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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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Harold Smith - The Lasting Effects of Mustard Gas

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 13, 2018

Even though the fighting had ended, soldiers and nurses suffered from the after effects of the War for years to come. Harold Smith of Saint Paul enlisted with the Canadian Forces prior to US entry into the War, claiming he was well and strong so it was his duty to go do his part. Smith was digging trenches on September 4th, 1917, under heavy shell fire from the Germans. In the middle of the night, the shell fire switched to mustard gas and a few of canisters landed in the trench that Smith was in, exposing him to the deadly gas before he was able to evacuate. At noon the next day, Smith reported himself ill and remained in the hospital for the next 10 months. After these 10 months, he was still ill but went back into training in England for another 6 months. He was discharged and returned home on February 11th, 1919. Smith died on November 5th, 1919, from complications of the poisonous mustard gas he had been exposed to more than two years prior. In addition to mustard gas poisoning, many soldiers also experienced shell shock. The new artillery that had been used throughout this First World War had never been seen before, and these weapons had lasting effects on the brains of men even after they had left the battlefield and returned home.


Circumstances attending death- Mustard gas shells were thrown in his dugout on September 4th. 1917- Next morning sick, but not realizing he was seriously affected he took out a working party five miles, where they were laying watermains [sic] and making railroads less than a mile from fighting line and constantly shelled by the Germans. Returned at noon, reported ill at dressing station, was put in ambulance sent to hospital (unknown) As able to be moved was sent to Etaples France to Birmingham Eng and [Ep...] Eng. Was in these hospitals 10 months having good care and food. Then not well and feeling miserable was back in training nearly 6 months in England. After returning to Canada his discharge was delayed on account of his ill health. Finally discharged returned home Feb. 11. 1919- sick, but happy to get home where he could rest and see his friends with the same high ideals and courage he gradually failed till Nov. 5- 1919. When he passed away.

"Smith, Harold L.," Minnesota public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.6F

Bike Catalog, 1893

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 13, 2018

It may not be the right season for bikes, but this catalog recently came in and was such a hit with staff that we couldn't wait share it. It is from 1893.
Think warm thoughts! 

"Entire Country to be Dry Year From Today" and "Peace Delegates at Full Speed" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. January 16, 1919

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 12, 2018

Christmas Foshay Tower, 1928

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 12, 2018

The newly finished Foshay Tower, which would be Minneapolis's tallest building for nearly fifty years, is strung with lights and lit up like a Christmas tree in 1928.

"This Isn't Really Laziness"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 11, 2018

Many soldiers expected to be discharged and sent home after the signing of the Armistice, and were therefore surprised and disheartened when they were forced to remain abroad. In this letter from May 3rd, 1919, nearly six months after the war ended, Lee Beckman writes that the men have little desire to work since the Armistice had been signed. They feel there is no use in working if they will all be paid just as much and will still be discharged at the same time. Beckman says that since it costs him a little more than a dollar a day to stay in France he is going to enjoy the time he has left instead of spending it working.


Goudre Court, France
May 3 1919
Sat. Afternoon.
Dearest Eunice,
[…] I’m supposed to be working on the road this afternoon with four other fellows, but I sneaked away, and when I got here at the “Y”, I found the other four reading magazines. As far as work is concerned no one has done anything over here since the Armistice. All the work I’ve done since then, I could do in ten days if it was necessary. Do you suppose I'll be so lazy when I get Discharged? I know I won't. This isn't really laziness tho. But whats (sic) the use of working when it does you no good. Get just as much pay, and get home just as quick. Whether we work or not. […]
With all my love and kisses and hoping to see you soon. I am yours, yours, yours.

Lee Beckman, Letters Home from France. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P2353

Burning of Swede Hollow, 1956

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 11, 2018

On this day in 1956 the dwellings in Swede Hollow, a St. Paul immigrant neighborhood, were burned after the city health department declares them contaminated.

Rally Towel, 2016

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 10, 2018

This Minnesota Vikings playoff rally towel was distributed to fans at the January 10, 2016, game, which was the last playoff game of the 2015 season. It was the final outdoor Vikings game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the coldest kickoff in franchise history. 
Hope the outcome is better tonight!

"I'm a Farmer Now" - Anything to Get Home

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 10, 2018

In this letter written to the staff at the Minnesota Historical Society on February 2nd, 1919, Raymon Bowers explains that there are many men left abroad who are eager to get home. Some men are doing anything they can to get moved farther up the list to be sent home sooner. Bowers says he recently heard that being a farmer would move him up the list, so he changed his information so that he was also a farmer. Says that if a man dressed as a farmer shows up to the Historical Society building, they should double check that it isn’t him before they kick him out, as in he would be dressed to fit the part.


Feb. 2 1919
Dear Mr. Talman,
[…] It’s nearly two weeks since I landed + every thing [sic] remains the same, as when I arrived. Six hundred men had left, Twelve hundred were ready- and still are waiting. Some dude was foolish enough to develop the flu and since they have been under quarantine. I'm surprised that more haven't got it. Doubtless it is due to the fact that the health of the boys is very good on arrival. For a while many had hopes of leaving soon for home; but the way things have moved since I arrived; it doesn't look that way. There is much talk as to what is necessary in order to get on the evacuation list. The latest being- if you’re a farmer “tout de suit”. I’m a farmer now: + should you in the distant future see some seed float into the Hist. Soc. with number twenty shoes, overalls, a corncob pipe pipe [sic] in one corner of the mouth and a plug of tabacco in the other- well take a good look before kicking him out for it may be me. […] Uncle Sam certainly planned for a long war + would have handed the Hun some awful doses of medicine this spring, if the war would have lasted. Until you have seen what has been accomplished over here; you can never fully realize what has been really done. Uncle Sam made up his mind + went to it with a vim and vigor almost superhuman. […]
as ever,

Raymon James Bowers Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P111


The Campaign Against Winter

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 9, 2018

This bulletin was sent out by the Headquarters of the Second Army, informing officers on how to protect their troops against the cold. Shelter, fires, winter clothing and best ways of drying clothing are addressed, with the intent of keeping the soldiers healthy. The bulletin makes it clear that people should avoid crowding together for warmth, as this causes influenza and pneumonia to spread faster. Other cold weather hazards include trench foot and freezing to death.


December 9, 1918
The troops of the American Expeditionary Forces are entering upon a winter campaign. Cold takes heat and strength from the body. If the cold is sufficiently intense and there is but little protection against it, the soldier will be frozen to death in a short time. This may happen during severe weather. The slow effects of less severe cold though less obvious are more dangerous. By long exposure the soldier becomes weakened so that he falls victim to any sort of infection which may be present. Disasters from cold are not necessary. They come from neglect of duty on the part of the Supply Officers Unit Commanders or individual soldiers. [...]

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

American Red Cross in Germany

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 8, 2018

Oscar Mather was born in Detroit, Michigan. In 1918, he volunteered for wartime foreign service with the American Red Cross and ended up with the Swiss and Rumanian Red Cross commissions charged with conveying ARC relief supplies from Berne to Berlin and Warsaw. In this account he wrote in 1927, Mather describes the day he arrived in Belin. It seems he had high expectations for the people and sights that he would see, but in the end "the people did not impress as being any different from those of other foreign countries." Mather’s group was responsible for delivering the first truck load of ARC supplies to a Russian prison camp near Berlin, where the wooden barracks reminded him of "the lumber camps of Northern Minnesota."


[...] At four in the afternoon on Friday we arrived at the suburbs of Berlin and great rejoycing took place in our humble coach. Grips were packed, shoes were shined and there was a general picking up and cleaning up. Visions of rolling into our destination, Hamburg Lehrter Bahnhof, in time to call the A.R.C. before the offices closed, being met with an auto and conveyed to a good hotel in time for dinner, floated thru our minds. But alas! Going into Berlin on a freight train and going in on a passenger train our [sic] two very different operations. Our merry progress came to a stop. [...] On the whole the people [Germans] did not impress me as being any different from those of other foreign countries. There were many well dressed, sleek, fat persons and also many who looked far from prosperous.There were four hundred U.S. troops in Berlin and vicinity, most of whom were out at the Russian prison camps. We visited one of these camps at Rhulaben, five miles out of Berlin. There were about 1850 Russian prisoners confined there at that time; they were living inwooden [sic] barracks, the interior of which reminded me of the lumber camps of Northern Minnesota. The men were sitting around, usually visiting or playing cards. They all looked pale and their flesh seemed soft and flabby but they did not look hungry. To these Russian prisoners we had the distinction of taking the first truck load of supplies delivered by the American Red Cross. [...]

Oscar Lord Mathers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P2256