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Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future

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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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Letter from Dirigible Training: Louis H. Maxfield

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 13, 2017


This handwritten letter is from Louis H. Maxfield to his mother in Buffalo, New York. He reports that he is "now in the south-west of France, learning to be a dirigible pilot." Most of the letter is very difficut to read, however, he also comments on the very old town he is in, both his current and preivious conditions, his interesctions with the French, and the effect of war on the area. Maxfield was born in Minnesota in 1883 and attended the Naval Academy before beginning Naval service in 1907. During World War I, he served as a dirigible pilot. A dirigible, or airship, is a lighter-than-air aircraft that generates lift using gas-filled bags, similar to a zeppelin. Maxfield eventually acheived the rank of Commander and worked on the development of the ZR-2 dirigible (also know as the R38) in England. He died on August 24, 1921 when an accident occured on the ZR-2 that destroyed the airship.
 


Dearest Mother:

a letter from you today and I was so glad to hear from you [...]. I am now in the south-west of france, learning to be a dirigible pilot. The town I'm in is on the coast and very very old. [...] I succeeded yesterday in buying a package of toilet paper. [...] The food is not so bad [...].

Your loving son,
Louis

 

Citation: Cathcart, Alexander Henry and Family. Papers. Corresp. and Misc. Papers, 1912-1921. Box 3 P985
 

Governor Olson's Top Hat

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | November 13, 2017
Olson's top hat

Floyd B. Olson was born on this day in 1891 in Minneapolis. He would be the first Farmer-Labor governor, serving from 1931 until his death while in office on August 22, 1936. He is remembered for implementing New Deal policies and for his skilled negotiating during the 1933 Hormel strike in Austin and the 1934 teamsters' strike in Minneapolis. While he was a man of the people, he still needed a top hat.

"All Must Unite to Win War, Says President" and "U.S. Soldiers Set Example" - The Duluth Herald. November 12, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 12, 2017

David Backus Describes Receiving Pilot's License

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 11, 2017


In September, St. Paul native David Backus left his position as an ambulance driver to attend flight school in Tours, France. In a letter to his mother, he estimated that he would graduate in mid-October of 1917, but many days of rainstorms and high winds had delayed his training by approximately two weeks. Backus finally obtained his pilot’s license on November 3, 1917, along with sixteen other Americans.

In a letter to his mother dated November 10, 1917, Backus recounts his graduation and his celebratory trip to Paris. He certainly enjoyed his brief vacation, especially because he happened to meet one of his heroes, the chief pilot of his French flight school, while he was there. After his time off, Backus entered a more extensive training program about the Nieuport pursuit plane. Upon his graduation, he and six fellow students were attached to the French Air Squadron C. 21, and they became the first American aviators to see combat in World War I.

 


Nov. 10-17.
Dearest Mother:
Well I am a Pilot-- was received my French Brevet Nov. 2. Went to Paris for three days permission, had some things I had to leave there and also had to get some of my clothes there. I wanted to go down to [Arcachon] -- south of Bordeaux-- Baron de Haven had given me a letter to his wife down there and also to footmen etc-- corking shooting ducks, geese etc. but I could not make it, however I am going to try. He is a mighty fine man-- about forty five year old and has lived in the States-- was one of my Monsiteurs at where I was. Am now down here at a U.S. Aviation school am hope to take my Perfection work on Nieuports, Acrobatics & machine gun practise. [sic] It has rained continuously and this place is a sea of liquid mud. Hope they decided to send us to another school for our Nieuport work. Am enclosing a couple of snapshots. What commission did clinton get in the artillery? This is certainly a black day for the Allies, with the Huns threatening Venice, treacherous Russia, threatening to make a seperate peace, but there is a ray of sunshine on the fact that the Huns are being pressed to their utmost by the British in Flanders and the French have just been victorious on the Chemon [sic] des Dames, would have liked to have been back up there for this last big attack, it must have been great. [...] Best of love to all the family and remember me to all my friends
your son
David

 

The Dazzling American Birdman

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 10, 2017


First Lieutenant Walter A. Jones was a pilot in the 17th Aero Squadron. He died in plane a accident at Fort Worth, TX on this day in 1917. Jones' Gold Star Roll file includes extensive documentation of his life, including two photographs, a copy of an article that was found in his pocket titled "American Birdman Dazzles Camp Bowie," and a transcribed copy of a Minnesota Daily article in response to his death.

The Daily article describes him as "one of the best liked fellows of school," and reports that he is the first University of Minnesota student to die in the war. The article expresses sorrow, shock, and patriotism in response to his loss. It also reports that he was a member of the Garrick Club (a drama group), treasurer of Tau Shonka (an interfraternity service society), in a sophomore vaudeville and the Jazz band, and a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. Elsewhere in his file his father also reports that Jones was involved in golf, basketball, and tennis and played the violin, mandolin-guitar, and sang.


 

Goldstar Roll

Citation: "Jones, Walter A." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.4F

U.S. Army Veteran's Overseas Cap

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | November 10, 2017

This is an U.S. Army Veteran's Overseas Cap from 1919. Happy Veteran's Day observed - thanks to all who served then and now!

"Americans Tell Verdun Horrors" and "Women Replace Men in Machine Shops" - The Daily People's Press. November 9, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 9, 2017

Wicoi wowapi: wowapi pehanpi kin - The Word Book Wall Roll

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | November 9, 2017

This word book was made by missionary Alfred L. Riggs in the 1880s. It was a tool used in the classroom to teach the written Dakota language to native speakers.

United States Military "Exempt" Pin

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 8, 2017


Pins like this were given to men who were exempt from the military draft. This identifier, which could be worn on the lapel to indicate exempt status, became necessary in the face of the perception that draft evasion was common among able-bodied men. This angered many people, some of whom felt that it was unfair that their own relatives were risking their lives while others stayed home. These men were perceived as "slackers," and "slacker raids" were conducted to rectify their evasion of the draft. However, many men were legally exempt from the draft for a variety of reasons. These men could wear pins like this one to avoid judgement or harassment in public. One common exemption one could claim was non-citizenship or alien status, which, combined with anti-immigrant sentiments, heightened the negative perceptions of immigrants who were not at war. Other exemptions included men with dependant wives and children, and those who worked in jobs that were considered vital or that supported the war effort, like farmers and welders.

 

Pin

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. 380.H174

Mendota Bridge

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | November 8, 2017

In 1926 the old Mendota bridge to Fort Snelling opened and was dedicated to the men of the 151st Field Artillery who had been killed in World War I.

Remember there's only a few days left to see WW1 America, which closes on November 11!

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