The Mu-So Choral Club, a Minneapolis-based choir of approximately 40 African American singers, depending on the year, was formed in 1917 and remained active through the 1920s. Members were drawn primarily from local church choirs, and the group was often considered to feature some of “best of the best” of local African American vocal talent.
The group performed at churches, benefits, and at public venues such as Minneapolis City Hall. In April 1923, the Mu-So Choral Club was the featured music of that week’s WLAG’s “Listenin’ in Radio News-Program.” The photo featured here, as well as the images below, come from our extensive historic radio, film, and theater program collection.
Never heard of radio station WLAG, “the call of the North”? WLAG, based out of the Oak Grove Hotel in Loring Park, Minneapolis, was only on the air from 1922 to 1924; soon afterwards, the Washburn Crosby Company took it over, renamed it WCCO, and the rest is, as they say, history.
In 1932 twenty-nine counties from across Minnesota gathered at the Minnesota State Fair grounds to compete for fame and glory. Well, at least glory. The entrants in the “lively” county booth competition were judged on “general scope and quality” and beauty. While Hennepin County didn’t wow the judges, we didn’t go home entirely empty-handed: Hennepin County took third in the Central Section beauty contest, coming in behind Wright and Chisago Counties.
Governor Floyd B. Olson, a Hennepin County native himself, presented the county booth awards to the lucky winners.
Hennepin County’s famous Aquatennial has been part of the Minneapolis summer since 1940. So, too, have been its royalty, including the festival’s Queen of the Lakes. Young single women representing cities and companies across the state gather in Minneapolis each year to compete for the opportunity to serve on the Aquatennial royal court. Here at Hennepin History Museum, our extensive historic Aquatennial collection has extensive files filled with historic photographs, scrapbooks, coronation gowns, and crowns associated with the Queen of the Lakes. Their stories are part of the Aquatennial story, but also provide a glimpse into broader historical trends and experiences. In the case of Queens Margaret Cary and Nancy Thum (above), the collection and its stories provides a peek at what it was like to be a young adult in World War II-era Minnesota.
During the 1940s, the Aquatennial Queen of Lakes rules were clear: married women were not eligible to run for or to hold the title of Queen of the Lakes. In 1944, this led to an unexpected situation when in that December, not one but two current reigning Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes were “conquered by Cupid in uniform!” With the advent of World War II, American marriage rates skyrocketed. The average age at time of marriage also dropped. Perhaps no surprise, the eligible young Aquatennial royals also found love and chose marriage.
In early December 1944, with the war still raging, Queen Margaret Cary chose to give up her crown to marry her fiance, recently returned army flyer Charles Sandberg. Nancy Thom, shown above, took over the royal duties. But just weeks later, Nancy announced her own engagement! Her fiance remained stationed in California, however, and Nancy’s wedding did not take place until after she had served out the rest of her reign and crowned her successor.
Hennepin History Museum is home to the historic Aquatennial collection. Please click here to make a financial contribution to help us to preserve and share this important local historical resource.
In the summer of 1955, the life of a “summertime shop girl from Uptown” was changed forever. Judy Penney, a 19-year old language student at the University of Minnesota and a retail clerk at the Purple Door gift shop (then located at Lake Street and Holmes Avenue), was crowned the Aquatennial’s 1956 Queen of the Lakes. While representing the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis as the Uptown Commercial Club’s official Miss Uptown Aquatennial candidate, Judy lived with her parents in nearby St. Louis Park.
Being chosen as Aquatennial Queen was often a major life-changing event for young women like Judy. Suddenly plans to find a full-time job or return to school were placed on hold; being a queen was a full-time commitment itself! All the hard work came with exciting perks and opportunities, however — including a tour through Spain with Minneapolis journalist Barbara Flanagan.
The photo here, part of our extensive historic Aquatennial collection, was taken during a hot week in August. The members of the Minnesota Apparel Industries had provided Judy with an entire wardrobe suitable for such international royal travels. Selected by a stylist with air travel in mind, the wardrobe “features the type of packable and versatile clothes that make the American girl’s apparel the most envied in the world.” (Picture, September 4, 1955) During this extensive, multi-day photo session, Judy patiently tried on and modeled the extensive contributions from the state’s apparel industry; a month later, she took her new ” special air-travel wardrobe” with her to Europe.
We will be featuring materials from our Aquatennial collection throughout July! Please check back often (and follow our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages) for more #HistoricAquatennial.
Hennepin History Museum is home to an extensive historic Aquatennial collection. Please click here to help preserve and to share this valuable local historical resource.
Many people today have heard of the famous African American Buffalo Soldiers, but did you know that the Buffalo Soldiers were based here in Minnesota during the 1880s?
This photograph, part of Hennepin History Museum’s archival collection, shows a group of men from the 25th U.S. Infantry. The 25th Infantry was an African American regiment then based out of Fort Snelling. These soldiers were among the “Buffalo Soldiers,” a term referring to the United States’ segregated African American Army regiments. The soldiers shown here were musicians and NCOs (non-commissioned officers).
Army historians describe the time spent at Fort Snelling as “the most uneventful in the regiment’s history,” and suggest “the soldiers probably spent more time practicing, drilling, and parading than ever before.” Meanwhile, in contrast, Hennepin County was changing rapidly around the Fort; the city of Minneapolis was one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation during this period, and the downtown skyline was changing and expanding rapidly.
In 1888, the 25th was transferred from the the Minnesota to Montana.
In July 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 mandating the integration of the armed forces and promising “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”
Historic Fort Snelling
“Buffalo Soldiers.” HistoryNet
Executive Order 9981
U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, A Historic Context for the African American Military Experience. 1998.
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.
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
This street scene, photographed circa 1925, was taken on 6th Street looking towards Nicollet Avenue (now Nicollet Mall) in downtown Minneapolis. Visible at the intersection is the corner of the Donaldson’s Department Store’s famous Glass Block building.
One of the things that struck our eye are the modes of transportation visible in this photograph. We have a new exhibition opening at Hennepin History Museum this week: the Cycling Museum of Minnesota has curated the ever-fascinating High Wheels! exhibition looking at biking in 19th century Minneapolis. This photograph post-dates the high wheels, but if you look closely you’ll see there’s foot, car, streetcar, and yes, bicycle traffic.