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.
When you work at a museum, you might find yourself in a room full of lifeless animatronic body parts. It’s not a regular occurrence, but it can happen when over 50 years of holiday tradition is coming to a close. That’s how my colleagues and I found ourselves rifling through piles of characters from Macy’s (née Dayton’s) 8th Floor Auditorium shows including the Nutcracker, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, and many more. In mid-February 2017, we arrived at 700 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis to find a final clearance sale in full swing, with parts of the grand old department store already shut down. A 115-year legacy would end in mere weeks, and Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) curators were in the building to help preserve a bit of that legacy.
Room full of animatronics at Macy’s: Feb. 10, 2017
Back in 1902, George Draper Dayton built a six-story building that served as the flagship location for the Dayton Dry Goods Company, later renamed the Dayton Company. Dayton’s grew into an upscale regional chain that acquired several other large retailers over the years and spawned Target Corporation before rebranding as Marshall Field's in 2001, followed by a sale and merger resulting in the Macy’s name change in 2006. Dayton’s was a Minnesota institution, and after the store’s impending closure was announced in January 2017, Macy’s staff recognized the significance of the move and contacted MNHS to make a donation.
Over the years MNHS has amassed a significant collection of Dayton’s-related material, from artifacts to photographs, and from manuscript material to published works about the business and its founding family. The focus for the MNHS Collection is on Dayton's as a Minnesota company, with selective documentation of the Dayton's traditions Marshall Field's and Macy's kept alive. Highlights range from an early delivery wagon to a 1998 shopping bag, and from nineteenth century family correspondence to 1940s store display photographs.
In 2001, when Dayton’s stores were first renamed during the Marshall Field’s transition, MNHS acquired signage removed from the flagship building. When the call came in 2017, curators were curious to find out what new treasures would surface. The goal of the curatorial team's visit was to augment the existing Collection, keep the focus on the Dayton’s years, and be judicious in our selections. No museum can or should preserve everything it’s offered. Storage space is precious and there is no shortage of stories in need of preservation for future generations. With that in mind, and the valuable guidance of seasoned Macy’s staff, we began our tour through the upper floors.
The food department offered menus from various restaurants within the store, a sign from the Oak Grill, chocolate boxes, and a copper kettle from the Candy Kitchen. Macy’s staff compiled a series of Dayton News newsletters, a selection of shopping bags, as well as a commemorative plate depicting 20 years of the ever-popular Santabear. The bulk of the material the staff had gathered was related to decades of 8th Floor Auditorium shows — including artist renderings, drawings, floor plans, press kits, and posters, as well as a veritable sea of animatronic figures.
Selected donated items
Curators quickly developed selection criteria to limit the number of figures under consideration. We discussed only major characters in the best possible condition that would have cross-generational appeal or some other significance. This criteria brought us to three figures: Pinocchio, Cinderella, and Professor Severus Snape. Pinocchio and Cinderella are obvious enough choices, but Snape fit into another category. The Harry Potter book series was first brought to life in three dimensions by Dayton’s staff for their 2000 holiday show under a contract with Warner Brothers. This unique local connection to an international cultural phenomenon brought Snape to the top of our list.
After curatorial deliberation and final decisions from the MNHS Acquisitions Committee, we moved the new additions from the ever-emptying Macy’s store to the Minnesota History Center, where they will be processed and preserved. Once the donation is fully cataloged, the artifacts will be available to view in the Collections Online database and the paper materials will be open to researchers through the Gale Family Library.
Many sincere thanks to all the Macy’s staff who made this acquisition possible, particularly:
- Paul Lopacinski
- Liam Schafer
- Andrea Schwartz
- Sondra Reierson, Associate Curator of 3D Objects
Animatronics arrive at MN History Center: Feb. 23, 2017
Today marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Private Dwight R. Smithson’s death while serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in France. A native of Stillwater, Minnesota, Smithson immigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada as an adult. At the outbreak of war, he volunteered to serve in the CEF along with the British Expeditionary Forces. In addition to being passionate about nature, Smithson was quite musically talented, and he even played in the 96th Battalion’s band before being transferred to another unit. At the time of his death, Smithson was serving in the 15th Battalion near Martincourt in Northeastern France. His squad of seven attempted to move to a post closer to the front, but they came under enemy fire, and Smithson was killed along with five other members of his squad. Smithson’s Gold Star Roll description paints him as a quiet but friendly individual with strong convictions. The description ends, “He was very peace-loving and enlisted reluctantly, but it is said by his comrades, he was afraid of nothing.”
This photograph is of a new tank being installed at the Hamm's Brewing Company on February 19, 1954.
This image forms part of our Minneapolis and St. Paul Newspaper Negative collection. Additional photographs in this series may be available in the library, please view the finding aid for more.
For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this photograph in our collections database
This circular green pin-back button is from the 1987 Minnesota Twins World Series games against the Saint Louis Cardinals, manufactured by WinCraft of Winona, Minnesota.
For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this button in our collections database.
"U.S. Soldiers Land at Port in France Eager for Action" and "Scathing Report Places Blame for Failure of Drive" - The Daily People's Press. June 28, 1917
This black and white photograph of a lake was made by Lynn Geesaman and housed in a metal sculpture made by Irve Dell. The work is titled "Leaf Book A/P" and was made in 1988.
For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this artwork in our collections database.
"U.S. Troops are Landed in France" and "All Fear of Russians Making Separate Peace is Eliminated" - The Duluth Herald. June 27, 1917.
"German Infantry Repulsed" and "Recruiting for Regular Forces Active This Week" - The Daily People's Press. June 26, 1917
In Twenty-First Century Minnesota, the term “doughboy” is probably more often associated with the Pillsbury mascot than the First World War. But during that conflict, the slang term “doughboy” in fact referred to army soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces. Leonard W. Melander wore the 1917 Model helmet while serving in the 351st Field Artillery Headquarters. Its design is simple: a shallow, olive drab bowl with a small, symmetrically flared brim. Its liner consists of black oilcloth sewn to a supporting band of leather, and the interior features a course felt pad and a leather strap.
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. 66.78
Still behind the Front, ambulance driver David Backus continues to enjoy himself and to report on the happenings within the Norton-Harjes ambulance division. On this particular day, Backus and others found time to play two full baseball games between their assignments. In his diary, Backus happily reports that he scored the winning run in the ninth inning of both games. Later that afternoon, the Norton-Harjes received word that multiple celebrities are to join the division as volunteer ambulance drivers. These new recruits include the leading actor from the 1915 play Fair and Warmer, two unnamed actors, and a “famous dancer” named Maurice. Backus likely refers not to the dancer, but rather to the French ballet composer Maurice Ravel, who is known to have volunteered as an ambulance driver during the First World War. Whatever the exact identities of these new celebrities, David Backus doubts their ability to perform in combat, noting slyly that it will be “fun to see how these chaps act under fire.”
Sunday June 24
Out nine - shaved - cleaned up. [...] played 2 - 9 inning games of ball. in both games we were tied with two down in the ninth & fortunately I was lucky each time and brought in the winning run. [...] There are eleven new men coming out here [...] & among them - Maurice - the famous dancer who has given 30 thousand francs & six cars to this Norton-harjes. Also - Vernon Castles brother-in-law, the leading man Hill from Fair&Warmer & two other actors. [...] Will be fun to see how these chaps act under fire. [...]
Citation: David H. Backus and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [123.D.10.6F]