The Brown County Historical Society exhibit, Loyalty and Dissent: Brown County and WWI, is likely the most in-depth exhibit on the subject in the state. Last month, it received a Minnesota History Award from the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums. I had a small part in the formation of the Alliance back in 1990-91. I had previously been president of the Bay State Historical League in Massachusetts, and, on arriving in Minnesota, found that there was no similar organization here. So we worked to begin some networking. In honor of the Minnesota History Award for the WWI exhibit, I’ve posted a tribute, The Silent Army, to those Brown County men who gave their lives.
This is the story of one country school, located just west of New Ulm, Minnesota, for which I wrote the National Register of Historic Places nomination. It was closed in 1971 when Minnesota added a requirement that school districts must offer high school curriculum — the death knell for District No. 50 and others across the state. There are hundreds of these rural schools across the country, but I enjoyed working on this project for two reasons. First, it is a remarkably preserved example of a building influenced by Progressive era educational theory, taken from the cover of a state-issued plan book. Ideas were translated into the built environment. Second, I conducted oral history interviews with several former students. It is easy to fall into sweet nostalgia when talking about one-room schools, but the interviewees raised issues that are still with us — the benefits of a very small school with multiple grade levels and the reinforcement of learning that took place when older students helped to teach younger students. And it is not nostalgia when speaking of the bonds of community, knowing who your neighbors are and, more importantly, knowing their stories.
On Tuesday evening, August 22nd, the Brown County Historical Society and the New Ulm Public Library will host the Hoisington Film Festival. It begins at 7 p.m. at the New Ulm Public Library and admission is free. That is a traditional week set aside for lectures and tours about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The evening will feature three short films. Never Shall I Forget is the story of the battles of New Ulm told completely through the words of participants. It is featured in the BCHS Erd basement installation, but it has never been shown elsewhere and never on a large screen. The second film is Turner Hall 1862. The Turners were the driving force behind the settlement of New Ulm. They were idealists who had a vision of the type of society that they wanted to build here. Did they succeed? This documentary will look at the Turner Hall on the eve of the battles of New Ulm. Finally, we’ll present The Truth in History: Remembering Elden Lawrence. Dr. Lawrence was a fine historian who through his abilities and compassion taught others about the U.S.-Dakota War. The evening concludes with a question-and-answer session.
We are proud to announce the publication of Meet Us at the Fair: A History of the Brown County Fair. 2017 is the 150th anniversary of the Brown County Fair — long recognized as one of the best in the state. Organized in 1867, it has been an important annual event for generations. In this book, written by historian Daniel J. Hoisington, you’ll learn about the people who made it happen. Over the years, the fair was the chance to enjoy a grandstand show, whether it was a country and western singer, a neck-and-neck horse race, or a demolition derby. To young people, the fair meant hard work to compete for a blue ribbon. For others, it offered the thrill of a ride on the Midway, eating a bag of mini-donuts, or dancing to the sounds of a local band. For ordering information: https://www.browncountyfreefair.com
Why is New Ulm Turner Hall so important to the community? I had the privilege of speaking at the Chamber of Commerce dinner honoring Turner Hall as 2016 Business of the Year. Turner Hall holds special place in the town’s history, but also is significant in American history as a secular intentional community, founded with a mission statement.
At Stiftungsfest — our Founders Day — we brought together four former gymnasts to share about their memories. They represented four decades, but all shared a common fondness for their time at Turner Hall. Panelists included (left to right) Ted Marti, Jim Wolf, Christine Boettger, and Elizabeth Domeier. The event made the front page of the New Ulm Journal on Sunday, November 6. Then, on election day, local voters overwhelmingly approved a 1/2% local sales tax to fund five community projects. These were chosen from among many proposals after a careful vetting process, and included a new 10,000 sq. ft. gymnastics facility that Turner Hall will manage. The Turner legacy continues and we welcome your support. Become a member!
The New Ulm Battery: A History will be released on December 15, 2015, beginning with an event at the New Ulm Public Library at 6 p.m. Daniel John Hoisington, the author, will talk about the Battery and its place in local history. He will share some key moments that shaped the unit during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, as well as its close association with the rise of the National Guard in Minnesota. The program is free and open to the public. The book is available at $19.95 for the softbound edition.
In 2012, I helped to organize, write, and design the award-winning exhibit, Never Shall I Forget: Brown County and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, for the Brown County Historical Society in New Ulm, Minnesota. We made creative use of iPads to bring differing perspectives to the story. We will be uploading supplementary information to our YouTube channel over the next several weeks, beginning with the thoughts of the late Elden Lawrence on the cultural perspectives of the Dakota and the newly-immigrated German settlers of Brown County. Elden was fine scholar, a sharp observer of history, and a generous spirit.
The German-Bohemian Heritage Society will present the documentary, A Homeland Transplanted: German Bohemians in America, on Saturday, August 29, 2015, at the New Ulm Public Library. The film begins at 10 a.m. and admission is free.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, immigrants from German-speaking Bohemia came to America, with many settling near New Ulm, Minnesota. There, they lived on farms in the surrounding townships and in neighborhoods like Goosetown and the Wallachei. They brought the folkways of their homeland with them to the new world. Today, the traces of that culture — their Heimat — linger. Many recall the use of the “Böhmish” dialect at home or in the fields. At the family table, bread dumplings with horseradish gravy or “schmierkucken” are still a part of their family fare. Older members of the community carry on crafts such as music-making and klöppeled lace.
Based on extensive oral history interviews, this documentary tells the story of a homeland transplanted.
Produced and written by Daniel J. Hoisington 122 minutes
$16.95 plus free shipping.
Order online with easy checkout at www.germanbohemianheritagesociety.com
On Christmas morning, my nephew (and fellow historian) received a bottle of Jockey Club cologne — a scent used by John F. Kennedy. It evoked memories of 1950s barber shops and the era of Mad Men. The smell of history is a sense that is most often missing from our interpretation of the past. We try to do emotional archaeology, connecting our hearts, as well as our heads, to the past, but neglect the nose. Richard J. Stevenson, writing in The Multisensory Museum, argued, “Olfaction per se is the most emotionally evocative sense.” Trygg Engen, in The Perception of Odors, bluntly states: “Functionally, smell may be to emotion what sight or hearing are to cognition.”
Smell can evoke pleasant memories. Jane Stuart Woolsey, recalling an Easter Sunday during the Civil War, recalled, “I remember the keen impression made by little things. I can smell the lilacs now.” Having read (and edited) numerous memoirs from Civil War nurses, many recalled the scent of death hanging over the battlefields and hospitals. Emily Souder, writing from Gettysburg, covered her ears with a pillow at night, hoping to block out the cries from a nearby hospital. She wrote, “But who shall describe the horrible atmosphere which meets us almost continually? Chloride of lime has been freely used in the broad streets of the town and to-day the hospital was much improved by the same means; but it is needful to close the eyes on sights of horror and to shut the ears against sounds of anguish and to extinguish, as far as possible, the sense of smelling.” Cornelia Hancock, another caregiver, wrote: “A sickening, overpowering, awful stench announced the presence of the unburied dead upon which the July sun was mercilessly shining and at every step the air grew heavier and fouler until it seemed to possess a palpable horrible density that could be seen and felt and cut with a knife.”
As I begin work on a World War I exhibit for the Brown County Historical Society, I turned to the two recent attempts to evoke life in the trenches: Dresden’s Military History Museum and the Imperial War Museum in London. Both tried to recreate the smells of war. I think there is a place in the forthcoming exhibit in New Ulm, and I’ll continue to blog about attempts to accurately reproduce the scents of one hundred years ago.