If you are like me, you are longing to patron your favorite places, especially those that feel like a home away from home. That is the Minnesota History Center (and Historical Society) for me. I was lucky enough to head to the basement during graduate school to see all the incredible artifacts for archival research. Even before that, I would spend time roaming the exhibits, learning about the Minnesota of yesteryear and some of the amazing people who have left a footprint.
Since I can’t be there to peruse the shelves of the Museum Store or sift through the stacks at the Gale Family Library, I invite you to see some of my favorite books about Minnesota and by Minnesota author’s to get your MNHS fix.
Closing Time: Saloons, Taverns, Dives, and Watering Holes of the Twin Cities by Bill Lindeke and Andy Sturdevant
In 1838, a rum trader named “Pig’s Eye” Parrant built a small shack in a Mississippi bluff that became the first business in the city of St. Paul: a saloon. Since then, bars, taverns, saloons, and speakeasies have been part of the cultural, social, and physical landscape of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Serving as neighborhood landmarks, sites of political engagement, welcoming centers for immigrants, hotbeds of criminal activity, targets of ire from church and state alike, and, of course, a place to get a drink, the story of the taverns and saloons of the Twin Cities is the story of the cities themselves. Dive into tales from famous and infamous drinking establishments from throughout Twin Cities history. Readers are led on a multigenerational pub crawl through speakeasies, tied houses, rathskellers, cocktail lounges, gin mills, fern bars, social clubs, singles bars, gastropubs, and dives. Featuring beloved bars like Matt’s, Palmer’s, the Payne Reliever, and Moby Dick’s, the book also resurrects memories of long-forgotten establishments cherished in their day. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Slavery’s Reach: Southern Slaveholders in the North Star State by Christopher P. Lehman
From the 1840s through the end of the Civil War, leading Minnesotans invited slaveholders and their wealth into the free territory and free state of Minnesota, enriching the area’s communities and residents. Dozens of southern slaveholders and people raised in slaveholding families purchased land and backed Minnesota businesses. Slaveholders’ wealth was invested in some of the state’s most significant institutions and provided a financial foundation for several towns and counties. And the money generated by Minnesota investments flowed both ways, supporting some of the South’s largest plantations. Six hundred residents of the new state of Minnesota petitioned the legislature to make slavery legal for vacationing southerners who brought with them enslaved men and women “as body servants, for their comfort and convenience” while they escaped the summer heat of the South. Through careful research in obscure records, censuses, newspapers, and archival collections, Christopher Lehman has brought to light this hidden history of northern complicity in building slaveholder wealth. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Secrets of the Loon by Laura Purdie Salas
Below white pines, at water’s edge, in guarded nest of mud and sedge, squeezed inside an olive egg, bill meets wing meets folded leg. With these few words, the scene is set for the hatching of Moon Loon. During her first summer with her parents and brother in the northland, Moon Loon has a lot to learn. Mom and Dad teach essential lessons, like how to catch and eat fish, how to avoid becoming a snack for snapping turtles, and what songs to sing and when. Supplementary back matter by Chuck Dayton highlights fascinating details of loon biology and ecology, gleaned from expert sources as well as observation. Dayton spent five summers photographing loons from his kayak on a northern Minnesota lake, capturing key moments in the lives of these iconic birds. Combining imaginative language and striking photography, Secrets of the Loon introduces readers to the sights, sounds, and survival strategies of Minnesota’s state bird. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
The Mukluk Ball by Katharine Johnson
Karhu the bear lives in the piney north woods near the bustling burg of Finn Town. When he sees a billboard advertising Mukluk Ball: Come One, Come All, he wants to go! Unfortunately, a few obstacles stand in his path First: he needs to buy a pair of mukluks, soft leather boots perfect for dancing. Karhu brings his innate skills to the town’s summer festival. He sells freshly picked blueberries and comforting bear hugs to earn enough for this essential purchase Next: he needs to learn how to dance. Luckily, talented friends like Millie the square dancer and Mary Ann the librarian and Inga the folksinger agree to teach him. Soon he can polka and chachacha and boogie-woogie And then, the most vexing hurdle of all: with the dance set for January, Karhu needs a surefire way to wake up from his long winter’s nap. Here, his friend Zazaa the owl swoops in to offer a solution Will the Mukluk Ball live up to Karhu’s dreams? The warmth and music and fellowship filling Finn Town Hall might just make for the best night of this bear’s life. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Wild and Rare: Tracking Endangered Species in the Upper Midwest by Adam Regn Arvidson
Compelling stories of Minnesota’s endangered species, the landscapes that nurture them, and the people who are discovering their secrets. What can endangered species tell us about our part of the world? What can they tell us about us?The elusive Canada lynx bears kittens in Minnesota’s northeastern woods. In the far southeastern part of the state, the succulent Leedy’s roseroot clings to cold cliffs. On the northwestern grasslands, the western prairie fringed orchid grows only on ancient glacial beach ridges. In the rivers of the Twin Cities metro area, the snuffbox mussel snaps on a fish’s nose to give its larvae a temporary home. These species and fifteen others living in Minnesota are on the federal Endangered Species List. This book is an entertaining and educational journey through Minnesota’s diverse landscapes, one wild and rare inhabitant at a time. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling: From Verne Gagne to the Road Warriors by George Schire
A comprehensive, illustrated history of the glory days of old-school, professional wrestling—a must-have for wrestling fans. Why was Minnesota, a land known for its stoic farmers, reasonable politics, and comfortable casseroles, a hotbed of the wacky and wild world of professional wrestling? And how did that old-school wrestling become the Saturday night program of choice for thousands of Midwestern families in the last half of the twentieth century? Professional wrestling historian and insider George Schire is here not only to set the record straight but to entice you into a world gone by, a world that comes alive through his colorful and perceptive reporting. As a kid, Schire found a way to escape the troubles of his life by becoming a wrestling fan, glued to the TV set and then later traveling to see every live “card” in the Twin Cities and many more throughout the region. Over the years he has been involved in all aspects of the sport, and he now offers detailed, behind-the-scenes accounts of important matches from 1954 to 1990 and stories of wrestler personalities, both in and out of the ring. He shares his own extensive collection of wrestling memorabilia—photographs, program covers, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera—to honor the hardworking characters who forged serial storylines onstage week after week and who thrilled fans by carrying out their plots in the ring, with blood, sweat, tears, and high-flying body slams for all. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
The Nearly Departed: Minnesota Ghost Stories and Legends by Michael Norman
Phantoms of the Paramount, Shadows on Third Avenue, The Legend of Ann Lake, The Boy in the Red Cap. Veteran ghost hunter Michael Norman has uncovered almost three dozen stories of legitimate Minnesota eeriness to thrill readers. Norman, author of five nationally popular collections of ghost tales, interviewed local storytellers and combed newspapers to document legends involving supernatural and strange occurrences. Following old and fresh leads, he gathered stories from all over the state Ghost stories have existed as long as humans have been telling tales. Perhaps they rise from our curiosity about what happens to us and our loved ones after death, perhaps they explain phenomena that we do not understand, or maybe, just maybe, the dead do walk the earth. Norman does not attempt to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts but instead allow readers to make up their own minds. his tales feature people’s strange and paranormal experiences in quite ordinary places, including homes, theaters, B&Bs, and restaurants. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota by Gwen Westerman and Bruce White
An intricate narrative of the Dakota people over the centuries in their traditional homelands, the stories behind the profound connections that hold true today. “Minnesota” is derived from the Dakota phrase Mni Sota Makoce, Land Where the Waters Reflect the Clouds—and the people’s roots here remain strong. Authors Gwen Westerman and Bruce White examine narratives of the people’s origins, their associations with the land, and the seasonal round through key players and place names. They consider Dakota interactions with Europeans and offer an in-depth “reading between the lines” of historical documents—some of them virtually unknown—and treaties made with the United States, uncovering misunderstandings and outright deceptions that helped lead to war in 1862. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
One Drop in a Sea of Blue: The Liberators of the Ninth Minnesota by John. B Lundstrom
The story of the Liberators of the Ninth Minnesota, the state’s “hard luck” Civil War regiment, from defying orders and saving a slave family, through bitter defeat and imprisonment, to the ultimate victory and their lives in postwar America. Soldiers in the Union Army volunteered for many reasons—to reunite the country, to put down the southern rebellion. In November 1863, thirty-eight men of the Minnesota Ninth Regiment responded to a fugitive slave’s desperate plea by holding a train at gunpoint and liberating his wife, five children, and three other family members who were being shipped off to be sold. But this rescue happened in Missouri, where Union soldiers had firm orders not to interfere with loyal slaveholders. Charged with mutiny, the Minnesotans were confined for two months without being tried. Their case was even debated in the U.S. Senate. This remarkable and unprecedented incident remains virtually unknown today. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Augie’s Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip by Neal Karlen
A treasury of family secrets exposes the seamy underbelly of Minneapolis—gangsters, gambling, brothels, and the social life of organized crime. Augie Ratner, the proprietor of Augie’s Theater Lounge & Bar on Hennepin Avenue, was the unofficial mayor of Minneapolis’s downtown strip in the 1940s and ’50s. In a few blocks between the swanky clubs and restaurants on Eighth Street and the sleazy flophouses and bars of the Gateway District, the city’s shakers-and-movers and shake-down artists mingled. Gangsters and celebrities, comedians and politicians, the rich and the famous and the infamous—all of them met at Augie’s: Jimmy Hoffa, Henny Youngman, Kid Cann, John Dillinger, Jack Dempsey, Peggy Lee, Groucho Marx, Lenny Bruce, and Gypsy Rose Lee. Augie Ratner knew everyone, and everyone knew and liked Augie, and they told him everything. Even after Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey supposedly cleaned up the town, organized crime quietly flourished. And Augie was at the center, observing it all. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Thank You For Shopping: The Golden Age of Minnesota Department Stores
Relive the glory days of retail—when a trip to the department store was a special occasion—with nostalgic stories and vintage photos and ads. Throughout the twentieth century, department stores ruled the retail landscapes of downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. More than just shopping centers, stores like Dayton’s, Powers, Donaldson’s, Young-Quinlan, the Emporium, and the Golden Rule were centers of social life. From the legendary Dayton’s Christmas displays to celebrating a special occasion at Schuneman’s River Room, the department store was a destination for generations of Minnesotans, within the Twin Cities and beyond. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
They Played for the Love of the Game
This book sharies stories of African American ballplayers in Minnesota, from the 1870s to the 1960s, through photos, artifacts, and spoken histories passed through the generations. Author Frank White’s own father was one of the top catchers in the Twin Cities in his day, a fact that White did not learn until late in life. While the stories tell of denial, hardship, and segregation, they are highlighted by athletes who persevered and were united by their love of the sport. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out by Annette Atkins
A thoroughly groundbreaking history of Minnesota that brings to light the “state of the state” through intimate accounts of significant moments in our past. With a new prologue by the author. Renowned historian Annette Atkins presents a fresh understanding of how a complex and modern Minnesota came into being in Creating Minnesota. Each chapter of this innovative state history focuses on a telling detail, a revealing incident, or a meaningful issue that illuminates a larger event, social trends, or politics during a period in our past. A three-act play about Minnesota’s statehood vividly depicts the competing interests of Natives, traders, and politicians who lived in the same territory but moved in different worlds. Oranges are the focal point of a chapter about railroads and transportation: how did a St. Paul family manage to celebrate their 1898 Christmas with fruit that grew no closer than 1,500 miles from their home? A photo essay brings to life three communities of the 1920s, seen through the lenses of local and itinerant photographers. The much-sought state fish helps to explain the new Minnesota, where pan-fried walleye and walleye quesadillas coexist on the same north woods menu. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Claudia McGehee
Whether hearing wood frogs peep, choosing the finest skipping stone, observing squirrels gathering nuts, or inhaling crisp, cold air, a hike through Grandma’s woods engages all the senses “When Grandma tucks her pants into her oversized boots and grabs her walking stick, I run to catch up,” reports a young girl charmed by her visits to Grandma’s north woods home. Their walks take them through the seasons, to a pond with a downed tree just right for sitting, to a garden lush with tomatoes ready for canning, through a snowy nighttime woods where the only sounds are the squeak of boots on snow and the hooting of a distant owl. Whatever the month, there are plenty of woodland critters to observe: squirrels or rabbits or deer, geese or goldeneyes or mergansers. The forest of North Woods Girl is an active, populated place, brought to life by Claudia McGehee’s colorful scratchboard artistry. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Confluence The History of Fort Snelling by Hampton Smith
Fort Snelling, a foundational place in the story of Minnesota, was built two hundred years ago at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, an area known to the Dakota people as Bdote. For millennia, Bdote has been a vital and sacred place for the native peoples of the region. It is also the “birthplace of Minnesota,” the site where citizens of the United States first lived in what would become the state. The fort’s history encompasses the intersection of these peoples—and many others. In this book, historian Hampton Smith delves into Fort Snelling’s long and complicated story: its construction as an improbably enormous structure, the daily lives of its inhabitants and those who lived nearby, the shift in its function when a spectacular influx of speculators and land-hungry immigrants flooded the territory, its participation in wresting the land from the Dakota, its evolution as two cities grew up around it, and its roles in two world wars—up to the reinterpretation of the fort as Minnesotans mark its two-hundredth anniversary. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
The Girl In Building C: The True Story of a Teenage Tuberculosis Patient by Editor Mary Krugerud
In October 1943, sixteen-year-old Marilyn Barnes was told that her recent bout of pneumonia was in fact tuberculosis. She entered Ah-gwah-ching State Sanatorium at Walker, Minnesota, for what she thought would be a short stay. In January, her tuberculosis spread, and she nearly died. Her recovery required many months of bed rest and medical care. Marilyn loved to write, and the story of her three-year residency at the sanatorium is preserved in hundreds of letters that she mailed back home to her parents, who could visit her only occasionally and whom she missed terribly. The letters functioned as a diary in which Marilyn articulately and candidly recorded her reactions to roommates, medical treatments, Native American nurses, and boredom. She also offers readers the singular perspective of a bed-bound teenager, gossiping about boys, requesting pretty new pajamas, and enjoying Friday evening popcorn parties with other patients. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
The Man Who Heard the Land by Diane Glancy
An unnamed man driving a lonely Minnesota highway hears the voice of the land–but he can’t make out what it has said. The man is a professor who teaches a ‘Literature and the Environment’ course, but he soon realises that there is much he must still learn about the land, his past, and his home state. What follows is a kind of odyssey of self-discovery. He submerges himself into the history of the region, trying to piece together geology, Native folklore, and early explorer literature, all in an effort to decipher what the land has said. Along the way he experiences the deaths of his parents; he is stranded in an ice-fishing house for a cold winter night; he helps rescue a family from a flood of the Red River. He encounters more elusive obstacles when he tries to gather his material into a book but becomes hopelessly entangled in complexities, ambiguities, and contradictions. But the more the man works to uncover universal truths, the more he circles toward certain inescapable realities in his own life. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child, Illustrations by Jonathan Thunder, Translation by Gordon Jourdain
The best days of summer end at the powwow, but Windy Girl takes the revelry of the gathering one step farther, into a dreamworld where the dancers and singers are dogs. Windy Girl is blessed with a vivid imagination. From Uncle she gathers stories of long-ago traditions, about dances and sharing and gratitude. Windy can tell such stories herself—about her dog, Itchy Boy, and the way he dances to request a treat and how he wriggles with joy in response to, well, just about everything. When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. Now Uncle’s stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers—all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow. You can purchase this book on MNHS here.
Do you have a favorite place to escape to?