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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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United States Army Model 1917 Trench Knife

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 7, 2017

This United States Army Model 1917 trench knife and leather scabbard was used by Emil B. Thompson of Saint Paul, Minnesota, during World War I. Trench knives were used in hand-to-hand combat encounters, which often included trench raids. This model, with its triangular blade, could be used primarily as a stabbing weapon. The knife is stamped "U.S. / L.F. & C. / 1917" on the forward force of the upper guard and scratched on the back of the grip is "Thompson" and on the front "351st". The olive drab scabbard has an iron throat and tip, each stamped "MS", and has two tabs at the mouth of the throat which would attach it to a belt with hooks.

Trench Knife

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 65.155.2.A,B

Pearl Harbor & the U.S.S. Ward

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 7, 2017
painting of a boat

On this day, outside of Pearl Harbor, the destroyer Ward with its crew primarily of reservists from St. Paul attacks and sinks a Japanese midget submarine. These were the first shots fired on the date of infamy, December 7, 1941.

See it in Collections Online.

Target Practice and a Plane Crash

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 6, 2017

As his military training continues, David Backus describes a day of still and moving target practice. The days seems fairly uneventful, except for the description of a plane crash and injuries sustained by one of his comrades. Lewis, he says, will live, but this incident highlights the danger these men faced even before seeing combat.


Backus diary page

Thursday Dec. 6-17.
Cold again. Well we; that is french waiting for 18 meter & 15 meter- Solo went down to the Rifle Range in trucks. Glorious autumn day- crisp & clear as a hell. Well I was high man (out of the 22 of us) 31 - out of 47 - at moving targets, shooting 2 to 5 shots at a time. Lewis Gun Vernon in aerobatic class got smashed up - in hospital. wing slip at 100 meters on turn. Cut about the head, ribs etc. will live - not dangerous[.] in the afternoon we went to the traps and shot clay pigeons. Got a good start 5 out of 8 then blew up - first score 7 out of 25 at that was third high out of 17 men, but that was rotton shooting should have broken ten to 12 anyway. Walked up to village got my laundry- had omlet and chocolate.

Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F

Jane Grey Swisshelm is born

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 6, 2017
Portrait of Swisshelm

On this date in 1815 Jane Grey Swisshelm was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While she only lived in Minnesota for six years, she left a lasting and complicated mark on the state. She founded a newspaper in St. Cloud which she used to advocate for women's rights and argue for the abolition of slavery, yet she also promoted violence against the Dakota after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. During the Civil War she moved to Washington, D.C. and became a nurse, dying in 1884.

See this portrait in Collections Online.

"Wilson Favors War on Austria" and "Fighting Stops on Russ Front" - The Daily People's Press. December 5, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 5, 2017

Coat worn by Joan Mondale

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 5, 2017

This coat was worn by Joan Mondale at the presidential inauguration of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, January 20, 1977.

It was designed by Eleanor Brenner.

See it on Collections Online.

"War With Austria-Hungary" and "Armistice Between Russ, Austrians and Germans is in Force" - The Duluth Herald. December 4, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 4, 2017

Marriage certificate for Dapper Dan Hogan

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 4, 2017
marriage certificate

Daniel ("Dapper Dan") Hogan was the owner of St. Paul's notorious Green Lantern speakeasy and the alleged contact between St. Paul gangsters and gangsters from elsewhere until he was blown up by a car bomb on this date in 1928. This is his marriage certificate from 1919.

See it in our Library Catalog.

David H. Backus is appointed 1st Lieutenant of the U.S. Air Force

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 3, 2017

On this day in 1917, David Backus recieved his offical appointment to the U.S. Air Force as a 1st Lieutenant. Though a significant acheivement, it was only a step in Backus' journey from ambulance volunteer to combat pilot. The appointment barely makes his diary, with only a mention that he is now a Lieutenant, as his training for the front lines continues. Backus had prevously trained in Tours, France and recieved his pilots licence, and would go on to be credited with the destruction of four enemy aircraft during his service in World War I.


Backus First Lieutenant

Edward Norman Gilkey: His Diary of His Life in the War Zone, France

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 2, 2017

When Edward Gilkey was stuck and killed by a high explosive shell in July 1918, his commanding officer First Sergeant Clifford Brundage found his diary on his body and returned it to his parents. His parents later had the diary published in memory of their son. The diary is an almost daily account of Gilkey's life with the 6th Engineers from the day he left for France, December 2, 1917, to his last entry on the day he died July 20, 1918. Through this diary we learn of the daily life and trials of soldiers on and near the Front. This entry, the first in Gilkey's diary, relates the day of his departure from Washington, D.C. with his fellow troops as they begin their journey to France.


Washington, D. C.
Sunday, December 2nd, 1917. -- Received orders at noon to hand in cots and strike tents. Lined us up with full packs, stood retreat. Dorothy Deitrich and friend down to see us off. She took my picture, promised to send me one. Said goodbye. Waited around with full packs 'til 9:00p.m. Escorted by band to gate. Girls sang "Goodby Broadway, Hello France." That which left the most impression "Goodby Sweethearts, Wives and Mothers, etc." Gave us a fine send-off. Marched to the train which was stationsed at Bureau of Engraving. Two trains, one battalion to a train. Dosed off and on, Woke up at Philadelphia.

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