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

Holiday Bake Sale, 1959

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

Jacqueline Heinichs and Mrs. Joe LaVasseur are seen here making cookies for the St. Louis Home and School Association Christmas bake sale in 1959.

Aid for Discharged Soldiers

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

This letter from the American National Red Cross from February 5th, 1919, details the plans to aid discharged soldiers. It discusses small loans that have been given out and arrangements to have men stay at a local YMCA or in a hotel. However, it appears several men were taking advantage of this system, using Red Cross funds to tour a country.


Feb. 5, 1919.
To date we have advanced money to 54 men, the loans aggregating $485.44, less than $9.00 to each applicant. This does not include the $40.00 advanced to local Red Cross representatives at the Great Northern and Milwaukee Stations. They have been authorized to take care of emergency cases, involving small loans. Arrangements have been made with the St. James Hotel to provide rooms for discharged soldiers having an introduction card from this office. Similar arrangements have been made to secure meals at LaMott's Restaurant, near the St. James Hotel. We have loaned to the YMCA fifty cots and bedding for the use of discharged men, a charge of 35¢ being made to men who are able to pay. We have agreed to pay that charge to each man sent to the YMCA from this office. Several men who applied recently for assistance were evidently touring the country at the expense of the Red Cross. They wanted only a few meals and transportation to the next town. It is easy, of course, to pass on responsibility in this way. I think that it might be advisable to send out a gram to all chapters, advising them against this method of procedure. Four of the discharged soldiers who called at the office have been partially intoxicated. The St. James Hotel has been very co-operative in caring for these men.

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

President Wilson's Parade in Paris

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 15, 2018

Dee Smith was a clerical worker from Minneapolis who served in the Red Cross' Department of Personnel in Paris from July 1918 to July 1919. In this letter home, Smith describes watching a parade commemorating President Wilson's arrival in Paris to participate in the the peace talks. She wrote that she and everyone else in her group agreed that the president looked right at them because of all their shrieking. The parade had many prominent people, including French President Raymond Poincare, Prime Minister of France Georges Clemenceau and General Pershing.


Dec 15-
[…] Saturday was made a national holiday in honor of Pres. Wilson, so bright + early Mrs Taylor + I started out for our German gun. […] It was great fun watching the crowd, + after awhile comes Pres + Mme. Poincare + Clemenceau whom the people adore. Papa Joffre was in [m...], very simply, as always, and more dignitaries whom we didn't recognize passed on the way to the station to meet Pres. Wilson. He looked natural, very happy, and tho’ I had promised to remain seated so some Frenchmen behind me could see, I forgot all about it + stood up + shrieked with the rest. We declare that the president looked straight at us. We were the only American women right in the particular place - The Red Cross had made a big reservation further down the avenue, but we decided for the gun, and it was a seat in the front row. Mrs. Wilson was rather pale - but looked intensely interested in everything + was almost covered in flowers. […]

Dee Smith Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P441


Minnesota Service Flag

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 14, 2018

An extremely large dark blue service flag with approximately 1,200 gold stars, representing all the servicemen and women from Minnesota who died during World War I. The flag is constructed from twelve panels of cloth sewn together. It was made by the Western Badge and Novelty Company of Saint Paul, Minnesota, for the Victory Liberty Loan Campaign in April 1919. It measures 18 1/2 feet high and 28 feet wide.


Wire wrap ball ornament

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 14, 2018

This is a Christmas tree ornament of painted blown glass covered in wire wrap, as was the style. The manufacturer is unknown, but it was created circa 1870-1939.

Harold Smith - The Lasting Effects of Mustard Gas

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 13, 2018

Even though the fighting had ended, soldiers and nurses suffered from the after effects of the War for years to come. Harold Smith of Saint Paul enlisted with the Canadian Forces prior to US entry into the War, claiming he was well and strong so it was his duty to go do his part. Smith was digging trenches on September 4th, 1917, under heavy shell fire from the Germans. In the middle of the night, the shell fire switched to mustard gas and a few of canisters landed in the trench that Smith was in, exposing him to the deadly gas before he was able to evacuate. At noon the next day, Smith reported himself ill and remained in the hospital for the next 10 months. After these 10 months, he was still ill but went back into training in England for another 6 months. He was discharged and returned home on February 11th, 1919. Smith died on November 5th, 1919, from complications of the poisonous mustard gas he had been exposed to more than two years prior. In addition to mustard gas poisoning, many soldiers also experienced shell shock. The new artillery that had been used throughout this First World War had never been seen before, and these weapons had lasting effects on the brains of men even after they had left the battlefield and returned home.


Circumstances attending death- Mustard gas shells were thrown in his dugout on September 4th. 1917- Next morning sick, but not realizing he was seriously affected he took out a working party five miles, where they were laying watermains [sic] and making railroads less than a mile from fighting line and constantly shelled by the Germans. Returned at noon, reported ill at dressing station, was put in ambulance sent to hospital (unknown) As able to be moved was sent to Etaples France to Birmingham Eng and [Ep...] Eng. Was in these hospitals 10 months having good care and food. Then not well and feeling miserable was back in training nearly 6 months in England. After returning to Canada his discharge was delayed on account of his ill health. Finally discharged returned home Feb. 11. 1919- sick, but happy to get home where he could rest and see his friends with the same high ideals and courage he gradually failed till Nov. 5- 1919. When he passed away.

"Smith, Harold L.," Minnesota public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.6F

Bike Catalog, 1893

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 13, 2018

It may not be the right season for bikes, but this catalog recently came in and was such a hit with staff that we couldn't wait share it. It is from 1893.
Think warm thoughts! 

"Entire Country to be Dry Year From Today" and "Peace Delegates at Full Speed" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. January 16, 1919

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 12, 2018

Christmas Foshay Tower, 1928

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 12, 2018

The newly finished Foshay Tower, which would be Minneapolis's tallest building for nearly fifty years, is strung with lights and lit up like a Christmas tree in 1928.

"This Isn't Really Laziness"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 11, 2018

Many soldiers expected to be discharged and sent home after the signing of the Armistice, and were therefore surprised and disheartened when they were forced to remain abroad. In this letter from May 3rd, 1919, nearly six months after the war ended, Lee Beckman writes that the men have little desire to work since the Armistice had been signed. They feel there is no use in working if they will all be paid just as much and will still be discharged at the same time. Beckman says that since it costs him a little more than a dollar a day to stay in France he is going to enjoy the time he has left instead of spending it working.


Goudre Court, France
May 3 1919
Sat. Afternoon.
Dearest Eunice,
[…] I’m supposed to be working on the road this afternoon with four other fellows, but I sneaked away, and when I got here at the “Y”, I found the other four reading magazines. As far as work is concerned no one has done anything over here since the Armistice. All the work I’ve done since then, I could do in ten days if it was necessary. Do you suppose I'll be so lazy when I get Discharged? I know I won't. This isn't really laziness tho. But whats (sic) the use of working when it does you no good. Get just as much pay, and get home just as quick. Whether we work or not. […]
With all my love and kisses and hoping to see you soon. I am yours, yours, yours.

Lee Beckman, Letters Home from France. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P2353