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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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Walter Mondale Memorandum to Jimmy Carter

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 14, 2007
Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter sitting at desk"In an otherwise masterful document, the Founding Fathers created the vice presidency with almost no thought as to how it would fit into the structure of the new federal government."

With these words, Richard Moe, chief of staff to Walter Mondale during the latter's term as Jimmy Carter's vice president (1977-1981), begins “The Making of the Modern Vice Presidency: A Personal Reflection” (Minnesota History, volume 60, Fall 2006). His essay describes a crucial memorandum from December 1976 in which Mondale, at Carter's invitation, spelled out his recommendations for making the office an engaged and significant part of the Carter administration.

Mondale and Carter shared the opinion that the vice presidency was, in Moe's words, a “wasted national asset,” and that there were opportunities for a real partnership with a president willing to delegate authority. Mondale's memo outlined his thoughts on the role the vice president could play, some specific contributions that he personally could make, and the degree of involvement in the Carter administration that such a relationship would require. Moe's essay describes how that relationship became a reality.

A copy of that landmark memorandum resides in the Walter F. Mondale Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society. It is reproduced here in two PDF files; one is a searchable transcription of the memorandum, the other presents scanned images of the actual document.

Other documents in the Mondale Papers include subsequent staff reviews and analyses of this new type of vice presidency. The Mondale Papers are scheduled to be publicly accessible in January 2007.

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Collections Tours

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 14, 2007
Tour of the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections storageLinda McShannock, Costume and Textile Curator, provided a behind-the-scenes view to the Minnesota Needlework Guild in October 2005. Participants from their needlepoint study group toured the History Center's storage area for costume and textiles and viewed 19th and 20th century examples of needlework in the Society's permanent collections.

Specialized group tours with curators are available for a fee. Arrangements are made through individual curators. Contact Lori Williamson at 651-296-9984 for further information.

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Munsingwear Victory Promotion Bra & Girdle Set

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 14, 2007
Munsingwear Victory Promotion Bra and Girdle SetThis cotton bra and girdle with a stars-and-stripes motif was not marketed but used as a gimmick to support the war effort and promote Munsingwear’s wartime underwear sales.

The company, headquartered in Minneapolis, designed and manufactured a wide variety of undergarments for men, women and children. This collection documents the availability and use of a variety of fabrics--silk, lace, synthetics and rubber--in the underwear industry from the 1880s to the 1980s.

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U.S.S. Ward Model

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 14, 2007

U.S.S. Ward Model

On the morning of December 7, 1941, this 1,247-ton destroyer was patrolling the Hawaiian waters near Pearl Harbor. On board were 85 reserve officers and enlisted men from the 47th Division stationed at the Naval Training Center in St. Paul. That morning the Ward encountered a Japanese midget submarine near the harbor entrance, attacked and sank it, thus firing the first shots of the Pacific War a few hours before the Japanese air attack.

On the morning of December 7, 1944, three years to the day after her Number Three Gun fired the opening shots of the war, Japanese aircraft attacked the Ward. Severely damaged, the crew abandoned ship and the vessel was sunk by gunfire from an adjacent U.S. destroyer.

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By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 14, 2007
Grouping of pottery objectsArtists have long brought the joy of art to everyday life through the application of their creative force to Minnesota's material culture. We have a rich craft heritage and generations of Minnesotans have found pleasure in the use of functional and beautiful objects that provide sensory experiences and add vigor to everyday life. The Minnesota Historical Society has been collecting contemporary fine crafts for about 25 years and our region is recognized nationally particularly for the quality, creativity and influence of its ceramic artists. The six clay objects illustrated here are in the Society's collections and were acquired between 1988 and 2005.

Object Identification

From top left and moving clockwise:

  • Ceramic vase, Kirk Freeman. 2002 MCF Purchase Award. 2002.170.2.

  • Raku ceramic vase, Richard Gruchalla and Carrin Rosetti. 1993 MCF Purchase
    Award. 1993.207.1.

  • Porcelain platter, Chris Holmquist, 1988. 1988.213.1.

  • Ceramic jar with cover, Joe Christensen and Judith Ryan Reiling, 2001.

  • Stoneware platter, Peder Hegland, 1990. 1990.339.1.

  • Carved porcelain vessel, Becky Lloyd, 2005. TD005.1.2005.

Department 56 Ice Palace Model

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 14, 2007
Image of Department 56 Ice Palace ModelEstablished in 1886, the St. Paul Winter Carnival remains one of Minnesota's most enduring seasonal celebrations. Perhaps the most renowned symbol of the festival is the Ice Palace, an ornate edifice made of ice from Minnesota lakes. Over the years, the image of the Ice Palace has been applied to everything from buttons to advertising cards, providing a wealth of memorabilia for Winter Carnival collectors.

In 1995, acclaimed Minnesota giftware manufacturer Department 56 introduced the "Snow Carnival Ice Palace" as part of their line of fine quality collectibles. In keeping with company tradition, the model was made for a limited time and then retired from production to enhance its rarity.

The Minnesota Historical Society maintains a rich and diverse collection related to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival dating from the late 19th century to the present. The collection includes clothing and uniforms, medallions and buttons, musical instruments, flags and banners, plaques, commemoratives, film footage, posters, and photographs. These items document the evolution of the festival and its royalty and clubs, as well as the participation of Saint Paul businesses and organizations.

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Charles Bornarth's Civil War Sword

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 14, 2007
Bornarth's sword and scabbard
A native of Prussia, Charles Bornarth settled in Minnesota in 1857. In 1862, he left the family farm in Sibley County to join the army. Charles rose to the rank of lieutenant with Company "H" of the Seventh Minnesota Volunteer Infantry and fought against Dakota Indians at the Battle of Wood Lake in September 1862. In 1864 he was discharged from the Seventh Minnesota and joined the 67th United States Colored Infantry as a 2nd lieutenant.

Plagued by illness throughout his military career, Charles spent the remainder of his service on detached duty in Louisiana. After the war, he dabbled in a variety of occupations including business, teaching, and civil engineering. Charles died in Shakopee in 1902 at the age of 72.

This sword, donated through the generosity of the Bornarth family, is a valued addition to the Society's Civil War collections. The Minnesota Historical Society preserves nearly 7,000 items relating to the Civil War and Dakota Conflict including letters, diaries, photographs, uniforms and equipment. The collections represent all branches of service and include items from both Union and Confederate armies. Many of the artifacts, like the Bornarth sword, are associated with an identified soldier and tell a unique story.

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MHS Acquires Portrait of Minnesota's Premier Pioneer Photographer

By: admin | What's New | November 14, 2007
Joel E. WhitneyThe Minnesota Historical Society recently made an important acquisition that underscores the significance of early photography in the state. A pre-Civil War daguerreian portrait of Minnesota photographer Joel E. Whitney and five carte de visite paper photographs of Whitney (including a stunning collage of Whitney's hands, feet and facial self portrait), his wife and their family comprise the acquisition.Joel E. Whitney is Minnesota's premier pioneer photographer. Trained in the art of "capturing mirror likenesses" during the earliest days of photography, Whitney operated, first as a daguerreian and subsequently a wet plate photographer, in St. Paul and Minneapolis from 1850-1871. He is nationally recognized as one of America's foremost pioneer photographic artists.

The Society's collection holds more than 800 of Whitney's images, including seven daguerreotypes, taken during the 1850s of St. Anthony Falls, St. Paul and residents. These are rare views of Minnesota's pre-Civil War scenes and citizens.

Daguerreotypes were mirror-like, one-of-a-kind portraits (no negative was involved) that first appeared in 1839 and peaked in popularity by 1858. To have a "daguerreian portrait" of Minnesota's most prolific and famous photographer is a benchmark contribution to the iconographic history of the state. This acquisition completes a singular collection of Whitney's pioneering work held by the Minnesota Historical Society. It was secured with private funds from the Lila J. Goff Acquisitions Endowment, the Josephine Harper Darling Estate and the Virginia Moe Endowment Fund. Tentative plans are underway to display this daguerreian portrait of Whitney and selections of his work from the Society's collection, in 2008.

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Sinclair Lewis's Mantrap

By: admin | What's New | November 14, 2007
Mantrap by Sinclair Lewis

Mantrap is not great literature but since the novel followed Main Street, Babbitt, and Arrowsmith we can forgive the author. In 1926 this romantic story was, however, a perfect fit for Hollywood. Clara Bow, the future "It" girl, was a perfect fit in the role of the seductive former manicurist who finds herself exiled in the wilderness and married to an older he-man.

This photoplay edition was acquired as part of the Library's effort to document Lewis's work in Hollywood. Perhaps no American writer saw as much of his work adapted for the movies as Sinclair Lewis. Lewis loved the medium and enjoyed associating with the glamorous personalities of Hollywood. More importantly Lewis's two dozen films added to his reputation, widened his influence, and became a significant part of his income.

Through the generous gifts of Villaume Industries and the Linsmayer family the MHS library has acquired manuscripts, books, and ephemera that greatly enhance our understanding of this aspect of Sinclair Lewis's career. The manuscripts include letters requesting the rights to a particular work, contracts, proposals of how to treat the text, and Lewis pitching ideas to the studios in an effort to turn even more of his work into film. Combined with the cheap "photoplay" reprints of Lewis's novels and the publicity campaign material put out by the studios, these recent acquisitions help to illuminate the business of both Hollywood and of a popular American writer.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

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Alexander G. Huggins Diary and Huggins Family Photographs

By: admin | What's New | November 8, 2007
The Minnesota Historical Society has recently acquired a collection of materials so exceedingly rare that one wonders how they survived and where they have been. The collection, created from the 1830s to the 1860s by missionary Alexander Huggins and his family, was recently discovered in an estate sale in Palo Alto, California.

Huggins DiaryIn 1835, Thomas S. Williamson and Alexander G. Huggins organized the Dakota mission at Lac qui Parle on the Minnesota River. This was west of and well beyond "the thin fringe of white settlement" around Fort Snelling. Until now it was not known that Huggins kept a diary of his daily life. This diary offers an extraordinary glimpse into lives of the Dakota in this area and is therefore a potential treasure trove for scholars. The diary deals with Dakota customs, such as making "holes" in children's ears and Huggins's invitation to a "dog feast." There is a great deal of information on the interactive economy between the missionaries and the Dakota: Huggins writes of buying deerskins, trading bread and butter for ducks, and exchanging shirts for buffalo tongue. The Dakota language was crucial to Huggins's work. He discusses meeting with Wamdiokiya or Eagle Help, the first Dakota man to learn English, in order to determine the correct spelling of Dakota words, and he writes about preaching in Dakota. There are references to prairie fires, buffalo hunts, and descriptions of Dakota guides and villages, all interspersed with a wonderful cast of Dakota people whose names have not been well known to historians.

For historians of the American West, the most interesting parts of the diary may well be Huggins's entries narrating two of his travels. The first was a seventeen-day trip from Fort Snelling to Lac qui Parle in 1835. The Huggins family traveled with the family of Dr. Thomas S. Williamson up the Minnesota River, first on the American Fur Company's Mackinaw boat, then by oxcart from Traverse des Sioux to Joseph Renville's stockade at the lake. Huggins's diary also beautifully documents a thirty-day trip across the prairie from Lac qui Parle to Fort Pierre on the "Missourie" in present-day South Dakota. Stephen Riggs accompanied Huggins on this trip and published an account in his book Mary and I..., but his text is far more prosaic.   

A smaller diary kept by Alexander's son Amos, who was killed during the Dakota War, and an autograph book kept by his daughter Mary are also part of the collection acquired by the MHS. Even more exciting are three carte de visite albums and twelve daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes with images of all of these Presbyterian missionary families. Many images are identified and are entirely new to historians. Scholars are already hoping to identify the others using internal clues.        

The MHS library already holds rich collections supporting the material in this acquisition. We have a collection of papers from the Huggins family, as well as papers of the three other well-known missionary families: the Riggses, Ponds, and Williamsons. Many of these families lost their papers while fleeing the Dakota War in 1862. We also have early material created by the Dakota including letters written to the government and between family members. The acquisition of these new Huggins papers provides a deep and powerful new perspectives on both whites and Dakota people at a time of great change in Minnesota's history.

Thanks to the many individual donors who made this acquisition possible.

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