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Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future

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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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A Dark Chapter in Minnesota’s Political History

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | January 20, 2009



The last time the economy sucked this bad and left wing of the political spectrum was in the ascendency, the right wing used every possible trick to bring them down. In the 1938 gubernatorial race a book was published that was so repugnant that it makes our list of 150 best books.

Ray P. Chase. Are They Communists or Catspaws: A Red Baiting Article. Anoka: N. p., 1938.

Chase was an Anoka publisher who had run for governor in 1930 and served one term in Congress from 1933 -1935. In the heated Governor's race between Farmer-Labor incumbent Elmer Benson and "boy wonder" Harold Stassen, Chase wrote and published a small book trying to prove a link between the current administration and the Communist Party. The five examples he used, however, were all Jewish. This was a blatant introduction of anti-Semitism into Minnesota politics. Some of Chase's examples were not even that close to Gov. Benson and seem to have been chosen simply because they looked so Jewish. In response the Farmer-Labor party produced a leaflet saying that this "expensively gotten up book" "smack[ed] of the tactics of the fascists of Europe" They demonstrated that Chase's book altered photos to smear the Governor.

Chase embraced the pejorative term "red baiting" saying "radicals bait America and everything American". The term "catspaws" refer to people who are manipulated by Communists. Chase disingenuously writes that "Communists are entitled to respect for their courage. Catspaws who accept their support and deny their acquaintance are entitled to somewhat less respect".

Epilogue: Catspaws helped defeat Benson but the "silver lining" was that it prompted the organization, Jewish Community Relations Council, to combat local anti-Semitism like this. They have been doing good work for the last 80 years.

Minnesota Electoral College Assembly Records Transferred to the Minnesota State Archives

By: admin | What's New | January 16, 2009


A few days ago the Minnesota Secretary of State's office transferred records of the Minnesota Electoral College Assembly that occurred on December 15, 2008.  On that day, Minnesota's ten Electors unanimously cast votes for Barack Obama and Joseph Biden for president and vice president in a ceremony held in the Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda.  Pictured here are the ballots cast by Minnesota's slate of ten Electors from the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party.  Under the U.S. Constitution, Minnesota is provided ten Electors, a number equal to Minnesota's number of senators and representatives seated in the U.S. Congress.  Also transferred with the ballots, is a photograph of the Electors with Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, the original signed Certificate of Ascertainment of Appointment of Electors for President and Vice President, a news release about the ceremony, the assembly program, and a engraved pen of the type used for the signings.   Answers to frequently asked questions about the Electoral College are available on the Secretary of State's Web site homepage.

Cased Images – Daguerreotypes and Tintypes

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | January 5, 2009
Just what is the difference between a daguerreotype and a tintype? Photo curator Diane Adams-Graf explains what distinguishes these two early photographic processes. Actual daguerreotypes and tintypes are pulled apart and viewed in detail. (3 min. 8 sec.)
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All Tractors, All the Time

By: admin | What's New | December 18, 2008


Interested in photographs of tractors?  The Minnesota Historical Society is the place to look!

The Minneapolis-Moline Negative Collection is now available to the public.  This collection holds 14,180, black and white negatives of tractors, agricultural implements, machinery, and power units manufactured by that company between the 1930s and 1960s. Each of these images is described in a searchable list now available in the Society's online library catalog.  In addition, almost 2,000 of them have been printed and can be viewed in the online Photo and Art Database. Any image can  be ordered from the Library's Copy Service.

The Minneapolis-Moline Company was formed in 1929 and located in Hopkins, Minnesota. Many images in this collection depict Minneapolis-Moline tractors, implements, and power units, in the factory or dealer showroom or working in farm fields or other outdoor settings. There are also images with perspectives of machinery parts for use in sales publications. A large number depict the interior and exterior of factories, especially the Hopkins and Lake Street plants. There are aerial views of the factories, closer views of specific factory buildings and machinery, as well as views of company dealerships and branch offices around the United States. The Minneapolis-Moline Company's commercial photographer, Arthur H. Jensen, photographed these images and donated them to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) in 1975.

The cataloging needs for a collection this size required years of time, people and resources. The Minneapolis-Moline Collectors group, its many supporters and other enthusiasts, contributed gifts of both funds and labor toward documenting this collection. Other volunteers and Society staff scanned and cataloged material in recent years, and the Society is now able to provide full access to this important and vast collection of images.

The only immediate and remaining task for this collection is to follow-up on a 1995 recommendation to sleeve the negatives. Over 50% of the collection is covered by red opaque (masking) that is flaking off the negatives.  Almost the entire collection of negatives is covered with scratches.  It was recommended that buffered, acid-free, enclosures be used to sleeve the negatives. This final step is an important one to advancing the preservation of the Minneapolis-Moline Negative Collection.  We hope to secure funds for this important, preservation effort, in the coming year.

Diane Adams-Graf, Sound and Visual Curator



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Merry Christmas from Minnesota's Best Books

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | December 18, 2008

“Were you trying to lose my job for me? Ruin me?”
“I knew the little pup,” said French. “He’s a thief. I did what I had to do.”
“Since when did you start passing judgment on children?”
“Since I became Santa Claus.”
“And next summer, if you’re still Staggerford’s Indian? You’ll pass judgment on the tourist kids?”
French chuckled at himself in the mirror. “An Indian doesn’t pass judgment. That’s Santa’s job.”


Getting tired of the same old Christmas stories? Both Jon Hassler and J. F. Powers [see the last blog] wrote Christmas stories for the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts [MCBA], series of “Winter Books”. Hassler’s 1988 Staggerford’s Indian is the tale of French, a down and out Indian with PTSD, who gets a job as Santa in the town’s department store. It was the MCBA’s first Winter Book. Power’s The Old Bird: A Love Story, a sweet –not saccharin- story of an old man who gets a job near the holidays, was the 1991 Winter Book.


Like all the books in this series these titles are as beautiful as artifacts as they are as literature. For the most part, they are hand printed on hand made paper, illustrated, and very elegantly bound. The Minnesota Historical Society Library has a complete run of the MCBA Winter Books and I would encourage you to come take a look.


Other Minnesota Christmas stories we should hear about?





The Hill Family Collection

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | December 16, 2008
Early in 2008 the papers of legendary Minnesota businessman James J. Hill and several of his family members were transferred from the James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul to the Minnesota History Center, just a few blocks away. In this podcast, learn about the history and contents of the collection and the reasons for the move, and catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the incredible process of relocating almost 2500 boxes of valuable historical documents, photographs, books and artifacts.
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The Campaign Trail: Minnesota’s Historic Role in Modern Politics

By: admin | What's New | December 9, 2008




Political campaigns are chaotic, frenzied affairs and the best way to peer into this process is through the lens of a camera. Fortunately, Minnesota is blessed with having some of the best documentary photographers in the field. The exhibition, The Campaign Trail: Minnesota's Historic Role in Modern Politics examines campaign photography by featuring work by three talented and dedicated political photographers in Minnesota-Tom Arndt, Terry Gydesen and Ann Marsden. Each has been documenting the political scene for many years, providing an important visual document for future generations. In particular, Tom Arndt and Terry Gydesen's thoughtful and sensitive chronicle of the Mondale and Wellstone campaigns provide an in depth portrait of the candidate and his campaign.

Come see an exhibit of these fascinating images on view at the James J. Hill House Gallery until Feb. 22, 2009.

Above photo by Tom Arndt


Minnesota’s Humanity in Print

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | December 4, 2008


Barbara Tuchman coined the phrase, "Books are humanity in print," and nowhere is this more obvious than the work of two of Minnesota's literary giants, J. F. Powers and Jon Hassler. So our next two best Minnesota books are...

J. F. Powers. Morte D'Urban. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1962.

Jon Hassler. Staggerford. New York: Atheneum, 1977.

Powers and Hassler have much in common so it seems appropriate to mention them together. Both ended up at St. John's University after interesting starts to their careers and both are thought of as "Catholic" writers although the term seems ridiculously limiting to me. As a bit of trivia, of interest only to a few of us here at the MHS, Powers earliest job was working for the WPA Historic Records Survey in Chicago. When World War II broke out Powers tried for, and was denied, status as a Conscientious Objector. He came to Minnesota to serve time in the Federal prison at Sandstone. He had the Irish penchant for writing short stories [read his "Lions, Harts, Leaping Does"] but became famous with his National Book Award winning novel of a priest in Stearns County, Mort D'Urban. Powers was married to writer Betty Wahl (Rafferty and Co.) who he met at St. Ben's.

Jon Hassler came to Minnesota in a more traditional way, birth, and experienced life in the southern, urban, and northern parts of the state. He didn't start writing until he was in his mid forties and Staggerford was his first novel for adults. It concerns life in a fictionalized Park Rapids and introduces characters that turn up in his subsequent work.  His recognizably Minnesota characters, like Powers, are wrought with foibles and pettiness and problems but are likable if not lovable in spite of their shortcomings. One of the smartest things that has been said about Hassler's writings was from a reviewer who pointed out the unusual ability he has of "making good people interesting" [take that Jonathan Franzen].

A Selection of Minnesota Quilts

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | December 2, 2008
A quilt can be something to keep you toasty warm on a chilly night, but it can also be a work of art. Quilts today are often created as serious artistic expression, but quilters of earlier centuries also could focus their work on artistry as much as utility. Textile curator Linda McShannock shows us some of her favorite examples of these artistic quilts from the Society's collection, ranging in date from the 18th Century to the present.

Ghost Poems

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 26, 2008



Myers-Rich, Paulette. Ghost poems for the living: 13 sonnets by Shakespeare with distillations and images. Saint Paul: Traffic Street Press, 2005.

One of my favorite things in the MHS Library Collection is a fine press book by Paulette Myers-Rich, Ghost poems for the living: 13 sonnets by Shakespeare with distillations and images.

The beauty of this work is really beyond description; to hold it in one's hands is a joy. It is perfectly constructed, bound using linen cloth and flax papers created by the artist and letterpress printed on photo rag paper in an edition of 26.

What I love best about it is its simplicity and honesty; the whole design lends credence to its story. The story is the oldest there is, of love and loss and memory. In the book, Paulette presents a Shakespearian sonnet (which is about as good as it can possibly get in my estimation) with a subtle image of a recently dead flower above. On the following page is her "distillation," which consists of a negative image of the flower, and a new poem, which is created by removing carefully chosen words from the Shakespeare sonnet. Paulette's poetic skills shine through her careful choices for removal. The new poems are not Shakespeare, but they are not trying to be; they are something new, and still deeply beautiful. I believe this act gets to the point of dealing with loss; something is removed, yet something new can be created.

Come see it! It is available in our Library for viewing upon request. Not surprisingly, it won the award for the best fine press book at the 2006 Minnesota Book Awards.

Lori Williamson, Acquisitions Coordinator










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