Tag Archives: Costume

Nancy Piazza’s Calico Bodice: Italian Immigrants in Minnesota

Our object of the week this week is a gorgeous bodice donated by Nancy Piazza. The bodice traveled from the donor’s great grandmother in Sicily to Piazza’s grandmother, who had settled in Minneapolis, MN. The Piazza family went on to establish the famous Café di Napoli in 1938, which ran for over 60 years before closing in 2005. Minnesota is well known as a state filled with German, Norwegian, Swedish, and Irish immigrants who came here in the 1800s and early 1900s. Yet there were also quite a few Italian families like the Piazzas, who established communities like the Beltrami neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis, and whose stories are sometimes overlooked.

Italians came to Minnesota in the 1860s and settled in Saint Paul, while later waves began settling in Hennepin County and other parts of the state. A census from 1980 revealed that the number of Italians in Minnesota was the fourteenth highest ethnic group in the state, with the total heritage of Italians being 64,545. The vast majority of ethnic groups and immigrants in the earlier years of Minnesota came from more northern areas of Europe, and Italians who chose to settle in the Twin Cities were often faced with prejudice. “Other people in our new neighborhood [in Minneapolis] were alarmed at the idea that Italians were moving in, and they let my parents know,” wrote Linda Picone in the Star Tribune. Rose Totino, whose family opened one of the first pizzerias in Minneapolis and who later became the first female corporate vice president at Pillsbury and the third woman inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame, described her struggle to find pride in her Italian heritage growing up in a predominately Scandinavian city. Like Picone, she felt that her neighbors looked down on her and her family.

In response, Italians created a tightknit neighborhood in the Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood of Beltrami, named after Giacomo Beltrami, an Italian explorer who, with the help of Native Americans, searched for the headwaters of the Mississippi River in what would later become Minnesota. The area was home to Delmonico’s, a beloved Italian grocery store that sold wholesale to the Café Di Napoli. The nickname of the neighborhood, “Dogtown” betrays the prejudice against Italians. Some suggest that the name Dogtown was derived from the term “dago,” a derogatory work meaning an Italian that also gave name to the sandwich, the “Hot Dago.” In both 1991 and 2007, people attempted to have the name of the sandwich banned, but were ultimately unsuccessful. One possible reason for this was that some Italian restaurants had adopted the term for the sandwich themselves, though it was often called the “Italiano” as well. Another possibility is that with the smaller percentage of Italians in the cities, the Scandinavian majority didn’t find the term offensive. Today the term is still in use in Northeast, west of Beltrami, at Dusty’s Bar and Dagos. They advertise their “Homemade Dagos” on a large sign on the side of the building and serve the sandwich as their specialty.

In 2010, Joseph Piazza passed away at his daughter Nancy Piazza’s home at the age of 92. The Café Di Napoli had been a destination point for celebrities, and one of many successful Italian businesses in the Twin Cities. Italians, like many immigrants across the United States throughout its history and still today, were faced with the ongoing and unfortunate cycle of discrimination and xenophobia. Italians preserved their culture in part through their restaurants and saving objects like the Piazza family bodice, just as museums like the Somali Museum of Minnesota hope to help preserve the culture of immigrants in Minnesota and feel pride in their heritage, and museums like the Swedish Institute have done for many years. Hennepin History Museum highlights the Piazza family bodice to help Minnesotans learn more about another piece in the mosaic of cultures in our state.

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

Esther Jerabek, “Minnesota: Melting Pot of Many Peoples,” Gopher Historian, Spring 1967.

“Italian-Americans take pride in their culture: Newspaper staff members reflect on meaning of Italian heritage,” Minneapolis Star and Tribune, October 8, 1984.

“Life in Minnesota sometimes leaves a little room for being Italian,” Star and Tribune, October 8, 1984.

Paul Klauda, “Melting pot at work in Minnesota, but ethnic differences add spice,” Minneapolis Star and Tribune, July 2, 1986.

Peg Meier, “Minnesotans’ experiences show immigrants can’t be stereotyped,” Star Tribune, July 2, 1986.

“ROSE TOTINO – 2008 INDUCTEE,” Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame, http://www.minnesotainventors.org/inductees/rose-totino.html.

Tim Harlow, “Joseph Piazza ran Cafe di Napoli for decades,” Star Tribune, March 16, 2010, http://www.startribune.com/joseph-piazza-ran-cafe-di-napoli-for-decades/87975592/. Ware Carlton-Ford, “A Timeline of Italian Food in Minnesota,” http://heavytable.com/timeline-italian-food-minnesota/.

Northwest Airlines in Minneapolis

In the early years of airline flights, flight costs were prohibitively expensive for many Americans. In order to cater to wealthy customers, airlines wanted to create an environment where people felt lavished, complete with beautiful female attendants. It was after World War II, when Northwest Airlines, based out of Minneapolis, began flights to Asia over the Pacific that “a new era at the airline was ushered in,” and rigid expectations were placed on their flight attendants. Anne Billingsley Kerr, who worked for the airline from 1956 to 1960, when she was forced to retire because of her marriage, remembered:

“Back in the Dark Ages, the requirements were you had to be 21, not over 31, you had to be between 5’4” and 5’8”, you had to have weight in proportion to height, we were weighed periodically to be sure. We had to have 20/20 vision and there had to be no obvious flaws. I even hate to say it, but that was the way that it was.”

Cheryl Ullyot, who donated her stewardess uniforms to Hennepin History Museum, was 20 years old when Northwest Airlines, then called “Northwest Orient Airlines,” hired her in 1969. Like Kerr, Ullyot reminisced about the many regulations for stewardesses’ appearances, writing, “A chip in my nail polish or a run in my nylons meant a dock in pay.” They were expected to wear skirts and high heels at all times for a ladylike appearance.

There were good and bad aspects of being a stewardess. It was a chance to see the world and to meet exciting passengers aboard. “It was a glamorous job,” said Ullyot, “I loved going to work because I never knew whom I might meet.” Fay Kulenkamp, who worked with Northwest from 1968 to 2004, was able to help her parents travel despite the expensive prices of flights. Kulenkamp said, “I thought it would be really nice for my parents to use my passes and take some trips that they ordinarily would not be able to afford.” My aunt, Pam Gunderson, formerly Fredrickson, remembers meeting comedian Bob Hope and actor Georgie Jessel during her time as a flight attendant. But memorable passengers were not always celebrities. “I started at NWA in 1969 during the war in Vietnam and had many soldiers on flights,” Pam wrote, saying:

“One young man had lost both legs in the war and was going home to see his fiancé. I asked him if he wanted a wheelchair to deplane, but he said he wanted his fiancé to see the whole truth right away. I had to duck into the cockpit because I couldn’t watch him struggle. I have often wondered what became of him and the others who flew home with us.”

In the end, the benefits of being a flight attendant were not enough to overshadow the discrimination women faced at Northwest and other airlines. My aunt Pam had left Northwest Airlines by the time of the Laffey v. Northwest lawsuit in 1973. According to Kathleen Barry, in her book Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, the lawsuit was “the broadest yet against airline bias.” The case detailed how women were kept from being promoted, received unequal benefits, and of course, the many restrictions placed on acceptable age and appearance. Even the title “stewardess,” it seems, was one that suggested women’s jobs were somehow different than male “flight service attendants.”

Northwest Airlines survived the Laffey case, and eventually merged with Delta in 2010. Today, while women still struggle to receive equal pay at jobs all across the country, we still regard much of the treatment of early female flight attendants as unfair and extreme. While being a stewardess was considered to be a glamorous job in the eyes of some, glamor did not outweigh the changes that needed to be made.

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.

NWA jacket.jpg

Sources

Cheryl Ullyot, “Random thoughts,” Hennepin History, Winter 2006, 3.

Kathleen Barry, Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, Duke University Press, 2007, 170.

“Lost Twin Cities,” TPT Documentaries video, 3 August 2014, http://video.tpt.org/video/2365436746/.

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!

2017-0124-408a-edited

Written by current HHM intern Caitlin Crowley.

 

Object of the Week: Zuhrah Temple Fez

This fez belonged to Henry Sparby, who was a member of the Zuhrah Temple and the Minnesota Consistory No. 2 as early as 1920. The model for Mr. Sparby’s fez is our own George H. Christian—first owner and overseer of construction of the Christian mansion where Hennepin History Museum is now located.

The Zuhrah Temple is the local chapter of the fraternal system known as Shriners International. With over 2,000 members, the Zuhrah Temple is the largest shrine in the Midwest region.

Today, the order is based in Minnetonka, but it has a long history. It was one of the first centers in the Midwest, obtaining a charter in 1886 along with St. Paul, Chicago, St. Louis, Cedar Rapids, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids.

The Zuhrah Temple is proud that the first uniformed marching unit was the Zuhrah Patrol, meaning the long tradition of Shriners marching in parades began here in Hennepin County. There have also been three leaders (“Potentates”) in Zuhrah history to become national leaders (“Imperial Potentates”).

Shriner fraternities, like the Zuhrah Temple, are dedicated to fellowship and philanthropy. They work to improve their communities by giving back through service and financial support. Across the country, Shriners are particularly known for establishing hospitals in their communities. The Zuhrah Temple completed the Twin Cities Shrine Hospital in 1923.

The fez was donated by the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center.