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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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Oh, Canada!

By: admin | What's New | June 25, 2010

Canadian and American border patrols

The Minnesota Historical Society Library has opened a new exhibit of Canadiana from our Library Collection in celebration of 40 years of the Canadian Consulate in Minneapolis! Our state and Canada share many cultural similarities, some common history, and, of course, a border. It will be on view until September. Come take a look, eh?

Canadian Consulate in Minnesota

Amelia Earhart Found in St. Paul!

By: admin | What's New | June 24, 2010

Earhart newspaper clippings

Actually what happened to Amelia Earhart when she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean has never been solved, but some documents about Amelia Earhart were found in the records of the St. Paul school district.  Amelia Earhart attended Central High School as a junior during the 1913-1914 school year, and her family attended St. Clements Episcopal Church where she sang in the choir.  The documents include correspondence and memoranda (dated 1955-1956) about Amelia Earhart regarding a book the author, Jack Pitman, was writing about the world famous aviator.  Also donated were newspaper clippings (dated in the 1930s) primarily about Earhart’s aviation career.

Featured here is a memo written by Central High School librarian, Laurie C. Johnson, describing Amelia as “an attractive, friendly, red-haired teenager-not at all unlike her friends”.  Also, a newspaper clipping with a story about Amelia’s brief residence in St. Paul, along with a photograph of Amelia in the St. Clement’s church choir.

Description of Amelia EarhartAmelia Earhart at Central High School

Hearing History: Sounds of the Collection

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | June 21, 2010
Seeing historic objects is a wonderful experience, but some things are meant to be heard. In this episode, Objects Curator Matt Anderson listens to a few items from the collection that are either pleasant-sounding, melodic, or just plain noisy.


Sons of Saint Paul

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | June 1, 2010
A Series of Unfortunate Events…and a fewer number of fortunate ones have prevented me from keeping a timely schedule of announcing more of the 150 Best Minnesota Books. One of the fortunate events was the three day auction of the collection of Floyd Risvold. Floyd lived in Edina and had the greatest collection of American historical manuscripts that have been offered for sale in a generation. Of the 1,300 lots at this sale the Minnesota Historical Society bid on 60 and won 22; see the article in the Minneapolis Tribune if you are curious. All those events are behind us now. Accept my apology as we get back to business.

Max Shulman. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Doubleday: New York, 1951.

Charles Schulz. Happiness is a Warm Puppy. Determined Productions: San Francisco, 1962.

There is so much to say about these entries I hardly know where to begin so I especially look forward to your comments, dear readers. Here goes. These books make our list because Dobie Gillis and Charlie Brown are two iconic fictional Minnesotans who made a significant impact on American life and culture. Shulman and Schultz were two Saint Paulites, sons of immigrants, and served in World War II. They were both slightly subversive humorists, and, I don’t want to press the similarities too far, but both Gillis and Brown are at their core just two guys looking for love in the anxiety filled era of the Cold War. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

Back cover of Dobie Gillis

Inside flap of Dobie Gillis Shulman’s Dobie Gillis is perhaps better known from the TV series of the same name that ran from 1959 to 1963. Max wrote the scripts for the shows in the first seasons so the characters are consistent from print to film. The Many Love of Dobie Gillis (MLODG) is probably even sexist by the standards of its own time but the references to local people and places will be enjoyable to readers. The book centers on the University of Minnesota (which the author says in a note in the sequel to MLODG “is, of course, wholly imaginary”) and Dobie’s quest for love, learning, and a livelihood. I was tempted to list Shulman’s 1950 Sleep Till Noon because it has this nearly perfect opening sentence; “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped into my groin, and I was off on the biggest adventure of my life . . . But first let me tell you a little about myself.” It would be as impossible to ignore Charles Schulz in this book blog as it is to avoid him in day-to-day life. Even if you missed the six years of “Peanuts on Parade” statues around Saint Paul (or the ceaseless silly debate over whether F. Scott Fitzgerald or Snoopy was more deserving of a place of honor in Rice Park) you still can’t tune out the syndicated cartoon strips, holiday specials and accompanying music, Met life ads, hundreds of books (of which the MHS has cataloged 117 in many languages), and the endless pop psychologizing about Charlie Brown’s depression. Selecting a single title for this list was a difficult, almost paralyzing, choice. There are now complete compilations of all of Shultz’s 18,000 comic strips but HIAWP was Schulz’s first book and made him even more rich (he made over $ 1 billion dollars during his lifetime and was still making $ 35 million a year six years after he died) and famous when it climbed onto the New York Times best seller list.

Happiness is a Warm PuppyThree foreign language Peanuts covers

Finally, remember my pontification many entries ago that a Minnesota author on the cover of “Time Magazine” automatically gets a spot on our list. April 9, 1965 qualifies Shultz.

Peanuts on the cover of Time, 1965

Death From Above: Minnesota Paratroopers in World War II

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | May 28, 2010
Paratroopers jumped into danger during the D-Day invasion of Normandy and in campaigns across the globe during World War II. To mark Memorial Day and the anniversary of D-Day, curator Matt Anderson introduces a few of Minnesota's own airborne soldiers while looking at their personal artifacts found within the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.


New Sculptures from the Collection

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | May 10, 2010
Art Curator Brian Szott shows three new additions to the Minnesota Historical Society's Art Collection, including two modernist sculptures of Mother and Child.

Guitar purchased from W.J. Dyer & Bro., St. Paul

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | May 7, 2010
Martin 1-21 GuitarThis circa 1893 guitar is wonderful in its own right, but it's also a connection to what was once one of St. Paul's most venerable institutions: the musical instrument retailer W.J. Dyer & Bro.

William John Dyer was born in London, England, in 1841, and made his way to Faribault, Minnesota, in 1869. After a brief stint as a music teacher, Dyer and his brother, C.E., opened a music store. Two years later, the brothers moved to St. Paul.

The Dyer store grew quickly, opening a Minneapolis location in 1880, and advertising the sale of everything from pianos and organs, to guitars and mandolins, to band instruments and music books. By 1891, Dyer was said to be the largest music store west of Chicago. The firm even branded its own line of instruments, though they were built by other companies. All told, Dyer catered to Minnesotans' musical needs for more than 70 years.
W.J. Dyer & Bro., St. Paul
As for this particular instrument, it's a Size 1-21 parlor guitar made by C.F. Martin & Company of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The guitar features a Brazilian rosewood body with a spruce top, and is decorated with an ornate herringbone pattern in the rosette around the soundhole. At 37 1/2 inches long by 12 3/4 inches wide, the guitar is small by today's standards. (The modern Martin D-28 measures 40 3/4 inches long by 15 3/4 inches wide.) As the "parlor" name implies, this instrument was meant for quiet playing at home, and did not need the volume that comes with a larger body. The guitar probably sold for around $40.00, and came complete with a wooden case - also in our collection.

RosetteThough W.J. Dyer & Bro. may be a memory, C.F. Martin remains in business, having just celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2008. The company's guitars continue to be some of the most respected in the industry.

Matt Anderson, Picker and Objects Curator


By: admin | Our Favorite Things | April 14, 2010

Mairs screen

A curator’s favorite piece in the collection is often the most recent addition. A perfect example of this is this newly-arrived folding screen created by the influential and enigmatic St. Paul art couple Clara Mairs (1878 – 1963) and Clement Haupers (1900 – 1982). Painted in 1937 and signed only by Mairs, the four-panel screen depicts several species of waterfowl from hooded mergansers and mallards to wood ducks and a loon. It was a gift from Clara and Clem to her brother, Samuel Mairs, an avid hunter and outdoorsman who hunted regularly on Lake Christina near Alexandria, Minnesota.

A gift to the Historical Society from Clara’s nephew Thomas Mairs and his children, it is an especially welcomed addition to the collection—a unique and functional work of art!

Brian Szott, Curator of Art

Five year fireman's certificate

By: admin | What's New | April 14, 2010
Minneapolis Firemen's Certificate

According to legislation passed in 1873, Minneapolis firemen who had served five years as active firefighters were entitled to be exempt from jury duty and from paying the poll tax (a requirement for voting).  This fancy certificate testified that Patrick Daly had served his five years and therefore was exempt from these obligations.  Patrick Daly had been born in Ireland in April 1836, had lived in Australia and New Zealand, and emigrated to Minneapolis in 1870.  In addition to his stint as a firefighter, he served as a liquor dealer and a policeman, attaining the rank of Captain.  He died in April 1887 and is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Minneapolis.

The Society has an existing collection of Patrick Daly papers to which this new item will be added.

Duane Swanson, Curator of Manuscripts

Stillwater Prison Industries

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | April 1, 2010
Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist, takes a look at Stillwater Prison Industries. Since the 1890s, inmates have manufactured everything from twine to office furniture. The Society's collections include records, reports, photographs, and sample products that illuminate this unique enterprise.