Baseballs at War

Once in awhile I come across a little gem of info that I don’t know what to do with because it’s not about Minneapolis parks, but is too interesting to let slip back under the covers of history. So this…

From the Minneapolis Tribune, Thursday, February 7, 1918, dateline New York, in its entirety:

Baseball To Follow The Flag In France

There is a probability baseball will be played extensively by the troops in France this spring. The Y.M.C.A. war work council has awarded a contract for 59,760 baseballs, probably one of the largest orders ever placed. Special preparation has to be made in packing these balls so they will not be affected by dampness. Special cases are made for the purpose.

I looked to see if I could find an image of a 1918 baseball online that I could post here and I found two noteworthy images.

The first was a 1918 baseball for sale at the time of this writing on eBay. The names of soldiers, complete with rank are printed on the ball. I don’t know if this was one of the balls sent to France by the “Y”, but it was clearly well-used. I love the red and blue stitching. I wonder if it was so tightly wound—or juiced—that it could leave a ball yard at an exit velocity of well over 100 mph as they do at Target Field these days. Doubtful.

1918-wwi-military-baseball.jpg

This 1918 baseball signed by soldiers, complete with ranks, is for sale on eBay by showpiecessports. The linked page above includes seven more photos of the ball. Thanks to showpiecessports for permission to use their image.

I also found another image at the National Baseball Hall of Fame that tells more of the story of baseball and WWI. This photo suggests that the ball used by the soldiers was the same—red and blue stitching—as that used by Major League Baseball. One notable change in the game since 1918 is immediately obvious: game balls weren’t discarded then after they had hit the dirt once!

1918 WWI Ball Hall of Fame

One panel of the ball reads, “Season ending on Labor Day on Account of War.” The other, “Last ball used in game at Navin Field. Hit by Jack Collins off Bobby Veach. Caught by Davy Jones.” For Bobby Veach, who led the American League in RBI that year as an outfielder, this was the only pitching appearance of his 14-year career. Thanks to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for permission to publish this image. (Milo Stewart, Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

The excellent article that accompanies this photo tells of how baseball players were viewed as potential soldiers in the Great War. Quite different from WWII. The full story of the game and the season from which this ball was saved—101 years ago this month—is fascinating. A little of everything: Star Spangled Banner, Ty Cobb, rifle drills, the Boston Red Sox winning a World Series before Big Papi, and more.

With all those YMCA baseballs going to France in 1918, I’m surprised the French didn’t pick up any interest in the game, but they seem not to have. I suppose when part of your country is reduced to sticks and mud and cemeteries, you don’t have much time to think about new sports played on fields of grass.

IMAG0470

The American monument to soldiers–some of whom may have played with those YMCA baseballs–who died near Chateau Thierry in WWI. Not many miles from this sobering, beautiful monument is where Ernest Wold and Cyrus Chamberlain, two young men from Minneapolis, died as aviators in the war. The Minneapolis airport, owned by the Minneapolis park board from 1926-1943, was named Wold-Chamberlain Field in their honor. (Photo: David C. Smith)

Baseball and war brings to mind the mistaken perception that baseball was spread in the other direction, to Japan, by American soldiers after WWII. Baseball was popular in Japan decades before then.

The University of Chicago’s baseball team played the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in August 1910 on their way to the West Coast for a trip to Japan to play Japanese university teams. The next spring a team from Japan’s Waseda University—which had hosted the U of Chicago team—played two games against the Gopher nine at Northrup Field and Nicollet Park, losing 3-2 in 15 innings and 8-2.

The Tribune reported that the Chicago team—and a University of Wisconsin team in 1909—had been treated as “national guests” of Japan and noted that special arrangements were being made to entertain the Waseda University team “so they will feel they are the guests of the Twin Cities as well as the university.”

I have not found any similar stories about teams from the Sorbonne in Paris looking for games with local nines.

The Minneapolis park board did not create its first baseball field until 1908. Before then, sports fields were not viewed by many people as legitimate uses of public park land.

I wonder if we’ve sent any baseballs or baseball fields to Afghanistan? You’d think we might have after nearly two decades of war there. On the other hand we’ve had military bases in Germany for more than 70 years and only Max Kepler to show for it baseball-wise. Taking nothing away from Kepler; I hope he’s healthy for the Twins in the play-offs.

David Carpentier Smith

 

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Posters for Parks

It’s time to fill that bare (or stale) spot on your wall with a limited edition poster of a local artist’s take on Minneapolis parks. The 4th Annual Posters for Parks event will be Saturday, Sept. 28 from 5-9 p.m. at Royal Foundry Craft Spirits, 241 Fremont Ave. N., Minneapolis.

More than 40 local designers and illustrators will present limited-edition, original posters for sale, with 50% of proceeds going to People for Parks, a grassroots organization that has raised money for park projects for decades. The event was created by lovemplsparks.org.

Good cause and good art mixed with royal spirits. Can’t beat that.

David Carpentier Smith

A Bus Tour and a Road Trip

Thanks to everyone who joined the Preserve Minneapolis Waterfront Bus Tour on Saturday. It was a beautiful day. A few people asked for a map of the tour so here it is. Follow the (shaky) black line down from top left at The Parade.Waterfront Tour Route Map

Below is the turn-by-turn itinerary we followed as I talked about one of the greatest preservation feats in any city: maintaining public ownership of nearly every foot of waterfront in the city. By car it’s about a 90-minute drive without stops, but by bus it was nearly a half-hour longer owing to some tight turns and having to wait for cars and bicycles to clear some intersections before our excellent driver could navigate some corners. If anyone has any remaining questions raised by the tour, ask them as comments below and I’ll try to answer. I’d recommend this drive for anyone interested in seeing a broad cross section of waterfront and neighborhood parks in the southern half of the city. Perhaps in the future we will  tour parks and parkways in north and northeast Minneapolis where there is not as much water but even more alluring neighborhood parks.

Bus Route for Waterfront Tour: August 17

Parade parking lot>

Spring Lake via right from parking lot onto Kenwood Parkway>

Lake of the Isles via Kenwood Parkway, left on Douglas, right on Logan, right on Franklin, left onto West Lake of the Isles Parkway>

Cedar Lake via West Lake of the Isles Parkway, right on Dean Parkway, right on Cedar Lake Parkway, left onto Sunset Blvd.>

Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) via Sunset Blvd, left onto Drew Avenue, left on Lake Street, right onto East Calhoun Parkway>

Lake Harriet via East Calhoun Parkway, left on William Berry Parkway and right on Lake Harriet Parkway>

Minnehaha Creek via Lake Harriet Parkway, right on West Minnehaha Parkway>

Diamond Lake (Pearl Lake) via West Minnehaha Parkway, to East Minnehaha Parkway, right on Portland Ave., right on E. Diamond Lake Road, right into Pearl Park parking lot>

Todd Park through parking lot, left on Hampshire Dr., left on E. Diamond Lake Road, right on Portland Ave. and left on E. 56th St., left on Chicago Ave. South>

Lake Nokomis via Chicago Ave. South, right on E. 54th St., left on W. Lake Nokomis Parkway, continue past beach>

Lake Hiawatha via W. Lake Nokomis Parkway, left on 22nd Ave. S, then right onto East Minnehaha Parkway>

Minnehaha Falls via East Minnehaha Parkway, right on S. Minnehaha Dr. at Godfrey Circle, left on S. Minnehaha Park Dr. to pavilion>

Mississippi River exit Pavilion parking lot, right on S. Minnehaha Dr., right on Godfrey Parkway, continue onto West River Parkway>

Seven Oaks Oval via W. River Parkway, left on E. 33rd St., left on Edmunds Blvd., right on E. 34th St., left on Park Terrace>

Longfellow Park via Park Terrace, continue onto 47th Ave. South, right on E. 35th  St.>

Powderhorn Park via E. 35th St.>

Painter Park via E. 35th St., right on Lyndale>

Bryant Square Park via Lyndale Ave. South, left on E. 31st St.>

Lake of the Isles Lagoon via E. 31st St., right on Dupont, left at light on Lagoon, right on E. Lake Calhoun Parkway>

Lake of the Isles via East Lake Calhoun Parkway, right on The Mall, left on James Ave. So., right on East Lake of the Isles Parkway>

Thomas Lowry Park (Seven Pools) via East Lake of the Isles Parkway, right then immediate left on W. Franklin Ave., right on Oliver Ave. South., right on Douglas Ave.>

Parade Parking via Douglas Ave., left on Frontage Road, right on Groveland Terrace, left on Hennepin Ave., left on Vineland, continue on Bryant Ave. South to Parade parking lot.

A Longer Road Trip

I haven’t put in a plug for the Minnesota Historical Society for awhile so I thought it was time again.

A couple weeks ago we took a day adventure to visit the Jeffers Petroglyphs in southwestern Minnesota. It was a spectacular summer day with a cooling breeze. Driving through south central Minnesota is always a treat for me. It’s wonderful to get out of the city into farmland and prairie. As much as I enjoy the open sky from a lakeshore or riverbank in town, there is something more spectacular—practically intoxicating—about the vistas and the fresh air of farms and prairie. Most of the Minnesota prairie is cultivated of course, but the native prairie has been restored, regenerated, around the site of the petroglyphs between Comfrey and Jeffers.

We approached from the north because I wanted to visit Redwood Falls on the way, a town and a waterfall I had not seen in many years. I was surprised and pleased to see that signs in the Redwood Falls park were in both English and Dakota. (Those signs reminded me to ask that the Minneapolis park board provide at least English translations for the Dakota language cutouts in the metal sculptures at Bde Maka Ska.)Petroglyph panorama

The 5,000 petroglyphs carved into a ridge of red rock—Sioux quartzite—emerging from the prairie tell of people long ago and hint at what they likely believed, enjoyed, feared and hoped. Some are thought to have been created 7,000 years ago.

Jeffers thunderbird

A thunderbird image hammered into the rock with a harder rock. The thunderbird faces west, always west, our guide told us.

Of course, with my Minnesota Historical Society membership, there was no admission charge. Do yourself a favor and take the drive some day. The site is open every day but Tuesday. We had an excellent burger and a cheap beer at the Comfrey Bar and Grill for lunch, just a few miles from the petroglyphs.

Be sure to visit the rock outcropping rubbed shiny by itchy buffalo, too. Picture them in the thousands coming to the little spa for a good scratch. Most helpful were the labels that identified prairie grasses, plants and flowers on the trail from the visitors center to the petroglyphs. Now I know names for some of the (what I thought were) weeds in my yard! I was a great day to imagine a distant and quite different past, as well as to revisit a near and quite different present than we see in the city.

David Carpentier Smith

Lake (White Out) Parkways, East and West

With the park board holding a public hearing this week on changing the names of all parkways with Calhoun in the name, I thought I might make one last suggestion to simplify everything going forward.

Instead of changing the names of East and West Lake Calhoun Parkways and West Calhoun Boulevard, perhaps we can serve multiple purposes if we just “white out” the “Calhoun”.

One, it gets rid of “Calhoun”, which is usually given as the primary objective of the name changes. (The other objective, to honor Dakota history at the lake, was accomplished when the park board changed the name of the lake itself to one of its historical Dakota names, Maka Ska.)

Two, it leaves a “blank” or white space on signs—I mean we literally paint over “Calhoun” on road signs and park signs—which invites questions and comments such as, “What the…?” or “Mommy-Daddy-Caregiver why is there white paint on that sign?” Many of the objections to changing the name from Calhoun to Maka Ska have to do with deleting a part of our history that we should acknowledge and confront instead of hiding. Some have said that keeping Calhoun provides an important teaching opportunity. I agree in principle. Visibly defacing or obliterating Calhoun’s name, however, might provide the same opportunity for discussion because it would invite queries without appearing to honor John C. Calhoun. “There’s something happenin’ here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.” (A white space on road signs might also invite graffiti, but no solution I’ve heard is perfect.)

Neither keeping Calhoun nor replacing it with Maka Ska can achieve both those results.

Explanation for younger readers: What is white out? It was a fast-drying, white, opaque liquid applied by a tiny brush to places in typewritten documents that required corrections. By applying white out to a word with a typo one could then type over the whited out word instead of retyping a whole page. It had nothing to do with snow or blizzards or everyone attending a basketball game wearing white shirts.

Despite so much waterfront in Minneapolis, there is no East or West Lake Parkway or West Boulevard now, so whiting out Calhoun on those three parkways wouldn’t create confusion with any existing streets. Whiting out Calhoun also could avoid the expense of buying new signs and throwing the present ones into a landfill. Given how few intersections there are on the Lake (White Out) Parkways (by my count twenty or fewer), my guess is one or two cans of Kilz spray paint would do the job. Bring a brush if you don’t like aerosols. Would take a couple hours at most. Best if the paint is not reflective like the rest of the street signs so our history is hinted at by a non-reflecting hole on the sign even in the dark.

Address changes for homes on those streets would be easier too with the white out solution. People with present East or West Calhoun Parkway addresses could simply cross out or white out the Calhoun on their mail or legal addresses until the change takes hold in the public mind. The only people who really need to know street addresses—Amazon and its delivery subsidiaries—could easily sort that out. Google should also be alerted to update their maps so Uber drivers won’t get confused. (Drivers could tell the story of the white out to inquisitive travelers from St. Paul or Edina.)

Finally, “white out” as a metaphor should appeal to those who believe that is what has happened figuratively to our historical record.

Worth a thought.

Waterfront Tour

Preserve Minneapolis tells me that anyone who wants to join our waterfront tour may be without a seat on the bus if they wait much longer. Our tour of many Minneapolis waterfronts begins at the Parade parking lot next to the Sculpture Garden on August 17 at 10 a.m. One part of our tour will take us along East Lake (White Out) Parkway enroute to Minnehaha Falls, then back via West River Parkway and other waterfronts to Parade by noon. To learn more and reserve a seat click here.  The fee goes to Preserve Minneapolis, not me.

David Carpentier Smith

 

Lake Hiawatha Water Management

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) recently published background documents on water management issues at Lake Hiawatha and Hiawatha Golf Course that have guided priority-setting and decison-making for the past two years. I would encourage everyone with an interest in the subject to have a look at the papers in the “What’s New” tab at the bottom of the linked page. For many of those most involved in the issue, this review of the project may be redundant, but for many others it will establish a useful starting point for discussion. Even for experts, these documents may provide a good review of the analysis and evaluations upon which park board staff have relied.

What I have not found in those otherwise useful briefings was a recap of historical events to put water levels in perspective. So….here goes. Let’s turn the clock back again. (For more background on the creation of Lake Hiawatha and the adjacent Hiawatha Golf Course and some cool “before” photos, read my recent post Troublesome Lake Hiawatha.)

Lake Depth

Theodore Wirth’s initial plan for dredging Lake Hiawatha was to dredge to a depth of 14 feet. Due to budget concerns, however, he had reduced his dredging plan to a depth of ten feet when contracts were let. In his 1929 annual report (dated January 1, 1930), he wrote that ten feet “as called for in the present contract is the very minimum depth a lake should be, and the only reason for specifying such a minimum depth was to keep the cost…down.” He added, however, that due to money saved through a very competitive bidding process, “it is my earnest recommendation that it be increased to fourteen feet.” His argument was twofold: one, it would produce a “cleaner” sheet of water with less vegetation; two, it would bring the land area to a “higher and more desirable grade at a reasonable cost of $35,000.” That additional four feet of dredging, he noted the next year, had produced an additional 270,000 cubic yards of material.

By the time grading of the new golf course was done, Wirth wrote in his 1932 report that a low lake level and favorable weather had “permitted the creation of much more undulation than hoped for in the great area of level land devoted to the golf course…with the happy result that the eighteen holes will be a more interesting course than it was anticipated could be made.” Had more extensive grading also produced more low areas that could eventually flood?

Lake Level

The lake level used as the average in the contemporary water management study reached via the link at the top of this post is 812.8 ft MSL or above mean sea level. The measurement of levels has changed a few times in the last century. The water levels cited in park board reports from its beginning in 1883 through the time Lake Hiawatha was dredged were in feet above “city datum.” Never mind what that means for a moment. In his 1931 annual report Wirth gives a “normal” elevation of Lake Hiawatha as 100 city datum. To translate city datum measures to contemporary MSL measures requires the addition of roughly 710 ft to the city datum. (If a geodesist finds that I’m off, please let me know a better translation.)

Yikes! That means today’s “normal” of 812.8 ft. MSL is nearly three feet above normal in Wirth’s time of about 810 ft MSL.  Take three feet of water off Lake Hiawatha today and most of the golf course and all surrounding neighborhood basements are dry.

But wait, there’s more!

Although 100 was considered the normal level for Lake Hiawatha in 1931 the actual water level that year—the year dredging was finished in a very dry year—was only 96.25! In today’s terms that would be about 806.25 ft MSL, or six-and-a-half feet, roughly one Kawhi Leonard, below today’s normal!

Wirth provided this data in a section of his 1932 report that explained how the park board had contracted with the city to pump city water into the lakes to raise levels. In 1931 the park board paid the city $1,422.25 to pump 113,780,090 gallons of city water into Lake Hiawatha to raise its level to 98.62 ft or roughly 208.62 ft MSL, still four feet below today’s normal! The same year the park board paid the city $3,071.09 to pump 245,687,400 gallons into the Chain of Lakes (Cedar, Isles and Calhoun) and $1,201.19 to pump 96,095,580 gallons into Nokomis.

Why did they do it? Wirth’s words:

“As an experiment to find out definitely how practical and at what cost it would be feasible to raise our lake levels during dry periods, and in order to have the appearance of our lakes in presentable condition for the Knights Templar Conclave in June, together with a desire to have the bathing beaches at certain lakes made available for use…It will be difficult to operate our Lake Calhoun and Lake Nokomis bath houses efficiently with the present elevation of water.”

While noting that given the board’s finances it would be difficult to find the funds to pump water into the lakes in 1933, the Great Depression was grinding people and landscapes to dust, Wirth estimated it would cost $21,762.50 to pump the 1.741 billion gallons of water needed to raise the lakes to normal elevations. (Precision was one of Wirth’s strong suits—as was his compulsion to make his parks “presentable”.) That money was not forthcoming from the park board’s budget, and that year the situation was the “worst in memory”, Wirth wrote. But water was pumped thanks to the city council which had “come to the rescue”.

Not the End

That beneficence was not, of course, the end of water level problems in Minneapolis lakes. By the mid-1950s the situation was so bad that a pipeline was built from Bassett’s Creek to Brownie Lake to pump water into the lakes and ultimately Minnehaha Creek. Unlike Minnehaha Creek, Basssett’s Creek seldom went completely dry. Even that wasn’t a long-term solution. The park board considered a famous hydrologist’s recommendation in the 1960s to capture water from the air conditioners of downtown office buildings to recycle through the lakes. But the owners of those buildings knew a good idea when they heard one and began recycling their air conditioning water back through their own plants. So the park board eventually built a pipeline from the Mississippi River to the lakes, but that failed too when high phosphate levels in river water threatened lake health. So as you can see, through most of park board history the big challenge was how to raise lake levels, not lower them.

Despite the park board’s ownership of the land fronting on lakes and creeks—one of the marvels of the city—we should keep in mind that the park board cannot manage water tables. Has the park board altered shore lines and creek beds? Absolutely. And anytime that is done there can be unintended consequences that can play out over many years. (“Don’t mess with Mother Nature,” some would say! I am presently writing about one of those decisions that still could have very sad consequences.) But water tables, precipitation and run-off (climate change!) are not within the park board’s control—even when, as at present, park commissioners envision a role for the park board in issues outside the purview of historical park and recreation management. And although I am not a hydrologist, it does not seem logical to me that past park board water-shaping efforts—short of building dams, which they did not do except at Longfellow Lakelet and Shingle Creek—could have been the cause of higher water tables across a wide section of the city.

In my opinion, informed by what I know of the history of the area, the groundwater issue is one for which the park board should not take primary responsibility. I think it demands a broader solution that the city or county and state should address—with input from the park board as a significant stakeholder. Just because the easiest place to dump water from south Minneapolis is into property controlled by the park board (Lake Hiawatha) does not make excess water the park board’s unique problem.

The larger issue in this as in so many issues we wrestle with today is the relative weight of individual interests and collective interests. Striking that balance has always been at the core of the American Experiment. Pursuing that line of thinking, I checked when some of the houses now threatened by high water levels were built. Of all those houses that were actually surveyed for the water management study conducted in 2017 for the park board, only one of 28 was built after 1954 according to Hennepin County property records. Nearly half were built before 1932 when the park board finished dredging Lake Hiawatha. In other words they were built when water levels did not seem to pose a threat.

I hope you will take a closer look at the background information posted by the park board at minneapolisparks.org. I would also encourage you to subscribe to email updates from the park board on the status of plans for Lake Hiawtha and other park areas of interest.

David Carpentier Smith

 

 

 

 

Accept When Offered: A Brief History of Minnehaha Parkway

Given recent discussion of the history of Minnehaha Parkway, I thought it might be useful to consider a brief timeline of when and why the parkway was acquired by the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners and how it was developed. I wrote some of this for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in 2008, but it is not presently accessible at minneapolisparks.org. Most other individual park histories, such as Minnehaha Park and Minnehaha Creek Park (the creek west of Minnehaha Parkway to Edina), are available there under the “History” tab on each park page. I would encourage you to read them.

Park board records do not reveal the origin of the idea of a parkway along the valley of Minnehaha Creek. The first mention of a park along the creek is in the park board proceedings of October 8, 1887 when, after hearing from “interested parties,” the park board resolved that when lands along Minnehaha Creek “are offered, they be accepted” between Lake Harriet and the Soldier’s Home. (The Soldier’s Home was then planned to be built at the mouth of Minnehaha Creek on the Mississippi River on land donated to the state by the city. Minnehaha Falls was not yet a park, although it was in the works.) As part of the resolution, the park commissioners expressed their intent to create a parkway beside the creek when they deemed best to do so—meaning if they ever had the money.

Mpls Parks Fig 00-02 Minnehaha Boulevard

An early 1900s postcard image of the parkway and path at an unknown location. Don’t you want to follow that path? It’s a favorite image I included in City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks

Today Minnehaha Parkway begins at Lake Harriet Parkway on the south shore of Lake Harriet and Read more »

Troublesome Lake Hiawatha

Of all Minneapolis lakes, the one that might not exist if it hadn’t been dredged nearly a century ago is Lake Hiawatha.

1915 Lake Hiawatha looking north

Lake Hiawatha, then Rice Lake, middle right, looking north from bridge over Minnehaha Creek in 1915. (Photo by Charles J. Hibbard from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in the Minnesota Reflections Digital Library.)

1922 Hibbard Lake Hiawatha looking south

Lake Hiawatha before dredging and golf course creation looking south in 1922. Lake Nokomis, with a lakeshore already defined by dredging, is on the horizon just right of center. (Hibbard, Minnesota Reflections Digital Library.)

1929 Lake and Golf Course before course was built

It’s hard to tell from this 1929 photo looking east across the Lake Hiawatha and soon-to-be golf course how much water is standing. (Hibbard, Minnesota Reflections Digital Library. The same collection has many more photos of the area from different years.)

When you see the lake today, it’s hard to imagine that these photos show the same property. And it likely wouldn’t exist as a lake today if not for golf. The photos also illustrate the problems that still exist with excess water on the golf course and in the neighborhood.

Lake Hiawatha, or Rice Lake as it was called until 1925, was viewed primarily for its relationship to Minnehaha Creek for much of Minneapolis’s early history. As described in the history of Lake Hiawatha Park I wrote for the park board, the lake was viewed as a potential reservoir to maintain a constant flow of water over Minnehaha Falls. Absent that, Theodore Wirth argued that the lake would be more attractive as a meadow than a swamp and recommended draining it by diverting Minnehaha Creek through Lake Nokomis.

What changed thinking about the lake was golf. The Lake Hiawatha wetland was viewed as the only undeveloped plot of land in south Minneapolis large enough to hold a golf course. (In the late 1910s, 150 acres was considered sufficient for a golf course.) Minneapolis’s first two golf courses were at Wirth Park (then Glenwood) and Columbia Park in north Minneapolis. Gross (then Armour) and Meadowbrook golf courses, were added in the mid-1920s, both outside city limits and neither in south Minneapolis.

The other reason for maintaining Lake Hiawatha as a lake and dredging it much deeper is obvious when you look at the panoramic view above: the property was dead flat. Now I’m not a golfer, but I understand from those who are that dead flat does not make the most interesting golf courses (unless you’re being caressed by ocean breezes). To create a course that was more “sporty” in Theodore Wirth’s words, some variances in terrain would have to be created. For a park board that had little extra dirt—fill was always in demand because most neighborhood parks had been created on low lying land that was of little use, thus cheap, and needed filling—the best place to get fill was from a lake bottom. Wirth had already followed that formula at Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, Cedar Lake and Lake Nokomis. He had used dredged material to reshape lakefront and create firmer shorelines. Why not dredge Lake Hiawatha, making it a “real” lake, and use the dredge “spoils” to create a golf course with (small) hills? One stone. Two birds. The results: another blue sheet of water, one less swamp (considered detrimental to health and beauy at that time), and another golf course, which proved in its early days to be one of the most profitable in the city.

Those who love the lake but hate the golf course might want to keep in mind that they may have one because of the other.

But that’s only part of the story that I’m still investigating. The other part of the story is what Theodore Wirth and park commissioners assumed about natural water levels in the Minnehaha Creek watershed. In the first few decades of the park board’s existence, water levels in the city’s lakes and creeks may have been higher than normal, although Minnehaha Creek was still dry at times. By the 1920s, however, water levels appear to have dropped and they remained low for the next few decades at least. That was when Lake Hiawatha and the Hiawatha Golf Course were created. In many years mid-century, there was no water in Minnehaha Creek except early spring and late fall. In the late 1950s water levels in the Chain of Lakes were sometimes seven feet below where they had been fifty years earlier.

The assumptions made about water levels, which affected depths of dredging and heights of filling, continue to impact how water flows or doesn’t in and around Lake Hiawatha and the golf course today when water levels are near all-time highs.

I mention this history today to remind people that a park system built around water—from the acquisition of Loring Pond and Lake Harriet in the 1880s; to renovation plans for Lake Hiawatha, Minnehaha Parkway and the Lake Calhoun boathouse site; to the development of new waterfront properties along the Mississippi River downtown and in North and Northeast—require special planning, precautions and contingencies especially in a time of climate change. Water levels will fluctuate. Know the depth before you dive.

As a postscript I’m told that some seats remain on the bus tour I’m leading of the city’s lakes, streams, ponds and river on August 17. The tour is organized by Preserve Minneapolis. Reserve your seat on the bus for the two-hour tour here.

David Carpentier Smith

 

 

Closing Parkways: Not a New Idea, or a Good One

The Minneapolis Park Board considered chopping up the Grand Rounds once before. That proposal was rejected, as I hope this one will be.

On May 30, the park board published a draft of its “preferred concept” for the Minnehaha Parkway Regional Trail from where Minnehaha Creek enters Minneapolis from Edina, east to Hiawatha Avenue near Minnehaha Park. I would encourage everyone to review the draft concept, especially page 7 of the linked document, which addresses “Parkway Vehicluar Circulation.” I believe that is where the plan fails, because it proposes to place roadblocks at some intersections that will force cars to leave the parkway, which creates in essence more “missing links” in the Grand Rounds. It will essentially end the practice of driving Minnehaha Parkway for pleasure. Read more »

Minneapolis Park Names Added and Reconsidered

In light of rekindled debates over park names, prompted by the Appeals Court decision rescinding the name change of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, the park board’s vote to alter the process for changing parkway names, and debate at the University of Minnesota over changing building names, I revisited my compilation of people commemorated in Minneapolis parks.

I just added two names that were designated since I originally compiled that list.

  • Annie Young: the meadow in Riverside Park was named to honor the former park commissioner who died in 2018.
  • Mary Merrill: the headquarters building of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, previously unnamed, was named after the former park superintendent and park commissioner, known then as Mary Merrill Anderson, who also served as the acting superintendent in 2018.

Changing Names

The park board suspended its naming rules to approve both names, which had also been done in recent years to name park baseball fields for Rod Carew, Frank Quilici and Sid Hartman. Previous board policy had prevented naming park properties for people still living or for a couple years after they died. The policy was refined after controversy in 1964 over the naming of Todd Park across Portland Avenue from Diamond Lake. George Todd was a park commissioner dying of cancer at the time. The objective was to honor him while still living for his work in creating the park . The policy was also suspended in 1968 to rename Nicollet Field for Martin Luther King, without a waiting period, shortly after his murder.

The park board also, with little discussion, has altered the process for changing parkway names. Read more »

Lake, Creek and River Tour … History Archive … Aerial Photos

How did Minneapolis preserve nearly all waterfront in the city as public property? Lakes, creeks, ponds, river, even some bodies of water that no longer exist. Public property! You can walk up to the water and put your toe or your canoe in. Nobody’s permission needed.

That extraordinary distinguishing feature of Minneapolis will be the subject of a bus tour I will lead this summer as part of Preserve Minneapolis’s summer tour schedule. Reserve your seat on the bus for our two-hour tour on Saturday, August 17 from 10 a.m. to noon. All proceeds go to Preserve Minneapolis. I hope you will join me and in the process support the ongoing efforts to preserve the best of Minneapolis’s built and natural environments.

And check out the rest of Preserve Minneapolis’s summer tours. I’m sure you’ll see others you want to sign up for as well. The schedule was just posted and in the past most tours have sold out, so reserve your place early.

Michael Wilson’s Hill and Lake Press Archive

Michael Wilson has been writing about “history, issues and goings-on” in the Lowry Hill and lakes neighborhoods for Hill and Lake Press since 2015 and now he has collected his articles on his own blog at michaelwilsonmpls.com. I’d recommend a visit to Michael’s site for historical perspective on a wide range of issues affecting those neighborhoods as well as the city’s park resources. Bookmark it.

Aerial Treasures

An amazing trove of aerial photos of Minneapolis in the 1920s has been acquired by the Hennepin County Library and is in the process of being digitized for internet access. Michael Wilson has been instrumental in acquiring that collection for the library and wrote about it here. The spectacular collection, which I have viewed, should come with a warning that you will be tempted to spend hours and hours looking through them to find your house, street, neighborhood or landmarks as they once were.

The photographs were taken by early aerial photographer Joe Quigley for the Minneapolis School Board and were discovered in storage only in the last couple years. The photos were commissioned when the city was growing dramatically and the school board was trying to anticipate the exploding demand for classrooms and also planning to absorb the school-age population from the annexation of a large portion of Richfield.

One result of those challenges was increasing cooperation between the school board and park board to stretch their budgets without redundancy. That effort was initiated in the 1920s at the park board by commissioner Maude Armatage. Her efforts on that score continued for the next three decades and were recognized when a joint school and park constructed in southwest Minneapolis—part of the Richfield annexation—was named for her.

David Carpentier Smith

Ice Queens: The First Female Speed Skaters in Minnesota

Dorothy “Dot” Franey, one of the best athletes in Minnesota history, achieved her greatest athletic success as the state’s first world-class female speed skater. When a Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame was created in 1958, the inaugural class included one woman, golfer Patty Berg. The second class of inductees, in 1963, featured a second woman, Dot Franey.

In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s celebrate some of the women who first clamped on skating blades and raced on Minnesota ice. While not strictly a Minneapolis park story, Minneapolis park rinks and lakes played a central role in the development of speed skating in Minnesota. By the 1930s, when Franey was at her best, the tracks on Powderhorn Lake in Minneapolis and Lake Como in St. Paul were the premier outdoor speed skating venues in the country. Although many of Franey’s finest performances were recorded on Minneapolis ice, she was from St. Paul, and like many other skaters from downriver, she wore the colors of the Hippodrome Skating Club. The State Fair Hippodrome was converted to a skating rink in winter—covered but unheated and advertised as the largest sheet of indoor ice in the country—in  December 1908.Hippodrome postcard

Sadly, we will never know how great Dot Franey might have been in the speed sport she dominated. As an eighteen-year-old she represented the United States in the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid when women’s speed skating was a “demonstration” sport and won third place in the 1,000-meter race—worth a bronze medal in any sport accorded  medal status. Still a teenager, she must have had high hopes for improvement in future Olympics, but that chance never came. Not only was women’s speed skating not promoted to medal status in the 1936 Winter Olympics as expected, its standing as even a demonstration sport was terminated. Women wouldn’t race on ice for Olympic medals until 1960 at Squaw Valley, California. At those Games, Dot Franey Langkop was a leader in the movement of Olympic alumni to support current United States Olympic athletes.

Franey likely would have done well had she had the opportunity to compete for Olympic medals. She won U.S. national championships, either indoor or outdoor or both, from 1933 to 1936. She never competed outside of North America, but her closest rival in the U.S., Kit Klein, won the first overall women’s world championship in 1936 in Sweden. By that measure, it’s fair to speculate that Franey would have excelled on the world stage as she had on the continental stage. She was such a dominant skater in her early 20’s that after she won a major competition in 1936 at Powderhorn Lake, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star wrote facetiously that Franey was “mad at herself” because she broke only one national record that weekend.

When Franey finally turned “pro” in 1938, meaning she could earn money from exhibitions, endorsements and appearing in figure skating shows—there was no professional speed skating circuit—her popularity was demonstrated by her endorsement of Camel cigarettes, which appeared in newspaper “funnies” around the country. Long before cigarettes were considered anathema to athletic performance, Franey claimed that the skaters she knew who smoked preferred Camels.1938-03-06 Dot Franey Camel ad

The timing of Franey’s decision to turn pro, may have been influenced by the decision not to include women’s speed skating in the Winter Olympics in 1936. Women’s participation in sports, which had grown steadily in the first quarter of the 20th Century, dropped off drastically in the 1930s, as notions of athleticism being unladylike were resurrected, vigorously promoted and lingered for another 40 years. In today’s world, Franey may have had even more options for athletic success as she was an all-star softball and basketball player, and a superb golfer. As it was in 1938, her only option to make a living from her athletic ability was limited to figure skating shows. Franey may have been enticed to the professional life by her friendship with Babe Didrikson, the most famous female athlete of her time, who was reported to have inked endorsement and appearance contracts worth $50,000 in her first year alone as a “pro” after she captured the nation’s attention at the 1932 Summer Olympics.  That was long before Didrikson made even more money as a champion golfer when she decided to give that sport a go.

Franey endorsed Camels and began a career skating in ice shows, including producing, directing and performing in an ice show that had a 14-year run at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Between Dot Franey and the Minnesota North Stars, I suspect Minnesota has given Texas about all it knows of skates on ice.

1934-12-30 Tribune 10,000 lakes preview photo rev

The 10,000 Lakes meet was the largest annual event at Powderhorn Lake, sponsored by the Lawrence Wennell American Legion Post. 1. Jimmy Webster, two-time national champ from St. Paul and the Hippodrome club. 2. Dot Franey. 3. Dick Beard, national junior champ from Minneapolis. 4. Olga Mikulak, Minneapolis. 5. Frank Bostrom, a Californian training in Minneapolis. 6. Patty Berg, Minneapolis “girl golf star who is also a flash on the blades.” Minneapolis Tribune, December 30, 1934.

Dot Franey was not the first female speed skater from Minnesota, just the best until then. Minnesota men were among the fastest skaters in the world in the 1890s and early 1900s. John S. Johnson, John Nilsson, Olaf Ruud from Minneapolis and A. D. Smith from St. Paul owned world or national records at distances from 100 yards to 25 miles, but there is no mention in newspapers of that time of women racing. Fancy skaters, such as Minnie Cummings, were well-known performers—she was the headline performer at the official opening of the Hippodrome Skating Rink on Christmas Day 1908—but the results of women’s races didn’t show up in newspapers until 1909.

The earliest reference to a women’s race that I’ve been able to find was a brief clip in the Minneapolis Tribune on March 3, 1909 that previewed the national professional championships in Cleveland, which featured all of the top men, including Charles Rankin from St. Paul. The story concluded, “Miss R. Leonard, champion of Ohio and Mrs. Charles Rankin will meet in a series of races for the women’s championship.”

Proof that women’s racing was in its infancy was offered by a short item in the Dayton Daily News the week of that projected race. “Girl Creates Championship” read the headline, followed by a terse report that began,

“There was no queen of the skating world and women held none of the records that set the speed limits of the ice rinks. So Miss Robina Leonard of Cleveland created a championship for women. She jumped in and set a record for the woman’s championship of the world.”

Later that year the Detroit Free Press published photos of Robina Leonard and Mabel Monroe of Detroit who were racing each other in a match arranged between Cleveland and Detroit speed skaters. Both women were photographed skating in ice-length skirts. The wind resistance created by those yards of fabric must have been demoralizing.

The race anticipated between Leonard and Rankin in Cleveland in 1909 apparently did not materialize. The reporting of the day gives no indication of how Lillian Rankin became a contender for a national championship, of other races she had won, or of  women she had defeated on her rise to national title contender status. Charles Rankin was a successful short distance racer, once holding the world record for 50 yards. Lillian and Charles together oversaw the skating program at the Hippodrome in the 1910-1911 season and the Minneapolis Tribune noted at the outset that they would pay “especial attention…to women skaters.”

Rankin was reported to have skated a few races at the Hippodrome over the next couple years, among them was a warmup race before a hockey game at the Hip against the local junior mens champion, which she won by inches, and a race against a woman figure skater in which they both wore hockey skates. In other words, more novelty than legit competition.

The first time women raced as a part of local competition appears to have been at the Twin City championships sponsored by the Hippodrome Skating Club in 1914. The promoters of the Hip announced they were donating a special cup for a women’s quarter-mile race. Three women entered, but I have not yet found a record of who they were.

Interest in women’s racing appears to pick up from that beginning. In early 1915 the Minneapolis Tribune announced “First Girl Skater to Enter Ice Races at Lake Calhoun” above a posed photo of Mabel Denny in a formal  gown. In a caption, the paper noted that there was a “revival” of ice skating at Lake Calhoun. For a few years interest in skating had waned in general. The Minneapolis Park Board closed its lakeside warming houses for skaters early in 1911 due to a “lack of interest.” The University of Minnesota didn’t even field a hockey team for two years in 1910 and 1911.

But that seemed to change by 1915. The Twin Cities championship at the Hip had more entries than in many years, so many that the organizers had to determine how to run heats and spread the races over two nights or risk massive collisions by running all skaters at once.  (This was in the days of “pack” racing, not two at a time against the clock as is the norm now and was in Europe then.) The 1915 championship included a women’s half-mile race for the first time. The race was won by Lillian Rankin, who had dominated the past with little competition. In second place was Edna Nelson of Minneapolis, who would dominate the future with much stiffer competition.

By the start of the next skating season, public interest in skating increased dramatically. So much so that the Minneapolis Tribune ran a full-page syndicated story in mid-December on the new craze in the most fashionable circles in New York, Boston and Chicago: dancing on ice skates. Dansants a glace and Ice Teas, the paper noted, were so popular that there weren’t enough rinks or instructors to meet the demand. Adding local observation, a Tribune headline two days later proclaimed, “Revival in Skating Seen; Keen Demand for Shining Blades.” The story quoted officials of the Minneapolis hardware store association predicting that 10,000 pairs of skates would be sold in Minneapolis before the skating season was in full glide.

1917-02-18 Star_Tribune PHOTO of Edna Nelson Indoor Champ

Edna Nelson with some of her trophies in 1917. While no longer racing in ankle length skirts, women were still carrying a lot of cloth around the rink. Minneapolis Tribune, February 18, 1917

For the next few years Edna Nelson remained at the top of women’s speed skating in Minnesota usually battling and often sharing the podium with Ethel Lee another Minneapolitan. The duels between the two became a primary draw to long-blade events on Twin Cities ovals. Their quarter-mile face-off was the featured race at the Hippodrome Skating Club’s eighth annual ice carnival in 1917. Nelson won by inches.

Neither of them, however, took part in what was billed as the first international women’s championship at Lake Placid in 1920. The only Twin City skater to score in that meet was Lillian Herman of St. Paul.

 

In the 1920s, Nelson and Lee gave way to Olga Munkholm of St. Paul as the fastest woman on ice in the Northwest, challenged and occasionally beaten by Gladys Malone and Violet Evans. I have been able to find very little information on any of those skaters, except that another Munkholm, Anne, perhaps a sister of Olga, was one of the leading fancy skaters of the time, performing across the western U.S. and Canada. Olga Munkholm was also the catcher on an All Star softball team from St. Paul.

1922-02-19 Star_Tribune PHOTO Olga Munkholm and men incl. Donovan rev

Olga Munkholm was  featured in a Minneapolis Tribune photo February 19, 1922 along with other stars of the Hippodrome Skating Club. In the stocking cap center right is Richard “Duke” Donovan, the first Twin Cities speed skater to compete in the Winter Olympics. He was on the 1924 team that skated at Chamonix, France.

In 1926 the Minneapolis Daily Star began promoting a Silver Skates Derby, a series of races for local boys and girls that gave them a chance to win a pair of high-quality racing skates. Silver Skates races—named for Mary Mapes Dodge’s 1865 novel, Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates—had already become popular in New York and Chicago and they helped promote skating in general, but especially for girls who were given equal billing and prizes as boys. Preliminary races for boys and girls were held at playgrounds throughout the city with the finals at Lake of the Isles where the top finishers were awarded skates and other prizes.

The Silver Skates Derby also featured open races for adults, without the prize of skates. In the first Silver Skates Derby Amy Ostgard won the senior women’s title followed by Mildred Bjork and Violet Evans in front of a crowd estimated at 20,000. Bjork became the dominant woman skater in Minneapolis for the next few years, winning the 1927 Silver Skates title and the 1928 Minnesota championship. She was one of four skaters sent by Minneapolis to the national amateur championships in Detroit in 1928, but she did not place.

When the 1929 national championships came to Lake of the Isles, Bjork must have had high expectations on her home ice and she skated well on her way to a third-place finish. She was completely overshadowed, however, by Detroit skater Loretta Neitzel who stole the show that weekend by setting three new world records in the mile, quarter-mile and sixth-mile distances.

A couple of weeks after that grand spectacle, Dorothy Franey’s name appears for the first time in results of a girls race at the indoor arena off of Lake Street in Uptown Minneapolis. It was the first indication that Franey would skate to the fore of American women speedskaters—where she would remain for much of the next decade.

Perhaps it was fitting that in Franey’s last major race before turning pro, the national indoor championships at Chicago, she was denied a final title by a new teen sensation. The winner of that national title in Chicago was Mary Dolan, a Minneapolis skater in her first season in the senior women’s division.  The Queen was dead, long live the Queen. That victory was the first of many for Mary Dolan. She had skated to the top of women’s speed skating in the skate tracks of pioneer Minnesota skaters over the previous thirty years. There would be many more to come.

David C. Smith

If you know more about the skaters mentioned here or others who deserve recognition, tell us more in the comments section.

©2019 David C. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

What Year Was It? Vaccinations, Assault, Free Trade and Snow Shoveling

I’ve been researching several park topics lately in archival newspapers and stumbled across peripheral incidents that made me double-check the date of publication. These aren’t directly park-related, but fascinating if you’re interested in the arcs of history. I consider myself an optimist, mostly because I think our kids are smarter than we are, but sometimes you wonder whether we learn. See if you can guess when these events occurred.

What year was it when…

Minneapolis’s Health Officer made a concerted effort to vaccinate more citizens against a potentially lethal disease only to be opposed by activists who claimed the vaccine was more dangerous than the disease it was meant to prevent?

1902

The Health Officer was Dr. Pearl Hall who was battling an outbreak of smallpox that was worse in Wisconsin and Minnesota than the rest of the nation. He was joined in his vaccination campaign by Dr. Ohage, the chief health officer of St. Paul. They were opposed by Anti-Vaccination Societies in both cities. The common refrain of those societies was that smallpox had killed thousands but the vaccine had killed tens of thousands. That claim, as pointed out by a letter writer to one newspaper, was attributed to “they say.”

Caricature,1902-09-12

A caricature of Dr. Hall. The issue he “explains” here was why the city should build a garbage burner on an island in the river he had acquired and given to the city, hence the name Hall’s Island. (Minneapolis Journal, September 12, 1902.)

Hall said he had two job openings at the Minneapolis quarantine hospital and he invited the anti-vaxers to provide two workers for those jobs who had never been vaccinated to measure their health against the rest of the staff, all of whom had been vaccinated and had not contracted smallpox. The offer was declined because the jobs were for a laundry worker and a housekeeper at low pay.  The Tribune opined that the city attorney would never have allowed such an experiment to go forward anyway.

Hall claimed that of the 1000 patients who had been treated at the smallpox hospital only five had been vaccinated and four of those probably had been vaccinated incorrectly. Hall estimated that 70-80% of Minneapolitans had been vaccinated at that time.

The argument raged for much of the winter of 1902 with the Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers carrying multiple articles many days on the disease and the debate. Editorially all the papers sided with Dr. Hall.

The last known case of smallpox—in the world—was reported in 1977, after a coordinated campaign of vaccination worldwide. Gee, maybe vaccines work. And, yet, here we are a century of knowledge later with vaccine “doubters.”

(Sources: St. Paul Daily Globe, Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Minneapolis Evening Journal, February, 1902; World Health Organization)

What year was it when…

A woman who was verbally accosted in downtown Minneapolis asked a policeman to arrest the man for assault. He did and the next day she testified about the incident in court and the offensive man was given 20 days in the workhouse for disorderly conduct?

1912

Katherine Halvorson was walking along Nicollet Avenue when she stumbled on an imperfection in the sidewalk. Charles Canington, who was standing nearby, then made “several rude and indelicate remarks and waxed familiar,” in the words of the Morning Tribune. Halvorson walked to a nearby patrolman and said, “That man insulted me. Won’t you please arrest him?” The patrolman complied and Canington was charged and convicted. Miss Halvorson’s closing thought on the incident: “It will be nice when girls can walk the streets in Minneapolis without having men call out to them.”

Are we closer to that day?

(Source: Minneapolis Morning Tribune, July 25, 1912)

What year was it when…

An influential group of Minneapolis business people urged Congress to secure a commercial treaty that would facilitate free trade with Canada?

1888

The Minneapolis Board of Trade (the Chamber of Commerce of its time) passed a resolution urging the “present congress” to “use their influence” to secure such a treaty because “in the opinion of this board, free trade and uninterrupted trade and intercourse between the people of the United States and the people of the Dominion of Canada… would be alike advantageous to both.”

We’ve known trade barriers were a bad idea for quite a while.

(Source: St. Paul Daily Globe, Jan. 24, 1888)

What year was it when…

Minneapolis threatened to charge property owners for shoveling their sidewalks if they didn’t do it themselves.

1897

The most famous case of refusing to shovel was the eccentric millionaire lawyer Levi Stewart who lived on the corner of Hennepin and 4th. He claimed it was the city’s responsibility to clear the walks the same as it was to clear the streets. (The city had sued Stewart in 1871 to force him to put in a sidewalk—which were then made of planks—so he considered it the city’s responsibility to maintain it.) An article in 1885 claimed slippery sidewalks were a particular hazard at Stewart’s property because the fence he put around his yard was made of barbed wire.

Minneapolis had tried to create a shoveling ordinance in 1891 but due to technicalities it had to be rewritten. In 1897 Stewart suggested that they take the issue to the courts again to determine the legality of the rewritten ordinances. The City must not have accepted Stewart’s challenge then because in 1905 a Journal editorial urged the City to take Stewart to court to test the new/old ordinance because he still wasn’t shoveling his walks. That’s as far as I’ve gotten into investigating that particular argument between Stewart and the City, there were many others, but I hope to tell much more in a forthcoming longer piece on Levi Stewart.

I saw what looked like a city crew out shoveling and plowing a sidewalk in my neighborhood this week in the most recent crackdown on snowy walks.

(Sources: St. Paul Daily Globe, Feb. 1, 1885; Minneapolis Morning Tribune, March 9, 1897; Minneapolis Journal, Dec. 19, 1905)

While snow-covered sidewalks might not be in the same category of threat to the common good as infectious disease, verbal assault and protectionism, accessibility is a much more serious issue today than 120 years ago—and evidence of how public opinion and policy have changed significantly over time.

David C. Smith