Hall’s Island Redux

With the Park Board’s request yesterday for input on plans for the new Graco Park at Hall’s Island, I thought it might be a good time to pull out of mothballs my original post on the history of Hall’s Island. The following was originally published in 2012 as The Re-creation of Hall’s Island: Part I. I have restored the link to the original post here, if you’d prefer. I had removed the post from the website because I intended to write much more about changes to the river, but that project is on hold for now and I think this information may be useful as background to those considering the history and the future of the island and surroundings. I must admit that this is one of my favorite posts.

The Re-creation of Hall’s Island: Part I (originally published March 14, 2012)

Before he saved enough money to go to medical school, Pearl Hall’s job as a teenager in the mid-1870s was pitching wood onto a cart at a lumber yard near the Plymouth Avenue Bridge on the east bank of the Mississippi River. He remembered vividly from those days of hard labor what he called a little steeple of land sticking out of the Mississippi near the bridge. He could see the tiny patch of ground when he stood on top of his loaded wagon–and he saw the little steeple gradually grow.

Hall’s Island in 1903 plat book (John R. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

What Pearl Hall saw from his perch of pine was the beginning of Hall’s Island, the island that as Dr. P. M. Hall he would eventually acquire and turn over to the city, the island that became the site of a popular municipal bath house, the island that eventually was dredged onto the east bank of the great river, and the island that the Minneapolis park board will soon begin to re-create as the first step in its RiverFIRST development plan.

Hall didn’t think about that little speck of land again until he was elected to be Minneapolis’s Health Officer in 1901. Then he wrestled with the problem all health officers everywhere wrestled with and usually lost to: how to dispose of garbage. Not just coffee grounds, melon rinds, and chicken bones, but real garbage — offal, dead horses, night soil — where death could take took root and grow.

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Wirth Lake Mystery Structure

Rod Miller asked if I knew what this was. I didn’t.

Photos by Rod Miller

The concrete structure lies west of Wirth Lake between the lake and Theodore Wirth Parkway north of the remnants of the Loring Cascade.

Could it have been a storage facility or root cellar when the park board’s nursery was located in Wirth Park? The nursery was originally established there in the early 1900s on the suggestion of William Folwell to reduce the cost of acquiring the trees being planted throughout the city.

Or was it a structure related to the former farm on the site? The farm house served as a residence for the park board horticulturist unti the mid-1960s. Why was the structure built below grade? Do the concrete construction method or metal grates in the roof help to date the structure?

It is apparently not related to the artificial Loring Cascade which was built in the 1918 and relied on water pumped from the lake. Nor was it likely part of later efforts–beginning in the late 1950s–to pump water from Bassett’s Creek to the Chain of Lakes. There is no sign of the piping that would have been required in those efforts and the structure is probably too far north and west to have been part of those projects.

The man-made Loring Cascade as it looked upon completion in 1918, but before the water was turned on. At the far left is Louis Boeglin, the park horticulurist at the time, who lived in the farm house at the nearby nursery for many years. Park superintendent Theodore Wirth is at the center of the photo. Behind him is Francois Scotti the designer of the cascade. Scotti invented the technique of manufacturing the boulders–they are not real–used to create the 40-foot-tall cascade. The cascade was a gift of Charles Loring. Unfortunately the manufactured cascade did not survive Minnesota winters. The remnants can still be seen along the western edge of Theodore Wirth Parkway near the lake.

If you know what the concrete structure was used for and when it was built, please post a comment.

David Carpentier Smith

Broken Tackle: Fritz Pollard and Pudge Heffelfinger

In the course of research that resulted in Joe Lillard Superstar in these pages a few days ago, I came across an anecdote that I thought was funny involving another athlete with Minnesota connections, Pudge Heffelfinger. The story recalled the time Heffelfinger met Fritz Pollard at a reunion of players who had been named to Walter Camp’s All-America football teams.

William Heffelfinger, known from childhood as “Pudge,” was the son of C.B. Heffelfinger whose men’s shoe store had been on Bridge Square in Minneapolis since the late 1860s. Pudge played football with crushing physicality and was a behemoth for his day at 6’3″ and 195 pounds. His day was late 19th Century. He was a three-time All-America tackle at Yale 1889-1891 and is often considered the first professional football player. He allegedly was already receiving “double expenses” when he played for the Chicago Athletic Association in 1892, but when the Allegheny Athletic Association team of Pittsburgh was preparing to play their Pittsburgh rivals they offered Heffelfinger $500 to take the train down from Chicago and help them win, which he did. He recovered a fumble and returned it for the game’s only score.

Heffelfinger in his Yale sweater. He was named to All America teams from 1889-1891. (Photographer unknown.)

Frederick Douglas “Fritz” Pollard was a kid from the north side of Chicago who became an All-America halfback at Brown University in 1916. In 1920 Pollard was one of the first two Black players in what became the NFL along with Bobby Marshall from Minneapolis Central High School and the University of Minnesota. Pollard also became the first Black coach in the NFL with the Akron Pros in 1921. Pollard was 5’9″ and about 165 but had firefly — now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t — elusiveness.

Fritz Pollard, left, with Paul Robeson in 1918. Robeson was about the same size as Heffelfinger. Robeson played pro football for Pollard’s Akron Pros in 1921, but he became better known as an actor. He also had a law degree. (Photographer unknown, The Crisis, 1918)

The story goes that Heffelfinger was introduced to Pollard at the reunion dinner for many of the greatest players in the history of the game in the 1920s. Players of that stature often have, shall we say, an abundance of self-confidence as well as an ease with the playful banter of the locker room. Heffelfinger, then in his 50s was probably still his full youthful height but if he was like most men, he had augmented his playing weight by a belt notch or two. Pollard was in competitive shape, but still six inches shorter. The difference in size prompted Heffelfinger to comment as they shook hands, “Mr. Pollard, if you were playing in my day, I think I might have broken you in two.” Pollard responded with a smile, “Mr. Heffelfinger, I don’t think you could have broken my stride.”

Apocryphal? Maybe. But who cares, its a great story. It’s the kind of retort I wouldn’t have thought of until the next day!

Heffelfinger became a successful real estate developer in Minneapolis and infuential in Minnesota politics. The Heffelfinger name is preserved in Minneapolis parks by an Italian fountain in the Rose Garden which was donated to Minneapolis parks in 1947 by Frank Heffelfinger, Pudge’s brother.

Heffelfinger Fountain in Lyndale Park. (Photographer: William Wessen)

David Carpentier Smith

Joe Lillard Superstar

Very few people in the crowd of 15,000 fans who watched the Sunday afternoon park league football game between the Foshays and the Christian Lindsays at Parade field in Minneapolis knew they were watching one of the greatest American athletes of their time. Newspaper coverage of the game, which the Foshays won 26-0, noted only that Joe Lillard played fullback, led the interference on a touchdown run by a teammate, and kicked two extra points. Two weeks earlier, however, the Minneapolis Tribune reported that in the Foshays’ 19-0 win Joe Lillard had played in “his customary brilliant manner” leading the Foshays offense with “a series of spectacular runs.”

The year was 1928. There were no bleachers at the Parade football field, everyone stood. The sponsor of Lillard’s team was W.B. Foshay, whose company was nearing completion of a new business tower in downtown Minneapolis — the tallest building between Chicago and San Francisco. And, although none of the Minneapolis newspapers mentioned it, Joe Lillard was Black. On the football field, he did it all. He blocked, ran, passed, caught, defended, punted and drop-kicked extra points.

Joe Lillard in his brief tenure as a running back at the University of Oregon in 1931 — a whole ‘nother story.

Many sports fans then and later knew Lillard as different things, like the proverbial blind men coming to terms with an elephant. Iowans already knew Lillard as an all-state high school football, basketball and track star from Mason City, a small city about 150 miles south of Minneapolis.

Basketball fans in Chicago, and well beyond, already knew Lillard as one of the best basketball players in the country. He had been one of the stars of the newly formed Savoy Big Five playing at the Savoy ballroom in Chicago in the 1927-1928 season. After the Savoys had beaten the vaunted Pittsburgh Loendis twice that year, Cum Posey of the Loendis claimed Lillard was the best player on that superb Savoy team. In case the name isn’t familiar, Cumberland Posey has been enshrined in both the baseball and basketball halls of fame, so he knew something about players with skills. In his later years, Lillard played some for the Harlem Globe Trotters, but for several winters in his prime he headlined his own successful barnstorming basketball team.

Doc Spears, the corpulent head football coach of the universities of Minnesota, Oregon and Wisconsin in the 1930s, and a real doctor, once called Lillard the greatest all-around athlete he had ever seen. In slightly different language, Brooklyn Times-Union sports writer Irwin Rosee noted in 1934 that Lillard “has generally been recognized as the most versatile colored athlete.” Rosee was writing about Lillard not as a football or basketball player, but as a pitcher for the Chicago American Giants of the Negro League. Two years earlier a Madison, Wisconsin newspaper baseball writer asserted that Lillard “would be pitching in the major leagues if there were not a color ban.” By the way, Lillard could hit and field a little too; he played right field when he wasn’t on the mound for some of the best itinerant baseball teams of the 1930s.

Lillard did make the major leagues in his day in one sport: football. That might be the only reason we know of his athletic prowess. In 1932 the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals signed Lillard as a running back who also substituted as a quarterback thanks to his potent arm. Lillard followed in the footsteps of Fritz Pollard, Bobby Marshall, Duke Slater, Paul Robeson and only a handful of other African Americans who had integrated professional football in the 1920s and 1930s. But Lillard is known today as a football player primarily because he was the last Black man to play in the NFL for 13 years. After Lillard’s second season with the Cardinals, when he was among league leaders as a runner, passer and kicker, he wasn’t offered another contract. The league’s owners refused to hire another Black man from then until the new Los Angeles Rams were pressured into signing UCLA great Kenny Washington before they started playing in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1946.

Joe Lillard and Kenny Washington, the two men who stood on either end of that 13-year gap of whiteness in the NFL, knew each other well. In April 1945, as World War II was winding down, the USO (United Service Organization) arranged a tour of prominent Black athletes to visit American troops around the world. It was one of many tours featuring entertainers and athletes intended to boost troop morale. Incidentally, both men were coming off their own tours in the military during the war.

Joining Lillard and Washington on the tour were boxer Henry Armstrong and baseball and basketball great Bill Yancey. Armstrong was the most famous of the group because he had held world championship boxing titles in three weight classes at the same time. This was when boxing got more ink in the nation’s newspapers year round than any other sport. Boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas last year selected Armstrong as the greatest boxer — ever. Yancey isn’t as well known today, but as a basketball player for the great New York Rens and a shortstop in the Negro Leagues he would have been known to sports fans, especially young Black soldiers.

The highly successful USO tour lasted three months and circled the globe. Led by sportswriter Dan Burley, the athletes visited Pacific islands, the Phillipines, China, Burma, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Jerusalem, Egypt, and, after crossing North Africa, finally jumped back across the Atlantic from Casablanca to New York.

Lillard visited Mason City, Iowa in 1945 shortly after his USO tour with Kenny Washington and Henry Arrmtrong.

I wonder what the old NFLer and the future NFLer talked about on those long flights. The two men, both policemen at the time, Lillard in New York and Washington in LA, probably wondered when a Black man would get another chance in the NFL. Just six months after their tour, Washington was signed to fill Lillard’s long-empty shoes. That was still more than a year before Washington’s football teammate at UCLA, Jack Robinson, broke the color barrier in baseball.

We would know a whole lot more about Joe Lillard if he had been white or had lived a few decades later. As it is, Minneapolis can lay small claim to Lillard as a resident and standout athlete in city parks for a couple years. He moved to Minneapolis after leaving Mason City high school in 1927 to be with his girlfriend from Minneapolis, Jewel Bannarn. They were married that year. Lillard’s name doesn’t show up in Minneapolis directories of that time, but he said later that he worked at the Nicollet Hotel on Washington Avenue and Rogers Cafe on South Fourth St. He apparently only played football in the Minneapolis park league for the 1928 and 1929 seasons before heading for the University of Oregon and later the Chicago Cardinals. The only time he was listed in a Minneapolis directory was 1930 when he and Jewell were listed as residing on East Franklin Avenue with her parents and brothers. His occupation was listed then as “ball player” — a more talented one, pick your sport, than many people appreciated at the time.

There is much more to the Joe Lillard story, but that will be a part of a larger work now in progress. I’ll let you know when and where that will be available.

David Carpentier Smith

© 2021 David Carpentier Smith 2021

Harry Perry Robinson Gets a Biography

One of the larger-than-life characters from Minneapolis history in the late 1800s has his own biography now and I just ordered my copy. I wrote about Englishman Perry Robinson in my story about the Makwa Club and in an earlier story about his best friend in Minneapolis, famous interior designer and park commissioner John Scott Bradstreet. (I have just reposted my article, one of my favorites, about Bradstreet and his proposed Japanese temple on an island in Lake of the Isles.)

Escape Artist: The Nine Lives of Harry Perry Robinson by Joseph McAleer is already out as an e-book and will be released in print October 1. You can order a copy from publisher Oxford University Press or Amazon or your favorite local book store (highly recommended).

I haven’t read it yet, but I know a good bit about Robinson and I had the opportunity to hear more stories about him from author Joe McAleer. Joe visited Minneapolis while researching the Robinson story and over a burger at Red Cow we had a chance to talk about the dynamic Englishman who adopted Minneapolis for awhile–and married the daughter of one of its leading citizens. And that’s barely a footnote in a story that includes American Presidents, English Kings (modern) and Egyptian Kings (ancient) and runs from the gold mines in the United States to the trenches of World War I to Robinson being knighted Sir Harry.

Initial reviews out of the United Kingdom are very positive. If this story doesn’t end up on Netflix, I’ll be astonished. But don’t wait for the movie.

David Carpentier Smith

Ironing Out Minnehaha Creek’s Wrinkles

A reader checked in a few weeks ago with a question: Did Minnehaha Creek ever cross West 54th Street in the southwest corner of Minneapolis?

I pulled out my 1903 Minneapolis Real Estate Atlas and was surprised to find that the creek did cross what is now West 54th St. for a few hundred feet. At that time, 54th St. was the southern city limit of Minneapolis.

Minnehaha Creek from Zenith Ave. to Penn Ave. in 1903. The creek crossed what would become West 54th Street at about what is now Upton Avenue, but was then Royal Road.

The park board didn’t acquire this section of Minnehaha Creek — from Humboldt to Zenith — until 1930, and graded and straightened sections of the creek in 1932. The creek would have been straightened here as elsewhere to avoid the expense of building bridges. (Read more about the acquisition and development of this section of Minnehaha Creek. Go to the “History” tab at the bottom of the page.)

The section of Minnehaha Creek acquired in 1930 never had a parkway built along it as was done east of Humboldt. That was partly because some homes had already been built near the creek and also because the creek banks were much steeper here than to the east. But even if it had been perfectly flat and unoccupied, the Great Depression had set in so there was no money for new parkways.

According to Hennepin County property records the first house along this section of W. 54th St. was not built until 1942. That was a rarity because very few houses were built in Hennepin County during World War II due to a shortage of labor and materials. The rest of the houses along the street were built after the war, mostly from 1948 on.

What other changes were made to the course of Minnehaha Creek over the years? Here are three other sections of the creek from the 1903 atlas that you can compare to Google Maps to see what’s changed. Most of the changes were made in the 1920s partly to make it easier to improve the parkway to accommodate car traffic and partly to shorten the course of the creek to try to increase water flow over Minnehaha Falls in drought years — which was most years in the 1920s-1950s. No one seemed to like an empty creek and dry falls.

This section, from Penn to Lyndale probably underwent the fewest changes since 1903. The park board’s ownership of Minnehaha Creek east from the outflow from Lake Harriet in the center of this map, dated to the 1880s when much of the land along the creek was donated to the park board. (For a history of the creek as a park east of here, see my post of several months ago.)
East from Nicollet Avenue to Portland Avenue the creek’s sharp bends were smoothed out a bit. Notice that Pearl Lake still existed in the lower right corner. That wouldn’t become park property until the 1920s. The lake was filled in the 1930s and 1940s in part from debris when the runways at the airport, which was owned and operated by the park board, were being modernized using WPA funds and crews.
This section of Minnehaha Creek clearly had the most work done after this map was made in 1903. It meandered entirely too much here for an efficient road builder like park superintendent Theodore Wirth. This map was made before Lake Amelia (lower right), now Lake Nokomis, was acquired as a park too.

You can view many other early maps of Minneapolis — and spend hours and hours of COVID-avoidance free time — at the University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library website. Countless maps — and aerial photography as well. You’ll be happier and smarter. Stay healthy.

David Carpentier Smith

How Long?

As one with the good fortune to spend much of my time consulting historical documents for various projects, I come across a great deal of writing that I would like to share with all of you interested in parks, history, and improving life for all of us. Most of it I tuck away for later use, but this morning, while scouring sources for information on the Johnny Baker American Legion Post baseball team started by Bobby Marshall in 1927, I found a piece that I thought needs sharing more expeditiously. I am reaching across our great river with this one for it was written by Earl Wilkins, brother of Roy, when Earl was the editor of The St. Paul Echo an “Independent Negro Weekly Newspaper.” Unfortunately the Echo was only published for two years 1925-1927.

Here is the editorial published in the Echo December 12, 1925.

THE PRESIDENT SPEAKS

Once more the president has delivered his annual message to congress, and once more a plea of tolerance for the Negro has been made. Outlining the facts that the Negro makes up nearly one tenth of the population of the United States, that he is one of the most loyal citizens of the  country and that he has made almost incredible progress during 60 years in various arts, President Coolidge urges the necessity of securing to that large element in the population equal justice and protection from violence, and of punishing any persons who attempt violence upon that group.

In passing it may not be unwise to note that the effectiveness of the recommendations in this matter will depend largely upon the degree of earnestness which the president displays in that regard. If his later attitude shows an aggressive belief in the rights of his colored citizens, those rights will be more generally respected both as to individual treatment throughout the country, and to beneficial legislative enactment. Should he retreat, however to a lukewarm state now that the message has been broadcasted, the same evils of omitted action will be in evidence in the coming year as have often prevailed in the past.

The tragically humorous part of the message about the Negro is that the executive pleads in a way with certain elements in the country not to harm colored people. People who do commit violent acts upon Negroes should be punished, he says. That it should be necessary in this enlightened stage of civilization’s  progress, in a country which is admittedly Christian and one of the most progressive nations on the globe, to plead with the body of citizens that they should not harm any of the groups which make up the whole, is downright funny. Funnier still is that fact that the caution is not based upon unfounded whim, but upon the revolting truth that within the confines of these United States brutal crime is committed almost unchecked by a portion of the nine-tenths upon the ever-progressing one-tenth. Grim humor, that! Humor of the sort that is daily making smiling-faced black men with seething hearts realize more and more that only in co-operation among themselves can an integration be developed which will result in greater protection from within. Humor that can look back proudly upon six decades of eventful achievement in the face of supreme difficulties. Humor that glances undaunted into whatever the future may bring.

I doubt Wilkins could have imagined “undaunted” this future. Nearly a century. If I were cynical I would ask, “Where is President Coolidge when we need him?” Words no one ever could have imagined hearing.

David Carpentier Smith

P.S. If anyone has information on the Johnny Baker baseball team in 1927 and 1928 please let me know.

Parks and Plagues

The battle against COVID-19 brings to mind a couple episodes in Minneapolis park history.

Several people have asked if anything similar to the coronavirus-related closures of park buildings has happened in Minneapolis history. From my notes I can find no references to the impact on parks in 1918 of the Spanish flu, but polio did have a significant impact on parks in the years after WWII. The park board’s 1946 annual report notes that there was a sharp upward post-war trend in attendance at parks but it was “cut short” by the polio epidemic. Park superintendent Charles Doell in his segment of the report claimed that most summer recreation programs had to be shut down in July due to the polio scare. Parents wouldn’t allow their kids to go to parks, or beaches, because it was thought that the polio virus was transmitted through bathing water.

The final two weeks of the 1946 concert season at Lake Harriet were cancelled due to the epidemic and community sings were cancelled in July for the remainder of the season due to the polio scare. The sings were conducted for the rest of the summer over radio station WDGY.

The polio scare lasted much longer than we expect the coronavirus scare to last. Three years later, the park board reported that a new spike in polio cases and the associated “scare” had slashed beach attendance in 1949 by 68%. (The polio scare didn’t end until Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for the virus, which went into use in 1955.)

Elizabeth_Kenny_NYWTS

Sister Elizabeth Kenny, 1950. By New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The most lasting reminder of the polio epidemic, however, is Kenny Park. The park was named in 1955 for Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian nurse who promoted a successful treatment for many polio victims. There was no cure. (“Sister” was a courtesy title for a nurse in the British Commonwealth, not a religious title.)

Kenny established an institute in Minneapolis, her base in the U.S., for the treatment of polio patients. In 1951 she was named in a Gallup Poll as the most admired woman in the U.S., the only woman to be so named in the first 20 years of the award who wasn’t a First Lady.

One of the only other connections between Minneapolis parks and present pandemic discussions is reference to the Defense Production Authority. President Trump last week invoked this authority, created in 1950 during the Korean War, and later backed away from it, to assert the control of the federal government over producing and securing medical supplies. It is cited now in regard to protective equipment and ventilators, but its application was far broader in 1950.

When the authority was created one of its provisions was to prohibit the construction of recreation and amusement projects in order to conserve materials for defense purposes. The authority would have killed park board plans to build a 17,000-seat lighted football stadium at the Parade. The stadium had been the highest-priority project on the park board’s post-war (WWII) project list.

Parade Stadium 1952 MPRB

Parade Stadium, 1952. Loring Park in background, Walker Art Center top right. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Park superintendent Charles Doell and mayor Eric Hoyer went to Washington to argue for stadium construction and came home with approval to proceed because the project was initiated before creation of the Defense Production Authority.  Another park project was also given a green light at that time because construction had already begun: Waite Park School and Park, a joint project of the park board and school board.

Can you think of other health-related restrictions on park usage, other than periodic e coli-related beach closures?

Two Minneapolis parks are named for nurses from the British Commonwealth. The other is…Cavell Park, named for Edith Cavell.

David Carpentier Smith

 

To Bee or Not to Bee: Are You Pollinator Friendly?

The Minneapolis Parks Foundation provided an enlightening evening Thursday with Dr. Marla Spivak, U of M professor of entomology, more commonly known as the “Bee Lady,” who spoke about the health of bees. Of particular interest was the promotion and maintenance of pollinator-friendly landscapes in our parks and yards.

Bee

The endangered rusty patched bumble bee from the University of Minnesota Bee Lab’s Bee ID website

My guess is that, like me, the couple hundred others in attendance at the Walker left the event calculating how to convert some or all of their yards into more pollinator-friendly habitat. Dr. Spivak is that convincing. She has the rare ability to explain problems and identify solutions without bombast, exaggeration or condescension. It is an ability that I associate with top-level scientists who seem more able than most of us to sift fact from emotion, opinion or belief. If you missed her on Thursday, please look for other opportunities to hear Dr. Spivak speak.

One of her comments stood out in a park-history context. She noted the value of cottonwood trees in maintaining healthy bee colonies. The resin that coats the leaf buds has beneficial properties for bees.

Eastern_Cottonwood_(Populus_deltoides)_-_Flickr_-_Jay_Sturner_(2)

That led me to think of the creeks that flowed through the unbroken prairies of a couple centuries ago and the fact that one of the trees most commonly found along those creeks was cottonwood. To prove the point, the cottonwood is the state tree of Nebraska, Kansas and Wyoming!  (A few huge cottonwoods can be found along Minnehaha Creek.) The tree was disappointing to many early settlers because it was not particularly useful for humans other than as a provider of shade. It didn’t burn well and wasn’t much good for lumber — much like the elm! — but it also outgrew and shaded-off trees considered more desirable. The disadvantage of the cottonwood compared to the elm, especially in an urban setting, is that it is messy. The “cotton” that carries the seeds can be annoying and, to use one of Theodore Wirth’s favorite words from a century ago, “unsightly.” I know because I have to sweep a pile of “cotton” out of my garage and dislodge it from my porch screens every summer. It can be a nuisance.

The specific connection to park history? In January 1905 the park board passed a new set of ordinances. Among them was one that prohibited the planting of cottonwood and box elder trees along Minneapolis streets!

I presume the cottonwood was banned for its profusion of clingy cotton seeds. The box elder was banned because of the black and red box elder bugs that lived in it. (There was a box elder tree across the alley from my boyhood home in St. Paul and I can confirm that the bugs were unpleasant.)

I have no idea when — or if — the 1905 ordinance was ever rescinded. The relevance of the ordinance to the discussion of bee health today is that of unintended consequences. I’m sure that no one in 1905 knew of the importance of cottonwood trees to the health of pollinators and our food supply. Did that ordinance contribute to the long-term decline in pollinators described by Dr. Spivak? Now we know to think of such contingencies.

My intent is not to disparage those who passed an ordinance 115 year ago, but to underscore our constant increase in knowledge and understanding of the world and the interconnectedness of things. I am grateful to people like Dr Spivak who expand our understanding and allow us to improve our world in ways that generations before us could not have done because they didn’t know what we know. We need to listen more to people who actually know stuff.

To learn more on the subject of bees and pollinator-friendly habitat visit the websites of the Bee Lab and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

A final word: the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has a professional staff that has long been committed to protecting the environment and improving management of our city’s natural resources. I think they do remarkable work and have for nearly 140 years — even as knowledge has increased, management techniques have evolved, and public perceptions and desires have shifted. That’s why we have the park system we have. To suggest otherwise is simply ignorant and I question the motives of those who do. (I’m not as tactful as Dr. Spivak; she’s a MacArthur Fellow and I’m not!) I applaud Tom Evers, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, for praising park board staff in his introduction of Thursday night’s program.

David Carpentier Smith

1948 Olympic Speed Skating Team and Louise Herou’s Medals

As I mentioned last week, a new book out on Twin Cities sports includes a chapter on speed skating. The chapter introduces Minnesota speed skating history from John S. Johnson’s world records in the 1890s to the many great skaters who raced at Powderhorn Lake into the 1960s.

I was reminded of a photo from Minneapolis park board archives that I featured a few years ago. The photo had no caption and I wondered who were the skaters and starters on the ice at Powderhorn Lake. Thanks to several readers, we identified all the skaters and Hubert Humphrey, Minneapolis’s Mayor, next to the starter. The skaters are six of the eight men who won places on the 1948 U.S. Olympic team that skated at San Moritz. No one, however, identified the man with the starter’s gun.

Powderhorn  U.S.Olympic Team 1947-2-16

I finally found the original of the photo and it’s not a park board photo after all but a photo by Bud Jewett in the Minneapolis Tribune, February 17, 1947. The original photo also included the famous coach of the Powderhorn skaters, Oscar Johnson. Below is the original published photo with caption, which identifies the man with the gun as Minnesota Governor Luther Youngdahl.

1947-02-17 Star_Tribune HHH and Gov. Youngdahl at starting line of Powderhorn men

Another bit of skating news: I recently acquired a collection of 110 medals, including national championship medals, won by Louise Herou from 1934-1942. Herou won medals from when she was 13 until she stopped skating after having two seasons cut short by illness. When the 1943 skating season rolled around she was a true-life Rosie the Riveter working at the Twin City Ordnance plant and no longer had time for training. She would never return to speed skating, except as a teacher and coach.

1943-03-09 Star_Tribune Herou with her medals and trophies

Herou with her medals and trophies from a March 9, 1943 Minneapolis Tribune article on her giving up skating for work at an ordnance plant. Many of these medals were displayed in a new case (below) which I recently acquired.

By then she had become one of the the top golfers in Minneapolis and had made an appearance as a swimmer with the Aqua Follies, the annual water show associated with the Minneapolis Aquatennial. She was also a crack shot with a shotgun, played an excellent second-base in softball and was a top-level tennis player. In 1945 she was inducted into an honorary sorority at the U of M for achieving straight A’s as a freshman. She went to law school at the U of M, became an attorney and married Charlie Saunders who owned Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale, a leading Minneapolis restaurant, which she continued to run after he died.Herou medals 1

The display I acquired has an oak frame with a bronze nameplate that reads “Louise Herou Saunders”, so the medals in the top picture were likely put in this new display case after she was married. Many of the medals are beautifully made by some of the top silver and goldsmiths in the country. Unfortunately, the display was not covered with archival glass to protect the ribbons from UV rays (perhaps such a product didn’t exist when the case was made) so they are very faded. Most medals are engraved on the back with event and result; some are inscribed with her name.

All of her 1934 medals, which were won in the “juvenile girls” category, are inscribed “Tee Herou.” I assume that was a nickname. A check of newspaper results for her skating years reveals that these 110 medals are not nearly all that she won, but include many of her wins in the more prestigious local and national tournaments. While many of the medals she won are missing there is also one from the Minneapolis Star Journal in 1939 inscribed as a Medal of Merit for “Mens Skating.” How that came to be in her collection might be a good story. Where the trophies pictured in the newspaper photo above ended up is anyone’s guess. Louise Herou and Charlie Saunders did not have children.

I’m not really a collector of such things as these medals, but when I saw them for sale I thought they should remain together as a collection instead of being sold off individually. Herou’s scrapbooks are in Special Collections at Hennepin County Library. Perhaps a skating or historical organization will some day want to display her medals. If not for WWII, it is quite possible she would have competed on an international stage, although not the Olympics. Women’s speed skating wasn’t an Olympic sport until 1960.

David Carpentier Smith

Twin Cities Sports History

I’m happy to alert you to the publication of a new book that many of you will enjoy. Twin Cities Sports: Games for All Seasons, edited by my friend Sheldon Anderson, was released yesterday by the University of Arkansas Press. The book presents many of the most interesting aspects of sports in Minnesota history. It provides a behind-the-headlines look at sport and society. I can guarantee everyone will learn something new about sports history in Minnesota.

Dick Dahl writes about pro football, Stew Thornley about the Minneapolis Lakers, Tom Jones about golf — just three of the nine chapters. I think you’ll also enjoy reading about Minneapolis park history from someone other than me in Shannon Murray’s excellent chapter on the creation and evolution of the park system.   Twin Cities Sports Cover

I contributed a chapter on the history of Twin Cities speed skating in addition to collaborating with Shel on chapters about high school basketball and high school hockey. I am especially proud to have written the first broad account of speedskating in Minneapolis and St. Paul, from early superstars like John S. Johnson to the great skaters that came out of the Hippodrome Skating Club in St. Paul and Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis. While researching that chapter I learned so much about extraordinary athletes who have never gotten the attention they deserve. There is so much more to tell. Might be worth a book in itself someday!

Here’s my brush with greatness in the book: we illustrated the basketball chapter with an action photo of Lindsey Whalen in high school. I remember playing in the same gym in which that shot was taken. How cool is that? I bet there’s fewer than six degrees of separation.

The Roseau high school hockey cheerleaders also talked with me and a friend at the lunch counter in the old W.T. Grant’s store on Seventh Street in downtown St. Paul during the state hockey tournament one year when I was a kid. They must have thought we were cute little kids. We were probably staring at them. We were star struck. When you grew up on the East Side of St. Paul hockey was a big deal, so Roseau hockey cheerleaders were nearly celebrities. They were on tv!

I hope you will pick up a copy of the book. Of course, it’s available on Amazon, but I would encourage you to shop at local booksellers when you can.

David Carpentier Smith

Flu Seating at Gopher-Badger Game

One hundred years ago this week, an account of the Minnesota Gopher men’s basketball team’s loss to Wisconsin in Madison included this:

“Two fouls were assessed against Knapp, Badger captain, because of the noise made by the crowd during the progress of the game. Because of the influenza ban which is on at Madison, only alternate rows of seats were occupied at the game.”
— Minneapolis Tribune, February 1, 1920

Seems so ignorant given what we now know — and fear — about infectious diseases like the coronavirus. Maybe the excessive crowd noise was coughing. The old-fashioned crowd control and infectious-disease control were not the only things a bit dated: the final score was 28-12.

I found this item during my continuing research into a novel basketball tournament held in Minneapolis from the 1920s-1950s. In the process I’ve learned a great deal more about why the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners built a recreation center in Logan Park in 1915 and didn’t build another one on the same scale in any other park for more than 50 years. I will write more on that topic in the near future.

David Carpentier Smith