Monthly Archives: May 2017

Bertha’s Black Blouse

This week’s object of the week is an unassuming black blouse that donor, Ms. Hyacinth Easthagen, called, “not beautiful,” and “not well finished.” Although Hyacinth, the great-granddaughter of the woman who owned the blouse, was not impressed with its appearance, she recognized its historical significance. When telling history through objects, this is a common theme. An object may appear to be rather plain or ordinary, but its connection to historical places or events gives it significance.

This blouse was worn by Bertha Kehn, wife of August Kehn, also spelled Kuhnn or Kuehne. The Kehns immigrated from Germany and settled in Hennepin County, part of one of the first waves of pioneers to settle in Minnesota. Mrs. Kehn, wrote Hyacinth, was “a large woman about five feet seven or eight inches tall, with a full bosom.” As a farm woman, she likely made the blouse herself, just as she made clothing for the rest of her family. Considering she went on to have fifteen children, sewing that many outfits would not have been a small feat.

Although Hyacinth believed that the Kehns settled in Hanover, Minnesota, the book History of Minneapolis: Gateway to the Northwest, published in 1923, wrote that they settled in Greenwood. Today, Greenwood is known as Greenfield, and is just south of Hanover. Whether the Kehns lived in Greenwood or Hanover, it’s certain they called the northwest corner of Hennepin County their home for many years. The homestead property was “large enough to be divided into five farms, for his five sons,” wrote Hyacinth, although one of their sons passed away before reaching adulthood. Their ten daughters were all married, and all of them had children.

Bertha passed away in Greenwood Township in 1907, and her husband in Hanover in 1917. While their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren spread out to other areas of Minnesota and the United States, Bertha’s black blouse still lives at Hennepin History Museum.

Museums collect some objects for their beauty or artistic value, and others for their ability to tell a story; in this case, the story of a large family of early Minnesota immigrants. It begs the question: in a hundred years, what objects do you own that could be used to tell your story?

Written by Caitlin Crowley. Caitlin graduated this spring with a BA in history and a minor in medieval studies from Augsburg College. This fall she will be attending the U of M for a masters in Heritage Studies and Public History.

Sources

Donor letters from Hyacinth Easthagen

History of Minneapolis: Gateway to the Northwest, Volume III, Minneapolis: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1923.

Reverend Edward D. Neill, History of Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis Including the Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota, Minneapolis: North Star Publishing Company, 1881.

Advertisements

Mike Hogan’s Aqua Jester Trunk

Above: Aqua Jester Mike Hogan used this trunk at Aquatennials from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Clowns, jesters, and fools have existed for many hundreds of years in literature, dramatic performance, and pop culture. Children grow up seeing clown imagery with familiar characters like Ronald McDonald and the famous red clown noses sold to benefit charity. On a more sinister note, horror films featuring antagonistic clowns and sightings of people wearing creepy clown costumes to terrorize others have left many people with a fear or dislike of clowns, and have harmed the reputation of these performers. The objects of this week come from a trunk donated by Mike Hogan, an Aqua Jester clown between 1950 and 1990.

Len Jacobsson, another member of the Aqua Jesters, who performed at events like the Aquatennial, suggested that people who have a fear of clowns may have been embarrassed by one in the past. To combat this stigma, Aqua Jesters follow a strict code of ethics, with the guiding principle to make others laugh at their own expense rather than embarrassing their audience. Despite performing for laughs, many clowns take their craft seriously, working to perfect their appearance and comedic act. In response to the authenticity of the creepy clowns that were cropping up last year, performer Fred “Ozzie” Baisch pointed to their lack of dedication, saying, “No self-respecting clown would appear in a rubber mask.”

Aqua Jester coat 2017.0317.005.jpg

Above:; Hogan’s Aqua Jester coat is decorated with pins advertising the Aqua Jesters, the Schlitz Circus Parade, and two individual Aqua Jesters.

Not uncommon in Twin Cities history, a friendly sibling rivalry between Minneapolis and Saint Paul seems to have arisen even with their clown troupes. According to Katie Humphrey at the Star Tribune, community members in both Saint Paul and Minneapolis formed separate clown groups after World War II to perform at festivals. Later, Humphrey wrote, a women’s clown group called the Powder Puffs was formed because females were not allowed to join the male troupes. Camps and classes such as the Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp and the “Clowning Around” class at Lakewood Community College were created to train aspiring performers.

Aqua Jester Shoes 2017.0317.003a-b

Above: Mike Hogan’s oversized clown shoes were part of the gift to Hennepin History Museum that included his Aqua Jester trunk and coat.

Clown troupes in the Twin Cities were once very popular and a staple at parades and fairs. Today, membership is waning. With fewer clowns comes fewer visits to places with people in need of some cheerful clowns, especially nursing homes and hospitals. It may be time for the younger generation to try and break the stereotype of scary clowns by joining these groups to keep this historical tradition going. If you’ve ever thought of donning a red nose and some oversized shoes, this may be your time to shine.

Written by HHM intern Caitlin Crowley. Caitlin is a current Augsburg student where she is majoring in history with a Medieval History minor. She comes to HHM through the Minnesota Historical Society’s ACTC extern program.

Sources

Al Sicherman, “Class Clown,” Star Tribune, December 29, 1991.

Katie Humphrey, “Send in the clowns: Volunteer clown clubs, a staple of civic festivals for decades, are seeking more members as longtime merrymakers age,” Star Tribune, August 24, 2011.

Mary Jane Gustafson, “There is lot more to clowning than meets eye,” Newspaper Clipping from Clowns Folder at Hennepin History Museum.

Reta Stewart, “Clown ministry draws appreciative audiences,” Newspaper Clipping from Clowns Folder at Hennepin History Museum, April 21, 1986.

Sharyn Jackson, “Minnesota clowns distraught over ‘creepy clown’ craze: Professional clowns are disheartened that their image is being used as a fear factor,” Star Tribune, October 12, 2016.

John Gund Brewing Company, 1885

Are you thirsty for history? How about for beer history? This week’s featured photograph depicts the local distributor for the La Crosse, Wisconsin-based John Gund Brewing Company.

John Gund was a German immigrant who began  his brewing career as an apprentice in Germany. He brought his skills with him to the New World, and started his career in the United States working at breweries first in Iowa, then in Wisconsin. After several decades of working in, owning, and selling, breweries, Gund opened his John Gund Brewing Company in 1880. The company was wildly successful for more than thirty years, weathering such ups and downs as  a major La Crosse fire in 1897 and the 1901 death of founder John Gund. In the early 1920s, however, the combination of Prohibition and labor conflicts put the brewery out of business for good.

In 1882, one of Gund’s sons, Henry, founded this distribution center in Minneapolis. Located on Twelfth Avenue between Fourth and Fifth Streets, this early distribution center is shown here in 1885.

Sources

Historic Beer Birthday: John Gund, Brookston Beer Bulletin

“The Best of Partners, the Best of Rivals: Gottlieb Heileman, John Gund, and the Rise of the La Crosse Brewing Industry.” Immigrant Entrepreneurship.com

“Maudie Dearest”: The Mysteries—and the Joys—of Working with Collections

Working in collections, it is not unusual to come across an item that leaves us with many questions about its origins and story. This peach silk and lace nightgown was paired with a bonnet and slippers, and was found with a mysterious note that reads:

“Maudie Dearest– Please wear this gown so Floyd can enjoy looking at it. Love–Mim”

Maudie's ensemble

Who was Maudie? Was Floyd her husband? Could this have been a wedding present of some kind for a new couple? Did Maudie pair the nightgown with the slippers and bonnet right away or were those possibly later gifts from Mim? Was Mim perhaps the prying mother-in-law of Maudie or Floyd? Did Floyd ever get to see Maudie’s nightgown or did Maudie prefer, like some of us, to wear less revealing pajamas?

Unfortunately, we don’t know any of the answers to these questions, and for every item we have a backstory for in our collections, there are those that we do not. While this fact can be frustrating, it is also one of the reasons why working at a museum can be so interesting. We will leave it to you to make up your own tales of who Maudie, Floyd, and Mim may have been. Feel free to share your ideas with us below!

Written by HHM intern Caitlin Crowley. Caitlin is a current Augsburg student where she is majoring in history with a Medieval History minor. She comes to HHM through the Minnesota Historical Society’s ACTC extern program.