This December, as they have since the end of World War II, residents and visitors to Algona, Iowa, will gather to view a Nativity Scene created by German architect Eduard Kaib while he was a German Prisoner of War at Camp Algona.
Kaib, an architect by trade, created a small nativity scene that impressed the Camp Commander who asked him to create a larger version. Kaib enlisted five friends to help create 60 half-size figures from wood, wire and plaster. Prisoners paid for the construction. When World War II ended the camp was disbanded and the scene was left to the city of Algona. It was first available for public viewing Christmas 1945. Since the 1950s the scene has been housed in a special building. The nativity scene is maintained by the Algona United Methodist Church and available for viewing each holiday season. Visitors have included former POWs and family members.
German POWs were able to pursue other artistic endeavors while living at Camp Algona. There was a camp orchestra, band, and German language newspaper and art classes. A small crèche, carvings, woodwork and paintings are displayed at the Camp Algona Museum. Exhibits depict POW camp experiences, POW contributions to the farm economy, and their interactions with community members who feared the POWS until they realized “they look just like us.” Exhibits also highlight camp military and civilian workers, contributions of Kossuth County women to the war effort, and Americans held in Axis POW camps. Four military guards stationed at Camp Algona were former prisoners in these camps. Prisoners received medical treatment and only a very few died while at the camp; a Lutheran pastor provided Sunday worship services in English and German.
Camp Algona was the base camp for over 10,000 German Prisoners of War from 1943-1946. Branch camps were in Iowa and neighboring states. One branch camp, the Whitewater POW Camp, was at a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Winona County (Southeast Minnesota.) Camp Algona’s buildings were torn down and the wood was reused after the war ended. The camp site is now the location of a National Guard Armory and a city airport.
After visiting the museum we spoke with a local citizen who grew up a farm near the camp. She got to know prisoners who worked on the family farm or attended church with her family. These friendships were not uncommon and many former POWS visited Algona after the War. Visiting the Camp Algona Museum was on my “do” list for far too long; it was well worth the wait and visit. Two photos of museum displays and and resources are below.
The Camp Algona Nativity Scene (PDF)
POW Nativity Scene, narrated video with script, First United Methodist Church
Camp Algona Museum (website with links to the Nativity Scene)
Whitewater’s German POW Camp; Learning more about POWs in the U.S. (with resource list)
Once or twice a month I work as a gallery greeter at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. First time visitors invariably make a bee-line to George Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emmanuel Leutze,, one of the two surviving versions of the iconic painting. Last week a group of college students were absolutely giddy about being able to view. They looked, talked, asked questions and came back for a second look after touring the rest of the gallery. I love historical art and seeing conversations like those take place. What other paintings can
Are paintings primary sources? Can one painting stimulate inquiry and exploration? Can it be the centerpiece of a lesson or interdisciplinary learning? How can maps be paired with paintings? In the November/December New Media Center column I shared some ideas that illustrate the power of a painting, used alone or paired with another resource to provide a great learning activity. For the Love of Historical Art!
The new Mississippi River bridge connecting Winona, Minnesota to Wisconsin (NORTH) was dedicated yesterday (August 26). It was a wonderful and fun event attended by many including the usual mix of local and state dignitaries. I especially enjoyed seeing what will be in a Winona time capsule that will be placed inside the new bridge. A few of the items people may be able to view in the future include
- Artifacts representing the Winona’s higher education institutions: Winona State University, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical
- Products from local manufacturers such as St. Croix knits sweater, a Winona State University pennant from Wincraft, and a Peerless Chain link
- Hot Companies, Cool Jobs, a Chamber of Commerce publication
- A high school yearbook and a working laptop with the School District’s Winhawk mascot as a screen saver (Will the computer still be functional when the time capsule is opened many years into the century?)
- A Jim Heinlen print of Winona’s architectural highlights
- Commemorative magnets t-shirts and caps
- A Great River Shakespeare festival poster depicting the Mississippi River and bluffs; it is also by autographed by company members
- Tributes to notable Winona State theater professor Vivian Fusillo
- Copies of current local newspapers (Winona Daily News and the Winona Post) including special publications about the old and new interstate bridges
- . . . and an autograph book to preserve the names of people who attended the dedication
- . . . and much more
It’s a great and appropriate collection representing Winona 2016!
What would you include in a time capsule representing you community?
The Carpenter Gothic Revival style Bunnell House captures the interest of people driving buy along the Mississippi River near Homer on US. Highway 61. The home’s simple, but yet ornate and unpainted board structure was constructed in the 1850’s by Willard Bunnell, one of Winona County’s first settlers. Bunnell made his money through development and the timber industry. The distinctive home is on the National Register of Historic Places “for having state-level significance in the themes of architecture, commerce, and exploration/settlement. ” The home was Minnesota’s first permanent white home south of St. Paul and Bunnell’s second home, his first being a log cabin he built after receiving permission from Chief Wapasha III to build a log cabin on the west bank of the Mississippi.
Lafayette Bunnel, Willard’s younger brother, also made the journey westward to the Minnesota Territory from Homer, New York. Lafayette’s life was filled with a variety of unique adventures that took eventually him far from southeast Minnesota. He was a soldier and doctor in the War with Mexico and later in the Civil War where he served with Minnesota’s Company K. During the Gold Rush era he traveled to California and joined Mariposa Battalion, the first non-Indians to enter Yosemite Valley. Bunnell is credited for naming the Valley. He later returned to the home where he wrote his account of discovering Yosemite; he died at the Bunnell home in 1903. It was fun to find his account of the discovery in the Library of Congress Collections.
The home is now property of the Winona County Historical Society. Lafayette’s life, as told through his memories, is the subject of an enjoyable, sometimes humorous, and very informative short play presented this summer in the historic home’s living/ dining room. The play is produced by the Historical Society and Theatre Du Mississippi.
I had no idea that someone who lived within walking distance of my home had a role so significant in the establishment of our national parks! What’s in your back yard?
Primary and Secondary Sources
- Discovery of the Yosemite, and the Indian war of 1851, which led to that event. By Lafayette Houghton Bunnell
- Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 (A Library of Congress Collection)
- Bunnelll-Bonnell Family History
- Lafayette Bunnell
- Willard Bunnell House
- Wapasha Praire to Winona: Winona’s Early History
Learn more about using Primary Source sets in your classroom
A recent CBS morning news feature on Minnesota’s Northwest Angle caught my attention, reminding me of our interesting and unique visit to the most northern port of Minnesota a few years ago. The Northwest angle is that part of Minnesota but only shares a land border only with Canada. The rest of the Angle is part of large Lake of the Woods. We made it to the Angle directly from the west via Manitoba, traveling there by land requires leaving the United States, entering Canada, and then reentering Minnesota.
This unique geographic feature is the result of a mapping error by a mapmaker and erroneous ideas about the source of the Mississippi. Now part of the Library of Congress Map collections, the Mitchell map depicts land as known in 1757 and when the Treaty of Paris was signed after the Revolutionary War.
Our favorite memory of visiting Angle Inlet is getting there by gravel road and stopping at Jim’s Corner, the customs checkpoint where we reported our arrival via videophone. The roadside stand reminded me of a telephone booth. Angle Inlet has a small post office, community store, and a modern one-room elementary school. Older students travel 60 miles to attend high school. Resorts offering lodging and recreation provide employment for the year-round residents and support the tourism industry.
Our visit to Angle Inlet was brief, but we learned a great deal about a local history, enjoyed a beautiful setting, and have great memories.
A map of the British and French dominions in North America, with the roads, distances, limits, and extent of the settlements, humbly inscribed to the Right Honourable the Earl of Halifax, and the other Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners for Trade & Plantations. Library of Congress Map Collections
Angle Inlet School is a one-room throwback. Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 30, 2015.
In the years leading up to World War II the German government destroyed millions of books considered undesirable to the Nazis way of thinking and how others should think or what they should learn. Throughout the book burning era,” 37 archives, 402 museums, 531 institutions and 957″ libraries were destroyed. Americans and institutions such as the American Library Association took action by organizing efforts to provide books for the growing number of Americans serving in the military who lacked the basics, including reading materials at military bases. Author Molly Manning provides an interesting (and sometimes humorous) account of what transpired in When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped us Win World War II. (Houghton-Mifflin, 2014)
The initial goal of the Victory Book Campaign (VBC) was collecting 10,000,000 hardbound books through country-wide book drives. Hardbound books proved cumbersome and donated books were not always “suitable.” A newly formed group, the Council of Books in Wartime, led efforts to first purchase paperback books and the eventual publication of Armed Services Editions from 1942 – 1947. Millions of these small-sized editions representing popular and classic words of fiction and non-fiction were distributed to American military personnel throughout the world. Some titles such as The Great Gatsby and Tree Grows in Brooklyn remain at the literary forefront; others such as the popular Chicken on Sunday and Our Hearts were Young and Gay have faded from our reading tastes but provided enjoyable reading to thousands. The VBC and the ASE are credited with providing entertainment and comfort for members of the military. The projects also helped soldiers become readers and later college students under the GI Bill.
School library media specialists will relate to the familiar situations of attempted censorship of “hot” titles such as Forever Amber (always on a waiting list), limited funding, and unsuitable donations. The New York Telegraph explained, “too many people looked upon the voluntary campaign an opportunity to get rid of books that nobody would want.” There were also political issues. One senator thought the female ALA president was incapable of managing the VBC; another opposed the government’s involvement in publishing books with political overtones.
Manning’s book is an interesting and informative narrative. She become interested in the ASE and VBC when she discovered letters servicemen wrote to authors. Berlin’s Bebelplatz has a memorial to the 1933 book burning; there is not a memorial to the ASE and VBC in the United States. Manning hopes her book “may serve as a memorial to those efforts.” (Afterward)
This not too widely known aspect of life on the homefront during World War II is a unique topic for student research. Some suggested resources for student researchers are:
- Books in Action: The Armed Services Editions. Library of Congress Blog. Includes photos of the small-sized books.
- Books Join the Battle: The Victory Book Campaign. Life on the Homefront: Oregon Responds to World War II.
Photo: Victory Book Campaign. Soldiers of Fort Myer, Virginia, in Statuary Hall of the Capitol, receiving books donated by members of Congress for 1943 Victory Book Campaign
The Digital Public Library of America is a relatively new aggregated collection of digital resources in varied formats from more than 1,600 contributing institutions, including libraries, archives, museums, and entities such as public radio stations. DPLA released 30 primary source sets for educators last fall; additional sets were recently released.
The sets are designed by educators and an education advisory panel to help teach content, facilitate inquiry, and support research in overlapping curriculum topics related to American history, literature, and culture.
The set landing page has a clean, uncluttered look. An easily identifiable pictorial icon for each set invites a quick browse through the available titles. Each set includes 15–20 resources represented by an icon, a teaching guide, and additional resources for research. Set topics include the Panama Canal, Chinese immigration, the atomic bomb, A Raisin in the Sun, Little Women, and the postwar rise of the suburbs.
All Primary Source Sets have the same layout and features. As an example The Impact of Television on News Media includes photos, text, and video and audio recordings. A brief black-and-white video clip of President John F. Kennedy urging the press to use discretion when covering news events intrigued me. In an audio interview, a journalist explains the increasing power of television network news. Photos depict early television personalities and televisions; a text chapter addresses the impact of television on news. These resources all invite close reading, viewing, and listening while also offering multiple approaches to learning at different levels. The set teaching guide includes discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis suggestions. There are also links to Document Analysis Worksheets from the National Archives and Using Primary Sources materials from the Library of Congress.
Excerpted from THE NEW MEDIA CENTER: Resources for the New Media Specialist–DPLA’s Primary Source Sets and Ben’s Guide, Refreshed! January/February 2015, Published by Information Today Full article
Learn more about using Primary Source sets in your classroom