Author Archives: Hennepin History Museum

About Hennepin History Museum

Hennepin History Museum preserves and shares the story of Hennepin County, Minnesota. Located in the historic Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis, we offer exhibitions, a research library, and public programs and events for visitors of all ages. Your history. Your museum.

“Fish” Jones and Hiawatha the Lion

Fish Jones.JPGRobert “Fish” Jones, with his signature beard and moustache

In 1876, a man named Robert Jones moved from New York to look for opportunities out west, and settled in Minneapolis. Missing the fresh fish so easily found on the east coast, he established his own fish market. To his chagrin, he soon gained the moniker “Fish” Jones.

Jones was an eccentric man, who wore a silk top hat, a Prince Albert suit, high heeled shoes that masked his short stature, and sported a pointed beard with a curled mustache. The name “Fish” rather suited him, as it was his lifelong love of animals of all kinds which led him to create Longfellow Gardens, the largest collection of exotic animals in the United States at the time. The gardens hosted a wide variety of animals; cats, bears, wolves, camels, elephants, monkeys, antelopes, porcupines, storks, cranes, flamingoes, falcons, peacocks, ostriches, parrots, and owls, to name a few.

LongfellowThe entrance to Longfellow Gardens

Fish Jones greatly admired the works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, erecting a statue on the grounds of the writer, modeling his home after Longfellow’s own, and even taking names for quite a few of his animals from “The Song of Hiawatha.” Notably, the names included several of his sea lions; Minnehaha, Hiawatha, Paupukeewis, Mudgekeewis, and Nokomis.

BearsFish Jones giving his bears, Teddy and Alice, their first tango lesson.

Though generally Fish seemed to have no issues allowing many of his animals roam free through the Longfellow Gardens, the sea lions once made an escape over Minnehaha Falls. This would have greatly saddened Fish, who, after receiving criticism for keeping a camel in Minnesota in the cold winters, responded by getting the camel some pantaloons and a coat to keep it warm. He would not have his camels freeze!

From early in his life, Jones was instructed by his father that animals had feelings just like humans do. The youngest of eleven children, Fish turned to animals for comfort and closeness.

Hiawatha.JPGHiawatha the Lion, Fish Jones’ beloved pet lion, at 4 years old. 

Today’s object is not an object at all but a former beloved pet of Fish Jones named Hiawatha the Lion. Named Hiawatha II, possibly proceeding the sea lion, Hiawatha I, Hiawatha II was the “premier lion” of Longfellow Gardens, and so treasured by Fish that when the lion passed away in the late 1920s, Fish took him to a taxidermist so he could preserve him.

HiawathaCloseUpHiawatha the Lion today, at approximately 110 years old. 

Jones’ practice with his animals was to spend time with each of them every day, treat them with kindness, and earn their trust with his own. Though he spoke of many of his animals fondly, Hiawatha the Lion and Fish Jones had a truly special bond. Today the only traces that remain of Longfellow Gardens are Fish Jones’ former home and the Longfellow statue, photographs and articles, and of course, Hiawatha the beloved Lion.

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

Gwinn, Sherman, “Jones Catches ‘Em Young But He Doesn’t Treat ‘Em Rough.” November 1925.

Lost Twin Cities 4.” TPT Documentaries. Web.

Robert “Fish” Jones Announcements Folder, HHM

Robert “Fish” Jones Brochures Folder HMM

“The Story of Longfellow Gardens,” a booklet edited and published by Fish Jones in 1911.

Zalusky, Joseph W. “He Was a Colorful Figure: Robert “Fish” Jones.”

Maggie Yancey’s 1881 Geology Book

In the late 1800s, Hennepin County was home to a population of African Americans who had moved north to find opportunity after the Civil War, along with those who had escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad. While many traveled north to Canada, some remained in Minnesota. Ellen and Beverly Yancey were a couple that settled in Edina and began developing close ties to the community, becoming involved in local politics and the church. Mae, one of their children, later studied at the University of Minnesota and played organ for the Episcopal congregation.

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This week’s object is a geology book that once belonged to another one of Ellen and Beverly’s daughters, Maggie, in 1881. When Maggie owned this book, black families like the Yanceys lived and attended school alongside white families in Edina and Minneapolis. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that restrictive racial covenants began forcing Edina’s black community to move to other parts of the Twin Cities. Because these black families did not own the land they lived on, the residential districts created were able to effectively force them out. Edina was not alone in developing racial covenants designed to create segregation, and African Americans often struggled to find adequate housing and land without facing backlash from white citizens who feared their property values would decrease if their neighborhoods were integrated.

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This book owned by Maggie Yancey serves as an important connection between Hennepin county’s history and the many black pioneers and families that lived here, worked here, and—all too often—felt unwelcomed here. This book helps us recognize and honor the contributions that African Americans like Maggie Yancey and her family have made to Hennepin County despite the inequity and discrimination they have faced and continue to face today.

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Written by HHM intern Caitlin Crowley. Caitlin is a current Augsburg student and comes to HHM through the Minnesota Historical Society’s ACTC extern program.

Happy Historic Valentine’s Day!

On Valentine’s Day, secret admirers and sweethearts give one another heart-shaped boxes and lockets, red roses and bouquets, and candies with little love notes like “BE MINE.” Stores sell clothes and even lingerie with red hearts emblazoned across it. While our object of the week may look almost like a Valentine’s Day-themed lingerie set you could buy at Victoria’s Secret, in reality, it was once worn on the burlesque stages of downtown Minneapolis.

The Minneapolitan strolling down Hennepin Avenue on a weekend night may choose their vice: cocktails, dancing, or the sort of night clubs where bouncers stand menacingly outside. Strip clubs, some rather dingy in appearance, dot the downtown streets, and many visitors come and go from these places unaware of their connections to the burlesque clubs Minneapolis’ earlier years. While burlesque clubs were far from scandalous by today’s standards, they faced much of the same stigma as strip clubs experience today.

In the early 1900s, downtown Minneapolis was far from a bustling metropolis. Yet the variety of theaters in the Gateway District promised visitors plenty of opportunities for a good time. Theaters like the Alvin and the Gaetty held variety shows with comedians and headline acts performing alongside burlesque dancers, who were accompanied by musicians and chorus girls. “Candy butchers” sold treats to visitors in the lobbies, akin to the concession stands and bars of today’s theaters. These were places for all kinds of people; men and women, husbands and wives, and even parents and children. While some performances took place in dive bars, many were held in lavish theaters–real “class acts.”

This particular burlesque outfit, which was homemade by a woman who worked in one of these burlesque clubs, sports a lovely red heart sewn delicately across the breast, and a silky beaded ruffle of fabric across the lower piece. It’s not hard to imagine stockings being held up by the elastic straps along the side, the ruffles shaking, the performer wiggling her hips, and the audience watching and listening to lively music play. For a long time, burlesque performers fell out of fashion in Minneapolis in favor of go-go dancers and topless acts. Today, while it appears that strip clubs are more present than burlesque in Minneapolis, burlesque performances continue around the city and are respected by many as one of many forms of performance art.

We hope you happen upon heart-shaped treats of any kind this week, and that you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

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Written by current HHM intern Caitlin Crowley.

 

From the Collection: 1914 Voting Machine

 

By Olivia Schiffman, HHM Collections Intern

This ballot box, last used in Minnesota’s gubernatorial election of 1914, still holds the place cards that name the men running for office on the state and local level. On November 3, 1914, Minnesotans elected their 18th governor from among six candidates. They also cast votes in equally crowded races for offices ranging from State Treasurer to Supreme Court Clerk.

The majority winner was Democratic candidate Winfield S. Hammond. Unfortunately Hammond would only govern Minnesota for little under a year, dying in office on December 30th, 1915.

Half the population of Minnesota, however, would have no say in the election of Governor Hammond. Women were not able to vote in statewide or national elections, but they were not completely cut out from the election process. They did have the right to vote in school board elections—a constitutional amendment that came in 1875. With such limited voting rights, ballots cast by women posed a problem for election officials. How would they be able to safeguard against the possibility of a woman voting for offices restricted to male votes only?

While many districts had separate voting booths for men and women, this ballot box was used by both. A sign on the back of the machine in the bottom left reads, “BEFORE A WOMAN ENTERS THE BOOTH…” – and follows up with instructions on how to move the adjacent lever. This essentially blocked the possibility of an “illegally cast” ballot.

before-a-woman-enters

The election of 1914 would prove to be the twilight years for machines like this one. In 1920 women received their constitutional right to vote, rendering a separate system for men and woman obsolete.

Sources

MNHS Gale Family Library’s Guide to Suffrage

Politics of the Past by Zac Farber

Woman Suffrage Memorabilia

Mahala Fisk Pillsbury’s Inauguration Gown

On a cold day in January 1876, Mahala Fisk Pillsbury of Minneapolis, a prominent community member and philanthropist, took on a new title: Minnesota’s First Lady. Her husband of twenty years, businessman John Sargent Pillsbury, had just been elected for his first of three terms as Minnesota’s governor.

This gown, worn by Mrs. Pillsbury at one of her husband’s inaugurations, most likely that first one, came to Hennepin History Museum many decades later after being carefully packed away and preserved by family members as a memento of the occasion.

mahalafisk

Mrs. Pillsbury. Hennepin History Museum collection. Chalk on paper.

A founding member and president of the Stevens Square home for elderly women and children, Mahala Fisk Pillsbury was a formidable force in the world of Minneapolis social services and public welfare. She was equally at home wearing a ballgown in her role as the governor’s wife or with her shirt sleeves rolled up as an active participant in the activities of the social services organizations that she founded.

You can see the gown now at Hennepin History Museum, where it is a centerpiece of Behind the Ballot Box, an exhibit exploring election on the 1st floor. The exhibit is open now through February 5.

Finding Family at HHM

We love stories like this!

Last week, Thomas P. came to HHM docent Shari Albers’ Fireside Chat about our historic Washburn Fair Oaks neighborhood and enjoyed the program so much he decided to become a member. He loves art and is a collector of various pieces by local artists. At the Chat he learned that the Portraits of the Past exhibit closing the next day, so he asked us if he could fill out his membership after he had a chance to see the gallery. As he walked through the gallery, he was surprised to see a portrait of his own great-uncle Jacob Gray! Thomas was thrilled to see his own family represented in the gallery and told us he is even more happy to become a new member.

Welcome, Thomas! We’re so happy to welcome you to the Hennepin History Museum family as a member and as a volunteer.

 

 

From the Collection: Soapbox Derby Car

This Soap Box Derby car is called “Tinker Toy,” and was the winning Soap Box Derby car in 1959. It went on to compete in the All American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. The car was built by the Minneapolis Jaycees, which is a youth engagement and leadership organization founded in 1934 and still active today.

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The Minneapolis Jaycees are a group of young people, ages 16-40, committed to becoming stronger leaders by making positive change in their community through social action, personal growth, networking, and fellowship.

Soap Box Derby, which is a racing program involving unpowered, handmade cars, officially began in the United States in 1934.  At first a boys-only sport, girls were allowed to compete starting in 1971.  Historically, derby cars were made of a variety of materials, including soap or orange crates, sheet tin, and baby-buggy wheels.  Today, they are made of streamlined materials such as aluminum and fiberglass, and can reach speeds upwards of 30 miles per hour!

The first record of a soap box derby competition in the Twin Cities is in 1936 in St. Paul’s Highland Park. The prizes for first place a few years later included a $50 wristwatch, suit of clothes, gold medal, and an all-expenses paid trip to Akron, Ohio to compete in the national finals.