Monthly Archives: November 2018

Sneak Preview of “LifeCYCLE: Stories from the Minnesota Bike Community”

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What do a 13-year-old mountain bike racer, a bicycle frame builder, and the founder of one of the world’s largest bicycle parts distributors have in common? They are all key parts of the Minnesota cycling community and makers of living history here in Hennepin County. They are all also part of a new exhibit produced by the Cycling Museum of Minnesota in partnership with Hennepin History Museum.

LifeCYCLE: Stories from the Minnesota Bike Community highlights eleven influential figures in Minnesota biking currently living and riding in the state. The exhibit features original portraits by Nancy Musinguzi, a visual storyteller and mixed-media artist, as well as oral history interviews with each exhibit subject.

The eleven individuals were chosen to represent the diverse backgrounds, ages, gender identities, and ethnicities found in the cycling community. They also represent a broad range of cycling niches, including bike racers and athletes, established artists and makers, cycling and transportation activists, industry leaders, and shop owners and mechanics. All of them see the transformational possibilities of bikes and cycling in their own lives and in their communities.

Pictured above is Marques Watson, a bike mechanic and youth mentor at Express Bike Shop. You have probably seen him on Hennepin History Museum’s social media pages or even on posters around town. We’re offering a bit more about Marques as a sneak peek of what you’ll find at LifeCYCLE.

Like many of the exhibit subjects, Marques’ cycling story started when he was a kid and evolved to become a large part of his life. Marques started working at Express in 2015 as an apprentice through Right Track, a youth professional organization. Through his continued work with Express, he gets to see the youth apprenticeship from another perspective.

“It feels good because at one point in time I was the apprentice, and now I get to look at it from the other end [as supervisor]. It’s interesting and fun to see and watch them gain skills from where they were in the beginning, not knowing anything. It’s cool.”

Marques is pictured with his bike, a Specialized road bike. By learning mechanical skills at the shop, he has been able to fix up and customize his own bikes. Taking ownership of a bike and having the knowledge to maintain it is one of the joys Marques finds in cycling. He affectionately calls his bike “Purple Rain.”

“Somebody donated this and I was like, ‘Man, I gotta get this bike.’ I’ve loved it ever since… I can go really fast on it. Light wheels. Aluminum wheels. All I did was put a new chain on and a cassette… I put new bar tape on it. The shifters are the same. Everything’s pretty much still the same since it’s been donated. It pretty much came all the way purpled-out. I just added a few touches to it. I got a bell.”

The recipient of the first Philando Castile Memorial Scholarship, Marques studies engineering at St. Paul College and envisions himself opening his own bike shop. Working in a shop was part of Marques’ inspiration to pursue an education in engineering.

“I plan on transferring to Mankato to finish off my Bachelor’s in engineering. It’s a lot of math. It’s kind of hard, but I like a challenge. I would say [working here] kind of made me want to go to school for that. I really love working with my hands. I really love working with tools. I think I’ll do great in that field.”

More than a livelihood or career, bikes and cycling offer daily challenge, a way to get around and see the world, and a feeling of freedom.

“I would say you feel free [on your bike]. You really clear your mind. Pretty chill. I like how I can switch up between driving and riding a bike. When I didn’t have a car, I rode my bike in the wintertime. That was kind of fun. I had studded tires. My friends thought I was crazy though.”

Visit Hennepin History Museum to experience LifeCYCLE, view all eleven original portraits, and read more about each subject. On display at Hennepin History Museum starting December 1, 2018.


About the author:
Audrey Negro is a joint intern for the Cycling Museum of Minnesota and Hennepin History Museum. Her work includes assisting with publicity and marketing for the LifeCYCLE exhibit, as well as “other duties as assigned” by both museums. She is an avid bicyclist and is looking forward to testing her skills during the Minnesota winter.

The Civic Celebration and the Linking of the Lakes: Honoring Minneapolis Since 1911

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In July of 1911, a week-long civic celebration was held to honor and advertise the city of Minneapolis. The festival had been proposed by the city’s Publicity Club, and organization of advertisers founded four years earlier. It was modeled on similar celebrations in Boston and Buffalo, and aimed to bolster civic pride and, as the Minneapolis Tribune reported, “[spread] the fame of Minneapolis from ocean to ocean, from Minnesota to Texas.”

Following the celebration’s proposal by Publicity Club’s founding president A. W. Warnock, a committee was established by the club and quickly embraced by civic leaders, including members of the city’s Commercial club. Under Warnock’s leadership, the committee quickly began raising the funds necessary for the celebration, and dates for the week of festivities were chosen: July 2nd to 8th, to coincide with the 4th of July and the completion by the Parks Department of the linking of Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, and Lake Calhoun (Bde Maka Ska) on July 1st.

Upon his appointment, Warnock laid out a plan. The week of festivities would include, day by day, religious services, band concerts across the city, military maneuvers, a “sane” (i.e. lacking in fireworks) 4th of July, the Linking of the Lakes, historical pageants, and an industrial parade. The cost for the celebration was estimated at that time to be $100,000 – equivalent to $2.6 million today.

By January of 1911, an office to organize the event had been set up, headed by Warnock, with a board that included members of prominent Minneapolis families, including the Lorings, Newells, and Northrups. Likewise, an invitation had been extended to the Minnesota National Guard for a military parade and to set up an encampment in the city to be open to the public – both the first time such a mustering took place in the city, and the first time the regiments of the state guard were brought together into a brigade.

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Preparations for the July festival continued through 1911, with regular columns in the Minneapolis Tribune dedicated to listing major contributions to the celebration’s fund. Vacant lots were converted into gardens to stock hotels and highlight local produce to the city’s visitors, and to flower gardens to beautify the city. A court of honor to run the length of Nicollet Avenue was planned, with garlands running between twenty-five-foot columns, each topped with electric lights and shields honoring pioneers like Father Hennepin and Du Luth. Police and detectives from around the state were enlisted to ensure the protection of visitors and their property, as the festival was sure to be a “mecca for all the crooks in the country,” according to a report from the Tribune

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On July 2nd, a Sunday, the festival began with a “Day of Thanks” in the cities churches. Expectations for the week-long celebration were high, as organizers were already calling for the festival to be made permanent and celebrated annually, with the 1912 celebration serving to highlight the city as a potential site for summer mansion for the President Taft. Papers reported that with the celebration’s official start “every man, woman and child bore that holiday look that seemed to say that they had given themselves over completely to one solid week of rejoicing.”

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The week continued with the mustering of the national guard and the festival’s first parade, where 10,000 turned out to celebrate of the official lighting of the Nicollet avenue court of honor, on “Minneapolis Day.” The planned “sane fourth” was likewise a success, as Minneapolis Tribune reported, for “only thirteen” fatalities were reported in across the U.S. from “old-fashioned” celebration, with one fifth as many injuries — signs of a growing national movement away from explosions and fireworks to mark Independence Day. This trend was visible between the Twin Cities: St. Paul, which allowed fireworks, saw fifteen injuries, as compared to “safe and sane” Minneapolis, where none were reported.

July 5th saw the celebration of the “Linking of the Lakes,” and highlighted Minneapolis’ waterways with aquatic sports and a “Water Pageant” at night of illuminated boats. The head of the parks department oversaw a “Wedding of the Lakes” ceremony, proclaiming, “What we have joined together let no man put asunder,” and dubbing the region “the lake district.” From honoring the natural features of the city, the festivities turned to honoring the city’s history with a day of historical pageants on the 6th. A performance of “The Melting Pot,” a drama that conveyed “the entire human history” of the state, was performed in Loring park and heralded as the “apogee” of the week-long celebration.

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The final two days of festivities, “Industrial Day” and “Children’s Day,” were marked by yet more parades, of the cities major industries and finally of its school children, and repeat performances of the week’s highlights, including concerts, the water pageant, and history play. Conservative estimates from the time listed 25,000 out of town visitors for the week. As the celebration wound down, calls were renewed to make it an annual affair. These plans for a 1912 celebration were ultimately abandoned. However, 29 years later a similar annual festival to celebrate the city would begin: the Minneapolis Aquatennial.

Author Bio

Noah Barnaby is a Research Intern at Hennepin History Museum. He has a bachelor’s degree in History and Philosophy from the University of Minnesota, and focuses on Social, Economic, and Labor History.


Postcards celebrating the festival and inviting visitors to the city.

The Cat Fight Over Kittenball: The contested origins of softball in the Upper Midwest

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An early kittenball, or softball, mold from the collections of Hennepin History Museum.

Minnesotans are generally nice, polite people. We don’t always like stirring up trouble by offering a contrary opinion and we’re usually happy to share our hot dish with others. However, there are some points of pride that Minnesotans take quite seriously, one of which was brought to the fore in 1938 when a math teacher at Cretin High School refuted the commonly held belief that softball originated in a Minneapolis fire station.  

 According to popular lore, a firefighter named Lewis Rober organized the first game of softball in 1895, hoping to develop a sport that would keep firefighters occupied and fit in-between calls but that did not require excessive time, space, or equipment to play. The game took off quickly and soon the firefighters at Station 19—currently the site of a Buffalo Wild Wings in Stadium Village—were regularly playing with the “Whales” of Engine 4, the “Rats” of Engine 9, the “Salisburys” of a nearby mattress factory, the “Pillsburys” from the flour mills, and the “Central Avenues.” Rober called the sport kittenball, named after his own team: the “Kittens.”   

 After nearly forty years of letting Rober bask in the spotlight, Brother Lewis Sixtus came forward with a different story. An article published in the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune on March 20, 1938 stated that Sixtus had played the game indoors at school in Chicago three years before its supposed birth. Sixtus went on to reveal that he had coached a well-established kittenball team at Cretin that had played against St. Paul Athletic club members, national guardsmen, and even professional baseball players—all prior to Rober’s publication of the game’s official rules in 1906.  

Unfortunately for Minnesotan pride, Sixtus’s story checks out. A version of softball was invented in Chicago in 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club when a Yale alum learned that his team had won the annual Yale-Harvard football game and chucked a boxing glove at a Harvard fan who tried to hit it with a bat.  

Since the 1938 article, Minnesotans have tried recovering their claim to fame. Late in the 1970s, the old Station 19 firehouse was repurposed and turned into office and retail space. The architects in charge of the project hired historians to research the building and the kittenball story was unearthed. Soon after, Barbara Flanagan published an article in Minneapolis Star about the birth of kittenball, completely omitting Sixtus and the Chicago boathouse. A year later, Joe Hennessy followed suit, writing about the station, “that was the year and the place softball—then called kittenball—was invented.”  

 How do we reconcile these two stories? Typical Minnesotans, we have found a way to compromise. While most softball historians around the country and Wikipedia agree that Chicago invented softball, today Lewis Rober is widely known as the father of the outdoor version.  

 So the next time you’re scarfing down some Bdubs before heading over to the football game, remember that another great sport was born practically at your feet—and that superior to Chicago as always, we played it outside first.  

 Author Bio 

Carson Backhus is a Collections Intern at the Hennepin History Museum. She has a bachelor’s degree in history and French from Grinnell College in Iowa. Her primary historical interests are in the French Revolution and sensory history.  


“Buy Your Shoes from Heffelfinger”: The History of Heffelfinger Shoes

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The Heffelfinger family boasts military and football achievements galore, but if you were a young woman living in Minneapolis during the second half of the nineteenth century, chances were you knew the Heffelfinger name from your weekend shopping trips or the sole of your shoe.

Brothers Christopher and Charles Heffelfinger were born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania in 1835 and 1850, respectively. Christopher first came to Minneapolis in 1857 where he occupied himself through various pursuits until the outbreak of the Civil War. He was one of the first to enlist and joined he First Minnesota Infantry. Christopher nearly lost his life in the battle of Gettysburg, but was saved when a book he was carrying in his breast pocket cushioned the blow of a bullet. After the war, he returned to Minneapolis, accompanied by his new wife Mary Ellen. Tired of military life, Christopher entered into the shoe business with a man named Walker in 1866. Christopher’s brother Charles, having just moved to Minneapolis that year, joined the pair and together they sold their shoes in the bustling Bridge Square neighborhood at the southern end of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.

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In the spring of 1870, Christopher bought out Walker’s shares in Walker and Heffelfinger’s and continued to run the business with Charles in the same location. Three years later, however, Christopher left his younger brother to found the North Star Boot and Shoe Company. Left on his own, Charles partnered up with his former employee Joseph F. Hause and the two ran the store together until 1875 under the name Heffelfinger & Hause’s.

Throughout the next decade, Christopher’s shoe empire flourished, entire pages of the Minneapolis Tribune dedicated to its growth and successes as it hopped from one building to another one, far larger. Slightly in the shadow of his older brother’s triumphs, Charles sold shoes independently, calling his store C. A. Heffelfinger’s.

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In 1896, Charles, then a man of forty-six, hoped to give his business a facelift. He released his remodeling plans to the Minneapolis Tribune in February and the newspaper predicted that C. A. Heffelfinger’s would become “by far the most imposing and attractive show store in the Northwest.” As part of the remodeling process, Charles enlisted the partnership of his nephews William and Frank Heffelfinger. William, nicknamed “Pudge”, is known today as the first ever professional American football player.

The shoe empire created by the Heffelfinger brothers no longer exists—the spaces dominated by the massive stores now house condo buildings and the retail industry operates primarily online. These pairs of shoes located in the Hennepin History Museum collection conjure up nostalgic images of an early Minneapolis, and remind the historian of the days when “If in the flames of Hell you’d linger, buy your shoes from Heffelfinger” constituted an appropriate negative ad campaign.

Author Bio

Carson Backhus is a Collections Intern at the Hennepin History Museum. She has a bachelor’s degree in history and French from Grinnell College in Iowa. Her primary historical interests are in the French Revolution and sensory history.