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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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Percy Christianson in Show Business!

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

After the Armistice, many soldiers in Europe were waiting to get back to the states. However, without the war, there wasn't much for them to do. To keep troops entertained, musical comedy and vaudeville shows were created with "all men" casts made up of the soldiers who had performing talent. These shows traveled from camp to camp, performing for the soldiers who had not yet been shipped home. The shows were very detailed, with costumes and wigs created for the performers, where the men in the shows dressed as chorus girls. Percy B. Christianson describes his role in one of these "traveling entertainment units" in a vaudeville show, which he was involved in for nine months after the Armistice until he was able to return home.


For those soldiers who waited patiently to be transported across the Atlantic, and home, was a problem of discipline without reason. In war men will be disciplined, to prepare themselves to know how to defend themselves.[...] After that is over and it suddenly ends, the problem of discipline is ended. What then? What branch of our military machine figured out the problem of how to controll [sic] this situation I do not know. One thing is for sure, they done a good job of it. They figured out, that where "discipline would fail, "entertainment" would succeed.["] That is the idea they worked on. It was a success. All service men, who wished to do so, were called in a screened for talent. The results were astounding. Among them were some of the most gifted artists. There were singers, slight of hand, dancers, comedians, cartoonists, stage directors, costume experts and many others. From this talent was created some of the most fabulous musical comedy shows that have ever been produced with an "all men" cast. Costumes and wigs were made for groups of singing and dancing chorus girls that would have been welcomed by any of our TV screens today. [...] The boys simply went wild over this kind of entertainment. They would fill Y.M.C.A. and Salvation Army entertainment centers to the rafters. The show traveled from one camp to another. Sometimes stages and tents were put up to accommodate the show, where no Y.M.C.A. or Salvation Army huts were built. [...]

The Season's Greetings window card

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 19, 2018

This Season's Greetings window card was created by the Minnesota Milk Company. Sadly, it is undated. The Minnesota Milk Company started in 1913 and was bought by Old Home in 1956.

American Legion Poster

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 18, 2018

The American Legion formed in 1919 as a way to aid soldiers returning from Europe, as well as their families and communities. The organization's first national convention was held in Minneapolis, and when it concluded the Minnesota branch of the American Legion was made permanent. In addition to providing war risk insurance assistance, the Legion helped members access benefits provided by the State Bonus Bill of 1919. The organization is still active today.


Poppin' Fresh Christmas placemat, 1998

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 18, 2018

This Poppin' Fresh Christmas placemat dates from 1998.

"Suffrage Victory Hailed in Meeting at Capitol" and "Woman Given Office in Auto Association" - The Minneapolis Morning Tribune. June 10, 1919

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 17, 2018

Holiday Bake Sale, 1959

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 17, 2018

Jacqueline Heinichs and Mrs. Joe LaVasseur are seen here making cookies for the St. Louis Home and School Association Christmas bake sale in 1959.

Aid for Discharged Soldiers

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 16, 2018

This letter from the American National Red Cross from February 5th, 1919, details the plans to aid discharged soldiers. It discusses small loans that have been given out and arrangements to have men stay at a local YMCA or in a hotel. However, it appears several men were taking advantage of this system, using Red Cross funds to tour a country.


Feb. 5, 1919.
To date we have advanced money to 54 men, the loans aggregating $485.44, less than $9.00 to each applicant. This does not include the $40.00 advanced to local Red Cross representatives at the Great Northern and Milwaukee Stations. They have been authorized to take care of emergency cases, involving small loans. Arrangements have been made with the St. James Hotel to provide rooms for discharged soldiers having an introduction card from this office. Similar arrangements have been made to secure meals at LaMott's Restaurant, near the St. James Hotel. We have loaned to the YMCA fifty cots and bedding for the use of discharged men, a charge of 35¢ being made to men who are able to pay. We have agreed to pay that charge to each man sent to the YMCA from this office. Several men who applied recently for assistance were evidently touring the country at the expense of the Red Cross. They wanted only a few meals and transportation to the next town. It is easy, of course, to pass on responsibility in this way. I think that it might be advisable to send out a gram to all chapters, advising them against this method of procedure. Four of the discharged soldiers who called at the office have been partially intoxicated. The St. James Hotel has been very co-operative in caring for these men.

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

President Wilson's Parade in Paris

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 15, 2018

Dee Smith was a clerical worker from Minneapolis who served in the Red Cross' Department of Personnel in Paris from July 1918 to July 1919. In this letter home, Smith describes watching a parade commemorating President Wilson's arrival in Paris to participate in the the peace talks. She wrote that she and everyone else in her group agreed that the president looked right at them because of all their shrieking. The parade had many prominent people, including French President Raymond Poincare, Prime Minister of France Georges Clemenceau and General Pershing.


Dec 15-
[…] Saturday was made a national holiday in honor of Pres. Wilson, so bright + early Mrs Taylor + I started out for our German gun. […] It was great fun watching the crowd, + after awhile comes Pres + Mme. Poincare + Clemenceau whom the people adore. Papa Joffre was in [m...], very simply, as always, and more dignitaries whom we didn't recognize passed on the way to the station to meet Pres. Wilson. He looked natural, very happy, and tho’ I had promised to remain seated so some Frenchmen behind me could see, I forgot all about it + stood up + shrieked with the rest. We declare that the president looked straight at us. We were the only American women right in the particular place - The Red Cross had made a big reservation further down the avenue, but we decided for the gun, and it was a seat in the front row. Mrs. Wilson was rather pale - but looked intensely interested in everything + was almost covered in flowers. […]

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


Minnesota Service Flag

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 14, 2018

An extremely large dark blue service flag with approximately 1,200 gold stars, representing all the servicemen and women from Minnesota who died during World War I. The flag is constructed from twelve panels of cloth sewn together. It was made by the Western Badge and Novelty Company of Saint Paul, Minnesota, for the Victory Liberty Loan Campaign in April 1919. It measures 18 1/2 feet high and 28 feet wide.


Wire wrap ball ornament

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 14, 2018

This is a Christmas tree ornament of painted blown glass covered in wire wrap, as was the style. The manufacturer is unknown, but it was created circa 1870-1939.