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Restoration of the Minnesota State Capitol

Posted byLori Williamson on 15 May 2015 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things


We, as the Collections Department, clearly love the Collections that tell the story of Minnesota and its people. But we also love field trips, especially those to historic sites. Many of us happen to be civics or architectural nerds (or both), so we were very excited and grateful for the opportunity to visit the Minnesota State Captiol during its current major (and greatly needed) renovation. We had so much fun – thank you to Sondra Reierson for the photos; to the Site; manager Brian Pease; and the construction company for making this possible!

Click any image to enlarge.

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Saint Paul Winter Carnival Royalty, 1978

Posted byLori Williamson on 23 Jan 2015 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

On a January evening in 1978, young women dressed all in white began arriving at the St. Paul Municipal Auditorium. They were the Royal Princesses of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, all hoping to be crowned Queen of the Snows. The gilded, cavernous Auditorium had been transformed into the Great Hall of Jupiter for the coronation ceremony. King Boreas had been crowned and on this night a Queen would be chosen to represent the City in the coming year.

Auditorium, St. Paul, before the addition. Ca. 1922

St. Paul Winter Carnival ceremonies at auditorium, St. Paul. Ca. 1948

Donaldson's Golden Rule, Seventh and Robert, St. Paul. Ca. 1966

Donaldson's Golden Rule, Seventh and Robert, St. Paul. Ca. 1966

The Princesses had been preparing for months. In the fall of the previous year, Donaldson’s Department Store began an internal selection process for for their own store-sponsored representative. As many as nine single women, aged 18 to 25, were nominated internally and judged on personality, poise, maturity, and walk. By late Fall, Donaldson’s had selected their candidate.

Marlene Richter had taken a position at Donaldson’s a few years earlier and joined in the store’s 1978 Winter Carnival competition in order to expand her social horizons. A University of Minnesota chemical engineering student, Marlene hoped that participating in the Winter Carnival competition would create opportunities to meet new people, outside of the the men surrounding her at school.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival Queen of the Snows coronation gown. Ca. 1978

Once she was selected as Donaldson’s Winter Carnival candidate, Marlene began preparing with the manager of the women’s wear department. Candidates and sponsors were responsible for providing a formal white coronation gown. The hunt for the perfect gown took the two women to a bridal shop in Rosedale Mall, where they found a two piece formal dress complete with lace and marabou feather trim that fit Marlene beautifully, straight off the rack.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival King Boreas uniform. Ca. 1978

On coronation night, Marlene and the other candidates stood under the hot lights of the Auditorium stage, nervous and excited. When the Grand Chamberlain bowed before Marlene, it took a moment for her to realize the choice was made; she would be Queen of the Snows. King Boreas (Dan Dolan), in his own imposing red uniform complete with gold braid and white gloves, crowned the new queen. The rest of the evening passed in a blur of activity; from a reception at the Radisson hotel on Kellogg Boulevard and back to a women-only suite at the St. Paul Hotel, where the remaining princesses would be outfitted with matching gold gowns to differentiate between Queen and Princesses.

SPWC Royal Coronation at the St. Paul Auditorium, 1978. Courtesy of Marlene Killa

Queen of the Snows Marlene Richter, 1978. Courtesy of Marlene (Richter) Killa

The Royal party would appear at the annual parade and other events during Carnival in St. Paul, but their duties did not end there. As Snow Queen, Marlene made about 400 appearances throughout 1978, following the Carnival tradition of spreading St. Paul hospitality across the state and the nation. She was part of the last group of Carnival royalty to participate in the Rose Bowl Parade in California, on a float with Minneapolis Aquatennial royalty. She wore her coronation gown to many of these events, but wore at least eight other dresses throughout the year.

Marlene’s reign ended with the passing of her crown at the 1979 King Boreas coronation event. The Winter Carnival experience was all she had imagined and more. Donaldson’s sponsorship not only financed the wardrobe and other costs associated with Carnival, but enabled Marlene to travel extensively. Her social hopes were also realized; she created lasting friendships with the royal party and met Michael Killa, a member of the 1978 Royal Guard. Marlene and Mike later married.

SPWC Royal Party, 1978. Courtesy of Marlene Killa. Michael Killa is 3rd from the right in the top row

After her time in Carnival, Marlene (Richter) Killa would go on to earn an MBA and spend twenty-two years as an engineer at Ecolab, a St. Paul-based multinational developer and manufacturer. For the past decade she and her husband Mike have worked together on their own construction company. Marlene and Mike took part in Saint Paul Winter Carnival activities for years following 1978: Marlene served as a judge for the 1980 Queen of the Snows competition and was active with the Former Queen’s Club for many years. Mike served as Captain of the Guard in 1986 and both were active with the Royal Party that year.

Sondra Reierson, Associate Curator, 3D Objects

See more:

  • Saint Paul Winter Carnival guide to related MNHS collections, including photographs and artifacts.
  • St. Paul Auditorium photographs. The Auditorium was razed in 1982; Ordway Theater was partially constructed on the original site of the Auditorium, beside the Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
  • In 1961 Donaldson’s, a Minneapolis company, merged with the Golden Rule department store in St. Paul and changed the store’s name to Donaldson’s a few years later. The St. Paul location remained in the Golden Rule building until 1980, when it moved to the Town Square complex. The original building still stands at 85 7th Place East, St. Paul.
  • Ecolab, Inc. records

Artifacts referenced:

  • Saint Paul Winter Carnival Queen of the Snows coronation gown <2014.162.1.A,B> Two piece white formal gown worn by Marlene (Richter) Killa as the 1978 Saint Paul Winter Carnival Queen of the Snows.
  • Saint Paul Winter Carnival King Boreas uniform <1988.396. and 1998.413.> Jacket, pants, hat, gloves and scepter used by Daniel F. Dolan as the 1978 Saint Paul Winter Carnival King Boreas.
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Points for Creativity

Posted byLori Williamson on 09 Dec 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things


How do you encourage people to go see your new production? Easy! Give them cool swag. But when posters and key chains no longer grab people’s attention, marketing offices need to get creative.

This emery board was created in 1963 to promote the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds, at the Anoka Theater in Minnesota. With its clever, though slightly nefarious slogan, “File Your Nails – Don’t Bite Them, THE BIRDS is coming”, the nail file successfully suggests the frightening nature of the film, (you will never look at birds the same way), while still giving people something they will actually use and look at frequently.

Slightly less useful, though still creative, is this cell phone holder promoting the 2009 film New In Town. In the movie a woman moves from Miami, Florida to New Ulm, Minnesota and realizes it’s not so bad. Made of red rubber foam, the shoe has the movie’s title written across the vamp, so you read it every time you grab your phone. Perhaps a snow boot would have better evoked the spirit of Minnesota, but it probably wouldn’t hold a cell phone.

Finally, we have a top hat, used as part of the promotional package for the 1995 premier of Julie Andrews’ musical, Victor/Victoria at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. A ribbon above the brim reads “Victor/Victoria” and the hat held dried roses, a plastic vase, a chocolate bar, and more. However, because of the direction of the text it cannot actually be worn as a hat, (well, it could, but everyone would be craning their necks trying to read upside-down). So instead, it’s a hat that promotes the musical from your dresser. It’s probably a perfect storage space for your nail file and cell phone holder.

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Consulting the Oracle

Posted byLori Williamson on 24 Oct 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things


I do not consider myself a person who scares easily. That being said, when I came across a Ouija board and planchette in the storage space at the Minnesota History Center, under the watchful glass eyes of a Great Horned Owl and around the corner from the collection of death masks, it gave me pause.

The Ouija board is one of the most iconic board games in America. The first patented game was created by the Kennard Novelty Company of Baltimore, Maryland, in 1891 in response to a growing fascination with spiritualism and the paranormal. To play, participants place their fingertips on the planchette and watch as messages are spelled out on the board, allegedly by the influence of spirits.

During most of the 20th Century the Ouija board was little more than an intriguing novelty toy, frequently played at parties and gatherings across the country. The game was mass produced in various styles, such as this board created by Parker Brothers, Inc., circa 1967. While there were certainly people who took it more seriously than others, the game was generally considered harmless fun.

That changed with the release of horror movies in the 1970’s and 80’s that portrayed Ouija boards at instruments of evil spirits and demons, such as The Exorcist in 1973 (this is also the year the board was donated to the Minnesota Historical Society). People began to view the game as frightening, while religious groups across the country condemned it as in tool of the devil, a practice that has continued even into the 21st Century.

These days, Ouija boards remain popular everywhere from slumber parties to pop culture, and there are all sorts of stories floating around about chilling experiences and revelations from using them. And even though scientists have established that the messages are created by the unconscious movements of the participants and not spiritual interference, the mysterious nature of the Ouija board lives on.

Seeing the board in the museum certainly makes me wonder…what stories would it tell?


Stephanie Olson
Collections Assistant

Learn more about the history and science of the Ouija board in the Smithsonian Magazine.

Follow-up: this was caught happening this morning in Collections storage! Happy Halloween everyone!

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New Wonderful World of Menus Display!

Posted byLori Williamson on 06 Oct 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Come to the Gale Family Library at the Minnesota  Historical Society during regular library hours to see the new display on Minnesota Menus!

It is the time of year when people’s thoughts turn to food, and we have a fabulous collection here documenting foodways over time. In this exhibit we chose to focus on menus from the railroads; banquets; hotels; and restaurants. It is fascinating to see what people ate and how much it cost; the graphic design component of many is exceptional as well.

While the menu collection is available for research any time, this is a rare opportunity to see together many of the items so expertly discussed in Debbie Miller’s article in this quarter’s Minnesota History magazine. Come see the menus for yourself, and then purchase your copy of the magazine in the Museum Stores to learn more!

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1919 Fire Truck at MN State Fair

Posted byLori Williamson on 21 Aug 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things


Every year we lend our 1919 Ford Model T Fire Truck to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the MN State Fair Parade.  It is one of a very few vehicles that we keep maintained in running condition.  This one was the first unit used by the Minnesota Forest Service and will lead the parade on Friday this week (8/22/2014) for Fire Prevention Day.  It is a special year because Smokey Bear turns 70 this year.

Nicole Delfino Jansen, Central Registrar

To learn more about this piece visit Collections Online.

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Rhubarb Pie!

Posted byLori Williamson on 15 Jul 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things


Amy’s Baking Delights, from Ruttger’s Bay Lake resort near Deerwood, published sometime in the 1970s.

Amy Pleidrup Downing and her sister Bertha Pleidrup grew up on a farm near Verndale, west of Bay Lake. Bertha ran the Ruttger’s kitchen for much of the middle part of the 20th century. Amy, who came to work as the baker starting in 1945, was famous for her desserts and sweet treats.

Here’s her easy recipe for Rhubarb Pie.  You can make your own crust or use 2 from the grocery store.

Line pan (9-inch pie plate) with pie crust. Wash and dice rhubarb.
3 cups rhubarb
3 Tbsp minute tapioca
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
Mix well and pour into shell.  Top with a crust.  Bake at 375 degrees 45 minutes or until done.

Find the cookbook in the MNHS Library at TX765 .A49 1970z, along with oral history interviews with workers and family members at Ruttger’s Bay Lake resort in the Resort Oral History Project

Debbie Miller, Reference Librarian

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Minnesota Territorial Seal, 1849

Posted byLori Williamson on 02 Jul 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

This is the official iron stamp of the Minnesota territorial seal showing a farmer plowing, a tree stump and ax, and an American Indian on horseback with lance in hand riding toward a setting sun. The motto above the design reads “Quo sursum velo videre”; this is a misprint of the intended Latin phrase “Quae sursum volo videre” (“I wish to see what is beyond”). Encircling the seal is “THE GREAT SEAL OF MINNESOTA. 1849.” The manufacturer’s trademark “D. O. HARE.W.C.” is stamped on the face of the seal and also on the rim.

The seal design (adopted in 1849) was from a sketch by Col. J. J. Albert and redesigned by Capt. Seth Eastman, as seen in this watercolor by Eastman.

Two other designs were considered by a special legislative committee for a new Great Seal of Minnesota upon achieving statehood in 1858.  However, it fell to Governor Sibley to have the state seal engraved, and he decided to stick with the original territorial seal (for which he was largely responsible) with minor modifications. Sibley got rid of the misspelled Latin and added “L’etoile du Nord” (“The North Star”); the direction of the American Indian and Farmer are reversed on the state seal; and it reads “The Great Seal of the State of Minnesota, 1858.”

In 1981, the original engraved state seal from 1858 was part of a Minnesota Statehood display in the Minnesota State Capitol. When the exhibit was deinstalled in 1984, the original 1858 seal was misplaced. The Society continues its efforts to find the seal, in hopes of restoring it to its place alongside the engraved territorial seal in the MNHS Collection.

Come see the Minnesota Territorial Seal and much more in our new Library Lobby display Icons of Minnesota, on view during Library open hours now through August 30, 2014!

We are fortunate to have so many great objects telling the early history of Minnesota in the Collections. To learn more, visit:

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Reception gown worn by Mary LeDuc

Posted byLori Williamson on 30 May 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things


How torn Mary LeDuc must have felt between extravagance and necessity when assessing her social position and need for proper dress. She was anticipating her husband’s appointment as Secretary of Commerce under President Hayes in 1877. The LeDucs had left their home in Hastings, Minnesota. While Gen. William Gates LeDuc served in the Civil War; his wife, Mary, stayed with her parents in Ohio.

Correspondence from the LeDuc family in the Minnesota Historical Society’s manuscript collection is filled with letters between Mrs. LeDuc and her daughters agonizing over frugalities as they alter bonnets and dresses, purchase fabric, ribbons and notions and seek an inexpensive dressmaker or milliner. “I had my silk bonnet all made over on Monday – new shape – Papa thought it was a new bonnet – with satin and dark cardinal plush and two big roses – I think it verypretty, it will do for dress bonnet all winter – only cost $4.25. ”

When General LeDuc was in Washington lobbying for his appointment, Mrs. LeDuc was living with her parents in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Their daughter, Minnie, was living in New York and had found a reasonable dressmaker in Miss Jane E. Turner. Miss Turner’s invoice of September 28, 1877 for one black silk and one brown velvet dress came to $128.33. Minnie’s excitement in receiving delivery of these dresses for her mother is in her letter, “Your dresses came Saturday and are lovely. I did not unfold them much fearing I could not pack them again. I should think both would fit you nicely. The front of the brown skirt is particularly pretty. “ She mailed the package to Mrs. Leduc after she arrived in Washington.

Mary’s letter back to Minnie, described an invitation from the White House. “I wore my brown silk out yesterday for first time, called on Mrs. Hayes after dinner.” The brown velvet and brocade reception gown must have felt very extravagant.

Florence wrote to her sister, Minnie, “[Miss Turner] has made two dresses for Mamma and they are lovely. She is a true artist. I’ve never seen any dresses at any time that could equal those made by her.”

This dress was donated by the LeDuc family in 1920 and remained unidentified until the photograph, dress, invoice and letters were brought together after research by Society collections staff and volunteers.

Special thanks to MNHS textile conservator Ann Frisina for her working in bringing this dress to life on a custom mannequin.

Linda McShannock, Associate Curator

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Hardanger Fiddle

Posted byLori Williamson on 20 May 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

The Hardanger fiddle, or hardingfele in Norwegian, is a traditional instrument of Norway. The fiddle is much like a conventional violin with one major exception; where a typical violin has 4 strings tuned in fifths, the Hardingfele has 8 or 9 strings. Four strings are tuned like those of a typical violin (or to a modified tuning) while the other 4 or 5 are ‘sympathetic’ strings. These sympathetic strings are strung UNDER the strings that are played and act as resonators while the fiddle is played. The effect is a ghostly droning sound reminiscent of a hurdy-gurdy or other traditional instrument.

Here it hear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc-WGo4N8h8

Classical music buffs will recognize adapted Hardanger fiddle tunes in the music of Edvard Grieg, and movie enthusiasts might recognize the distinctive sound of the Hardanger fiddle from the from The Lord of the Rings soundtrack.

Hardanger fiddles are folk instruments and are often highly decorated with wood, bone, and mother-of-pearl inlay. Most are also decorated on the front, back, and sides with black ink/paint in floral patterns. The fiddle in the MNHS collection is intricately decorated with ornate wood, metal, and mother of pearl inlay and various finishing techniques. The fingerboard and tailpiece are both overlaid with a horn veneer. Early examples in other collections date back to as early 1651, around the same time the Stradivari workshop in Cremona, Italy was creating some of the most sought after violins ever produced.

Will Peterson, Collections Assistant

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