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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.

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Frank Lloyd Wright Arrested in Minnesota!

By: admin | What's New | January 31, 2011
Jail Register Close Up, Hennepin County,1926

In October 1926, the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, was arrested by Hennepin County Sheriff deputies in Minnetonka for allegedly violating the Mann Act.  Mr. Wright’s arrest and detention in the Hennepin County Jail is documented in a jail register of the Hennepin County Sheriff, and is one of several jail registers preserved in the State Archives of the Minnesota Historical Society.

A Jail Register is a chronological record of individuals committed to a county or municipal jail. They include arrest and discharge information, name of prisoner and occasionally biographical data, name of officer making the arrest, and the nature of the crime, charges, and sentence.  Unfortunately, the jail registers are not indexed by name, so it can be a challenge to locate a person who was in jail, unless you have a relatively specific date.

According to Mr. Wright’s jail register entry, he was 58 years old, had green eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion.  Mr. Wright was held for the U.S. Marshal’s Office, committed to the jail on October 21, 1926, and released the next day to the U.S. Marshal’s Office.

The arrest of Frank Lloyd Wright was the lead story in the Minneapolis Tribune on October 21, 1926.

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

Jail Register Interior, Hennepin County,1926Jail Register, Hennepin County,1926

Lifetouch Micro-Z Camera

By: admin | What's New | January 14, 2011
Lifetouch Micro-Z CameraEach day, schools across the country use Minnesota products, be they Big G cereals or Scotch tape. One company, however, comes to class just once a year. Since 1936, Eden Prairie-based Lifetouch Inc. has been photographing students on school picture day. From its start in the Depression-era schoolhouses of rural Minnesota, the company now takes more than 30 million portraits each year, from pre-schoolers to high-schoolers.

The company's growth fostered a number of noteworthy advancements in photography, and few were as important as the Micro-Z camera. Introduced in 1980, the Micro-Z increased efficiency and streamlined photo processing. The innovative camera featured a double-reflex zoom lens, automatic light calibration, a motorized pedestal, and a failure alarm system to alert the photographer if something was wrong. Most significantly, the Micro-Z’s computerized data recorder registered date, package type, and subject information directly onto the film negative via a barcode, making it much easier to match the photo with the student's paperwork.

The durable Micro-Z remained in service for some 25 years and photographed untold millions of students. (This curator has fond memories of posing for Micro-Zs throughout the 1980s.) We are grateful to Lifetouch Inc. for donating this example, together with a TruView camera (used in department store portrait studios), technical manuals, and reminiscences from the people who developed and used this remarkable camera.

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator

Colt Baby Dragoon Revolver Owned By Alexander Ramsey

By: admin | What's New | December 10, 2010
Model 1848 Colt Baby Dragoon

It's remarkable that truly unique objects continue to surface. Such is the case with this handgun recently donated by a member of the North Star Circle. The weapon belonged to Minnesota politician Alexander Ramsey, and it dates to our earliest territorial days.

The gun is a Model 1848 Colt Baby Dragoon. The five-shot, .31 caliber, percussion cap revolver represents Colt's first foray into the civilian market. While the military Dragoon was designed for cavalry forces, the "Baby" Dragoon was scaled down for easy portability and concealment. It should be no surprise that a practical civilian handgun was a big seller in an age of westward expansion and pre-war anxiety. More than 350,000 Dragoons were sold before production ended in 1873.

One of those buyers was Alexander Ramsey. Appointed Minnesota's first territorial governor in 1849, Ramsey likely purchased the gun for personal protection on the northwest frontier. While we have no record of the governor taking part in gunfights, wear on the revolver suggests that it has been fired. Ramsey carefully preserved the gun, along with its leather-covered wooden case, a powder charger, a bullet mold, and a wrench for extracting spent percussion caps.

For years after Ramsey's death in 1903, the Baby Dragoon sat in his bedroom closet in St. Paul, alongside a more ornamental pair of dueling pistols. Ramsey's granddaughters sold the Dragoon in the early 1960s. The dueling pistols came to the Minnesota Historical Society (along with the Ramsey House itself) after the governor's last granddaughter passed away in 1964.

With the Baby Dragoon now in the Society's collection, Alexander Ramsey's guns will be reunited for the first time in 50 years. It's a most exciting addition to our holdings.

Matt Anderson
Objects Curator

Learn More

Model 1848 Colt Baby Dragoon and accessories

Minnesota Sheet Music Collection

By: admin | What's New | December 2, 2010

Minnesota shake down

Over the years the Minnesota Historical Society has collected the sheet music that documents Minnesota's musical heritage. This month sees the publication of a new sheet music finding aid; two others were published over the summer. Many of the pieces of music in these collections have been digitized and can be viewed from their finding aids.

Do you feel like singing a rousing chorus of Rah! Rah! Ski-u-mah! for the University of Minnesota football team, cutting a rug with the Minnesota Cadet Lancers , or calling the steps for the Minnesota Shake-Down?


Or browse through all three finding aids for a tuneful reminder of Minnesota's past at:

Collection of Songs and Music about Minnesota Places, Institutions, Businesses, and Themes

Collection of Songs and Music by Minnesota Composers

Collection of Songs and Music by Minnesota Women Composers

The digitization of this portion of the Minnesota Sheet Music Collection was funded in part by a grant from the Bean Family Fund for Business History.

Sarah Quimby, Library Processing Manager

Minnesota cadet lancers

"3 Merry Widows" Tin

By: admin | What's New | November 16, 2010
Sometimes the smallest objects are the most interesting. This little tin canister, measuring 1 5/8 inches in diameter and 5/8 inch deep, was discovered buried in a yard off of St. Paul's West Seventh Street. In fact, it was found along with nearly 70 other identical tins. Now, finding 70 of anything in a yard is unusual, but these are no mere containers. No, these tins once held condoms.

"3 Merry Widows" was a popular brand of prophylactic in the early 20th Century, and this aluminum container probably dates to the 1920s or 1930s. Latex condoms didn't take over the market until the 1930s, so the three "widows" once contained inside may have been of the older cement rubber variety. While the thicker rubber condoms had their disadvantages, they were more durable, and could even be reused.

The donor, having found so many of these items near her house, naturally wondered if her neighborhood once hosted a bordello. The location - half-way between downtown St. Paul and Fort Snelling - certainly would have been convenient. Unfortunately, a search through the Society's library was inconclusive. (But really, those businesses weren't the type to be listed in city directories!) We might speculate that the tin came from a brothel, but we won't state it as fact, just to be safe - like the tin's original owner.

Matt Anderson
Objects Curator

Contemporary Quilts at the James J. Hill House Gallery

By: admin | What's New | October 21, 2010

Minnesota enjoys a long and continuous history of quiltmaking. The quilts in this exhibition can be viewed as contemporary expressions with historical roots. The talented artists whose work is seen here were inspired by landscape, historic figures, current events, or other traditional textiles. We see the versatility of textiles that we call quilts, as the artform continues to be both an outlet for artistic expression and recognition of women’s needlework traditions.

The Society’s quilt collection numbers over 350 quilts dating from the mid-eighteenth century to the present. The quilts on view here are not representative of the types of quilts found in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection, but reflect twenty-five years of collecting contemporary Minnesota quilts. The quilt collection is available on the Society’s website at //collections.mnhs.org/cms/.

This exhibition is one of several organized to coincide with The American Quilt Study Group’s annual seminar held in the Twin Cities between October 14-17, 2010. This event brings quilt enthusiasts and scholars together to view quilts from new perspectives, discuss aspects of women's and cultural history, and learn the latest in documentation and research.

Thanks to MHS volunteers who helped prepare the quilts for exhibition:  Jeannette Root and Dorothy Stish. Judy Calcote, Stephanie Drinkard and Laura Oyen deserve thanks for their research and cataloging assistance. A special thanks to Nancy Eha for lending us her most recent quilt.

For local guild information, contact Minnesota Quilters, Inc. at http://www.mnquilt.org/ or Minnesota Contemporary Quilters at http://www.minnesotacontemporaryquilters.net/.

The exhibit is on display at the James J. Hill House from October 2, 2010- March 1, 2011. Click here for more information.

Echoes of Fitzgerald

By: admin | What's New | October 20, 2010

Scribner's 1931

One of our favorite donors just dropped off the November 1931 issue of “Scribner’s Magazine.” Not something we would normally be interested in, this issue has a lead article by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Titled “Echoes of the Jazz Age,” the text may ring familiar to baby boomers too. Fitz admits that in ’31 it is too early to write about the Jazz Age “with perspective” but goes on to do so. He writes, “Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald Exhibit Open

By: admin | What's New | September 22, 2010

While the literary scene in Minnesota during the 1920s reached a fevered pitch, no author has withstood the passage of time like Saint Paul’s very own F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The MHS Library holds important research collection of his early work, popular editions, foreign language editions, magazine work, criticism, and some unique manuscripts.

Come see some of these items on display in the Library Lobby, which is free and open to the public. We encourage you to browse this exhibit and to come back soon to read the work of our most – hands down – important writer.

This will be on view September 21 to January 16, 2011.

Enhancing Access to MHS Archival Collections

By: admin | What's New | September 21, 2010
Manuscript Backlog 2010


The Minnesota Historical Society is pleased to announce its receipt of a Basic Project grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) which will significantly support a $500,000, 18-month project to process the Society’s unprocessed archival collections. The project targets a 4,600 cubic foot aggregation of government records and manuscript acquisitions which are largely hidden from our audiences. By arranging and describing these collections and series to generally accepted minimal standards, using economical practices that are now well tested, we expect to make our archival holdings web-discoverable, and to drive reading room use at MHS significantly.  Beginning October 18th, the project will become the focus of the archival processing staff’s work through 2011. Project staff expect to produce or revise at least 500 MARC21 catalog records and 300 EAD finding aids over the course of the project. A retrieval analysis of archival materials has been underway for the past year and will be used to help evaluate the audience impact of rapidly exposing more archival materials to web-scale discovery and access. We are grateful to the NHPRC for giving us this opportunity to get our backlog off the pallets, onto the stack shelves, and into the audience discovery space.

Watch our progress by visiting the What's New finding aids page! Discover what old treasures are newly available each month.

Web Accessible Finding Aids


By: admin | What's New | August 20, 2010
Shevlin Redwork - DeerShevlin Redwork - Bird Bath

Linda McShannock, objects curator, recently brought to the Acquisitions Committee a Redwork embroidered bed cover which was subsequently added to the Society’s Collection. Redwork is an embroidery style prominent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries  and is currently experiencing a resurgence of interest.

This is a signature spread made by the “Busy Bees” of Shevlin, Minnesota in 1908.  Each block was individually made and contains a different motif surrounded by family names. The designs are a sampling of embroidery motifs readily available and often used for tea towels, aprons or dresser scarves. Before acquiring this spread, the Collection contained only a small sample of Redwork, mostly towels; this is unusual and exciting because of its size and provenance.  The quilt came from the Olaf Olson family of Shevlin.  Often signature quilts were made for a fundraising purpose within the community, we may not know why the “Busy Bees” made this spread, but their embroidery preserves a moment in Shevlin’s history.

Shevlin Redwork - Whole

View of Shevlin, 1915.Shevlin, 1915


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