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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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Historic Coats from the Winter Carnival

By: admin | What's New | November 6, 2007
Historic Winter Carnival coatsTwo historic coats worn for Winter Carnival activities in the early 20th century were recently added to the Society’s collection.

One of the distinctive “Hudson’s Bay” coats belonged to James J. Hill’s son, Louis, who succeeded his father as president and chairman of the Great Northern Railway. James J. Hill supported the first carnivals beginning in 1886. The festival was revived by Louis Hill in 1916 and has been a highlight of St. Paul’s colorful winter season ever since.

The second coat with similar blanket stripes has a long, full design and was worn by a member of the Great Northern Railway marching club. Both coats date from the years shortly after the 1916 carnival and were probably worn for many years after.

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Northwest Airlines Stewardess Scrapbook

By: admin | What's New | November 6, 2007

Gum caddy
Richardson’s donation to the Society included her uniform and a case that held the gum stewardesses gave passengers to ease ear pain.

Two delightful scrapbooks recently donated to the Minnesota Historical Society chronicle the career and continuing interests of one of the Northwest Airlines’ earliest stewardesses.

Helen Jacobson Richardson worked for Northwest from 1939 until 1942 when, following industry rules, she resigned in order to marry. Her personal memorabilia illuminate the world of the airline stewardess, from the daily routine of life in the sky and professional development to the poise required of these pioneering women and the celebrity they enjoyed.

The passenger airline industry was just developing during Richardson’s time as a stewardess. Her scrapbooks chart innovations, changes, and the evolution of many things we now take for granted: marketing materials advertising new routes and promoting travel, the development of the oxygen mask, unpressurized cabins and the distribution of chewing gum to ease passengers’ ear discomfort, and 30 years of uniform styles.

Job qualifications for early stewardesses were strict, as Richardson recalled in a 1969 Northwest Airlines newsletter, now preserved in her scrapbook. Many, if not all, stewardesses were registered nurses. They had to be “unmarried; age 21---25; 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 5 inches tall; weight not over 120 pounds.” Clippings like this, plus the great variety of photographs, luggage tags, tickets, advertisements, correspondence, and flight reports make Richardson’s scrapbooks a valuable time capsule of the ever-evolving airline industry.

Molly Tierney, Curator of Manuscripts

Learn MorePage from Richardson’s scrapbook

Four Dancing Norwegians

By: admin | What's New | November 5, 2007
Norwegian Dolls

This is a new donation commissioned by the Minnesota Go-fer Dollies Doll Club as a memorial for Nancy Bergh, former MHS staff member and club member. Annie Wahl, a Minnesota dollmaker, who specializes in character dolls with a very distinctive look, sculpted them from polymer clay with Norwegian regional dress details.

They are delightful and will make you smile.

Linda McShannock, Objects Curator

Send an e-card of the Four Dancing Norwegians

Norwegians in Minnesota and other publications are available at

Bob Dylan's "Minnesota Party Tape"

By: admin | What's New | November 1, 2007

Before Bob Dylan headed to New York to become one of the world's most renowned folk singer-songwriters, he made music as a virtual unknown in Minneapolis while attending the University of Minnesota. Now, an original recording of one of Dylan's legendary impromptu performances at an apartment in 1960 has found its way to the Minnesota Historical Society Library.

Thanks to Minneapolis resident Cleve Pettersen, the original recording of what fans and music buffs know as the "Minnesota Party Tape" is now available for the first time to the public at the library in the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.Pettersen was just a teenager in 1960 when he bought his first reel-to-reel tape recorder and spent a lot of time in coffeehouses in the Dinkytown neighborhood near the University of Minnesota. Pettersen wanted to get a local folk singer to sing songs into his new recorder and asked some local musicians who would be willing. A young Bob Dylan agreed to be recorded.Pettersen went to an apartment on 15th Ave. S.E. in Minneapolis and hung out with Dylan, Bonnie Beecher, and "Cynthia"- another local musician and friend of Dylan's. Pettersen set up the recorder and Dylan casually sang 12 folk songs into it.

Petterson has been the sole owner of the original tape ever since - until he made the decision in 2004 to donate it to the Society for all to enjoy."The surfacing of this original recording should correct all the rumors and speculation circulating on the Internet and within the circles of Dylan followers and music critics," said Bonnie Wilson, curator at the Society. "Citizens donating historically significant items and artifacts, such as this recording, have enabled the Society's collections to grow and make rare works accessible to all."The play list includes: "Blue Yodel No. 8," "Come See Jerusalem," "San Francisco Bay Blues," "I'm a Gambler," "Talkin' Merchant Marine," "Talkin' Hugh Brown," "Talkin' Lobbyist," "Red Rosey Bush," "Johnny I Hardly Knew You," "Jesus Christ," "Streets of Glory" and "K.C. Moan."The original tape is copied onto CD and cassette formats and is now available for listening at the library free of charge. Making copies of the recording will not be allowed.

The library hours are: Tuesdays, noon to 8 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Sundays and Mondays. This recording will become a part of the expansive collections at the Society, including more than 2,000 sound recordings, 4,000 newspaper titles, more than 350,000 photographs, and more than 36,000 cubic feet of manuscripts.


By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 1, 2007
Photo of carving by Peter A. PetersonArt elicits many reactions from viewers. It can inspire, evoke strong feelings, or move us to reflect upon its form or meaning. It can also tell us much about the time and place in which it was created, as these examples from the Minnesota Historical Society collections show.Peter A. Peterson or "Whiskey Pete" captured in his woodcarvings the spirit of country life. Born in Alvdalen, Sweden, in 1884, Peterson emigrated with his family when he was about 17, settling in rural Dalbo in Isanti County. This hard-working, church-going, mostly Swedish farm community is where Peterson learned to carve wood. His subjects point to the world and personalities he saw around himself, people like lumbermen, the pastor, and members of a Swedish band and choir. His carvings range from 4 inches to 40 inches, but most are less than a foot tall. They speak to us of the world as seen through Peterson's eyes.Since the figures are painted, we can only guess at Peterson's methods and materials. He probably carved soft, local wood such as balsam fir with a whittling tool or small knife. Oral tradition holds that Peterson did not carve for money; he gave his work away, traded it for a few goods, or sold it for whiskey — thus his nickname. After his death on October 21, 1964, these figures eventually found their way to a New York auction house, where the Minnesota Historical Society purchased them as fine examples of folk art. Now they have come back to Minnesota to inspire and remind us of Peterson's world.bear.jpg In a similar folk-art tradition, a new form is emerging: chainsaw art. Chainsaw sculptures are showing up at fairs, along roadsides, and as commissioned art projects in cities and private homes. Stillwater carver Perry Carlson, who has been working with wood for 15 years, is also of Swedish descent, with a brother and father working in this art form as well. Perry's recent tool choice is the chainsaw, which greatly assists him with "getting at" the wood. From the variety of his sculptures, his clients favor these friendly two-to-three-foot tall "Welcome Bears" for their porches or decks up at the cabin. Carlson mostly works with trees already down or wood already cut. Another of his specialties is the "story pole" made from trees that are diseased or need to come down. Carlson carves a story into the tree, saving it from complete removal and creating beauty that adds meaning to the place where the tree has stood for many years.Pete Peterson and Perry Carlson represent craftsman that are part of a long and enduring legacy of wood-carving. The Minnesota Historical Society will continue to collect the work of historical and contemporary carvers both to document the art form and remind us of ourselves and our sense of place.This article was originally published in the Summer 2002 issue of Minnesota History.

Arts and Crafts Movement

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 1, 2007
Canterbury made by Anthony Edward OfstieThe Arts and Crafts movement's values of handicraft and creative expression found fertile ground in Minnesota. Included in the Minnesota Historical Society's furniture collection from the turn of the last century is this tall, handmade canterbury or magazine rack, made by Anthony Edward Ofstie, a Norwegian immigrant born in 1861. The dark-stained, quarter-sawn oak stand features a square top with marquetry of various-colored woods.Employed for most of his life driving fire engines with Hook and Ladder Company No. 6,Ofstie may have developed his appreciation for woodworking while driving a Minneapolisfurniture-store truck. He and his wife, Julia, enriched their southeast Minneapolishome with furniture of his own design. Among the six pieces in the Society'scollection today are an unusual table and upholstered armchair made of cow hornsand oak. A decoratively monogrammed wooden music-storage cabinet contains a notethat Ofstie handcrafted it for one of his two sons, a heartfelt gift of whichlofty Arts and Crafts theorists surely would have approved.This article was originally published in the Spring 2001 issue of Minnesota History.

1930s Cookbooks

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 1, 2007
Betty’s Scrapbook of Little Recipes for Little CooksLooking at the Great Depression of the 1930s through the eyes of its cookbooks gives a new perspective on food, one of the vital needs of Minnesotans in a time of economic crisis. The Historical Society library has a nice collection of Minnesota cookbooks from the decade, many of which reflect the economic travails of the period.

Minnesotans who lived on farms often had more food available to them than people who lived through the Depression in town or in The Cities because they raised animals for milk, eggs, and meat and grew vegetables, berries, and some other fruits in large gardens. Farm women had the skills, space, and equipment to preserve food when it was ripe and plentiful, for their families' nourishment and enjoyment after the state's short growing season. In general, though the 30s were tough on farmers too, food remained plentiful for many, as demonstrated in this charming oversized cookbook published by The Farmer in 1931 to help farm girls learn to cook. The cookbook says nothing about the need to help Mother economize, to stretch ingredients or learn to use less expensive substitutes. It gives recipes and instructions for everything from muffins to a whole meal for the family. And this was published after the farm economy had been in dire straits throughout the 1920s!

Recipe BookPeople in small towns, on the iron ranges, and even in larger cities also planted gardens and even raised an animal or two for the family table. Cookbook writers and organizations that compiled cookbooks for sale clearly expected town and city women to put up food and probably assumed they grew at least tomatoes, cucumbers, and dill in backyard gardens. These cookbooks encouraged them to emulate their sisters on the farm - without saying so directly - by including large numbers of recipes for canning preserves, pickles, relishes, and sauces.

A frequently seen recipe type in 1930s cookbooks is the "Mock recipe" which attempted to make a desirable dish without using one of the main ingredients that makes it desirable. The best known is probably mock apple pie, made with soda crackers and lots of sugar and spices. The Northwest Housewives Prize-Winning Recipes Book, published by the St. Paul Daily News Home Economic Dept. in 1934, includes a recipe for Mock Maple Mousse that uses brown sugar and water to substitute for the maple syrup and a recipe for Mock Turkey Legs that calls for veal steak and pork tenderloin, molded into the shape of a drumstick on a wooden skewer.

Strawberry short cake recipe pagesEven during the Depression, the flour millers of Minneapolis still needed to sell their flour. The Betty Crocker cookbooks in the MHS collection show how General Mills encouraged women to use their products in baking and other cooking: the key words here are Bisquick and celebrities. Bisquick combined flour and fat to speed the baking and cooking process; movie stars helped struggling Americans to escape temporarily from their difficult lives. And movie stars using Bisquick - well, the combination must have seemed irresistible to the advertising folks at General Mills. The cookbooks emphasized the glamour of the stars, both men and women, with alluring portraits of the celebrities and their chosen dishes like Mary Pickford's strawberry shortcake.

Cookery Club BulletinPillsbury started a cookery club to encourage both brand loyalty and more use of flour. The MHS collections only hold one issue, Bulletin No. 2 from November of 1934 - but we'd love to acquire more. The editor was Mary Ellis Ames, whose title was Director of Pillsbury's Cooking Service. Unlike Betty Crocker, she was a real person who used her own name. ("Ann Pillsbury," who demonstrates delicious baked goods at the Mill City Museum, came later.) Ms. Ames’s only reference to hard times in this issue is to use the word "practical". Several recipes provided, like Mexican Pancakes and Almond Marigold Sponge Cake, promoted the use of specialty flours like Pillsbury's Pancake Flour, Pillsbury's White Corn Meal, and Pillsbury's Sno Sheen Cake Flour.
 Tested Recipes, cookbook coverThe Russell-Miller Milling Company promoted its Occident Flour with a booklet of Tested Recipes that featured a cross-stitched cover and proclaimed its seals of approval from the Good Housekeeping Bureau, the Farmers Wife magazine's reader-testers, and the Household Magazine. It appealed to economy-minded bakers by printing a letter that asserted that Occident Flour produced 13 to 28 ounces more bread per 49-pound sack than Flour A and Flour B. Which just might have been General Mills and Pillsbury, but brand names weren't mentioned.

Home economists often worked at establishments where cooking for large numbers of people was essential. A boon to them was a book called Quantity Cookery, written by two well-known Minnesota home economists, Nola Treat and Lenore Richards. In the 1941 edition of their book, 1st published in the 1930s, they advise: "In Discussing the Limitations in Menu Making the Element of Cost Has Come Up Again and Again. It becomes a definite restriction in institutions that work on a budget, or where the group to be served demands good, wholesome foods at the lowest price." Examples given are factory cafeterias, school lunchrooms, and restaurants and hotels “whose patrons comprise the lower-income groups”. They then discuss the need to re-use all leftovers, noting "It requires a good deal of ingenuity to use these leftovers in some other form so as to maintain variety and that element of surprise which is so essential."

 Home Economics Association, University of Minnesota, 1933 And of course, women continued to study nutrition and home economics at the University of Minnesota's "farm campus." The MHS library is lucky to have an example of a small cookbook they produced, modestly titled Brain Food. The students used humor in compiling their cookbook, which featured recipes they had solicited from important and well-known members of the university community. University President Guy Stanton Ford had the honor of the first recipe, for a dish called Sunday Night Supper - a bowl of crackers and milk, with peanut- buttered crackers on the side.

A cookbook written by another Minnesota home economist, Mrs. J.B. Graham of Duluth, illuminates the challenges of feeding a family and of making a living on a northern Minnesota farm. 212 Ways to Prepare Potatoes, [1935], establishes Mrs. Graham as a premiere writer of cookbooks for hard times. She lovingly dedicates the book, which sold for 75 cents, to “Our Rural Friends of the Arrowhead. May it Wend its Way Into Every Home and Add Interest to the Homemakers Cookery. May it Help to Bring Prosperity to The Arrowhead Farmer.” The recipes came in large part from the Duluth Chamber of Commerce’s annual recipe contests held during the city’s Potato Week in 1932, 33, and 34. There are recipes for potato breads, muffins, pancakes, and a chocolate mashed potato spice cake, potato doughnuts, fritters, patties, and pies. Cornish pasties and English pasties, dumplings and puddings, soufflés, and sausage, potatoes smothered, creamed and scalloped, hashed and fried. The “foreign recipes” section includes Swedish Kropp Kakor, Norwegian Lefsa, and a savory/sweet Austrian Potato Potica that calls for sugar and cinnamon as well as ham or bacon. The book may have helped many a poor northern Minnesota family through the rest of the Depression by providing a real variety of dishes from one primary ingredient that was inexpensively available.

Debbie Miller, Reference Specialist

View of Mendota, 1848 by Seth Eastman

By: admin | What's New | October 31, 2007

View of Mendota, 1848, by Seth Eastman

In his painting, View of Mendota, 1848, Seth Eastman has created a remarkably detailed portrait of Mendota, a settlement built in the 1830s at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Mendota was the home and base of operations of Henry Hastings Sibley, the American Fur Company's regional manager. Sibley, who may have commissioned the painting, was already moving out of the fur trade and into politics by 1848. He was instrumental in creating the Minnesota Territory in 1849 and became the state's first governor in 1858.

Eastman (1808-1875) was an acclaimed American artist as well as a career soldier. He was stationed at Fort Snelling from 1830 to 1831 and from 1841 to 1848, when he served as the fort's commander. In his painting, he depicts Mendota as seen from Fort Snelling, including the Sibley and Faribault houses, both of which still stand today as historic sites.

Harry and Mary Zimmermann, whose family had been in Minnesota since the mid-1800s, purchased View of Mendota, 1848 in 1937. In honor of their memory, the painting has been given to the Minnesota Historical Society by their daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, and her two sons. It joins several other art works in the Society collections by Eastman. The Society is deeply grateful for this extraordinary act of generosity and commitment to Minnesota and its citizens.

Brian Szott, Curator of Art

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Olmsted County Coroner Records

By: admin | What's New | October 31, 2007
Carbolic acid bottle and coroner’s documents"His death was not caused feloniously."

These are the words of the Olmsted County coroner's jury concerning the 1901 death of a Henry Schmelzer in Rochester, Minnesota. Mr. Schmelzer committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid, and the bottle containing the poison is pictured here. The bottle was discovered in the coroner's inquest file (no. 151) for Mr. Schmelzer, along with statements given by coroner's inquest witnesses. Witnesses included Henry's two brothers and his spouse, Emma. According to the testimony, Henry had been depressed for sometime about his failing crops. His body was found three days after he went missing in the unfinished basement of the new part of a Catholic church. The empty bottle of carbolic acid was found near Henry's body.

Recently the State Archives collection received coroner's inquest files dating from the 1880s to the 1980s from the Olmsted County District Court. Usually, a coroner's inquest was only conducted if a death was caused by homicide and suicide, or if the death was somehow suspicious. Not all of the files contain such details about a death, such as Mr. Schmelzer's, but coroner's records are useful for family history. The State Archives preserves coroner's inquest files, and coroner's registers and record books from most of Minnesota's counties. These records are available for use in the Society's Library.

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

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Statehood Centennial Commission Records

By: admin | What's New | October 30, 2007
Placard for the Centennial CelebrationThe Minnesota Statehood Centennial Commission sponsored many different celebrations to commemorate the state's centennial in 1958. One of the most successful projects was the Centennial Train, pictured here in a poster showing the Minnesota Centennial logo and the Centennial Train. From April to September 1958, the train stopped in 86 of Minnesota's 87 counties (only Cook County, which had no railroad tracks, was excluded). A total of 633,347 persons toured the six cars of exhibits. Recently the records of the Centennial Commission were organized, described, and cataloged, making it easier to access this rich collection. Topics include county celebrations and fairs, Dan Patch horse races, the Festival of Nations, Fort Snelling restoration, historic tour program, Floyd B. Olson and Maria L. Sanford statues, pioneer recognition, Miss Centennial Minnesota, and Statehood Week. Records include correspondence, progress reports, brochures, programs, photographs, minutes, audio tapes, certificates, radio and television scripts, clippings, and a congratulatory telegram from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This collection provides wonderful documentation of how Minnesota celebrated its centennial and will be useful for planning the state's sesquicentennial celebration in 2008. The Statehood Centennial Commission records are part of the State Archives collections, cataloged in the Society's online catalog, MN PALS, and available for use in the Society's Library.

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

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