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.
This rough pine trunk was used by Scottish immigrants sailing to America in 1882. The front is painted: "Agnes McNiven / Passenger / to St. Paul, MN. America". A green tag on one side is stamped: "New York, Lake Erie + Western Railroad Co., Baggage + Express Trunk," showing the convoluted route necessary to get here.
See it in Collections Online.
"German Submarines Sink U.S. Vessels Off Jersey Coast; Boston Port Closed" and "Germans Attempt Pust Westward on Marne; Battleline Huge Semi-Circle" - Bemidji Daily Pioneer. June 3, 1918
Sergeant Fritz "Fred" Gustafson was from St. Paul, Minnesota. During the war Gustafson did his bit by serving as a recruiting officer for the Marine Corps. In this letter home, Gustafson compares the act of recruiting men to missionary work. He says he goes to churches and open air meetings, anywhere that men congregate, in order to recruit, and he plans on using a short bible verse to convince men to join the cause. Gustafson became ill on October 26th, 1918, the day he was supposed to sail for France with the Replacement Battalion. He died of pneumonia a week later on November 2, 1918, 9 days before the Armistice.
June 2, 1918
Just a few lines this beautiful Sunday afternoon[.] I just returned from a recruiting trip to St. Charles. We had a fine time and were successful in securing recruits. [...] I have been speaking at open air meetings and at the theatres, now I am going to make a round of the churches. You understand we must speak wherever men gather. A sort of Missionary work. [...] I am going to use that little verse, "What greater love hath man shown than that, that he lay down His life for a friend." I am going to compare this with the war. And tell the men that when they enlist they are doing as the Scripture says, that we should obey the government even though it be against our convictions. [...]
With love to father, sister and brother-in-law.
With warm love
Citation: "Gustafson, Fritz A." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
In the final of three letters written by First Class Private Elmer J. Ecklund to his family, he describes a rush into no mans land that he participated in. He tells his family that he experienced some "excitement" while on the front when they ran out and were being shot at by Germans. Ecklund tells his parents that it was in that moment he fully realized that he was in war.
June 1, 1918.
Somewhere in France.
Dear Father + Mother, Lawrence, and Eva,
[...] I have been to the battle front three times and the last time I was there we had a little excitement. We jumped "over the top," ran across the barbed wire entanglements and charged on the enemy. In crossing "no mans land" we began to realize, however, that we were really in war.
The german machine guns became active but still our troops advanced. And we gained the desired object, what we sought to gain and held it and our troops made the "square heads" run. We beat them back with our rifle fire, and even at the point of the bayonet. One German threw up his hands and said "Kamarad". A soldier in our company said "Kamarad" hell, "this is war" and then finished him. A german soldier is afraid of an american when it comes to hand to hand fighting. But a few americans gave up their lives during that battle. Some fell on the left of me and some on the right, but the losses wern't very heavy. [...] But my nerves were very much shaken for I had some big shells explode near me. [...] It seems cruel and heartless to shoot a man when you have him in your mercy and when he says "Kamarad" while on his knees, but if you didn't he would stick you with a knife when you had your back turned. [...]
And now dear folks good bye, with lots of love to all.
Pvt. Elmer J. Ecklund,
Co. L. 28 Inf.
Citation: "Ecklund, Elmer J." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
This 1951 book of short stories was written by Saint Paul native Max Shulman, largely based on his time at the University of Minnesota. It was later turned into both a movie and television show. Summer reading, perhaps?
It is available in our Library.
"Liquid Fire Machines Captured by Americans in Raid" and "May Bear Brunt of Next Attack" - The Caledonia Argus. May 31, 1918.
Today's entry comes from a volume collected by members of the Hamline community, detailing the war work of the Hamline women serving as nurses and with the Y.W.C.A. overseas. Keith Clarke, a woman working as Director of Publicity for the Y.W.C.A. in France describes spending from 8 PM to 8 AM the next day with three other women feeding and comforting the refugees coming through the train station near where she was stationed. The refugees were fleeing the Chateau Thierry area, as this was the beginning of a battle which lasted until July 18. Clarke describes a midnight raid that necessitated moving a thousand refugees into the subway station underground and then back up to the canteen when the raid was over to continue serving them. She also tells the story of an old man sitting alone in the train station, ignorant of the commotion around him. The man had been separated from his wife two days prior, and knew he would never see her again. Clarke's heart went out to the man, and she did everything she could to try and help him, offering him both soup and coffee, and keeping an eye on him throughout the night.
"As to my great day, the day which is unforgetful, I think that can be befinitely [sic] dated May 30th, 1918. It was a day that ran twenty fours hours and more, and it was the day of the taking of Chateau Thiery. [sic] [...] Because the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A. were both having monster out-of-town picnics, there was no one to serve in the canteen at the station. Actually no one. The four of us improvised aprons out of towels, and from eight in the evening until eight the next morning, without ceasing, without resting, we fed and tried to comfort the refugees who parted through the station on the way- to anywhere. Thousands of them whole families, fragments of families that had been shattered that very day. A pair of twins was born in the station, Life in the midst of death. [...] Near midnight a raid. It was necessary to marshall the thousand of refugees of the moment, down the steps into a station of the subway. They went at meekly as they had come from their homes. [...] The night crept on, the tracks which had been wrecked by a bomb during the air raid had been mended, the trains began pouring in. We were enormously busy, We could scarce look at these refugees as individuals, so swift was the massed necessity. One man sat alone, I offered him soup, He did not see it. I offered him coffee, He did not even refuse it, he sat there, simply sat there, and saw and heard nothing. I went to the Lieutenant for counsel, He saw the old man and reported to me- lost his wife, separated from her two days ago, he'll never see her again. One more of those rending tragedies, and we went on with our serving, and the night went on, and the old man sat there. [...]
Citation: 1917-1921, Hamline in the Great War: articles and extracts. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1560