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October 14, 2016

Bob Dylan: Nobel Laureate

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 2:37 pm

Many years ago, when I was the young Head of Library Acquisitions at the Minnesota Historical Society, an auditor walked into my office. He had been charged with making sure the Society was appropriately spending the State’s money. Perhaps frustrated by our squeaky clean finances, he was excited to find malfeasance. Waving a list of books the Library had purchased that year, he accused me of buying a book about Bob Dylan and his music for my personal use. Biting my tongue, I signaled him to follow me into the locked library stacks. We walked to a section overflowing with the great literary works of Minnesotans, the likes of O. E. Rolvaag, Sinclair Lewis (our other Nobel Laureate), Ann Chidester, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There among those giants were two shelves of books about Dylan, including the title in question. Deflated, the bean counter went away. I hoped he learned what we knew well, that Bob Dylan has had an unprecedented influence on our State’s culture and that his work was the unquestionable product of the unique environment that is Minnesota’s Iron Range. That it is the sacred duty of the Historical Society to document his Minnesota voice.

Occasionally, skeptical eyebrows have been raised not only by auditors but by my colleagues as well. When I came back from an Antiquarian Book Fair in New York with Dylan’s hand written lyrics for “Temporary Like Achilles,” I had to assure them, on my reputation, that $10,000 would seem like a bargain someday. Proof of its historic value came just last year. The manuscript spent a year on exhibit at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential library as an iconic representation of the 1960’s.

We continue looking for rare Dylan works to fill in our collection. Coincidentally, less than 12 hours before Dylan was announced as the 2016 Nobel Prize winner for Literature I bought a first edition of his “Poem to Joanie.” I swore to the rare book dealer that I had no advance knowledge of the coming announcement.

Over the nearly four decades of my tenure at the MNHS, the Society has done an excellent job documenting Dylan. We regularly, if quixotically, bid for Dylan material at auctions against better endowed institutions and fabulously well-heeled private collectors. While those efforts seldom work, a library search of Dylan’s name still turns up over 250 items. From his earliest recorded “party tape;” to his three interviews in Playboy Magazine; to the “bootlegged” edition of Tarantula (Hibbing: Wimp Press); to Denis Anderson’s unique Dylan research collection (compiled while he taught Dylan at a German University), the MNHS Collection is rich. If you want to learn or write about Bob Dylan, or if you want to understand why the Nobel Committee took the unprecedented step of awarding him the 2016 Prize for Literature, you’ll want to visit the MNHS Library.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

Learn More:

If you are a fan of Minnesota music, make sure not to miss Heyday: 35 Years of Music in Minneapolis, coming out from the MNHS Press on November 1!

August 26, 2016

World War I Daybook Update – Knute Nelson Research

Filed under: Civil War Daybook — Lori Williamson @ 4:54 pm

Hello! My name is Martin Branyon and I was one of the World War I Day Book Researchers for summer 2016. My work this summer involved going through the MNHS manuscripts collection to find relevant documents for the Day Book. I specifically worked with the Knute Nelson Papers collection. Nelson was a Norwegian Immigrant who served for the Union during the Civil War and managed to rise through Minnesota politics to be a well-known Republican Senator by World War I. As a History and Political Science undergrad at the University of Minnesota I found sections of this collection to be right up my alley.

The collection sheds light on both the daily life of Minnesotans during the war and the local politics of the time period. I found particularly interesting the numerous letters that dealt with groups that were critical of the war. Many letters described how the government and citizens reacted to anti-war activity in the state.

Some of the most interesting documents concerning politics and groups opposed to war were dated from July 1917. I found a letter written on July 10, 1917, from a Minneapolis lawyer by the name of Jonas Weil to be particularly interesting. According to his letter a doctor by the name of Eugene Friedman had been held in Hennepin County jail for three weeks, without formal charges being known to him, for allegedly being “antagonistic to the United States Government”. The letter captured how suppression of alleged anti-war proponents was enforced through the government; however suppression of anti-war criticism being carried out by citizens is a common theme of the collection.

A letter from July 14, 1917, by Bemidji lawyer Elmer E. McDonald captures this theme. In a letter to Nelson describing the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizing among lumber and agricultural workers, McDonald nominates a local Bemidji man to infiltrate the IWW and essentially spy on their activity. McDonald clearly saw the IWW as a distinct threat that had to be aggressively targeted by the government and citizens. This sort of political suppression offers interesting insights to the lengths to which citizens would go to protect the war effort.

In addition to opposition to leftist groups, the war elicited strong nativist responses. A letter dated July 25, 1917, from the owner of a Duluth grocery store warned Nelson about the dangers of foreign born residents and citizens in the country. The Duluth man states that all foreign born non-citizens and citizens should be deported from the United States. A strange statement given that Nelson himself was born in Norway. However, it expresses a common theme in the collection of anti-immigrant sentiment during the war.

The Knute Nelson collection offers an interesting view of Minnesota and the home front during the war. The collection offers a personal account of diverse selection of Minnesotan political issues, from censorship and nativism to women’s suffrage and immigrant rights. Be sure to check out the World War I Daybook in April 2017 to learn more about the history and politics of Minnesota during the war!

July 22, 2016

Remembering “The Dome”

Filed under: Our Favorite Things — Lori Williamson @ 3:44 pm

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, 501 Chicago Avenue, Minneapolis, 1982.

With US Bank Stadium opening its doors for a public open house July 23-24 we reflect on its predecessor, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Construction began December 20, 1979 but the Dome, just like most publicly funded stadiums, faced opposition. A statewide coalition known as Minnesotans Against the Downtown Dome (MADD — the clever acronym was not associated with Mothers Against Drunk Driving until after that organization was founded in 1980) opposed to legislation that would enable the construction of a domed stadium. In the late 1970s buttons like this were distributed by MADD:

Anti-Metrodome Button <1994.95.20>

In the end voters approved funding and brought professional sports back to Minneapolis in 1982, more than twenty years after the last professional team (the Minneapolis Lakers) left the city. For over thirty years the Metrodome served its purpose in its utilitarian way, though like most multipurpose stadiums the Dome was not particularly ideal for baseball, football, or hearing anything. And occasionally the roof deflated.

The 1980s were a rough decade for the Dome, which became a bowl four times due to extreme weather conditions that deflated or created tears in the 10 acres of roof fabric. This Teflon and fiberglass fabric sample is from the roof that suffered a catastrophic collapse in December 2010 and was completely replaced:

Metrodome roof sample <2014.43.3>

In spite of its problems, the Metrodome was the only venue to host an All-Star Game (1985), two World Series (1987 & 1991), a Super Bowl (1992), a NFC Championship (1998-99), and two Final Fours (1992 & 2001). With more recent trends back toward single sport venues, it is unlikely that the Dome’s record will be challenged anytime soon. Here are a few souvenirs from some notable events:

1985 All-Star Game bumper sticker <1991.267.1>

1989 Minnesota Timberwolves ticket <1991.139.187>

1992 NCAA Final Four button

1992 Super Bowl XXVI ticket <1993.139.3>

When the Dome closed in 2013 the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) generously donated a selection of items used at the stadium to the Minnesota Historical Society, including a pair of seats. But seats at the Dome were mounted vertically to cement and shared armrests. In order to have a more complete packages, and because the Dome was still operating when MSFA made the initial donation, the seats acquired by the Society are assembled from used spare seat parts. Our Senior Objects Conservator, Tom Braun, created the wooden mount that makes for easy and safe display and handling by museum staff.

Pair of Metrodome row seats <2013.159.1>

Be sure to see the Metrodome seats alongside a folding chair from Metropolitan Stadium and a brand new pair of seats borrowed from US Bank Stadium during the upcoming exhibit “Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” on view September 24, 2016 – January 15, 2017 at the Minnesota History Center. And don’t miss the History Flirt event on October 4, 2016, when we’ll be hosting a live “Puppy Bowl”!

–Sondra Reierson, Associate Curator, 3D Objects

Learn more:

June 14, 2016

History is Now: Remembering Prince

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 1:53 pm

The Minnesota Historical Society is seeking to document the tragic passing of Prince by placing a call for personal photos at memorials and celebrations dedicated to the talented musician and cultural icon.

Prince memorial at the Minnesota Historical Society, April 2016

First Avenue, April 23, 2016

Our goal is to collect 100 photographs to illustrate how Minnesotans celebrated and grieved after the news of his death, whether it was a purple flower beneath his First Avenue Star, attending an all-night dance party, or making the trek to Paisley Park.

Please consider sending us one digital image based on the criteria below. If your photo is selected, you will be sent an official donor form and your image will become part of the Minnesota Historical Society permanent photograph collection and included in our Collections Online database.


  • Please submit only one digital photo. File format must be JPEG or TIFF, with a preferred resolution between 300-600 pixels per inch.  The date and location of the image must also be included.
  • The image must have been taken between April 21, 2016-May 5, 2016.
  • You must submit contact information for follow up, and be willing to sign a donor agreement form that includes granting copyright to the Minnesota Historical Society.
  • Please email the image to collections@mnhs.org with the subject line History is Now.
  • Images should be emailed no later than July 15, 2016.

The MNHS Curatorial Staff will select up to 100 images.  Thank you for your consideration!

January 19, 2016

World War I Daybook Update!

Filed under: Civil War Daybook — Lori Williamson @ 12:08 pm

Hello! My name is Lisa Matson and I have been working as the World War I Daybook Research Assistant Intern this fall. I graduated in May from St. Olaf College with a History major and a Women’s and Gender Studies concentration. Over the last few months I have been continuing the research started by the first two World War I Daybook interns, Molly and Mary. I spent most of my time during the internship in the Gale Family Library reading through manuscript collections. These collections were largely in the form of letters, journals, and other accounts of the war written by men in military service, or men and women serving overseas with other organizations such as the Red Cross and YMCA. There were also a few collections relating to the role of Minnesotans at home during the war. Many of the manuscript collections that I researched will be included in the World War I Daybook blog.

One interesting source that I researched consisted of letters written by Willard W. Bixby, a Minnesota man who worked as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy beginning in June 1918. Bixby’s work driving ambulances as a Red Cross volunteer involved moving injured soldiers between hospitals and working on the front lines removing injured soldiers from the battlefields to hospitals where they would be treated. Bixby’s letters to his family describe Italy and his life as an ambulance driver. These letters provide an interesting and unique insight into the war as Bixby served in Italy, while most of the other collections I researched were written by people serving in France, and he was the only ambulance driver in the manuscript collection that I encountered.

In a letter from June 16, 1918, Bixby describes driving an ambulance in the midst of an attack that started the day before and (as he states in later letters) lasted for eight days. It was written from “somewhere on the Piave” in Italy. Here is a selection from Bixby’s letter:

“The anticipated attack started yesterday morning about 1 A.M. I have been on the go every minute and have had about 6 hrs. sleep in the last 48. I am well and safe but have certainly seen the thick of it. . . . I have a machine now so we all have to be on duty as it is a night and day affair. . . . I can see shrapnel bursting from my window and believe me it is not the most pleasant of sounds.”

In later letters, Bixby describes his work throughout the following months and his role in the “grand advance” at the end of the war. See more posts about Willard W. Bixby’s life as a Red Cross ambulance driver in the World War I Daybook blog!

These are two types of ambulances driven by the Red Cross ambulance men. This photo is captioned, “The Fiats carry twice as many wounded as do the Fords. The contrast in size is plainly to be seen here.”

Citation: Willard W. Bixby and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [A/.B624]

Don’t forget to check out the World War I Daybook when the blog launches in April 2017 and keep up to date with the research process blog posts until then!

Lisa Matson, World War I Daybook Intern

January 15, 2016

“You’re a Saint or you ain’t!”

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 1:27 pm

Although ice hockey has been played in Minnesota at the amateur and scholastic level since the 1890s, Minnesotans had to wait until 1967 for its first professional team, the North Stars, to emerge from a National Hockey League expansion.  In 1971 the World Hockey Association was formed to compete with the NHL and Minnesota garnered a second professional team, the Minnesota Fighting Saints.

Based in Saint Paul, the Fighting Saints were actually two distinct teams.  The first squad, which rallied fans with the catchphrase “You’re a Saint or you ain’t!” played four seasons beginning in 1972 and boasted a winning record of 30-25-4 before folding in 1976.  The Saints’ second incarnation came in 1976 when the WHA’s Cleveland Crusaders moved to Saint Paul.   The “New Fighting Saints”, as they were sometimes known, also fared well on the ice and had a winning record (19-18-5) through their first 42 contests.  Yet despite their success and a devoted following the Saints could not compete financially with the North Stars, which benefited from a favorable television contract.  Unable to secure a buyer, owner Nick Mileti was forced to fold the franchise on January 20, 1977.

Among the Saints’ star players was Canadian-born Dave Keon, who used this stick during the 1976-77 season.  Keon spent 15 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs before joining the WHA, where he also played with the Indianapolis Racers and the New England Whalers. One of the greatest two-way centers in professional hockey, Keon scored 498 career goals and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986.

Adam Scher, Senior Curator

January 6, 2016

World War I Artifacts Digitized

Filed under: Civil War Daybook, What's New — Lori Williamson @ 12:54 pm

For the past several years the Minnesota Historical Society’s staff have been digitizing our World War I related artifacts. This collection comprises approximately 1,800 objects including United States military uniforms, equipment and supplies, as well as foreign military items (most of which were brought home as souvenirs), trench art, Red Cross materials, and more. The project was undertaken in anticipation of the centennial of the Great War and two major World War I programs planned for spring of 2017: an exhibit focusing on the home front currently in development; and the World War I daybook blog launching in April, 2017.

With the digitization project now complete, all World War I artifacts in the MNHS Collection are available to view on the Collections Online database. Here are some highlights from this incredible collection:

Victory medal awarded to Tela B. Burt, an African-American from Minneapolis who served as a supply sergeant with the 809th Regiment of Pioneer Infantry in France, circa 1919. After the war ended, Burt returned to the Minneapolis and had a career with the post office, played music for several dance bands, and eventually became one of the first African Americans in the Twin Cities area to enter the real estate field.

A length of barbed wire from Verdun, France, found by Miss Frances Rogers of Minnesota, who was part of the American Fund for French Wounded.

German military field telephone inside oak case, circa 1915.

A United States Army Model 1917 steel helmet. This classic World War I “doughboy” helmet was worn by Private Clarence Ervin Ohmann of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

A ditty box owned by United States Navy Seaman Edward R. Stensrud of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It contained souvenirs relating to Stensrud’s WWI service, including postcards, German and Swedish matchboxes and an address book. Railway tags have been pasted on each end of the box.

Coat for an American Red Cross overseas uniform, worn by Margaret MacLaren of Saint Paul, Minnesota, while serving in France circa 1918.

British military issue gas mask and cloth case, circa. There were many types of gas masks used during the war, and this is known as a Small Box Respirator.

French Croix de Guerre medal awarded to Minnesotan John Bowe. When the war began Bowe was the mayor of Canby, Minnesota. He abandoned his position and went to Canada to join the military, where he was rejected due to age. He then went to England and tried to enlist, but was informed he would have to renounce his United States’ citizenship. He then went to France where he joined the French Foreign Legion in 1915.

Minnesota service flag created for the Victory Liberty Loan Campaign in April, 1919. The approximately 1,200 gold stars represent the servicemen from Minnesota who died during the war. It is 18 feet high, and 28 feet long.

Stephanie Olson, Collections Assistant

September 11, 2015

Progress on the World War I Daybook!

Filed under: Civil War Daybook — Lori Williamson @ 4:10 pm

Hello everyone! My name is Mary Lesher. I’m a senior History major at Vassar College and I was this summer’s World War I Daybook Research Assistant Intern. I followed up on some of the great research the previous intern, Molly, did into the various kinds of World War I collections items the Minnesota Historical Society has acquired. I spent the majority of my internship in the Gale Family Library examining the Minnesota Gold Star Roll, which was compiled by the Minnesota Public Safety Commission in the years just after the close of the war. The Gold Star Roll is a record of every Minnesotan who died during the war from combat, plane, train and automobile accidents and influenza, which affected soldiers domestically and abroad. These records were filled out by close family members- mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, wives and children- and include various details of these men and women’s lives, from their place of birth to their schooling, character, vocation and military service. Family members often sent in photos, letters they received during the war and newspaper clippings about their loved one who died to give a more complete understanding of who that person was. I combed through every single record to find stories, primary sources and photos to share with you in the World War I Daybook.

One of my favorite Gold Star Roll records is that of Miss Sabra R. Hardy, a nurse in the United States Army Nursing Corps. She was from Minneapolis and worked as a nurse in Minneapolis Hospitals before enlisting for service in WWI. Hardy trained at Camp Travis in Texas before shipping out to New York to finish her training and await her journey to Europe. When she reached England she wrote a brief note to her parents alerting them that she had arrived safely overseas, and told them she would write again once she was permanently located at a hospital near the French Front. This was the last her family ever heard from her, as Hardy contracted Influenza-pneumonia and died about a week after reaching France.

New York
Aug 23-18
Dearest Mother and Dave:

I am here at last and, I just can’t wait till I’ve got my gov’t. outfit together & my Red cross suit on. They are such a good looking blue serge suit [symbol] & U.S.A. emblems worn on lapels beside the Caducci [plural form  of caduceus] which stands for the medical dept. & a black sailor hat & heavy brown army shoes. The duty uniform is grey crepe & white (No. 2) aprons & bibs & caps…”

Citation: “Hardy, Sabra R.” Minnesota Publc Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota [114.D.4.3B]

Be sure to join us for more incredible stories from World War I when the blog launches in April, 2017!

July 10, 2015

Cultural Traditions in Minnesota

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 4:46 pm

Minnesota’s culture reflects its diverse population, with influences beginning with Minnesota’s Dakota and Ojibwe population, moving through waves of European immigration, and more recently by communities of Latin American, African, and East Asian immigrants.

Currently on display in the Library Lobby is a small selection of some of these cultural traditions. Beautiful and telling, these items give an idea of all the talent in our fair state through time.

The display also in includes the recently acquired work of Ricardo Gómez (see above), who became the first Minnesotan of Puerto Rican heritage to be represented in the MNHS’s Collection. We are thrilled to have these examples of traditional yet contemporary work, documenting an incredible artist and his vibrant community.

November 7, 2014

Murder Scene

Filed under: Item of the Day — Jason Onerheim @ 12:01 am

A photograph of a shooting victim outside the Panther Room at the Minnesotan Hotel on December 27, 1950.

This image forms part of our Minneapolis and St. Paul Newspaper Negative collection. Additional photographs in this series may be available in the library, please view the finding aid here.

For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this photograph in our collections database.

(Note: The comments section has been temporarily disabled while we upgrade the website. You can always leave comments on our Flickr Photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/minnesotahistoricalsociety/)

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