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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 Plane in Disguise

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

William Fraser had an eventful day on this date in 1918. In the afternoon he thought he saw a French plane flying over him, but it turned out to be a German plane, so he had to hide under a water cart to avoid being shot. In the evening he made several trips on horseback to an echelon to communicate orders and to stand guard.


July 18, 1918 Ran a line in morning in after noon went out to P.E. Under fire. Out there I saw a aeroplane and thot [sic] it to be French and asked a Frenchman and he said it was a French but he circled around and came down at us firing at us and my horse I jumped under a water cart. After supper made another trip to new eschelon [sic] came back and went to bed at 10.30 heard we had to saddle up and move, made another trip to eschelon and told them the orders came back and got my equipment and went back to new eschelon for guard and see that things are going all right.

Citation: William K Fraser Diary. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1943

Vaudeville Ticket, 1905

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

This complimentary admission ticket is for a performance of Continuous Vaudeville at the Windsor Novelty Theatre in Saint Paul, 1905.

See it in Collections Online.

Stained Glass Window Fragment

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

This fragment of a stained-glass window, consisting of two dark blue panes and one frosted light green pane with brownish cross-hatching, was a part of the Reims Cathedral, which was bombarded by the Germans in 1914. The cathedral suffered considerable damage and most of the windows were blown out in the attack. The fragment was found by Frances M. Rogers, who was serving as a nurse with the American Fund for French Wounded, while she was stationed in the city in 1918. The fragment stands 4 3/4 inches tall and 5 1/4 inches wide. The Reims Cathedral is known today as the Notre-Dame de Reims in Reims, France.

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 8594.2

Ice Cream Freezer, 1930

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

This manually-operated ice cream freezer, consisting of a green wooden bucket with a galvanized steel insert for cream, is from 1930.
A crank handle turns an interior paddle.

See it in Collections Online.

The Smell of Rotten Oranges

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

In this entry Edward Gilkey gives a very detailed description of the second battle of the Marne. He states that they had to camp right next to the camp of K Company of 38th, who were hit with gas while they were sleeping. Gilkey describes how he can see the bodies there, boots and belongings untouched, as the gas snuck up on them before they could do anything. None of them made it out alive. Gilkey's company had to be careful, too, as there could still be some gas present. They were advised not to take the dead soldier's blankets, as they were full of gas, but some men took razors and other belongings. This is the cruel reality of war and the effect of weapons like mustard gas.


Tuesday, July 16 - Cramped and stiff, can't stretch out and can't get out, can't even move, prospects anything but bright, K company of 38th had just pitched tents and hadn't dug in, were caught last night and gassed and completely wiped out, everything just the way they went to bed with shoes by the side, all their equipment, clothes and personal property here, captain gave orders to leave blankets alone as full of gas, fellows are stocking up on razors, etc., anything but pleasant sleeping here by tents of the fellows, everything just as they left it, gas sure powerful, has smell of rotten oranges, makes your nose run and makes you sneeze, lots of gas around here yet stirred it up by cutting trees, sat in trenches all day, shells coming over all time, whole woods being shelled, some landing too close for comfort, haven't had anything to eat yet since yesterday noon, fellows sure tired and sore, timed 6-inch shells coming over, average every 30 seconds, knocks trees on us, threw dirt all over, one landed near 4th platoon trench, shell shocked a couple, Pratt killed by piece in stomach, had to keep in trenches til 10 o'clock when everybody ordered out, one platoon sent after rations, our section out on burying detail while rest of company digging and building dugouts, [...]

Citation: Gilkey, Edward. Edward Norman Gilkey: His Diary of His LIfe in the War Zone, France. Minnesota Historical Society. 114.D.4.3B

Exploring Dinard

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

In this diary entry, David Backus recounts going on an excursion with his captain to St. Malo. Backus met up with a woman named Yosette, who showed him around Dinard, the city across the channel from St. Malo. He spent the night on a bench, as there were no hotel rooms available.


Monday - July 15
Out - flew - Gang went to Paris lunch cleaned up - read - dinner. Drive over to Uptham with Captain Bval - Choffeur [sic] drove me to station - caught 10.08 p.m. train - changed at Remmes got into St. Malo - 9:25 took boat across to Dinard. Meet Yosette Aghion and her mother and sisters - went swimming - water was wonderful - great. Up to the Aghion's for luncheon talked. Yosette showed me the beauties of Dinard - most picturesque. Caught the 5:00 train changed Remmes. Meet Bob Laree. he just got back from Amerca [sic] we talked until three when I got to Chartus. Slept on a bench - no room in hotel. [...]

Citation: David Backus Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F

Marion Backus in France

By: Lori Williamson | Civil War Daybook | July 16, 2018

Marion Backus was a Red Cross nurse from Minnesota serving in France. In a letter to her family, Backus describes the excitement of American soldiers going through the town she was stationed in when they realized that she and the other nurses walking around town were American. The soldiers would stop the nurses in the street to talk to them because they had not seen or talked to American girls for 5-6 months.


Dear Folks:
[...] There has been a lot doing here lately. Some of the American boys were going thru and as the town was not very large they were every were [sic] and it was good fun to go along the streets and speak to them and watch the look of surprise and delight on thire [sic] faces when they heard American spoken by a girl and then they would generally say are you really an American[.] I think that when I get back to the USA and everybody does not smile and speak to me I am going to be very much hurt. Really we have had some funny and pathetic experiences for these boys had not seen an American girl for any were [sic] from five to six months and they were just like children[.] they would stop us any where even in the middle of street an ask us to talk just so that they could hear us talk but now they have all gone on so that there are just occasional boys and the M.T.'s which are always around. [...]
With love to every body
MA Backus

Citation: Marion Backus Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1356

"Allies Extend Advance Along 200-Mile Line to Trap Burglars" and "Four Australians Come Back with Thirty Prisoners" - The Minneapolis Morning Tribune. July 13, 1918.

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

YMCA in Italy

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

Sometimes when your family bombards you with questions about what you're doing, the best way to answer is with bullet points. That is exactly what Paul Thompson did in this letter home to his sister Ruth. He answers all 6 of the detailed questions she asked in her previous letter, including what type of uniform he wears, as he is a secretary stationed in Italy. Thompson replies that he wears the same uniform as every other soldier, but the insignia he has on his uniform is different, thereby distinguishing him and his position.


July 12, 1918
Dear Ruth,
[...] Answering yours -
1. All YMCA secretaries wear regular US officers uniforms overseas except insignia. The YMCA overseas is militarized. In Italy by proper application we are allowed for official business a pass on the railways as are officers, ect. 2. Am glad taxes and bills are paid. They should have sent a tax statement to the office. I didn't pay it because the statement had not come when I left. [...]
3. If the house didn't rent, don't rent it. Guess you will get along someway. [...]
Your loving brother,
Paul Thompson

Citation: Paul Thompson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/T475 4/19-8/19

"Jobs for Women Being Offered" and "Four Minute Men Talk Patriotism" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. July 11, 1918

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