About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

A reporter from the Pioneer Press called the other day to talk about listing on the National Register of Historic Places childhood homes of people who later became significant. There is some debate by historians as to whether or not where someone lived as a child shaped or even represents the significant thing a person might be known for later. For instance, the Sinclair Lewis Boyhood Home in Sauk Centre is where Lewis grew up, but he did not write his novels there. Does the home in Sauk Centre represent his Nobel prize-winning writing?

Similarly Frances Gumm (later Judy Garland) was born in Grand Rapids MN, but her family relocated when she was three. How much did those first three years of life set the stage for Judy’s later significance?

Recently further information about aviator Amelia Earhart turned up to show that she was a student in St. Paul in 1913.

There are many other examples, but these three spring to mind. Searching the National Register of Historic Places for “listing a childhood home” turned up nearly 400 leads to childhood homes of presidents, artists, inventors, and many other famous Americans.

Other historians argue that childhood places do shape who people later became. Whether local historical organizations do or not matters less than whether we are consistent in how we select what represents our stories. One of the exhibit ideas that has yet to take root is to show what native sons and daughters have done in the world. Sometimes local history organizations can be too focused on just what happened within their borders and do not tell the story of their people on a state, national, or world stage. For example, Pope County Historical Societyhas been sharing the story of Glenwood native Cleora Helbing, former director of education at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 1930s-50s, even though the things that document Helbing’s significance did not originate in Pope County. Many other Minnesotans have accomplished significant things after leaving home. How might these stories be documented and shared? What’s the right balance between local-specific and what locals do in the world?

How might you tell the story of people from your community that have had a role in the wider world?

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2 Responses to Favorite Children

  1. Mary Warner says:

    We have a low barrier of entry for inclusion into the history of Morrison County. If someone was born here or has lived here, they’re in. Author & bookstore owner, Louise Erdrich was born here, but her family left shortly after her birth. We still claim her as part of Morrison County history and if we were to do an exhibit on writers of the county, she’d be included.

    While our geographic focus is Morrison County, MN, history doesn’t stay in nice, neat geographic packages. Some people, like Charles Lindbergh, Jr., have such a wide-ranging effect on the world that several places can claim him. We’re good with that.

    In 2008, we created a series on our blog called Morrison County Influentials through which we told the stories of those who were influential within the county, as well as around the state and the world. You can still find the series on our blog by typing “Morrison County Influentials” into the search box. We’ve also consolidated the list as its own page here:

    http://morrisoncountyhistory.org/history/?page_id=449

    We limited the list to 150 influentials because we created it in honor of the 150th anniversary of Minnesota’s statehood, but we could easily add to it and invite our readers to do so.

    Reply

  2. Pru Lolich says:

    The Hibbing Historical Society Museum has established a Hall of Service and Achievement and every year at least two

    The Hibbing Historical Society Museum has established a Hall of Service and Achievement to honor those individuals who have had an impact on the area, success in their field or both. This ceremony is in conjunction with the annual celebration of the founding of the City of Hibbing and is held in early August on the City Hall lawn with cake, lemonade, and the city band. A bit folksy but enjoyed by all. Plaques are hung in the museum with narratives to be viewed by the public year round.

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