Collections Up Close

collections up close Blog

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.

See Collections Up Close Blog Archive

All MNHS Blogs

Subscribe by e-mail:

 Subscribe in a reader

Victor Johnson Diary

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | April 10, 2018

ATTENTION: The following letter and transcription contain language that is derogatory. We have chosen to include this letter and it's complete transcription as it provides evidence of the racism many African American soldiers experienced while serving during the War. However, it may be offensive to readers.

In this diary entry, Victor Johnson of the 16th Regiment of the Army Corps of Engineers describes a cruel prank that was played on an African American man in their regiment. Johnson recounts how some of the boys were annoyed with the man because he snored so loud that it kept them awake. So someone decided to steal a nurse's apron and pretended to be the Night Doctor to "treat" the man for his snoring. The "Doctor" told the man to take medicine, which was just water, every half hour so that he would not sleep the entire night. While African American men were allowed to serve in the army, mostly in segregated regiments, they still faced extreme racism and prejudice.


April 9-1918
We have a nigger here who snores so loud at night that the boys can't sleep. As for myself it takes more than a snoreing [sic] nigger to keep me awake. So last night one of the boys put on a white apron (the nurses) and acted as the Doctor after the lights out. All the tools he had was a cup of hot water, a spoon and a piece of 2 inch adhesive tape. Then he want down to and told the nigger to drink half of the medisen [sic] and to take two teaspoons full of medicen [sic] every half hour. That of course was to keep him awake while we slept. Then he took and split the tape to 1 inch strips and put one over the top of his nose and the other from ear to ear under his chin. But you should have been there when the nurse came in the morning and saw him when the nurse did. She sure had a good laugh. She asked him who put the tape on? He answered that night Doctor. But we put her wise to who the doctor was and why.

Citation: Victor O. Johnson Diary. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1987

Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | April 10, 2018

Today's Item of the Day is the book by Kim Heikkila called Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam. Heikkila will be the guest at tonight's History Lounge at the Minnesota History Center to talk about these women's experiences and stories.

David Backus has Target Practice

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | April 9, 2018

In this diary entry David Backus recounts being unable to fly due to the weather, so he had target practice shooting at pigeons, (possibly clay pigeons). He didn't seem to do too well, only hitting three of the first 25 and 6 of the next 25.


Tuesday April 9 - 18
Out 6- breakfast[.] Berty and I went to Spiral Field- only flew an hour celing [sic] got too low had to quit and neither of us got up. Shot at 50 birds got 3 out of first 25[.] 6 out of next string. Letter from Kit- Well 7 of them went on a small voyage 5 out of 7 got lost- 3 of them- smashed one one chap smashed his arm. Lulu is not back yet- got lost once- guess he is lost again.

Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 102.I.4.7B-2

Oligarchy Game

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | April 9, 2018

This poster advertises the fake game "Oligarchy," which is reminiscent of Monopoly with Minneapolis content and an anti-development message. It was made in 1980.

See it in Collections Online.

Women's Suffrage "Facts and Dates to Remember"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | April 8, 2018

This pamphlet was produced in April, 1918, by the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association to inform women of the extent of equal suffrage in the world. The document includes three different categories, "Woman have Full Suffrage," "Women have a Large Degree of Suffrage," and "Women have School or Tax Suffrage," meaning women were allowed to vote on matters regarding education and taxation. At the time of publication, women in Minnesota only had school and tax suffrage.


Citation: Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1518

Win the War with an Air Torpedo

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | April 7, 2018

J.G. Purple sent this letter to Senator Knute Nelson to chastise him and the rest of the United States Government about their lack of action against spies during the war. Purple claims that the Government simply gives them a slap on the wrist and tell them they've been "naughty" and then lets them go. Purple is clearly extremely upset about this and states that this "riles" him up. He also included a sensationalist newspaper clipping stating that the city of Philadelphia had created an air torpedo that could level the city of Berlin and end the war in 30 days. Purple is again extremely frustrated that the Government has not used this weapon and states that he sees that the majority of Congress is Pro-German.


Hon. Knute Nelson,
Washington, D.C.
Dear Sir:
I am only an ordinary citizen, with millions of others, watching the great struggle. I have been wondering with them at our Government's apparents laxity in the matter of dealing with spies. [...] It seems beyond belief that after three and a half years of war the United States cannot deal with spied as they are dealt with in every other country in the world. Clemenceau has ordered "Pro-Germans shot," but the United States, to use the phrase of one of these newspaper items, simply says, "Naughty, naughty," slaps them on the wrist and either interns them, puts them under bond or frees them entirely. It riles me to even see one of these "sugar babies" or "sugar hogs" kicking and making a fuss about not getting enough sugar at a restaurant or hotel, but when a bomb thrower or incendiary or spy isn't taken out and shot when arrested, I am good and peeved. I am wondering if you would be kind enough to tell me whether anything will be done about this. Then, please note the air torpedo item herewith. If one didn't know better it would seem as though the majority in both the Senate and the House were pro-German, if a circumstance of this kind has come to their notice with no action being taken. Assuring you of my appreciation of your faithful work, I am
Yours very truly,
J.G. Purple


"Home Guard Notice" and "'Negro' Advisor Not Wanted" - The Appeal. April 6, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | April 6, 2018

Hat Worn by Saint Paul Woman, 1952

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | April 6, 2018

Women's evening cap of purplish red velvet consists of five overlapping bands which are fashioned into a rim having five points. It was worn by a Saint Paul Woman in 1952.

See it in Collections Online.

J'aime les Americains tres bien!

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | April 5, 2018

Philip Longyear sent this letter to his mother on April 6 from "Somewhere in France", where he recounts his first impressions of France. He comments on how lush and green the countryside it, and tells a story about his interaction with French children. He states that he had some chewing gum in his pocket that he gave out to the children who followed his company through town and that he immediately became the most popular soldier there. He even says that one little girl followed him for quite a while; she walked with him while holding on to his finger and he even put her on his shoulders for a while.

Somewhere in France
Apr. 6, 1918.
Dear Mother:
At last we are here. I suppose you have already heard by various ways that I am here. We have just had the censorship rules read to us and I am quite discouraged as to what I can write, but will do my best. You will have to use your imagination as to what I omit. [...] This is the most beautiful and picturesque country I ever saw. The grass is bright green, the trees are all coming out, and it is as warm as summer [...] A whole army of little children ran along side of us jabbering away, asking for pennies. [...] I had a dollars worth of gum, but found it stale so started passing it out to the children. I immediately became as popular as Santa Clause. [...] You would have laughed yourself sick seeing this huge mob of little boys and girls completely surrounding me, hanging to my coat tails to keep up with the pace. I happened to be the only one near who could speak any French at all and this also pleased them. One little girl in particular ran along with me for a long ways, holding onto my finger. [...] I was quite surprised how easily I understood her when I got her slowed down to about a hundred words a second. She was very bright and answered a lot of questions I managed to say in French. I let her ride on my shoulder for quite a ways and she had the time of her life. When I finally put her down she said, 'J'aime les Americains tres bien! Au Revoir" and ran off with her wooden shoes, clicking on the pavement. [...]
Love to all,

Citation: Edmund Joseph Longyear and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A .L860 Box 2


By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | April 5, 2018

Gouache landscape by Lynn Kipman titled "April", made in 1941. Snow is visible on the ground.

See it in Collections Online.