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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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1892 Republican Convention in Minneapolis

By: admin | What's New | August 19, 2008

Come by the Library Lobby and see some of the wonderful pieces we have from the Republican National Convention of 1892 on display. This includes badges, original newspapers, photographs of the event, as well as visitor guides given to the Delegates. Consider the 1892 Convention in light of the hoopla surrounding the upcoming Convention, which will be held just down the hill!

This display will be on view the same hours as the Library. It will not be available during the Convention itself, from September 1 through September 4.

Be sure to listen to the Podcast on the 1892 Convention as well!

So Wild A Dream

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | August 8, 2008
I just returned from my most arduous canoe trip in years [an estimated 65,000 - 75,000 paddle strokes] reminding me that I'm not 20 years old anymore. Four friends and I retraced a trip in the Quetico that Aldo Leopold took in 1922. Tom, one of my canoe mates, was reading Eric Sevareid's Canoeing with the Cree, which also reminded me that we have not officially placed this classic on our list of best books, so here it is:

Arnold Sevareid. Canoeing with the Cree. New York: Macmillan, 1935.

This is the book most often recommended to me as one of Minnesota's 150 best books. I couldn't agree more, but I admit that I am a bit surprised by such wide spread agreement. This true adventure story begins on the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling and ends a harrowing four months and 2,250 miles later in Hudson Bay. I won't take away any of the pleasure of a full reading, but Tom marked two passages in his copy with campfire charcoal that I'll share. The first passage comes when the boys, using horrible maps and bad advice, had just come life threateningly close to missing the outlet of the God's River.

Half a mile westward and suddenly we were in a strong current. Again we had done it! And missed the river by only half a mile!

"Mr. Sevareid," said Walt pompously, extending his hand like an archduke, "I congratulate you, rawther splendid you know."

"Sir Port, positively gorgeous. You, my lord, not I, deserve the plaudits of these gaping multitudes."

But only the spruce and the birch could witness our triumph.

This proved the truth of an earlier passage that Tom had marked...

This was another indication of something we came to realize many times before we reached home, that the God who guides the footsteps of errant fools most certainly was riding on the weathered prow of the Sans Souci [their canoe].

I love the last paragraph of this coming of age story...

We went by the school, sitting on its terraces among the yellow trees. As we drew nearer and nearer to home, high-school boys and girls passed us on their way to classes. We realized that we were looking at them through different eyes. We realized that our shoulders were not tired under the weight of our packs. It was as though we had suddenly become men and were boys no longer.

I recommend collectors find a copy of the first edition. It was published under Eric's original name, Arnold, and the dust jacket has an image canoeists will find familiar, a photo by Sevareid of Walter Port's bare back in the bow of Sans Souci. The edition currently in print is, however, the best. It contains an introduction by Ann Bancroft, who wisely sums up the one of the reasons this book is timeless: "Only our acceptance, our willingness to go where we are small and where we need to respect the power and objectivity of nature, makes it possible for us to experience a hero's journey. And we are all eager for that journey."

There can't be any better place to read a book than sitting on jack pine needle covered granite in canoe country. Other books we painfully carried over countless portages? The Secret Life of Lobsters, Steinbeck's Sea of Cortez, and Ann Patchett's Bel Canto. I love the juxtaposition of reading gritty urban novels in the wilderness, so I brought along John Banville's Dublin in his Christine Falls.

WCCO-TV Visits Charles A. Lindbergh House

By: admin | What's New | August 7, 2008
WCCO-TV reporter Bill Hudson visited the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site, a house museum operated by the Minnesota Historical Society in Little Falls. Hudson spoke with site manager Charlie Pautler about Lindbergh's boyhood in Minnesota, and his celebrated 1927 trans-Atlantic flight. Original artifacts associated with the pioneering pilot - and now a part of the MHS collections - are featured.

See Hudson's report here:

Visit the Lindbergh Site's web page here:

Land o’ Ten Thousand Treatment Centers

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | July 31, 2008
I had just picked up my paddle the other night to canoe under the full moon when my phone rang. It was my old friend Tim J. who wanted to talk to me about Minnesota's 150 best books.

First, let me urge y'all to communicate on this topic by leaving a reply on the blog. Don't e-mail me, don't phone me, and don't give me your opinion at a party. Share your thoughts with everyone. I am as infallible as a 14th Century Pope. Criticize me, argue with me, agree with me, surprise me. I don't care but do it publicly. Leave your opinion because we value your take on Minnesota books.

Back to Tim. He had a brilliant suggestion and another suggestion for a subtopic that is outside the scope of this list. His subtopic is academic textbooks by Minnesota Professors that have had a wide - sometimes worldwide - impact on their disciplines. Tim, feel free to list some of the textbooks you mentioned, and others feel free to weigh in. My thought is that most of the books on the 150 list will be non-academic books, more accessible to the general public, and more uniquely Minnesota than universals like math or chemistry.

His brilliant suggestion? It is a book I have known about and picked up for the MHS Library twenty years ago, but hadn't considered for the list until Tim made his case for its inclusion here.

Vernon E. Johnson I'll Quit Tomorrow. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973.

This book had a huge impact on our culture. Johnson's experimental work with alcoholics began in the early 1960s. The treatment program he developed at his Minneapolis based Johnson Institute is outlined in detail in I'll Quit Tomorrow. This program became known as the Minnesota Model. Since then Minnesota has become jokingly known as the Land of Ten Thousand Treatment Centers, although a recent article on pointed out that Minnesota ranks 48th out of 50 states in the number of adults in treatment, and blames rate freezes and regulatory changes for the tough times experienced by local social service providers. Still this is both an important part of our economy and a significant part of Minnesota's cultural image.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

Minnesota's First State Flag

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | July 24, 2008
With all of the excitement surrounding Minnesota’s sesquicentennial this year, I’ve been thinking about those formative days in 1858 when we emerged from our territorial adolescence into full-grown statehood. Creating a new state is no simple matter. Given the innumerable legislative tasks involved, we shouldn’t be surprised that one or two slipped through the cracks. What might be surprising though, is that Minnesota’s oversights included the failure to adopt an official state flag – for 35 years!

It was not until plans were made for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 that the lack of a flag became a real problem. As a part of that grand fair, marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to the Americas (the fair itself was a bit behind schedule), each of the then 44 states were invited to mount an exhibit at the fairgrounds in Chicago. As the Minnesota display was prepared, the state legislature determined that the occasion called for an official state flag.

The legislature appointed a flag commission and the commission in turn sponsored a design contest open to all Minnesotans. Amelia Hyde Center of Minneapolis submitted the winning entry. Center’s design called for a double-sided flag blue on one face, and white on the other. The Minnesota state seal (which the state had remembered to adopt in 1861) was the focal point. Center placed three dates in the seal: 1819 (the founding of Fort Snelling), 1858 (statehood), and 1893 (the flag's design). Sisters Pauline and Thomane Fjelde, immigrants to Minnesota from Norway and respected needleworkers, were contracted to produce the actual prototype flag. The Fjelde sisters did such a fine job of it that the Minnesota flag earned a gold medal for embroidery at the Chicago exposition.

Center’s design survives largely intact in our current state flag. The double-sided scheme was dropped in favor of two blue sides in 1957, not for aesthetic reasons, but because a single-colored flag was easier to mass-produce. The Fjeldes’ original silk flag became the property of the Minnesota National Guard. It made public appearances in parades as late as 1919, and then went into storage. The flag underwent conservation treatments in the 1930s, and again in the 1980s, before the Guard transferred it to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1993. Some things are indeed worth the wait.

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator

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1950s Tourist Cabins

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | July 23, 2008
Curator Matt Anderson celebrates the summer road trip season with a look at an early predecessor to the modern motel: the tourist cabin. One cabin from the Star Harbor Resort near Two Harbors, complete with its furnishings and appliances, is highlighted. The cabin is now in the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

View photos of tourist cabins in general, and of the Star Harbor Resort in particular, in the Visual Resources Database. Purchase copies of Cabins of Minnesota and Minnesota Vacation Days in the online store. Learn more about one segment of the "hot pillow trade" in Minnesota under "History Topics."


Betsy, Tacy, and Guest Blogger

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | July 22, 2008
Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart LovelaceEmily by Maud Hart Lovelace

[A note from Patrick:] There will be times during the course of rolling out the list of 150 best Minnesota books that I will admit to knowing just enough to know I am ignorant. This is one of them. Maud Hart Lovelace absolutely deserves a place on this list but I'm not qualified to choose the title or write about Maud. Fortunately we have enlisted the aid of a guest blogger to do the honors. Betsy Sundquist introduced herself to readers of this blog in comments under the first posting if your want to check out her credentials. Take it away Betsy...

Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy-Tacy. New York: Crowell, 1940.

Maud Hart Lovelace. Emily of Deep Valley. New York: Crowell, 1950.

Maud Hart Lovelace wrote a series of books set in Mankato, the fictional Deep Valley, about Betsy Ray, Tacy Kelly and their friends, but I - and many other Lovelace fans - believe her best work is Emily of Deep Valley. Although some of the Betsy-Tacy characters make appearances in the book, it's a stand-alone story about a girl very unlike Betsy: Emily is a loner, shy and not really part of her high school crowd. Throughout the course of the book she realizes she's unhappy, determines to quit feeling sorry for herself and learns to "muster her wits," which helps lead to one of the most satisfying conclusions in Lovelace's books. I've discovered that a number of girls who have read the books in the past - and who continue to read them today - have identified more closely with Emily than with the popular Betsy Ray and her crowd. Although the 10 specific Betsy-Tacy books weave a wonderful story about Minnesota girls growing into women at the turn of the 19th century, I believe that Emily has an important message, delivered in a convincing (and not preachy) manner.

Betsy Sundquist, guest blogger

Nouvelle Decouverte, New Discoveries, and No Discovery

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | July 14, 2008
We have been having far too much fun lately so let's get serious for a while and talk about three of the most important and indispensable Minnesota books. Although they are from three different centuries and three different nationalities, the theme of exploration connects them. These books could hardly satiate the old world's hunger for accounts of this strange new world and its exotic inhabitants.

Father Louis Hennepin. Description de la Louisiane, Nouvellement decouverte au Sud' Ouest de la Nouvelle France...Paris: Chez la Veuve Sebastien Hure, 1683.

Jonathan Carver. Travels Through the Interior Parts of North-America, in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768. London: C. Dilly; H. Payne; and F. Phillips, 1781.

Zebulon M. Pike. An Account of a Voyage Up the Mississippi River from St. Louis to its Source. Washington, D. C., 1807.

The oldest, rarest, and most expensive (in case, as I hope, you are attempting to acquire all 150 books) book on our list is the Hennepin. In recounting his trip up the Mississippi River from the Illinois River the Friar gives the first written account of the French holdings of Louisiana and becomes Minnesota's first author. The question is whether Hennepin is Minnesota's first writer of fiction or non-fiction. I chose this edition because the narrative embellishments become intolerable in subsequent editions. In his 1697 sequel, Nouvelle decouverte... Hennepin claims to have first paddled down to the mouth of the river before returning north! And in a matter of days!! LaSalle remarked of his underling: "It is necessary to know him somewhat, for he will not fail to exaggerate everything; it is his character." Fowell dryly states that the writings of early explorers "... may be said to contain truth."

Carver began with an advantage: he had read Hennepin. This piqued his amateur curiosity to find out more about the Mississippi River and its inhabitants. To make a long and complicated story bloggably short, Carver contributed greatly to the knowledge of the river and of the Dakota people, with whom he spent a winter. Unfortunately Carver's London publisher added much material that was both plagiarized and fanciful, even by the lax standards of this genre. As they expected, this made the book extraordinarily popular. It was quickly printed in all European languages but Carver's veracity was widely questioned. It wasn't until the legendary Dr. Jack Parker, from the James Ford Bell Library, discovered Carver's original manuscript in the British Library that Carver's reputation recovered. I have listed the third edition of Carver because it is considered the best edition, having added a biography of the author, an index, and 3 colored plates, one of which is Europe's first image of a tobacco plant.

Thomas Jefferson read both Hennepin and Carver. In 1805 he sent young Zebulon Pike to acquire land from the Indians for permanent forts, to bring the influential Chiefs to St. Louis for talks, and to discover the source of the Mississippi, which Carver had misidentified as Lake Pepin. Pike proves to be shockingly inept in diplomatic encounters with both the native population and the British traders. He also proved to be a poor explorer and poorer cartographer. He concluded that Leech Lake was the source of the Mississippi and that Cass Lake (called Red Cedar Lake) was the "upper source," whatever he meant by that. Pike's only success was procuring the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers for what would become Fort Snelling. Still this is an important part of Minnesota history, a good story, and a must read.

For readers inclined to cheat, skip the above and read Tim Severin's highly entertaining Explorers of the Mississippi. New York, 1968.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

Notes from the Book Fair

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | July 1, 2008
Life doesn't get any sweeter for Minnesota bibliophiles than it was last weekend! It was the 18th annual Twin Cities Book Fair and 50 dealers from around the country brought their best books. I was especially gratified to see how many of the 150 best Minnesota books were available. Just from the last two posts, for example, I saw several volumes of Sig Olson's writings. The best might have been at the booth of Winona book dealer and Professor, John Campbell. It was Open Horizons and was signed with a long presentation to Florence Barker, author of Bird Songs of Southeastern Minnesota. There were many copies of Jacques Canoe Country available but the Rutstrum book remains as elusive as ever. Steve Anderson of Ross & Haines books in Hudson had Lindbergh's Why is Your Country at War... for a reasonable $500 and Rulon-Miller of St. Paul had a rare dust jacketed copy of Lindbergh's The Economic Pinch for $450. Rare book dealers from Rochester, New York, Boston, and Paris (Tennessee, sorry) had books that made taking out a second mortgage on your house seem like a reasonable idea. All have vowed to help the MHS secure every foreign language edition of Sinclair Lewis's Mantrap.

Speaking of the collections, I had an especially good book fair. After last year's effort to educate dealers about the rich tradition of Minnesota pulp fiction writers I seem to have created a market for these titles. Of the genre fiction that showed up at the fair the MHS bought two Poul Anderson firsts in beautifully graphic jackets, two Frank Gruber westerns, and a handful of Sci-Fi magazines (again, great graphics) with local authors featured prominently on the covers. These will not be on the list of Minnesota's best books, but I thought you might enjoy seeing an example, at right.

I'll be checking more titles over the next few days - since I can't remember every book in the library and don't yet have an iPhone - but so far the best book from the fair came from the booth of Paul Johnson whose Apple Valley store is simply called "The Bookman." It is a very rare printing of a Louise Erdrich short story, "Snares," which was published by the Friends of the Library of Middlebury College in 1987.

Special thanks goes to the Dean of Minnesota Book sellers, Jim Cummings, who brought gifts for the MHS to the fair. These were a photo that Jim took as an eight-year-old boy of the farm buildings at Crosby Farm in St. Paul (which may be the only image of that old landmark) and several photos of Ignatius Donnelly's home at Ninninger, documenting the first and unsuccessful preservation fight in Minnesota. Donnelly, by the way, will be an honored author on our 150 list. Stay tuned and let me hear what you found at the book fair.

James J. Hill Papers

By: admin | What's New | July 1, 2008

You know his mansion on Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, and you know that he's the railroad magnate, but did you know about how diverse his ventures were or the kind of family man he was? The answers can be found in his papers!

The James J. Hill/Louis W. Hill manuscript collections provide a wealth of documentation on topics as varied as mining interests, agricultural enterprises, national and international commerce and finance, and the expansion of the Pacific Northwest. These business papers complement our massive collection of railroad records. The papers contain details about the Hills’ interests in Canadian fishing, oil exploration, Glacier National Park, and philanthropy throughout the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Complementing these business topics are the Maude Hill papers, a rich resource on the domestic side of the Hill family.

The papers were transferred from the James J. Hill Reference Library to the Minnesota Historical Society in May 2008. They are currently in the process of being recataloged, and so will not be available for public use for several months. In the meantime, come see materials from this outstanding collection on display in the Lobby of the Minnesota Historical Society Library through August 25, 2008.

Learn more: