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

"Battle Front of Fifty Miles" and "U.S. Soldiers Catch Enemy" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. November 15, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 15, 2017

Montezuma, now known as Winona

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | November 15, 2017
Painting of Winona

On this date in 1851 the town Montezuma is founded by Orrin Smith, a steamboat captain. The town is more recognizable by its present name, Winona. This is an anonymous painting of Winona done in 1870.

"Armies In Italy In Heavy Duel" and "Slowly Force Germans Back" - The Daily People's Press. November 14, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 14, 2017

Freezing Friends

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | November 14, 2017
Photo of cold people watching football.

This photo is of two men bundled up watching a cold November 1937 University of Minnesota football game.

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,


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


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!