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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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"It Was Worth It"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 22, 2018

Leila Heath of White Bear Lake was the served as the directress of an American Red Cross hospital hut in France. In this document, she says her most interesting experience during the war was when she set out to get candy and gum for the boys in her hospital three days before Christmas. They had not had candy any for weeks and the ones who had been gassed during the fighting had a craving for gum. On the way back from Nantes, where they had a high supply of candy and gum, Heath and her driver got delayed, lost, and ran out of gas. But when she finally arrived back at the hospital with the candy, she said when she saw the boys' faces on announcing her arrival with candy in hand, "it was worth it.".


[...] My most interesting experience was a trip to Nantes after supplies. After sending eight or ten requisitions and receiving no answer, I decided to go after some gum and candy in a camionette I used for that purpose. With just a driver, I started three days before Christmas, determined to at least get candy; for the boys had had none for over two or three weeks; and the boys who were gassed craved gum. Some one told me at a Hospital Centre in Nantes there was plenty of both. We arrived at Nantes at the noon hour, after a five hour drive. Of course every thing was closed until 2:30. We had lunch and were directed to the Centre; at five o'clock we were still looking for it, but finally found a French boy who knew where it was. We reached there at 5:30 and the warehouse was closed, and all the boys in charge out on a pass. At 7:30 one boy returned, and would give us one case of gum (5,000 pkgs.) and six of candy. In starting back, both the driver tired, [sic] we took the wrong turn and at twelve o'clock, instead of Angers, we found ourselves in Blois about two hundred kilometres out of our way. We turned back, and thirteen kilometres outside [sic] of Nantes, we ran out of gas. Luckily we had two blankets, so the driver curled up on the front seat and I crawled in and slept (?) on a case of candy. It had rained all day and the cover of the car leaked, so at 4:30 I got out and walked five miles to where I saw a light, and asked if they had a horse. No, but two miles farther his friend had one. It cost me 50 francs ($10.00) to go into Nantes and get gas. A Navy Lieutenant brought me back in his car and we started once more; four punctures and only three extra tubes, and no mending kit, -- stalled again and there we stayed until a convoy of Cadillacs came by, -- the ones for President Wilson's reception. One took me to the Hospital, and I sent another car back for my driver. But I can assure you despite all the trouble, if you could have seen the boys' faces when I said: "I have candy." It was worth it.

American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P781

Return of the Rainbow Division

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 21, 2018

This diary entry from May 8, 1919 from Mary T. Hill, the wife of railroad magnet James J. Hill. Her diary provides insight into the Minnesota homefront of the First World War. In this entry, Hill is excited to attend a parade welcoming home the Rainbow Division and other returning soldiers.


St. Paul
May Thursday 8 1919
Today is the day of the parade to welcome back the Rainbow Division and all returned soldiers providence has contributed much in giving a bright warm sunny morning. […]

1915-1920. Mary T. Hill Papers. 64. C.5.6 Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota

Small Santa

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 21, 2018

This photograph is of school children dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus in Minneapolis, 1937.

David Backus - A Summary

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 20, 2018

Before David Backus' entrance into flight service during WW1, he was volunteering as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. Through this volunteer work Backus spent three months in Chemin des Dames, France, evacuating the wounded. For this work he was awarded the Fourragère of the Médalle Militaire from the French Government. Throughout his air service Backus was credited with the destruction of four enemy aircraft and was presented with 3 more awards. The first, given in 1920, was the Comité Britannique de la Croix Rouge Française, meaning British Committee of the French Red Cross. The next two would come in 1924, titled Croix de Guerre and the Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster. The Croix de Guerre was awarded to those who distinguished themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy. The Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to those who distinguished themselves by extraordinary heroism while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States. The oak leaf cluster identifies the recipient as someone in the Army and Air Force.
Years later, Backus would volunteer for active duty at the start of WW2. By February of 1942, he was appointed Major in the Army Air Force. Throughout his time in WW2, he played many roles, including an Intelligence Officer with the 305th Flying Fortress Bombing Group in France and Germany, an Air Intelligence Officer and Public Relations Officer in Lt. General Jimmy Doolittle's 12th Air Force Service Command in North Africa, Sicilian and Italian Campaigns, and Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence and Public Relations with the 15th Air Force Service Command.


David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F

Scotch Tape, 1960 - 1963

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 20, 2018

This green cellophane 'Scotch Gift Tape' with holly leaves on the dispenser was made by 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing) in St. Paul, between 1960-1963.

Percy Christianson in Show Business!

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 19, 2018

After the Armistice, many soldiers in Europe were waiting to get back to the states. However, without the war, there wasn't much for them to do. To keep troops entertained, musical comedy and vaudeville shows were created with "all men" casts made up of the soldiers who had performing talent. These shows traveled from camp to camp, performing for the soldiers who had not yet been shipped home. The shows were very detailed, with costumes and wigs created for the performers, where the men in the shows dressed as chorus girls. Percy B. Christianson describes his role in one of these "traveling entertainment units" in a vaudeville show, which he was involved in for nine months after the Armistice until he was able to return home.


For those soldiers who waited patiently to be transported across the Atlantic, and home, was a problem of discipline without reason. In war men will be disciplined, to prepare themselves to know how to defend themselves.[...] After that is over and it suddenly ends, the problem of discipline is ended. What then? What branch of our military machine figured out the problem of how to controll [sic] this situation I do not know. One thing is for sure, they done a good job of it. They figured out, that where "discipline would fail, "entertainment" would succeed.["] That is the idea they worked on. It was a success. All service men, who wished to do so, were called in a screened for talent. The results were astounding. Among them were some of the most gifted artists. There were singers, slight of hand, dancers, comedians, cartoonists, stage directors, costume experts and many others. From this talent was created some of the most fabulous musical comedy shows that have ever been produced with an "all men" cast. Costumes and wigs were made for groups of singing and dancing chorus girls that would have been welcomed by any of our TV screens today. [...] The boys simply went wild over this kind of entertainment. They would fill Y.M.C.A. and Salvation Army entertainment centers to the rafters. The show traveled from one camp to another. Sometimes stages and tents were put up to accommodate the show, where no Y.M.C.A. or Salvation Army huts were built. [...]

The Season's Greetings window card

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 19, 2018

This Season's Greetings window card was created by the Minnesota Milk Company. Sadly, it is undated. The Minnesota Milk Company started in 1913 and was bought by Old Home in 1956.

American Legion Poster

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

The American Legion formed in 1919 as a way to aid soldiers returning from Europe, as well as their families and communities. The organization's first national convention was held in Minneapolis, and when it concluded the Minnesota branch of the American Legion was made permanent. In addition to providing war risk insurance assistance, the Legion helped members access benefits provided by the State Bonus Bill of 1919. The organization is still active today.


Poppin' Fresh Christmas placemat, 1998

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

This Poppin' Fresh Christmas placemat dates from 1998.

"Suffrage Victory Hailed in Meeting at Capitol" and "Woman Given Office in Auto Association" - The Minneapolis Morning Tribune. June 10, 1919

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