Tag Archives: Minneapolis

“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.”

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.

 

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.

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.

franklinesteele

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.

 

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.

Object of the Week: Dowling School Chair

By Heather Hoagland, HHM Collections Manager

This chair was made to suit the special needs of a disabled child who attended the Dowling School in Minneapolis. While we don’t know what those needs were, the desk lifts on a hinge and the high back raises. It likely dates from the 1940s or 1950s.

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Above: child using similar chair

The Dowling School, established in 1920, was the first school for the disabled in Minnesota and one of the longest continuously operating schools in the area. Today it is an urban environmental learning center, serving students of all ability levels.

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Above: Dowling students outside the school

The school opened with just 17 students in January, 1921, but quickly grew to fill a needed gap in the Minneapolis educational system, serving handicapped children throughout the region. In 1923, the school moved to its current location on 21 wooded acres overlooking the Mississippi, which was a gift from Minneapolis mayor William Eustis. In the 1930s, Dowling was the recipient of WPA funding to build an aqua therapy school. President and First Lady Roosevelt visited the school to dedicate the pool, which is still in use today.

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Dowling pool

The school’s founder, Michael Dowling, lost three limbs in a blizzard at the age of fourteen but went on to graduate from Carleton College—my alma mater!—and have a successful career as a businessman and speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

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Above: Michael Dowling

Sharpen those Mower Blades

It’s summer… and if you have a lawn in Hennepin County, you’ve probably spent plenty of time over the past month or two keeping the grass in check. In honor of this common summer task we’ve pulled out this small bag from the collection. Now empty, it once held equipment used to sharpen lawn mower blades.

During the 1930s, 1940s, and into the 1950s the Foley Manufacturing Company of Minneapolis placed advertisements in national magazines promoting their “Electrakeen” as an ideal side business. “This is the way to make money!” their writers urged in 1930, “This is what hundreds of men are saying about the Foley Elecktrakeen Lawn Mower Sharpener business they have started.”

The Foley company was headquartered in the Foley Building, 11 Main Street NE.Besides lawn mower sharpeners they also produced food mills, flour sifters, juicers, and other small household tools and appliances. The company is still around, although no longer at that location, and after a merger is now known as Foley Belsaw. They still specialize in making sharpening tools.