Open House: If These Walls Could Talk

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News Release

“Open House: If These Walls Could Talk,” an interactive exhibit opening on Jan. 14, 2006 at the Minnesota History Center, will bring to life the adage “if these walls could talk” by using a single, existing house-in the Railroad Island neighborhood on St. Paul’s East Side-as a window into the daily lives of people of the past.

Stories of families, from the first German immigrants through the Italians, African-Americans, and Hmong who succeeded them, are told through rooms representing different eras of the house. Visitors become detectives, piecing together lives of the families who lived at 470 Hopkins Street.

Stories are brought to life through vivid use of voices, photographs and multimedia imagery. Familiar settings produce surprises at every turn. Taking a seat at the dining room table triggers Grace Tinucci’s recorded memories of meeting her future in-laws at a big family dinner. Touching a money jar launches home movies and a family’s memories of saving coins for vacations across Minnesota.

In the parlor, visitors can run a magic lantern show, play with Victorian toys and see why Martha’s piano lesson went awry. In the kitchen, visitors learn about 75 chickens, the war and Michelina’s wedding day. In the living room, the view out the window dissolves into scenes of Laos and Thai refugee camps, visions from the journey Pang Toua’s family took to America.

Uniforms hanging on hooks represent lives of the East Side workers-brewery and railroad workers, housewives and hat makers-who made their home here.

COMMUNITY OPENS UP FOR “OPEN HOUSE”

“Open House” depended on extensive collaboration with East Side residents. Senior exhibit developer Benjamin Filene launched a series of community-based projects that built connections between the Minnesota Historical Society and the neighborhood.

“This exhibit came to life because people were so generous in sharing their stories,” Filene said. “Sometimes people would think they had nothing important to say, but then the memories would start flowing and we would hear such wonderful, revealing anecdotes. It demonstrates how everyone has a story to tell. That’s what history is all about.” Examples of the neighborhood collaborations include:

  • ViewPoints: Neighborhood youth, working with a professional photographer, documented their neighborhood through photographs.
  • Voices from Railroad Island: A series of oral interviews with current and former residents documented the people, places and stories of the neighborhood.
  • History Happened Here: Students at HOPE Community Academy (a Hmong charter school), uncovered the history of their neighborhood and their families through a five-week curriculum.
Cast

FORMER INHABITANTS OF 470 HOPKINS STREET ON THE EAST SIDE

The following individuals have generously opened their lives and shared stories with the Minnesota Historical Society to help create “Open House.” We gratefully acknowledge their cooperation and candor. Media interview requests may be handled through MHS contacts.

Michelina and Russell Frascone
lived in the house 1931-1956; Michelina’s parents (Dominick and Filomena D’Aloia) lived there from 1928-1949; her uncle and aunt (Filomeno and Rose Cocchiarella) lived on the other side of the duplex (1924-1946).

Key stories featured in the exhibit:

  • Thanksgiving night, 1946-when Uncle Filomeno was called at night to repair track, was struck by a train and killed
  • helping relatives pass the citizenship exam
  • curing sausages in the attic

Jerry D’Aloia
lived in the house from 1932-1949 and 1954-1956 (with wife Barbara); younger brother of Michelina Frascone
Key stories featured in the exhibit:

  • raising chickens in the basement for Michelina’s wedding
  • while working at Hamm’s brewery, the day he flipped the wrong valve and the toilets overflowed with beer
  • his father and uncle worked as railroad track repairmen

Angie and Dick Krismer
lived in the house 1958-1967
Key stories featured in the exhibit:

  • being a “mixed marriage” (Italian and German) in a Little Italy neighborhood
  • dealing intimately with the alcoholism problems of their upstairs neighbors, the Berrys
  • creating an “assembly line” to give their 4 kids a bath in tight quarters
  • flying kites with the neighborhood kids-higher and higher until the string broke and then following it in the station wagon
  • working at the slaughterhouse in South St. Paul; the screams of the pigs damaged Dick’s hearing

June Cramer Mayer and Diane Hegner (mother-daughter)
lived in the house from 1957-1979
Key stories featured in the exhibit:

  • the day the house caught on fire (Diane was inside), burning off the third floor
  • neighborhood birthday parties in the yard; parties in the basement
  • family struggles with alcoholism and abuse

Pang Toua Yang and Mai Vang [do not speak English]
lived in the house from 2002-2004, with daughter Elizabeth Young as landlord
Key stories featured in the exhibit:

  • serving in South Vietnamese army, fleeing for Thailand after U.S. pulled out; immigrated to St. Paul
  • using shaman altar to help treat burns suffered in backyard accident
  • passing the citizenship exam

Elizabeth Young
current owner (with Michael Wong) of the house. Her parents, Pang Toua Yang and Mai Vang, lived in the house from 2002-2004
Key stories featured in the exhibit:

  • born in Laos, fled to Thailand as a child with her parents; settled in St. Paul as refugees
  • went to school and decided to go into real estate; now owns 23 properties, mostly on the East Side, including 470 Hopkins St.
Researching house and family histories

We often connect to history through personal stories we hear and recollect. For some, our ties to history come through our family, while for others history may play out in a special place. How do you get started if you want to learn more about your house or family history? For historical records, documents and photographs, a good place to begin is the library and website of the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). Online catalogs exist for official government documents, extensive photograph collections and church and business records.

  • Census records: Federal and state censuses can provide detailed information about everyone in a household-everything from ages and occupations to whether they spoke English.
  • Death records: MHS holds microfilmed death certificates for the state of Minnesota, with an online index on the web site at http://people.mnhs.org/dci/Search.cfm.
  • Birth records: MHS has birth certificates for the state of Minnesota (1900-1911), with an index available online on the MHS website at http://people.mnhs.org/bci/Search.cfm.
  • City directories exist back to the late 19th century and track the inhabitants of each dwelling, including names of adult occupants. Directories can lead you to past residents of your home, providing sources for the stories behind your home.
  • Building permits and building permit cards are on file in city or county records. Start with the city building permit office to learn how to get access to archives from the year your house was built. The permit will include the year the house was constructed and the owner’s name.
  • Fire insurance maps: These colorful maps, made to document a city's buildings in case of fire, show how the structural 'footprints' of residential and commercial structures changed over time.
  • Churches and community centers can lead you to longtime residents with stories to tell. Reminisce with older congregants about the neighborhood. Most churches keep a directory of past congregation members and many have published institutional histories.
  • Photographs: MNHS’s fully searchable online source of nearly 190,000 images of Minnesota people, places and things. Private family photos can help if you're lucky enough to meet a neighborhood family with old photo albums.
Images

Open House Exhibit Images

Open House Exhibit Images

The photograph that started it all. 470-472 Hopkins Street, St. Paul, about 1925. (l-r): Frank Campobasso (left), Dominick D'Aloia, Filomeno Cocchiarella, Rose Cocchiarella, Tony Cocchiarella

The photograph that started it all. 470-472 Hopkins Street, St. Paul, about 1925. (l-r): Frank Campobasso (left), Dominick D'Aloia, Filomeno Cocchiarella, Rose Cocchiarella, Tony Cocchiarella

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The house as it looks today. 470 Hopkins Street, 2002.

The house as it looks today. 470 Hopkins Street, 2002.

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The Schumachers were the “founding family” of 470 Hopkins St. German immigrants Albert and Henriette built the house in 1888 for themselves and their grown children. Martha Schumacher and her nephews Albert and Todd McMmillan, about 1904.

The Schumachers were the “founding family” of 470 Hopkins St. German immigrants Albert and Henriette built the house in 1888 for themselves and their grown children. Martha Schumacher and her nephews Albert and Todd McMmillan, about 1904.

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From the 1910s-1950s, the railroads and Hamm’s Brewery were the major employers in the Railroad Island neighborhood on St. Paul’s East Side.  Dominic D’Aloia worked as a car repairman for 10 years before he could afford to send for his wife, Filomena, and daughter, Michelina. Dominic D'Aloia, dressed for work, 1930s

From the 1910s-1950s, the railroads and Hamm’s Brewery were the major employers in the Railroad Island neighborhood on St. Paul’s East Side.  Dominic D’Aloia worked as a car repairman for 10 years before he could afford to send for his wife, Filomena, and daughter, Michelina. Dominic D'Aloia, dressed for work, 1930s

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In the middle decades of the 20th century, Railroad Island felt like Little Italy. Filomena D'Aloia and Luciano Cocchiarella with homemade bread from an earthen oven, Hopkins Street, St. Paul, 1940

In the middle decades of the 20th century, Railroad Island felt like Little Italy. Filomena D'Aloia and Luciano Cocchiarella with homemade bread from an earthen oven, Hopkins Street, St. Paul, 1940

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Arriving from Italy at age 11, Michelina D'Aloia settled in the house in 1931 and went on to raise her own family there, staying until 1956. Russell and Michelina (D'Aloia) Frascone on the front porch of 470/472 Hopkins Street. 1943.

Arriving from Italy at age 11, Michelina D'Aloia settled in the house in 1931 and went on to raise her own family there, staying until 1956. Russell and Michelina (D'Aloia) Frascone on the front porch of 470/472 Hopkins Street. 1943.

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In a period when the residents of the triplex were not linked by family or ethnic bonds, their lives were still intertwined. Denny Cramer's 2nd birthday party in Cramer kitchen, 470 Hopkins, 1968  Counter clockwise: June Cramer (standing), Sheila Cramer, Denny Cramer, Krismer twin, Roland Berry, Krismer twin, Dianne Cramer, Peggy Krismer, Sandy Cramer, Evelyn Berry's hands visible, Dickie Krismer, Jr.

In a period when the residents of the triplex were not linked by family or ethnic bonds, their lives were still intertwined. Denny Cramer's 2nd birthday party in Cramer kitchen, 470 Hopkins, 1968 
Counter clockwise: June Cramer (standing), Sheila Cramer, Denny Cramer, Krismer twin, Roland Berry, Krismer twin, Dianne Cramer, Peggy Krismer, Sandy Cramer, Evelyn Berry's hands visible, Dickie Krismer, Jr.

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Jerry D’Aloia, brother of Michelina (D'Aloia) Frascone, grew up in 470 Hopkins Street, left to serve in the Korean War, then returned as a newlywed with his wife Barbara. Jerry and Barbara D’Aloia, front yard of 470/472 Hopkins St., early 1950s

Jerry D’Aloia, brother of Michelina (D'Aloia) Frascone, grew up in 470 Hopkins Street, left to serve in the Korean War, then returned as a newlywed with his wife Barbara. Jerry and Barbara D’Aloia, front yard of 470/472 Hopkins St., early 1950s

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Fun-loving Dick and Angie Krismer raised four children, including twins, in tight quarters at 472 Hopkins Street from 1956-1967. Here Dick Krismer braces for his birthday spanking! Dick Krismer and (l-r) Margaret Mary; Dick, Jr.; Rose Marie and Mary Theresa; in front of 470/472 Hopkins St., mid-1960s

Fun-loving Dick and Angie Krismer raised four children, including twins, in tight quarters at 472 Hopkins Street from 1956-1967. Here Dick Krismer braces for his birthday spanking! Dick Krismer and (l-r) Margaret Mary; Dick, Jr.; Rose Marie and Mary Theresa; in front of 470/472 Hopkins St., mid-1960s

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Pang Toua Yang and Mai Vang lived in the house from 2002-2004. Their daughter, Elizabeth Young, owns the house and 23 other properties in St. Paul. The family of Pang Toua Yang and Mai Vang, about 2000

Pang Toua Yang and Mai Vang lived in the house from 2002-2004. Their daughter, Elizabeth Young, owns the house and 23 other properties in St. Paul. The family of Pang Toua Yang and Mai Vang, about 2000

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The family of Pang Toua Yang and Mai Vang, about 2001

The family of Pang Toua Yang and Mai Vang, about 2001

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These images may be used for editorial purposes in magazines, newspapers and online to promote "Open House: If These Walls Could Talk" at the Minnesota History Center. They may not be used for advertising or promotional efforts.