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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.

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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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American Indian Collections Outreach

Posted byLori Williamson on 27 Mar 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Our very own Ben Gessner, Associate for American Indian and Fine Arts Collections, is the featured member on Connecting to Collections. He shares details about his work with American Indian material culture and the importance of working with the community. The full interview is great and can be read on the Connecting to Collections web site.

Top left: Dave Louis and Myrna Weston-Louis explain Dakota quillwork techniques and oral traditions at the 2012 “Legacy of Survival Event” in Flandreau, South Dakota.

Top right: A traditional camp was also erected in the community of Flandreau for the 2012 event. In addition to these grounds being used for lacrosse camps, outdoor feasts were held here.

Middle left: Melvin Houston conducts research at the grand opening of the Santee Nation Research Center.

Middle right: MNHS partnered with the Santee Sioux Nation of Nebraska in 2013 to bring historic material culture to the community for Dakota Recognition Days.

Bottom left: Wacantkiya Win visits the MNHS digital scanning project in Flandreau in 2012. MNHS Collections staff Lizzie Ehrenhalt and Sondra Reierson are scanning Dakota community members’ family photographs and documents.

Bottom right: Corbin Shoots The Enemy explains some of the local history and archaeological sites along the Missouri River in Crow Creek, South Dakota.

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Remembering Matthew Little

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

The Collections Department is proud to highlight two notable manuscripts collections that document the work of civil rights activist and long-time Minneapolis NAACP president, Matthew “Matt” Little (1921-2014).

Matthew Little, circa 1981.
From Little’s papers related to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Matthew Little was born in North Carolina in 1921 and found himself living in the Twin Cities by the end of the ‘40s. He would spend the next 70 years in Minnesota, building on a reputation as a leader in the civil rights and social justice movements.  Little’s chairmanship of the Minnesota March on Washington Committee in the early 60’s and his long tenure as president of the Minneapolis NAACP are documented in two separate manuscripts collections in the Minnesota Historical Society’s Library.

The Society’s collection of papers related to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom includes materials compiled and created by Matthew Little while Chair of the Minnesota March on Washington Committee. These manuscripts document the efforts of the Committee to organize, enlist support for, and fund a Minnesota delegation to the March on Washington held August 28, 1963. In addition to agendas and minutes, organizing manuals, press releases, publicity fliers, event programs and itineraries, and petitions (July-August 1963), there are circular letters, such as this request for contributions to the Committee.

Circular letter, undated
From Little’s papers related to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Little’s March on Washington papers also include a variety of outgoing and incoming correspondence, such as this congratulatory letter from then Senator Hubert H. Humphrey.

Correspondence from Humphrey, September 11, 1963, featuring this quote: “Leadership in Washington depends on leadership by people in Minnesota like you.”
From Little’s papers related to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Little’s long tenure as President of the Minnesota NAACP and continuing Civil rights advocacy work is reflected in the Society’s collection of files relating to the Minneapolis NAACP. Little continued work with the NAACP on behalf of Black Minnesotans long after his presidency ended in 1993. These files include correspondence, reports, and legal briefs pertaining to Minneapolis school desegregation lawsuits (1970-2007); the Hollman public housing planning process case, which involved the Sumner Field Homes in north Minneapolis (1993-2000); the purchase of WCCO-TV and WCCO and WLTE radio by CBS Inc. and a minority internship program at the stations (1991-1993); and papers relating to the Roy Wilkins Memorial in St. Paul (1991-1997). These issue files contain a variety of materials including speeches, court documents and legal briefs, as well as statements made by Little.

Statement of Matthew Little, President of the NAACP, October 12, 1992
From Little’s files relating to the Minneapolis NAACP.

While Little’s work related to both the Minnesota March on Washington Committee and the Minneapolis NAACP are represented in the Society’s collections, he holds a much larger place in Minnesota’s social justice and civil rights historical narrative. I will end this brief introduction to Matthew Little’s papers here at the Society with the following quote by Little, made after the March on Washington in 1963. He writes:

“I think, then, that the true meaning of the march on Washington was to say this: America, we have waited 100 years with patience. We can wait no longer—we must have total freedom now in all phases of our American Society.”

Shelby Edwards, Manuscripts Collections Assistant

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Newspaper carriers’ greetings

Posted byLori Williamson on 23 Dec 2013 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Take a look at these short pieces about the newspaper carriers’ holiday greetings in the MHS Library Collection! They are beautiful mementos of earlier holidays. Enjoy!

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