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
For our documentary, A Heritage Transplanted: German Bohemians in America, we gathered nearly 100 hours of interviews. The full-length videos will be available to researchers at the German Bohemian Heritage Society Library and the Brown County Historical Society. There was an abundance of wonderful stories, and none better than those told by Pat Kretsch. Last fall we toured the Sigel Township farm owned by his two uncles and an aunt. The interview is available here for the first time.
The German-Bohemian Heritage Society has just released the DVD of our documentary, A Homeland Transplanted: German Bohemians in America. 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 or 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 oral history interviews, this documentary tells the story of a homeland transplanted. 122 minutes
For more information, contact:
German-Bohemian Heritage Society
P. O. Box 822
New Ulm, MN 56073
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.
Sketching scenes and painting likenesses have been with us for millennia. On Columbus Day, 2014, I can find a portrait of the explorer on the internet. “Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus” hangs in the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has become our standard image, although dated 1519 — thirteen years after Columbus’s death.
Since the advent of photographic images in the nineteenth century, and then motion pictures, we have windows into the past, however inexact they are at telling us the whole story. Having read biographies of Samuel Clemens, it was still moving to see Mark Twain amble across the screen in this wonderfully restored film taken in 1909.
This leads me to my thought for the day. Where are the sounds of the past? I’ve created hundreds of short films about historic subjects, and it is always fun to find just the right sound clip for a scene. But it is always that — a clip, sympathetic, yet divorced from its context. The problem is that the archives are shallow. Much as Ken Burns uses sympathetic images to portray battles in The Civil War, because there are no photographs of actual battles, we rely on evocative sounds. Historian Emily Thompson’s book, The Soundscape of Modernity, explores that very issue. Now, Thompson, with others, has created a website, The Roaring Twenties.
Thompson and her team poured through written documents, primarily noise complaints in New York City during the 1920s and 1930s. The site posts actual letters of complaint that were sent to the New York City Department of Health. Then, the magic. First, the site maps the complaints. Then, using old newsreels and other random recordings, connects sound to place when possible (not often). We listen to the sound of children playing on the street, the street cleaners as they pass by, and, my favorite, “Radio Row”. This was the nickname given to Cortlandt Street, between Washington Street and Broadway, in lower Manhattan during the 1920s due to the concentration of radio shops located there.
Thompson explained: “The aim here is not just to present sonic content, but to evoke the original contexts of those sounds, to help us better understand that context as well as the sounds themselves. The goal is to recover the meaning of sound, to undertake a historicized mode of listening that tunes our modern ears to the pitch of the past.”
As a board member of the Grand Center for Arts & Culture in New Ulm, Minnesota, I have been working with PlaceBase Productions on a street theatre production. Ashley Hanson and Andrew Gaylord create historic dramas that move, physically as well as emotionally. In our case, that means the audience will walk down Minnesota Street in the heart of the National Register Commercial Historic District (for which I wrote the nomination).
The work of PlaceBase Productions is grounded in the work of Sally Mackey and others in Great Britain, using the concept of “applied theatre” to connect place and story, without the traditional audience/performer dichotomy of a theater setting. While different from living history at a historic site, there is a kinship. It is not bound to the rules that the interpreter stay in period character. In one of Hanson and Gaylord’s productions, the actors might break into song or turn the tables and begin quizzing the audience. They might use non-period props that create a setting or mood. We’re working toward a May 2015 performance of New Ulm’s story. The goal is to activate memories, provoke thought, and promote activity on the street. It is truly community theater.
Here’s a link to PlaceBase Productions.