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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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German Military Identification Tag

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 3, 2018

This is a front and back image of a semicircular metal German identification tag fragment. One side features the name, "KARL BIRKHOLZ" and consists of indecipherable text underneath the name. The other side reads "FARDI NR C159/BATT N. 451".


Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 9352.17

"It Would Unnerve the Bravest of Men to Go Thru a Place Like That"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 2, 2018

Lester Allen McPheron was a soldier with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. His journal describes in detail his experiences on the front lines at the end of the war (specifically Oct. 22- Nov. 11). In his reflections from November 1st, McPheron describes going "over the top" on the front lines, describing the constant shelling from the Germans as they moved forward into no-mans land. This shelling often forced the soldiers to take cover in shell holes to avoid being killed. On his movement forward, McPheron saw many dead soldiers, which he writes was a common sight that people got used to when in no-mans land, and the troops continued into the area that had been held by the Germans. McPheron's journal goes into great detail about his experiences from Nov. 1- Nov. 11 and the things he saw while participating in the Allies final push before the end of the war.


[…] the maj said we will have to go now for we have to go at 4:30 at all costs. Very well said the Sgt so on we went thru that awful shell fire, our platoon was on the left and we sure had a Sgt who had plenty of nerve and that is what one had to have in a case of this kind. Every step we took some poor boy fell either dead our [sic] wounded and believe it would unnerve the bravest of men to go thru a place like that was that morning. It was not a surprise to see your pal or comrade with his head blown off and in lots of cases a shell would kill 6 or 8 men and there they would lay on a pile torn beyond recognition […] It was an awful sight to see that morning the ground was almost covered with dead and wounded from both sides. […] By this time the German prisoners had begun to come in by the 100’s some were wounded and able to walk and others badly wounded and had to be carried by there [sic] comrades, they carried there [sic] wounded in a blanket with a pole run thru and the ends tied together it was a pitiful sight to see, some were only boys and some old men[.] One of our men was eating by the side of the road and he let a piece of bread fall on the ground and a German prisoner passing saw it and pointed at it[.] the Yank picked it up and threw it into the bunch of prisoners and I thought they were going to fight over it that was how hungry they were[.] […] There were dead horses laying all over the ground and the smell was not very pleasant- going on a little farther we came to where the Germans had their dugouts and here the dead Huns were laying thick some torn all apart and some looked as if they had died a natural death some were in dug outs when a shell had hit and killed them in bunches. I passed one dead German who was laying on his side and it looked like he had tried raise (sic) up when death overtook him[.] […]

Citation: Lester Allen McPheron Journal. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1789

Votes for Women Button, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | November 2, 2018

This women's suffrage button was used in 1918; women across the United States got the vote two years later.

Sergeant William Peck: One of Pershing's Hundred Heroes

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 1, 2018

This is the Gold Star Roll of Sergeant William R. Peck of Zumbrota, Minnesota, who died on this date in Raymondville, France. When the enemy opened fire on his platoon, Peck pushed his commanding officer out of the line of fire, saving the man's life by sacrificing his own. Because of his actions, he was listed as one of General Pershing's Hundred Heroes, and his picture and story were published in the August 1919 issue of the Ladies Home Journal, along with all the other men who were cited on the Hundred Heroes list.


354th Infantry: Minneapolis, Minnesota
The many occasions on which our officers disregarded their own safety in the effort to spare their men were balanced by equally heroic sacrifice on the part of private soldiers and noncommissioned officers. Sergeant Peck’s company was advancing across open ground near Remonville on November 1 when enemy guns opened fire on them from two sides at the same time. The platoon commander’s attention was centered upon the gun which was directly in front of him when Sergeant Peck saw the other enemy weapon on the right was directed against the officer. Seeing the predicament of his commander Sergeant Peck threw himself against the officer, shoving him into a shell hole. In this way he saved the officer’s life, but in doing so exposed himself to the enemy’s double fire and was instantly killed.

"Peck, William R." Minnesota public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 114.D.4.5B


Dia De Los Muertos Poster, 2011

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | November 1, 2018

This poster is part of the Dia De Los Muertos poster collection created by Centro in Minneapolis. 

Halloween Stunt, 1923

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | October 31, 2018

This photo was in the newspaper in 1923 documenting a Halloween stunt; all of the lawn furniture and other items were put on the house roof. Maybe they gave out bad candy?

The Hallowe’en Handbook, 1937

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | October 30, 2018

The subtitle of this book gives one pause: "The Minneapolis Plan for fun night without rowdyism and destruction." The leap from costumes and candy to rowdyism and destruction seems pretty steep!

Halloween Preparations, 1948

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | October 29, 2018

This photo is of Jack and Joan Benedix making jack o' lanterns for Halloween in St. Paul, 1948. The look of determination on his face says it all.

Eber Berquist Misses the Music

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

This letter from Eber Berquist to his family, written on October 25th, 1918, talks about how he hopes to play music again soon at home with his family. Berquist was a saxophone player in the Army band. He also mentions how things are so much more expensive where he is in France compared to back in the United States.


“Somewhere in France”
Fri, Oct. 25, 1918.
Dear Folks at Home:-
[…] Our band has not been playing now for some time. We have been doing other duties But am in hopes we'll soon get to playing again. It's a long time since I've seen a piano. They are not as plentious [sic] here as they are in America. Yesterday was pay day for the company. That's quite an eventful day over here. However, I haven't suffered any financial difficulties as yet. However, as I've mentioned before, everything is expensive. I bought a writing tablet a few days ago which would have cost a nickel in the states and paid three francs (60¢) for it over here. We are sure having plenty of rain here recently. Hardly ever see the sun. However this is the rainy season of the year. I suppose it’s been fairly cold over there by now. […] Was just wondering in what shape the piano was. [...]

Citation: Eber Berquist Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P2786

Tamboracca, 1992

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

And to finish our week of Minnesota inventors, Prince. He was such a detail-oriented musician that if the instrument to create the sound he wanted didn't exist, he would have it made. This is his tamboracca percussion instrument, which is a combination of a tambourine and maraca. It was developed by Prince and Kenneth D. Yould of Saint Paul in 1992.