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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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Granny Goes Flying part 3

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 30, 2018

Granny starts off this letter with a story about a Danish ship coming into port. When the ship arrived, the soldiers gave them a salute and when Granny saw two Danish girls on the ship he gave them a "good Minnesota smile,'' and blew them a kiss, (proving Minnesotans were charmers even in 1918). He then goes on to give his father several pieces of advice as to how he should interact with soldiers, or "boys in Khaki." He says that a handshake goes a long way, and that he should always make a conscious effort to remember a soldiers name. Granny also said that "the boys" really appreciate when people introduce them to other young peoples or when they make an effort to invite and include them. Granny says that he knows his father already knows this, but reminds him nonetheless, showing the camaraderie he feels with American soldiers all over the world. He closes by wishing his father a "Happy Birthday".

San Leon Aerial Gunnery School,
Houston, Texas, July, 1918.
Dear Dad:
[...] We saw a ship (steamer) from Denmark to-day pulling into Texas City. We fired a salute and circled around about fifty feet from them and thirty feet above the water. There were two ladies on the bridge, with the captain looking at us through the glasses, so I took off my goggles and helmet and gave them a good Minnesota smile and threw a kiss. The kiss was immediately exchanged for two Danish ones which my pilot claimed when we got down. I let him tell his story and then I explained to whom they were really thrown. [...]
Must close now, as I start flying at 6:45.
Love and birthday greetings.

Citation: Gutterson, Granville. Granville: Tales and Tail Spins from a Flyer's Diary. Minnesota Historical Society.  D570.9 .G76

David Backus is Unfazed by Near Death Experiences

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 29, 2018

On this day, David Backus took his plane out for a flight. He states he flew for 20 miles and then the "stick" went out at 800 meters. But, being the experienced pilot he was, Backus seemed pretty unfazed by the whole ordeal and says he landed in a field was was okay. Later in the day he and his friends went for a swim in a nearby lake.


Dee Smith Arrives in England

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 28, 2018

Dee Smith was an office worker from Minneapolis for the Red Cross at the Bureau of Personnel in Paris. On her way to Paris, she spent some time in Britain sightseeing while waiting for transportation across the British Channel to be arranged. In this letter to her parents posted from London, Smith closes by saying "You can see I am having a wonderful time, tho' I am anxious to get to work, I never felt better.[...] I get my slippers and kimono (we call them cellar robes now) out every night in case we must see a bomb shelter. I never give it another thot[sic], & sleep like a top all night. I wouldn't be any where else for any money."


London, England
July 28 & 29, 1918
Dear Folks,
At last I have a breathing spell and can write a little. I was too tired to stop at the writing room so came to my room, took a good hot bath and am writing this in bed.
You have probably received my letter mailed on the steamer by this time. Some day I can tell you a wonderful story, but the censor wouldn't stand for it now. It was a great adventure and was worth many times the risk. We did not leave the boat for some house after we landed at Liverpool- the port official came aboard and examined all our passports before anyone was allowed to land. Everyone was happy to see land and Liverpool is a wonderful city. The customs officials were fine to us but you should have seen us wrestle for our baggage. Everyone climbs over everyone else's things and collects all his luggage in one spot, waits for the official to stamp it, and then personally sees it loaded into a van. It was great fun. We are all delighted with the English people but the girls tease me because I like them particularly. [...]

If you would like a pdf of the whole letter, please request a copy by emailing

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

"The Wounded Don't Phase Me Any More"

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

Willard W. Bixby was an ambulance driver with the Red Cross in Italy. In this letter to his mother and dad, Bixby describes the friends he has made in his section. (He even makes a pun when talking about their quartet singing group) He also writes to his family about the dangers that ambulance drivers face even when not on the front lines. Bixby relates the story of "a squeak" that happened to him while he was driving a few days earlier. He was going up "M" [presumably a mountain from the events of the story] when he met a three horse wagon and they decided to try to pass each other even though the road was only wide enough for one car. As they passed, the horses reared "shoving the car over and knocking me off like a peanut." He was able to grab a bush about 10 feet down (rather than falling the 200 foot drop) and he later got 15 men with a rope to pull the car to safety.


July 27, 1918
Dearest Mother and Dad,
[..] We have a quartet composed of Bob Bennett Base, Elbert Duncan from Dartmouth Baritone - Caroll Bobb from New Orleans 2nd Tenor and Yours Truly 1st tenor. We sure do have some fine times these moonlight nights with the guitar and mandolin and tear off some real barber shop har. (mony). While I was up on Post last, We had quite a little local fight and it sounded like old times to hear the old shells come screaching in and the guns booming for all they were worth. The wounded don't phase me any more although I carried quite a bunch night before last working till 4 A.M. […] The other day I had quite a squeak although it was of a different nature than many of the close ones. I was going up M____ when I meet a three horse wagon. The road was just comfortably wide enough for one car and it was too steep and narrow for either of us to back we decided to attempt a pass. Well the road was already crumbling under the outside wheels of my car and I thot I could hold it a little if the horses bumped and it started to slide. I sure was a nut as just as they were passing the horses reared shoving the car over and knocking me off like a peanut. I went over backwards and was all primed for a 200 ft. drop when the Bon Dieu intervened and had a little bush for me about 10 ft. down I made a wild grab and it was only my lightness and gymnastic work that saved me as I hung on and was pulled to safety. I was so sore at that driver that I didn't get scarred till about fifteen minutes after and then I was nervous as heck. I got about 15 men with a rope on the car and we pulled it to safety, me meandering merrily on my way. [...]
With loads of love,
Your own Son,

Citation: Willard W. Bixby and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/.B624

Houseboat "DeSoto" at Raspberry Island, St. Paul, 1903

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

This photo is of a houseboat on the Mississippi River at Raspberry Island in 1903.

See it in Collections Online.

"Allied Troops Sweeping Steadily Onward" and "Entire Position of Huns Within Marne May Fall Any Time" - The Duluth Herald. July 26, 1918.

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

July, July

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

This book by Minnesota author Tim O'Brien was released in 2002. He also is the author of The Things They Carried about soldiers in Vietnam.

"Exceptional Coolness and Accurate Firing" - Soldier Awarded Certificate for Gallantry in Action Days Before Death

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 25, 2018

Ernest G. Wold enlisted in the Army- Infantry but trained towards aviation. On July 25, 1918, First Lieutenant Wold earned the Certificate for Gallantry in Action during the Chateau-Thierry offensive. While on a reconnaissance mission his plane was surrounded and attacked by seventeen enemy planes. Thanks to his "courage and tenacity", Lieut. Wold was able to to complete the mission, obtaining "information of the greatest possible value". A few days after these events Lieut. Wold was killed in action on August 1st, 1918 while on a photographic mission.


France, 23 July, 1919.
[...] 1. The award of the Certificate for Gallantry in Action to your son, 1st Lieutenant E.G. Wold (Deceased) 1st Aero Squadron, was based on the following recommendation made by the 3rd Army Air Service Commander on 10 February, 1919: "On July 25, 1918, during the Chateau-Thierry offensive, Lieutenant Wold with Lieutenant Corley, as Observer, while on a reconnaissance mission, was attacked by a patrol of seventeen enemy planes. The enemy patrol descended through a hole in the clouds and had surrounded Lieut. Wold's ship. In spite of the overwhelming odds, Lieut. Wold, through exceptional coolness and accurate firing, succeeded in eluding the enemy, shooting one down out of control. Although the enemy remained in the immediate vicinity, he recrossed the line three times more, being driven out each time. Due to the courage and tenacity of Lieut. Wold the mission was finally completed and information of the greatest possible value obtained. Lieutenant Wold was killed in action 1 August 1918, while on a photographic mission. He was driven out several times by hostile patrols. On his fourth attempt he was attacked by five enemy planes and although wounded twice by machine-gun bullets, he recrossed the lines but his controls had been shot away and the plane fell in vrille."
For the Commander-in Chief:
F.L. Whitley
Adjutant General.

Citation: "Wold, Ernest G." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.7.1B

A Map of Louisiana and of the River Mississippi, 1721

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | July 25, 2018

This map of Louisiana and the Mississippi was created by John Senex in 1721. 

See it in Collections Online.

Balloons Carry Propaganda into German Territory

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 24, 2018

On July 23, Ingvald D. Smith wrote in his diary about seeing two French balloons floating across enemy lines that were most likely carrying German propaganda. Unmanned leaflet balloons were created by Mr. A. Fleming in 1917. They were hydrogen balloons that would drift over no-man's land to land in the enemy trenches where they would drop propaganda onto the enemy. One example of this is the British dropping postcards from German prisoners of war about their conditions, general propaganda against the Kaiser or German generals.


Tue. 23
I rolled out at 6:30 a.m. and had mess. As soon as I had finished my meal I snuggled into my blankets and went to sleep again awaking at noon. This afternoon the company received orders to roll packs and be prepared for a two day trip. After camp was broke it commenced to rain so the men sought shelter in two nearby barracks until the rain had ceased. At about 6 P.M., I observed two miniature balloons drifting toward the Hun lines which were evidently carrying propaganda into Germany. At 10:30 p.m., the company formed and then hiked to Vauthiermont a railroad station lying about 4 kil. distant. Here the troops were placed on the train and were crowded from 40 to 50 men into each car. The cars were packed to sucn an extent that a large number of men were not fortunate enough to find a place to seat their selves. I did not think that I would enjoy traveling in such a manner so Reisdorf and I after consulting the cooks were given their permission to ride on the car that was carrying the kitchen. We had no sooner arranged our blankets for a good nights sleep when several officers who had noticed us came over and ordered us off the car. We were a trifle disappointed but not giving up hope we crawled on to a flat car that was loaded with supply wagons.

Citation: Ingvald Smith papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1754