Collections Up Close

collections up close Blog

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.

See Collections Up Close Blog Archive

All MNHS Blogs

Subscribe by e-mail:

 Subscribe in a reader

Snowmen, 1894

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 28, 2018

This photo shows Chester, Robert and Donald Wilson making snowmen in their Stillwater yard in 1894.

YMCA Holiday Programs

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

This letter from Paul Thompson, a Y.M.C.A. secretary stationed in Rome, describes the shows he and the other secretaries put on for the wounded soldiers over Christmas. The group travelled to different hospitals performing and provided patients with a letter that had a postage already on it so that it could be sent home. Thompson writes that one man who was close to death would use this postage Christmas present from them to write his last words to his wife. Along with this letter it also includes a document titled "The Work of the American Y.M.C.A. in Rome with the Italian Army." It is a copy of the letter that was sent to the Ripon Press and lists some of the jobs/accomplishments of the Y.M.C.A. in Rome. In Thompson's opinion, these accomplishments strengthen "the bonds of friendship between Italy and America."


Roma, li December 29, 1918
Dear Father, Ruth and William,-
[…] We started our Xmas program the Saturday before at one of the tuberculosis hospitals. Gave them a slight of hand show, an orange apiece and a postcard of the Y.M.C.A. all stamped in advance so that they could write home for Xmas. One poor fellow wrote to his wife the last greeting he will ever send on one of these cards as he is near death. […] There were over 300 soldiers, many of them badly injured waiting for the shows to begin & The [sic] professor was sure he couldn’t sing without a piano. Finally one of the head nurses discovered an old melodeon and they brought it out. His maestro (pianist) nearly fell over with laughter when he saw it. “Coraggio” (courage) I whispered to him. “Cuore di ferro” (a heart of iron) he whispered back and then they started. They both got to laughing so that they had hard work to start but it amused the soldiers more than if the piano had been there. This was followed by the sleigh [sic] of hand show and later by a distribution of oranges and postcards. […]
Happy New Year,
Paul J. Thompson

Paul Thompson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/T475


Pond Skating Painting

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 27, 2018

This watercolor by Orabel Thortvedt is part of the series "11 Watercolors of Pioneer Life," done between 1910 - 1953. This painting features children skating on a frozen pond next to railroad tracks while a train goes by.

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