Many of these missing details can be found in Cunin’s inmate case file 3067 from the Minnesota State Training School for Girls and Boys.

On July 11, 1907, fifteen-year-old Cunin was called into court to address the matter of his own delinquency.  Already on probation, he explained that he got into a couple scrapes one night when “a lot of fellows” were chasing down horses below State Street, down by the boats.  Having spoken of one scrape already, Cunin continued: “Then I walked a little ways and I met another boy, and I stood there and watched him, and then he made a rush at me and I started to run and he tripped me and throwed [sic] me down.”  “And you cut him pretty bad, didn’t you, you stuck the knife right into him?” asked the judge, to which Cunin’s probation officer answered for him: “He had eight stitches taken in it.”

Because Cunin was a minor, he was sent to the State Training School on September 3, 1907, for “incorrigibility.”  The bulk of his case file consists of correspondence and so-called investigation reports.  The former includes letters from friends and family to him, pleas from his mother and clergy to the school superintendent for Cunin’s reinstated parole, and responses to same.

Postcard from friend of Cunin's

The investigation reports chronicle Cunin’s ongoing misconduct that delayed any parole reinstatement.  For example, Cunin was written up on November 9, 1907, for “talking and planning escape” and had acquired a chisel and auger from the school’s carpenter shop to execute the plan.  Yet six months later, when a reverend from St. Paul Cathedral inquired on Cunin’s status, Superintendent F. A. Whittier responded, “He is by no means the best boy we have nor is he the worst.”  His conduct may have improved (albeit temporarily): He was released to his mother on parole on February 27, 1909, but returned on July 22 after being arrested for “petit larceny.”

Letter discussing Cunin’s escape on September 1, 1909Cunin settled the matter himself by escaping on September 1, 1909.  Though the school offered a $10 reward (approximately $236 in 2009 dollars), Cunin soon made his way to Chicago.  Keefe notes in her biography, “Adelard Cunin disappeared from the public record for good.  The name and persona that replaced him became bigger than he had ever been.”

There are thousands of other Minnesota State Training School for Boys inmate case files.  Although Superintendent Whittier didn’t consider Adelard Cunin the worst boy, one wonders whether Carl Panzram was.

Carl Panzram was twelve years old when he was admitted to the School in 1903, and unfortunately, it was only the first of many institutions in which he was incarcerated.  In later years, Panzram was a confessed serial killer and was executed at the Leavenworth Federal Prison in 1930.  There are twenty-seven punishment slips in Panzram’s case file, along with letters from his mother, Lizzie.  She inquired when Carl would be released from the School, since she needed his help on the family farm in Polk County, Minnesota.  Filmmaker John Borowski is making a documentary about Panzram; more information about the Panzram story can be found on the website for the film.

Christopher Welter, Collections Assistant

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

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Confederate Arsenal Key

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Confederate Arsenal Key

This brass key was used for the Confederate Arsenal at Milledgeville, Georgia during the Civil War. A member of the United States Army, 2nd Minnesota Infantry Regiment recovered the key and brought it back with him to Minnesota. Circa 1860s.

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