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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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Don't Breathe Gasoline Fumes with a Souvenir Gas Mask

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

This bulletin was sent out by the Headquarters of the 88th Division on this date to inform discharged soldiers that gas masks authorized as souvenirs are designed towards gases used in warfare, not gases found in civilian life such as natural gas, carbon monoxide, or gasoline fumes. Discharged soldiers with these masks should take caution if they decide to use them as more than a souvenir. The bulletin also announces that medical officers will be designated as Delousing and Bathing Officers. The medical officers designated to this new position would have been in charge of ridding the men of any lice that may be on them, their clothes or their bedding. Lice carry disease, specifically typhus and trench fever which reached epidemic levels in the trenches throughout this war. It was easily spread because of the close proximity of all the men.


26 December, 1918.
[...] In view of the fact that respirators may be authorized for retention by all troops as souvenirs, the following instructions should be widely distributed. The respirator is perfect protection against all concentrations of warfare gases encountered on the battlefield. It is not proof, however, against such gases as:
(a) Coal, water or natural gas used for heating and lighting.
(b) Carbon Monoxide, encountered mainly as mine gas.
(c) Oxides of nitrogen, such as laughing gas and products of explosions.
(d) Fumes of gasoline, benzine, alchol [sic], etc. [...]

U.S. Army, 350th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, records 1917-1919. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. BG6/.U584/350th

Wooden Sled, 1925

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 26, 2018

The sled has two sets of steel runners, two handrails, and a "steerable" front end. The manufacturer was Sherwood and they sold this model for $30.00 per dozen in 1916.

Christmas in Paris

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

This decorative Christmas card with the original envelope is addressed to Lieutenant Donald F. Bigelow in Paris France, 1918. Bigelow was from Saint Paul, Minnesota.


Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 2002.160.345.A,B

Hmong Christmas Story Cloth

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 25, 2018

This Hmong story cloth consists of images from the story of Jesus’ birth. It was made for sale by Hmong refugees in Ban Vinai, Thailand, circa 1991.

Christmas Feast

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

Victor Johnson describes a very luxurious feast that he and the other soldiers were given for the Christmas holiday. They were given exactly what they had requested to eat for breakfast and for dinner. After they had finished their dinner meal, each of the men also received a bar of chocolate, a cigar, 2 packages of cigarettes, a package of lemon snops (sic), and two cans of tobacco. The dinner and gifts had been just what Johnson had wanted and needed. He seemed to be very excited and thankful for the feast since he went on to write out a menu diagram, as well as listing off everything that he had eaten. After the celebrations it was back to work as usual. Johnson writes that after supper he “went on guard for the next 24 hours”.


Dec 25-1918.
Merry Christmas. Today we got up at 8:00 am, and had breakfast at 9:00 am, which consisted of pancakes and syrup and coffee all we wanted to eat. (That was something new because we never got enough of them before.) I put nine big ones away myself so felt just in saying I did my share to down the jacks. Then we had Dinner at 2:00p.m, which consisted of as follows. (All we wanted to eat.) Turkey, mashed potatoes, cellery (sic), grave (sic), nuted Fruit salad, a big piece of pie, nuts and hot chocolat. (sic) […]

Victor O. Johnson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1987

Family opening presents around tree, 1957

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 24, 2018

This photograph taken in 1957 shows a family opening presents around the Christmas tree.

Death of a Red Cross Nurse

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

Ruth Cutler was an American Red Cross nurse in France throughout WW1. She died of an pneumonia, complications of Influenza on this date in Paris, France. Her family received a telegram 5 days later on December 28th, 1918 telling them of their daughter's death. This post also includes Cutler's passport, which was stamped "Cancelled" on January 24, 1919, after her death.


[...] Deeply regret to inform you cable from Paris just received[.] olds states Ruth died midnight December 23rd double pneumonia [. ] Probably contracted coming through England [.] Every possible care extra nurses American specialists and best professional skill employed prudden with her constantly[.] Arranging funeral thursday afternoon[.] Deepest sympathy[...]

Ruth Cutler and family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 144.G.5.2F

"It Was Worth It"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 22, 2018

Leila Heath of White Bear Lake was the served as the directress of an American Red Cross hospital hut in France. In this document, she says her most interesting experience during the war was when she set out to get candy and gum for the boys in her hospital three days before Christmas. They had not had candy any for weeks and the ones who had been gassed during the fighting had a craving for gum. On the way back from Nantes, where they had a high supply of candy and gum, Heath and her driver got delayed, lost, and ran out of gas. But when she finally arrived back at the hospital with the candy, she said when she saw the boys' faces on announcing her arrival with candy in hand, "it was worth it.".


[...] My most interesting experience was a trip to Nantes after supplies. After sending eight or ten requisitions and receiving no answer, I decided to go after some gum and candy in a camionette I used for that purpose. With just a driver, I started three days before Christmas, determined to at least get candy; for the boys had had none for over two or three weeks; and the boys who were gassed craved gum. Some one told me at a Hospital Centre in Nantes there was plenty of both. We arrived at Nantes at the noon hour, after a five hour drive. Of course every thing was closed until 2:30. We had lunch and were directed to the Centre; at five o'clock we were still looking for it, but finally found a French boy who knew where it was. We reached there at 5:30 and the warehouse was closed, and all the boys in charge out on a pass. At 7:30 one boy returned, and would give us one case of gum (5,000 pkgs.) and six of candy. In starting back, both the driver tired, [sic] we took the wrong turn and at twelve o'clock, instead of Angers, we found ourselves in Blois about two hundred kilometres out of our way. We turned back, and thirteen kilometres outside [sic] of Nantes, we ran out of gas. Luckily we had two blankets, so the driver curled up on the front seat and I crawled in and slept (?) on a case of candy. It had rained all day and the cover of the car leaked, so at 4:30 I got out and walked five miles to where I saw a light, and asked if they had a horse. No, but two miles farther his friend had one. It cost me 50 francs ($10.00) to go into Nantes and get gas. A Navy Lieutenant brought me back in his car and we started once more; four punctures and only three extra tubes, and no mending kit, -- stalled again and there we stayed until a convoy of Cadillacs came by, -- the ones for President Wilson's reception. One took me to the Hospital, and I sent another car back for my driver. But I can assure you despite all the trouble, if you could have seen the boys' faces when I said: "I have candy." It was worth it.

American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P781

Return of the Rainbow Division

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

This diary entry from May 8, 1919 from Mary T. Hill, the wife of railroad magnet James J. Hill. Her diary provides insight into the Minnesota homefront of the First World War. In this entry, Hill is excited to attend a parade welcoming home the Rainbow Division and other returning soldiers.


St. Paul
May Thursday 8 1919
Today is the day of the parade to welcome back the Rainbow Division and all returned soldiers providence has contributed much in giving a bright warm sunny morning. […]

1915-1920. Mary T. Hill Papers. 64. C.5.6 Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota

Small Santa

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 21, 2018

This photograph is of school children dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus in Minneapolis, 1937.