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. I owe the concept to a Legion Magazine sponsored video, In Flanders Fields.
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.
I am proud to have been a board member at New Ulm Turner Hall for more than a decade. It is truly “living history” — the oldest bar in Minnesota under the same organization as the oldest gymnastics program in Minnesota. Still fulfilling the same mission that it began with in 1856. That’s remarkable and a testament to the work of generations of board members. There is another equally important part of the story — the Turner Ladies. Organized as the Damenverein in 1889, this auxiliary has raised money for significant projects while assisting with banquets, dinners, and special occasions. For this year’s Stiftungsfest, I interviewed several members. Here is the half-hour video.
With virtual reality and augmented reality standing on the verge of popular adoption, this might be the Thanksgiving of the future. The technology, though, is advanced enough to make it inaccessible to small historical societies and museums. I saw two attempts this weekend. The Galena and U. S. Grant Museum promoted its holograms of Ulysses and Julia Grant — intended to serve as orientation. It was not a hologram, but a video projected on black curtains. The script also fell short, as the Grants explained what visitors would see in the museum, obviously not in character. Over in Dubuque, I visited the National Mississippi River Museum, a wonderful complex, where I watched a National Geographic film on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Great story, although, as is often the case, the journey to the Pacific is highlighted and the return adventure barely mentioned. What interested me was that it was promoted as a 4D experience. Which it wasn’t. No 3D glasses. Instead, at key points, rumbles under the seats as a storm approaches, quick sprays of water in the rapids, and wind on the mountaintops. Interesting but a gimmick. So I’m not sure where the new technology will lead us in the field of history.
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
This exhibit is now open at the Brown County Historical Society in New Ulm, Minnesota. It was a great team effort to develop. I’m especially proud because it addresses significant issues that have relevance today.
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!