Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 11:30 am
Our mission at the Minnesota Historical Society is straightforward—to preserve, share, and connect our history with Minnesotans and others both today and into the future. The organization does that in many ways: through our exhibitions, Library, historic sites, publications, and educational activities. Our permanent collection is at the core of everything we do at MHS.
With the goal of documenting the history of Minnesota and to tell the story of the people who call it home, each year the Collections department acquires thousands of items for its permanent collection.
We put together this current exhibit at the James J. Hill House to demonstrate the range of our collections. Selected by Collection curators and staff, nearly all of the items in this exhibition were acquired in the last two years. Together, they demonstrate the depth and breadth of our collecting activities. From a 4,000 year-old prehistoric tool found in a northern suburban city park to campaign buttons for the latest Minnesotans to run for president, we aim to provide insight into the cultural, political, and social history of the state.
To see the exhibit, please visit the James J. Hill House. The show will be up until June 17, 2013.
As Minnesotans, we love to talk about the weather. Talk about it, obsess over it, live in it, love it. Or love hating it, at least. Since the Saint Paul Winter Carnival and Crashed Ice start soon, we thought this a good time to look at a variety of winter weather from images and film in our Collection, including an Easter snowball fight, winter swimming, -20 degrees, and blizzards. Enjoy the misery of others and maybe watch it again come July!
Silk screened cotton t-shirt manufactured for Minnesotans United for All Families, a coalition that opposed passage of a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage in the state of Minnesota as the union between a man and a woman. The amendment was defeated by 52.56% of voters in the election held on November 6, 2012.
In 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment was passed, banning the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol in the United States. Just a year before the law went into effect, Minnesota could boast 37 breweries producing over a million barrels of fermented liquors and distributing them to over 3,000 retail liquor dealers. In Minnesota, as in the nation as a whole, Prohibition was hardly established through consensus.
At the turn of the 20th Century, about 70% of Minnesota’s population was either first or second generation American, so ethnic attitudes toward alcohol were very influential. Much of the state’s population favored moderation rather than total abstinence, but each group had some kind of temperance tradition.
The national temperance movement had been gaining steam in the United States since the 1870s, spurred by the growth of temperance organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, or WCTU, the Anti-Saloon League, and the Prohibition Party.
The Minnesota Prohibition Party first entered a State gubernatorial race in 1869 and saw a surge in popularity in the 1880s, when Minnesota began enacting licensing fees for saloons as a way to encourage temperance. The Party began gaining real momentum after the turn of the twentieth century, winning its first seats in the Minnesota House in 1906. By 1915 a “county option” bill was passed by the Minnesota legislature, allowing entire counties to vote themselves dry.
World War I also facilitated prohibitionists’ goals. Wartime rationing led to the Food and Fuel Control Act, passed in August, 1917, which prohibited the use of foodstuffs in the manufacture of liquor across the country. And anti-German hysteria fueled by the Great War was channeled against German brewers, including Minnesota’s own Schell’s, Hamm’s, Yoerg, and Schmidt. The Anti-Saloon league went so far as to declare that “German brewers [...] have rendered thousands of men inefficient and are thus crippling the Republic in its war against Prussian militarism.”
The War Time Prohibition Act was passed in 1918 in order to save grain for the war effort. Meanwhile, in December 1917, a constitutional amendment resolution was passed and sent to the States for ratification. Minnesota’s 1918 referendum on the amendment failed narrowly but on January 17th, 1919, the Minnesota Legislature ratified the federal Prohibition Amendment, making Minnesota the 39th State to ratify the Eighteenth Amendment, which went into effect on January 17, 1920.
Congress passed the National Prohibition Act to enforce the 18th Amendment. The law was sponsored by Minnesota’s Republican Congressman from Granite Falls, Andrew Volstead. Volstead was not a radical prohibitionist but sponsored the Act because, as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he was expected to do so. The Volstead Act, while established the legal definition of intoxicating liquor and the penalties for producing it, was poorly enforced.
The ban on alcohol not only lacked popular consensus, but was difficult to enforce because of the public demand for illegal alcohol, which made criminals of producers and consumers. The nation would soon face the unintended consequences of prohibition: bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, organized crime, and corruption. While prohibition was in effect, Minnesota’s capitol city became a haven for gangsters such as John Dillinger, Babyface Nelson, Alvin Karpis, and the Barker gang. See the podcast “St. Paul: Gangster Haven” for details.
By 1933, widespread disrespect for the law led to the passage of the 21st Amendment, which remains the only constitutional amendment approved for the explicit purpose of repealing another amendment. Prohibition officially ended December 15, 1933, to the delight of many Minnesotans, who waited in long lines at local breweries to enjoy their first legal beer in thirteen years.
For many Americans, the word “breakfast” conjures up images of hearty bowls of cereal and toasters popping out slices of golden-brown bread. But it hasn’t always been this way. Explore how breakfast has changed over time and learn about Minnesotans’ impact on this most important and delicious meal of the day!
Our list of the best 150 Minnesota books dipped into genre fiction a while back with the anointing of a couple of mystery novels. It is now time to take another courageous step and delve into the weird and wonderful world of speculative fiction, better known as science fiction and fantasy.
Bosworth, Francis, et al. Broken Mirrors. Minneapolis: Avon Press, 1928.
Clifford D. Simak. The City. New York: Gnome Press, 1952.
Clifford D. Simak was born in Millville, Wisconsin in 1904 and grew up reading H. G. Wells. He is perhaps best known to Minnesotans as a journalist. In 1939 he began a 37 year career writing for the Minneapolis newspapers. He was promoted to news editor of the Star in 1949 and coordinator of the Tribune’s Science Reading Series in 1961. Simak’s legacy, however, is entirely as one of the greatest American science fiction writers. “To read Simak is to read science fiction. To know Simak is to know the best in science fiction,” wrote Muriel Becker in the introduction to his bibliography. He won three Hugo Awards and a Nebula Award. His highest honor was becoming only the third writer named a “Grand Master” by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Among his other numerous awards was the Minnesota Academy of Science Award for his nonfiction but my personal favorite might be his 1988 Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award. Simak had a profound influence generally in the genre but more specifically on local writers by, for example, organizing the first meeting of the Minneapolis Fantasy Society in his home in 1940.
In 1953 Simak won the International Fantasy Award for his best know work, The City. His bibliographer points out that this book is “a work with which every devotee of science fiction is familiar.” The book is a series of related short stories depicting an Earth where mankind does not exist and highly evolved intelligent dogs and robots are left to debate whether humans ever existed or if stories about them were merely mythological. The sensitive new age dogs reflect on humanity and decry man’s worst instinct, war!
The MHS has several editions of City, because it is such a ground breaking work, including the very rare first edition in a dust jacket illustrated by famous Sci-Fi artist Frank Kelly Frease [ if you are collecting our list of 150 best Minnesota books you need this edition] and the 1981 edition with an added “Epilog.”
There is so much of – and too much in – Simak’s work to do justice to him here but let me mention just one thing that I found compelling: his sympathetic writings about robots in the 50’s and 60’s were seen as metaphors for the civil rights movement.
As for the book Broken Mirrors, I hardly know where to begin. This is a scarce book (limited to 82 copies) written by five students at the University of Minnesota who were interested in creative writing. They started what they called the Avon Society using that name as their imprint. The five were: Francis Bosworth, Karl Litzenberg, Gordon Louis Roth, Harrison Salisbury (about whom this list will have more to say later), and the reason we are rolling this book out here and now, Donald Wandrei. Wandrei was born in St. Paul in 1908 and was raised and died there in 1987. Before the U of M he attended St. Paul’s Central High School. The striking woodcut illustrations in Broken Mirrors are by Leo Henkora. The Avon Society’s belief was in “no particular school and no definite limitations… or pedantic theory.” Other than work done as editor of the Minnesota Daily, this book contains Wandrei’s first published writing. Along with eight of his poems, the book contains two short stories by Wandrei, “The Victor Loses” and “The Terrible Suicide.”
After school Wandrei hitchhiked to Maine to visit H. P. Lovecraft. He became both a friend and protégé of HPL. Wandrei partnered with August Derleth in starting the imprint Arkham House, the Sauk City, Wisconsin publisher of “weird fiction” mainly to keep the work of Lovecraft in print. In the 1930’s Wandrei was actively writing for “Astounding Stories” and “Weird Tales” magazines. In 1944 Arkham House published one of Wandrei’s better known works, The Eye and the Finger, imagery that Clem Haupers used in the portrait he painted of his friend, Wandrei. He received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1984.
Do you know who came here to sit at the feet of Donald Wandrei and learn from the master? A young Stephen King! The tourist that gawk from buses that stop at all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Summit Avenue haunts should jog one block north to 1152 Portland Avenue to pay homage to one of our most creative writers.
One hundred and five years ago today, on September 8, 1906, the racehorse Dan Patch paced one mile in 1:55 at the Minnesota State Fair, setting a world record. The bay stallion, owned by Minnesotan Marion W. Savage, became an animal celebrity and lent his name to numerous product advertisements, including this tobacco tin. The tin was made for the Scotten-Dillon Company of Detroit circa 1910-1919.
Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 10:20 am
Seven minutes: that’s how long it took for the James-Younger gang’s Northfield bank robbery to fail utterly. Since September 7, 1876, the foiled raid has been discussed and disputed repeatedly. The Minnesota Historical Society maintains a significant cache of material—from first-person testimonies and reminiscences to government records—documenting the attempted robbery and its aftereffects. Now, much of this material has been digitized and is accessible via the Web.
One interesting item is Cole Younger’s first written account of the robbery, penned to aid in his subsequent parole effort. Other items include southern Minnesota residents’ recollections and impressions of the gang, both before the event and after. One woman, for instance, recalls how as a six-year-old she and her family observed the gang spend the night prior to the attempted robbery in a rural school outside of Red Wing—and includes a map of the farmstead and school.
Most of the material comes from official state records, which derive from the criminal trial, prison terms, and paroles/pardons of the Younger brothers. The materials on whole have significant research value, but some items are of singular interest. For instance, on January 8, 1902, Miss Alix J. Mueller wrote Governor Van Sant “a woman’s prayer for mercy to one whom she loves.” Miss Mueller had met Cole’s younger brother Jim at the Stillwater State Prison about 1896, and a romance and engagement ensued. Though Jim was paroled in 1901, he was precluded from entering into legally binding contracts—including marriage. Miss Mueller entreated the governor’s assistance, yet her very words foretold the end: “For he is sorely stricken, and I am an invalid.” No pardon being granted, Jim Younger committed suicide nine months later in St. Paul, and Alix Mueller died of tuberculosis about a year and a half later. Partly as a result of his brother’s fate, Cole Younger was granted a conditional pardon in 1903.
There are other novel items as well. Upon being released from prison, Jim and Cole Younger had to submit monthly parole reports. These reports essentially acted as employment records, and the current employer was obliged to vouch for the report’s accuracy. Coincidentally, one of these reports links Minnesota’s most famous bank robbery—the Northfield raid—to perhaps its most infamous crime era—the gangland 1930s. In April 1902, Cole was working for St. Paul Police Chief John J. O’Connor, watching his homestead and laborers. O’Connor had provided safe haven for criminals in St. Paul during his tenure, as long as they didn’t perpetrate their crimes within city limits. Though O’Connor retired in 1920, his system persisted, ultimately proving an inducement to the likes of John Dillinger and the Barker-Karpis gang.
Digitization of this material was made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. Here follows the list of collections that contain digitized material about the attempted Northfield bank robbery:
Hair work jewelry originated in France and England in the 1700’s, evolving from the craft of wig makers. Initially, the jewelry functioned as a mourning memento and was a common funeral gift in the 18th century. Rings, brooches, necklaces, watch fobs, earrings and much more were crafted from the lock of a loved one. In the mid-1800s, the craft found its way to the United States including the growing metropolitan centers of Minnesota. Often, jewelry stores would have an in-house hair weaver while the jeweler would create the gold fittings. As the jewelry became more popular, it was also created at home as a woman’s parlor craft similar to knitting and crochet. In 1867 Mark Campbell, a hairwork distributor with outlets in both Chicago and New York, published the Self-Instructor in the Art of Hairwork, which advertised instructions on how to make hair jewelry of every description. Campbell’s book helped make hair jewelry an accessible craft. With a few home-made tools such as a braiding table with a rotating disc, lead weights, and simple forms such as a rod or pencil, anyone could make hair jewelry. Today, many excellent examples of hair jewelry are preserved in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections. A few were made from the hair of, or worn by, such well known Minnesotans as Josiah Snelling, Alexander Ramsey, and William Watts Folwell.
The above watch chain is made of brown human hair in a square chain braid and twist chain braid. First, the hair is cut, massed in a bundle, and washed with soda to remove the grease. Groups of hairs are separated to make strands that are attached to metal weights to prevent tangling. The hair strands are then braided in a pattern around a form. This watch chain was probably braided around a wire, tubing, or a pencil. Once braided, the hair was boiled for 10 minutes to set it. After drying and cooling, the form was carefully removed and gold findings were attached.
This brooch is crafted with blonde and brown hair in an open lace braid.
This is a loop and button clasp bracelet made with blonde and brown hair. The blonde buttons and beads were made by rolling scrap paper into a form around which hair is wound.