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Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future


The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

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WW1 Daybook

David Backus is Unfazed by Near Death Experiences

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 29, 2018

On this day, David Backus took his plane out for a flight. He states he flew for 20 miles and then the "stick" went out at 800 meters. But, being the experienced pilot he was, Backus seemed pretty unfazed by the whole ordeal and says he landed in a field was was okay. Later in the day he and his friends went for a swim in a nearby lake.


Dee Smith Arrives in England

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 28, 2018

Dee Smith was an office worker from Minneapolis for the Red Cross at the Bureau of Personnel in Paris. On her way to Paris, she spent some time in Britain sightseeing while waiting for transportation across the British Channel to be arranged. In this letter to her parents posted from London, Smith closes by saying "You can see I am having a wonderful time, tho' I am anxious to get to work, I never felt better.[...] I get my slippers and kimono (we call them cellar robes now) out every night in case we must see a bomb shelter. I never give it another thot[sic], & sleep like a top all night. I wouldn't be any where else for any money."


London, England
July 28 & 29, 1918
Dear Folks,
At last I have a breathing spell and can write a little. I was too tired to stop at the writing room so came to my room, took a good hot bath and am writing this in bed.
You have probably received my letter mailed on the steamer by this time. Some day I can tell you a wonderful story, but the censor wouldn't stand for it now. It was a great adventure and was worth many times the risk. We did not leave the boat for some house after we landed at Liverpool- the port official came aboard and examined all our passports before anyone was allowed to land. Everyone was happy to see land and Liverpool is a wonderful city. The customs officials were fine to us but you should have seen us wrestle for our baggage. Everyone climbs over everyone else's things and collects all his luggage in one spot, waits for the official to stamp it, and then personally sees it loaded into a van. It was great fun. We are all delighted with the English people but the girls tease me because I like them particularly. [...]

If you would like a pdf of the whole letter, please request a copy by emailing collections@mnhs.org

Citation: Dee Smith Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P441

"The Wounded Don't Phase Me Any More"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 27, 2018

Willard W. Bixby was an ambulance driver with the Red Cross in Italy. In this letter to his mother and dad, Bixby describes the friends he has made in his section. (He even makes a pun when talking about their quartet singing group) He also writes to his family about the dangers that ambulance drivers face even when not on the front lines. Bixby relates the story of "a squeak" that happened to him while he was driving a few days earlier. He was going up "M" [presumably a mountain from the events of the story] when he met a three horse wagon and they decided to try to pass each other even though the road was only wide enough for one car. As they passed, the horses reared "shoving the car over and knocking me off like a peanut." He was able to grab a bush about 10 feet down (rather than falling the 200 foot drop) and he later got 15 men with a rope to pull the car to safety.


July 27, 1918
Dearest Mother and Dad,
[..] We have a quartet composed of Bob Bennett Base, Elbert Duncan from Dartmouth Baritone - Caroll Bobb from New Orleans 2nd Tenor and Yours Truly 1st tenor. We sure do have some fine times these moonlight nights with the guitar and mandolin and tear off some real barber shop har. (mony). While I was up on Post last, We had quite a little local fight and it sounded like old times to hear the old shells come screaching in and the guns booming for all they were worth. The wounded don't phase me any more although I carried quite a bunch night before last working till 4 A.M. […] The other day I had quite a squeak although it was of a different nature than many of the close ones. I was going up M____ when I meet a three horse wagon. The road was just comfortably wide enough for one car and it was too steep and narrow for either of us to back we decided to attempt a pass. Well the road was already crumbling under the outside wheels of my car and I thot I could hold it a little if the horses bumped and it started to slide. I sure was a nut as just as they were passing the horses reared shoving the car over and knocking me off like a peanut. I went over backwards and was all primed for a 200 ft. drop when the Bon Dieu intervened and had a little bush for me about 10 ft. down I made a wild grab and it was only my lightness and gymnastic work that saved me as I hung on and was pulled to safety. I was so sore at that driver that I didn't get scarred till about fifteen minutes after and then I was nervous as heck. I got about 15 men with a rope on the car and we pulled it to safety, me meandering merrily on my way. [...]
With loads of love,
Your own Son,

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

"Allied Troops Sweeping Steadily Onward" and "Entire Position of Huns Within Marne May Fall Any Time" - The Duluth Herald. July 26, 1918.

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 26, 2018

"Exceptional Coolness and Accurate Firing" - Soldier Awarded Certificate for Gallantry in Action Days Before Death

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 25, 2018

Ernest G. Wold enlisted in the Army- Infantry but trained towards aviation. On July 25, 1918, First Lieutenant Wold earned the Certificate for Gallantry in Action during the Chateau-Thierry offensive. While on a reconnaissance mission his plane was surrounded and attacked by seventeen enemy planes. Thanks to his "courage and tenacity", Lieut. Wold was able to to complete the mission, obtaining "information of the greatest possible value". A few days after these events Lieut. Wold was killed in action on August 1st, 1918 while on a photographic mission.


France, 23 July, 1919.
[...] 1. The award of the Certificate for Gallantry in Action to your son, 1st Lieutenant E.G. Wold (Deceased) 1st Aero Squadron, was based on the following recommendation made by the 3rd Army Air Service Commander on 10 February, 1919: "On July 25, 1918, during the Chateau-Thierry offensive, Lieutenant Wold with Lieutenant Corley, as Observer, while on a reconnaissance mission, was attacked by a patrol of seventeen enemy planes. The enemy patrol descended through a hole in the clouds and had surrounded Lieut. Wold's ship. In spite of the overwhelming odds, Lieut. Wold, through exceptional coolness and accurate firing, succeeded in eluding the enemy, shooting one down out of control. Although the enemy remained in the immediate vicinity, he recrossed the line three times more, being driven out each time. Due to the courage and tenacity of Lieut. Wold the mission was finally completed and information of the greatest possible value obtained. Lieutenant Wold was killed in action 1 August 1918, while on a photographic mission. He was driven out several times by hostile patrols. On his fourth attempt he was attacked by five enemy planes and although wounded twice by machine-gun bullets, he recrossed the lines but his controls had been shot away and the plane fell in vrille."
For the Commander-in Chief:
F.L. Whitley
Adjutant General.

Citation: "Wold, Ernest G." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.7.1B

Balloons Carry Propaganda into German Territory

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 24, 2018

On July 23, Ingvald D. Smith wrote in his diary about seeing two French balloons floating across enemy lines that were most likely carrying German propaganda. Unmanned leaflet balloons were created by Mr. A. Fleming in 1917. They were hydrogen balloons that would drift over no-man's land to land in the enemy trenches where they would drop propaganda onto the enemy. One example of this is the British dropping postcards from German prisoners of war about their conditions, general propaganda against the Kaiser or German generals.


Tue. 23
I rolled out at 6:30 a.m. and had mess. As soon as I had finished my meal I snuggled into my blankets and went to sleep again awaking at noon. This afternoon the company received orders to roll packs and be prepared for a two day trip. After camp was broke it commenced to rain so the men sought shelter in two nearby barracks until the rain had ceased. At about 6 P.M., I observed two miniature balloons drifting toward the Hun lines which were evidently carrying propaganda into Germany. At 10:30 p.m., the company formed and then hiked to Vauthiermont a railroad station lying about 4 kil. distant. Here the troops were placed on the train and were crowded from 40 to 50 men into each car. The cars were packed to sucn an extent that a large number of men were not fortunate enough to find a place to seat their selves. I did not think that I would enjoy traveling in such a manner so Reisdorf and I after consulting the cooks were given their permission to ride on the car that was carrying the kitchen. We had no sooner arranged our blankets for a good nights sleep when several officers who had noticed us came over and ordered us off the car. We were a trifle disappointed but not giving up hope we crawled on to a flat car that was loaded with supply wagons.

Citation: Ingvald Smith papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1754

Service Flag used in Lewis Park

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 23, 2018

his Service Flag is made from white cotton with a red border and felt starts attached to the center. It features one gold star and 28 blue stars. Flags such as this were used to represent family or organization members who were in service during the war. This particular flag was used by the Lewis Park branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The gold star in the middle is for David Neary, who was killed at Soissons, France on July 19, 1918. The other stars are meant for Selma Hendricksen, Fred Otto Ramond Rosen, Tom Brodie, Forrest Neary, Axel Dolan, Leif Bachke, Birger Bachke, Emmett Hollin, Albert Krinsky, Imey Krinsky, Mr. Mordle, Hjalmar Westlund, Melvin Pharson, Russell Betelsen, Harry Lundstrom, Wilhelm Sandin, William Edward, George Kimmerensy, Henry Holmgren, Carlos Hansen, Emmett Christesen, Carl Bennett, David Bennett, Fritchof Gill, Edwin Gill, Sigurd Gill and William Hennesey.

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 8526

Career Soldier Falls in Battle of Soissons

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 21, 2018

Sergeant John Frydenlund immigrated to Minnesota from Norway and joined the United States Army shortly after arrival. He trained at Fort Snelling, then served in Cuba, the Philippine Islands, Alaska and the Mexican border before going to France with Pershing's first expedition. Frydenlund was a year and a half away from honorable discharge with 30 years service and retirement pension at the time of his death. He was in the famous 28th Regiment- the first American Regiment to go "over the top" in the Battle of Cantigny. His file includes a newspaper clipping.

Citation: "Frydenlund, John O." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B

"This Sure is Some Life" - The Last Letter of Edward Gilkey

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 20, 2018

This was Edward Gilkey's final letter home, written on the day of his death. In it, he tells his father that "Jerry" has been making several heavy drives at them recently, but that he is enjoying being a part of the action. Gilkey also says that they've had a couple run ins with gas recently, but said it was good sport dealing with it. It seems as though Gilkey is truly in the thick of it at this moment. He ends the letter by saying he will write again soon once Jerry calms down, but that would never happen for Edward Gilkey.


On Active Service with the American Expeditionary Forces
July 20, 1918.
Dear Dad:-
Jerry made it quite hot for us the past week, but I guess we got him on the run. Have been in luck to get in on the ground floor of the year's two biggest drives. Have passed thru some experiences during the last few days, experiences I would have deemed impossible a year ago. I certainly am glad that I've passed through them, although I doubt if I would care to go thru again. Had our first real experience with gas during the last days, Jerry has been sending beaucoup gas shells over and as a result we have almost lived in our masks (It's great sport). The last few days has seen some terrible shell fire--almost a steady roar. When our batteries open up the roar is deafening, ground shakes so almost impossible to sleep. Every night the front is the scene of huge fireworks display with flares, skyrockets, signals; ect. This sure is some life. Our company sure had its share in this last drive - have been working day and night, everybody in high spirits and I never felt better. Yesterday we had afternoon off, hiked back of lines, got aboard trucks and were taken back to our traveling "cootie-izer," where we got a good hot shower bath and new underclothing. It felt great as we have been living under-ground in trenches most of time last week. The other night was on outpost on top of a high hill overlooking valley; with field glasses could watch our shells landing on Jerry's hill, and watch Jerry's guns landing in the small towns in valley. Had an opportunity to watch over fifty French tanks going into action; could follow them with glasses. Later got a chance to look inside one. They certainly are a wicked looking machine. On the whole I am enjoying these last few days, although there are times when we have it pretty hard. Will write again soon unless Jerry makes it too hot for us. We will probably get a rest after Jerry "calms" down.
Your loving son,
Edward Normal Gilkey
Co. B. 6th Eng.; A.E.F.

Citation: Gilkey, Edward. Edward Norman Gilkey: His Diary of His LIfe in the War Zone, France. Minnesota Historical Society. 114.D.4.3B

The Sorrow of a Brother - "Another Jew has Given His Last Full Measure of Devotion for the Country He Loved"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 19, 2018

Solomon Isaacs enlisted in the Marine Corps with his brother Nathan, and the two stuck together all through their training and battle experience until Solomon was killed on this date during the Battle of Soissons. Nathan wrote a letter home to their mother in September, overcome with grief at the loss of his brother. He says that despite his sorrow, he is glad his brother died fighting for the most worthy cause he could think of. He also reminds his mother to change one of the red stars on her service flag to a gold star so that everyone knows that she sacrificed her child for freedom and democracy.


Somewhere in France, Sept 5.
Dear Mother and All:
I haven't heard from you for such a long time that I don't know what it would feel like to get a letter. Also I didn't have the heart to write, because of a very sad incident that has happened but of which you have already heard. Yes mother, I suppose you have already heard about the sad fate of my brother Sol. The dirty square heads got him - in a great battle on July 19th. Mother, Sol is dead and nobody can feel it worse than I can, even Alma his wife and you. Because Sol was just Sol. To me he was more than a brother. He was a brother, pal and sweetheart to me. We would gladly have done anything for me, and I would have been equally as glad to do as much for him. But now he is dead and even through my great sorrow it fills me with pride to know that he died fighting - fighting for his country and the greatest cause the world has ever known. It is the most honorable death anyone can die. Now Mother, I don't want you to take this to hand. I must bear it as a soldier - as a Marine. And I want you to bear it as the mother of a Marine, and Alma as the wife of a Marine. Replace one of the two red stars in your service flag by a golden one, to let the world know that you have sacrificed your son, your best son for the cause of humanity; to let the world know that another fighting jew has given his last full measure of devotion for the country he loved. Well, Mother, will write more later. As ever your loving son,

Citation: "Isaacs, Solomon." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.F


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