Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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.

 

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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Bust of Thomas Chan by Helen Zesbaugh

Written by current HHM volunteer Mara Taft. Original research and article by Bruce N. Wright, and published in Hennepin History, Fall 2000.

Helen A. Zesbaugh, an artist and author associated with an art gallery in Minneapolis, created this stainless steel bust of Thomas Chan in 1931. Thomas Chan (pronounced “Kahn”) was a Minneapolis art and antique dealer who eventually opened a gallery on Nicollet Avenue in the 1940s. This bust is especially unusual because it was cast with stainless steel, which only became used commercially in about 1919. Stainless steel is one of the hardest metals to manipulate, and casting this bust would have required use of a sophisticated foundry due to its relatively high melting point (2,550° F).

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Above: Helen Zesbaugh, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Zesbaugh was related to a family-run art gallery and framing shop of the same name on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. She attended the University of Minnesota for Art Education from 1916 to 1920, and authored the study Children’s Drawings of the Human Figure, published in 1934 by the University of Chicago Press as part of her master’s thesis in education.  If she taught art or produced other types of art locally, there is little trace, save this striking bust.

The sculpture’s subject is also notable. Thomas Chan was an art and antique dealer whose influence on the local scene was felt from the 1920s until his death in 1966. Chan was born in 1895 and grew up in Alexandria, Minnesota. He graduated in 1916 from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota and worked briefly in a Minneapolis drug store while moonlighting for the Beard’s Art Gallery, still in existence downtown.

Chan left pharmacy for good when he began working for Dr. Mabel Ulrich at her bookshop and art gallery on Nicollet Avenue, and was eventually inspired to open his own art gallery, the Little Gallery. In 1947, Chan closed his shop and moved his operations to Lake Minnetonka, where he worked as gardener, antique dealer, and art impresario until his death.

This polished sculpture represents a nexus of personalities brought together by the colorful network of art and antique galleries that formed along Nicollet Avenue in the mid-20th century.

You can see it now at the museum, where it is part of Portraits of the Past: Highlights from the Hennepin History Museum Collection. Hurry, the exhibition’s final day is this Sunday, January 8!

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Franklin Steele’s Bentwood Chair

By Mara Taft, collections volunteer

This chair was used by Franklin Steele (1813-1880), a founder of Minneapolis and prominent in the lumber industry.

Stylistically, this a bentwood chair with a cane bottom. Manufactured by the Thonet company in Germany, this chair is signed with the original Thonet company mark. Michael Thonet, founder of the Thonet cabinetry company, was one of the most important innovators of bentwood furniture making. He patented a process of gluing layers of wood together through veneer and lamination, and then bending them under heat to created curved back-rails and legs on chairs, headboards, and sofa arms. By 1900, the popular, inexpensive furniture style was widely produced by furniture manufacturers in the United States.

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Steele was a founder of Minneapolis who became wealthy through the lumber industry and land deals. Born in Pennsylvania, he heard of prosperity in Minnesota and traveled there via the steamboat Burlington in 1838. He went to Fort Snelling, and at the age of 25, became the storekeeper.

In 1837, both sides of the Mississippi River were controlled by the government and was occupied by 150 squatters. In 1838, Fort Snelling commander Joseph Plympton convinced the government to put the east side of the river up for settlement. Steele staked his claim on the best spot of land by arriving to the site before dawn on the first day of settlement, thus securing his claim over St. Anthony Falls and his prominent role in the Minnesota lumber industry. A dam was built in 1848 blocking the east half of the river, allowing him to catch lumber sent downstream from the north. In 1854, squatters were able to purchase the west side of the river, and thus built a dam on the west side. This dam created, along with Steele’s, created an inverted-V shape which can still be seen today.

Apart from logging, Steele was known for many other building projects in what is now Minneapolis. In 1849 he plotted the town of St. Anthony, which was incorporated with Minneapolis in 1872. In 1852, he built a suspension bridge linking Minneapolis and Nicollet Island. Being an entrepreneur, he charged a toll of 5 cents per pedestrian, 25 cents per wagon, and 2 cents per pig and sheep to cross the bridge. Additionally, in 1851, he donated 4 acres in St. Anthony which was used to build the beginnings of the University of Minnesota.

Through his prominent roles in the lumber industry and land deals, Franklin Steele was undoubtedly an important figure in the emergence of Minneapolis as a prominent city. He helped to build Minneapolis and Hennepin County sitting on this very chair!

To volunteer at HHM, contact James Bacigalupo at history@hennepinhistory.org or 612.870.1329.

 

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Bob Dylan Sat Here

 

By Heather Hoagland, HHM Collections Manager

Bob Dylan’s Chair

In 1959, a 19-year-old University of Minnesota student finally got his first gigs playing his guitar and singing the tunes he wrote himself—and for which he would later win a Nobel Prize for Poetry.

Bob Dylan sat in this simple chair at The Ten O’Clock Scholar coffeehouse during those gigs. Though he was only at the U of M from 1959 to 1961, Dylan and local legend John Koerner played together there, nurturing each other’s love of folk and blues.

The Scholar was located at the corner of Fifth Street and Fourteeth Avenue in Dinkytown, a historic student neighborhood adjacent to the University of Minnesota. The décor at the Scholar was simple: small chairs and tables where people gathered to talk, listen to music, or read. The building was burned to the ground in the late 1960s.

The chair was a gift of the Minnesota Historical Society.