Random Thoughts: Change, Primary Sources & Other Stuff

Archive for the ‘Local History’ Category

 

fischerquoteThis 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.

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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)

Learn how to find and use primary sources in your classroom!

 

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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?

An abundance of photos!  (Winona Daily News, August 28, 2016)

 

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A first drive across the new bridge from the North and Wisconsin. The iconic and historic old bridge will be the bridge to Wisconsin when all construction is complete.

 

FromWisc

The same familiar city sites and bluffs to the South.

 

Winona. Quiet bridge!

The “old” bridge was quiet for a week in 2008 when it was closed for repair

 

4125498901_0952e601e1_bThe 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

Learn more about using Primary Source sets in your classroom

 

A recent CBS morning news feature on Minnesota’s Northwest Angle caught my attention, remindingWe made it! copy 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.

US & Canadian customs copyOur 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.

Resources
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

Minnesota’s Northwest Angle, an American oddity, CBS News, May 1, 2016. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/minnesotas-northwest-angle-an-american-geographic-oddity&gt;

Angle Inlet School is a one-room throwback. Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 30, 2015.

AngleInletSchool jpg

The Polish Cultural Institute and Museum celebrates Winona’s Kashubian heritage and the prominent role Kashubian Poles and their descendants have played in Winona’s history and culture since the mid 1800’s.
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The museum is located in the original headquarters of the Laird-Norton Lumber Company, a large lumber mill that operated during Winona’s heyday as a lumber milling town. Many immigrants were employed in the lumber industry.

Notable exhibits include wedding dresses and photos, household tools, lumber and farming tools, household objects,musical instruments, photos, religious artifacts and contemporary history artifacts.

fabric_artifactsGrants and other funding have provided opportunities  to translate, digitize and archive archives and documents.  A portion of the web site is in Polish Language translation services are provided by a young man who immigrated to Winona from Poland as a nine year-old.

The museum’s web site has biographical information on many deceased and living Winonans of Polish, links to genealogy sites, a list of pictures and stories related to Winona landmarks with Polish and Kashubian connections. The original (Washington) Kosciuszko School, the Hot Fish Shop and the Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka are examples of significant local structures represented.

wordsThe Heritage and Community center has a large pictorial timeline display reflecting significant events and people (including contemporaries.)  A large sign showing language differences in English, Polish and Kashubian spellings caught my eye. The adjacent heritage house is furnished with artifacts representing Polish culture and used as a guest house.

The impressive museum is maintained by people who are passionate about preserving their heritage. Notable exhibits include wedding dresses, wedding photos, household tools, lumber and farming tools, vehicles, musical instruments, photos, religious artifacts and contemporary history artifacts.  Many Winonans and residents of Western Wisconsin where Kashubians also settled maintain ties with Winona’s sister city Bytow.  What’s in your backyard?

Resources
Polish Museum of Winona
Laird Norton Company & Family Foundation

Don’t commit crimes in St. Paul!  Rule #1 defined the cozy relationship between the St. Paul Police Department and notable gangsters residing there in the early 1930’s.

“St. Paul Police Chief” Tom Brown entertained us with tales of John Dillinger, Ma Barker and sons, Creepy Karpis and other notables during an entertaining bus-tour of St. Paul’s gangster locations.

We drove by a home once inhabited by the “nice neighbor” Ma Barker and the apartment once home to John Dillinger and site of a shoot-out.  We visited the site of a payroll robbery and shootout in SOUTH St. Paul and enjoyed entertaining stories of “Madam” Nina Clifford’s” brothel with its tunnel connecting it to a men’s club.

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“Chief Brown” at Swede Hollow Park, the former site of the Hamm Mansion.

We stopped at the site of the former Hamm mansion (home of the brewing  family) in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood to see where William Hamm Jr. was kidnapped and taken away from the Land of Sky Blue Waters to Chicago.
Historic Photo: Reporters and onlookers at the Hamm residence following the kidnapping.

The Gangster tour is a fun and an interesting way to learn about a seamier side of St. Paul’s history. The tour includes a bit of literary history with glimpses of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Summit Avenue home and Garrison Keillor’s current residence. The mansion of railroad builder James J. Hill is nearby.

The tour begins at the man-made Wabasha Street Caves, known as a gangster hideout but originally used to raise mushrooms. The Caves are open for tours and for weekly swing dance parties. A fun spring day in the Saintly City!

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Wabasha Street Caves

Wabasha St. Caves bar

Lib Guide Minn. Historical Society
Gangsters in St. Paul
Gangster images and artifacts

What’s in your back yard?

WatchFobWhat was in Lincoln’s Pockets the night he was assassinated? 

Lincoln’s Pockets, a Library of Congress professional development activity  answers the question. These artifacts are available to teachers and students digitally in Lincoln’s Pockets, a LOC Teacher’s Page Professional Development Activity. The complete packet includes facilitator directions, participant questions, and links to the artifacts. Some objects are easily identifiable, most, such as the object on the left,  are not. (What do you think it is?)

The engaging (and easy to implement) activity generates interest and questioning as participants try to identify each object and decide what they have in common. The contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the evening of his assassination are part of the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniania

Numerous museums and cultural organizations are holding special events and exhibits to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination.  Remembering a Fiendish Assassination is an especially unique event sponsored by the The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. One commemorative experience will be a reenactment of Lincoln’s funeral train procession from its arrival in Springfield, Illinois, to Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery. Funeral Train Reenactment website.

JohnWilkesBoothThe 10-year old Springfield museum is incredibly fascinating and educational. Visitors enter the  extensive Presidential Journeys Gallery through a replica of the White House entrance. John Wilkes Booth stands off to the side, watching the Lincoln Family, Frederick Douglas, and other White House visitors.

An especially moving exhibit is a recreation of the Ford’s Theater assassination and a recreation of Lincoln’s closed casket.

The museum utilizes extensive technology to heighten the visitation experience. A  battlefield scene is loud and intense; in another live presentations it is hard to distinguish a live actor from a hologram. The museum and nearby Lincoln sites such as his home and office are well worth the visit.  There is a lot to see in Springfield. Allow at least two days!


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