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July 29, 2011

Those were the days, indeed

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Pat Coleman @ 12:21 pm

Please forgive my lack of diligence and attention to the blog listing Minnesota’s 150 best books. It has been over four months since I have posted any new titles and my poor excuse is that small emergencies, such as lack of a functional government, occasionally intruded. I promise to get back on track with regular updates. If you stopped looking for new postings please give me another chance. Keep in mind that I love (and occasionally reward) feed back. I also appreciate the forwarding and circulation of my posts to any potentially interested parties. By my count, we have listed 60 books so far and have 90 fabulous books to go so lets get re-started…

William Hoffman. Those Were The Days. Minneapolis: T. S. Denison and Company,1957.

Those were the days cover

By the time the list of 150 best Minnesota Books is finished I am sure we will have mentioned many of the ethnic, immigrant, and religious communities that have made us the rich state that we are. One very important part of our heritage is the Jewish community which was occasionally concentrated into tightly knit communities such as the Mississippi River flats on the West Side of St. Paul across from downtown.

Documenting this neighborhood of Jewish immigrants with the attention to detail of the social worker that he was, and the humanism of the columnist which he also was, was William Hoffman. Whether Hoffman is giving you the history and successes of “Neighborhood House” (which opened initially through the work of Rabbi Isaac L. Rypins and quickly became non-sectarian), describing Texas Street which was the wrong side of the tracks of the wrong side of the tracks, or listing the family names like an incantation, he brings the early twentieth century community back into existence.

From Those Were the Days:

Contrary to some popular impressions, Adam and Eve were not from the West Side, but many of Abraham’s descendants did find their way there after a stormy trip across the ocean below deck in steerage. Your parents will assure you, if they have not already done so, that this was not their conception of a first class trip. But arrive here they finally did, even if the legendary pot at the end of the rainbow turned out to be a different kind of pot altogether.

Surely you must know by this time that they left their little dorfs (villages), their close friends, and even some of their family, not to see the “guldeneh” (golden) land of America for themselves, but for you, their children and grandchildren. They came that you might sleep soundly through the night and walk upright during the day with the dignity of free people.

My grandfather, Abraham Levenson, lived in this neighborhood and I am now terribly sorry I did not pay attention to his stories. Those were the Days is a good reminder that, unless you are Native American, we are all immigrants and had at core similar reasons for coming to America and settling in Minnesota. For more of his writings see Tales of Hoffman and More Tales of Hoffman.

Allow me a quick note and thank you to St. Paul’s Mayor. He purchased this book with its all important dust jacket [lacking on the MHS copy; click on the image above for a better view] for the Society at the Antiquarian Book fair in June. Forty other books were purchased at the Fair for the collections by MHS members who had a preview of the books.

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3 Responses to “Those were the days, indeed”

  1. Ulster Says:

    Welcome back Best Books. I was about to take over the job myself! I would like to mention one book your readers may be interested in since this post talks about ethnic St. Paul; it is the 1945 U of M Press “Around the World in St. Paul” by Alice L. Sickels. The book celebrates “diversity” long before I thought we invented it. “Around the World” has much on St. Paul’s “Festival of Nations”, held six times before WWII. Re: your shout out to the Mayor, Sickels says in a parenthetical statement “The mayors of St. paul are nearly always Irish”.

  2. CAM Says:

    Not a book comment, just curious. Ulster’s response mentions a 1945 book that says most St Paul mayors are Irish. How many Irish St Paul mayors have there been since 1945? Most of them? I can certainly think of several.

    Ulster reply on August 16th, 2011:

    there were too damn many I am sure. a WPA book on the Mayors of St. Paul would give us an initial count and we could guess from there. Norm Coleman does not count among them.



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