Archive for the ‘Wirth Park’ Category

Burma-Shave, Clinton O’Dell and Minneapolis Parks

Thanks to Lindsey Geyer for sending this picture of Painter Park last week.

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The sign at Painter Park, 34th and Lyndale, on September 30, quotes a famous Burma-Shave sign.

Lindsey is probably one of the few people who know the deeper connection between Burma-Shave and Minneapolis parks, especially the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Theodore Wirth Park.

Burma-Shave was an invention of a Minneapolis company, Burma-Vita. It was a shaving cream that didn’t require a brush to whip it into a lather and apply. You just rubbed it on with your fingertips. The company president was Clinton O’Dell. He and his sons were looking for a way to market their invention and hit upon the idea of creating signs to post along highways. They painted their advertising on a series of signs and placed them 100 feet apart, a nice distance to read comfortably for people in cars travelling at the dizzying speed of 35 mph.

The O’Dells painted the signs and dug the post holes for them along highways after getting permission from landowners. This was in 1925. The first signs were placed on highways from Minneapolis to Albert Lea and St. Paul to Red Wing. Sales boomed. The signs spread.

In 1940, letterhead of the Burma-Vita Company featured a faint map with a red dot to show the location of every set of Burma-Shave signs the company had placed.

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Every dot is a set of Burma-Shave signs in early 1940s, long before interstate freeways. It appears that only five states did not have any Burma-Shave signs. (Enlarged by Lindsey Geyer from Burma-Vita Company letterhead from a letter dated May 6, 1940 to the Minneapolis park board. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.)

Sales of Burma-Shave peaked more than a decade later when there were 35,000 Burma-Shave signs. (I haven’t tried to count these dots, but it looks to be considerably shy of 35,000.) They were still being placed along highways into the 1960s, but by then interstate highways and much faster speeds had made the landmark signs a less effective marketing ploy. (Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification program in the mid-1960s restricted advertising along for federal highways, which had a large impact, too.)  The Burma-Shave signs were, however, still a highlight of cross-country car travel in the 1960s. When my family travelled, everyone was roused from whatever they were doing as soon as anyone spotted the first red sign in the distance.

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Silly jingles, mostly touting the benefits — often romantic — of a clean shave, were always followed by the Burma-Shave logo. For a catalog of the jingles visit burma-shave.org.

So what does this have to do with Minneapolis parks? When Clinton O’Dell attended Minneapolis Central High School in the 1890s he had a botany teacher named Eloise Butler. Ms.Butler went on to fame as the creator and tender of a fabulous wildflower garden in a portion of what was then Glenwood Park, later renamed Theodore Wirth Park. First as a successful insurance man and later as the owner of Burma-Vita, O’Dell was a significant contributor to the wildflower garden Butler created. For many years he donated money for work in the garden, but in 1944 he donated $3,000 to expand the garden beyond the woodland garden it originally was. An upland or prairie section was added thanks to O’Dell’s generosity. Several years later, in 1951, O’Dell was one of the founders of the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, an organization that has been critical to the continued success of the garden for more than 60 years. (More info on Friends of the Wild Flower Garden and Clinton O’Dell.)

Thanks to his Burma-Shave fame, O’Dell was named to the Minnesota 150: The People, Places, and Things that Shape Our State, by Kate Roberts, a book by the Minnesota Historical Society Press and an exhibit at the historical society in 2007.

Bottom line: Those catchy Burma-Shave jingles and the ubiquitous red roadside signs were partly responsible for one of the most venerated and beloved patches of Minneapolis park land.

And “Past the school take it slow. Let the little shavers grow” is pretty good advice at any time — even though it had been replaced on the Painter Park sign by Saturday, October 1. In its place was news of a new Zumba class. Fitness is good, too!

David C. Smith

 

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Minneapolis Park Memory: Ski Jumping at Wirth Park

I have received several very interesting comments from Jim Balfanz on my post about the history of ski jumping in Minneapolis. Today he sent me this photo of him (left) and his brother John, both champion skiers, in a double jump at Wirth Park in 1956. Jim copied the photo from the West High School yearbook of 1956. The original photo was “courtesy of the Minneapolis Tribune.”

In his comments, Jim has provided the names of many people who were important in Minneapolis ski jumping at a time when Minneapolis was producing national champions and Olympians.

If anyone else has memories, stories or photos to add either as comments on that post or in e-mails to me, I’d be delighted to post them.

Thanks to Jim and also to Jay Martin for his comments.

David C. Smith

Another Colorful Name Lost

The official record of the Minneapolis park board, the published “proceedings,” often don’t tell the whole story. Example: the proceedings of the park board meeting of June 6, 1910 record that the board voted that the “small lake in Glenwood Park between Western Avenue and Superior Avenue” be named “Birch Pond.” That’s been the name ever since.

What the official proceedings didn’t tell us I learned by accident while researching another issue. The June 7, 1910 Minneapolis Tribune noted the previous name of Birch Pond — the vastly more intriguing “Devil’s Glen.” I wonder how the little lake got that name.  Probably a good story. But I imagine it was more offensive to some people than a lake named for John C. Calhoun.

The pond was renamed as the parkway beside it was being built by a crew of forty railroad workers imported from Hungary. The previous year, scheduled construction at North Commons and East River Parkway was postponed due to a labor shortage in Minneapolis. The park board took no chance with its new parkway through what was then Glenwood Park, now Theodore Wirth Park, and imported the workers to build it.

David C. Smith

Elusive Minneapolis Ski Jumps: Keegan’s Lake, Mount Pilgrim and Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park

The Norwegians of Minneapolis had greater success getting their music recognized in a Minneapolis park than they did their sport. A statue of violinist and composer Ole Bull was erected in Loring Park in 1897.

This statue of Norwegian violinist and composer Ole Bull was placed in Loring Park in 1897, shown here about 1900 (Minnesota Historical Society)

A ski jump was located in a Minneapolis park only when the park board expanded Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park in 1909 by buying the land on which a ski jump had already been built by a private skiing club. The photo and caption below are as they appear in the annual report of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners for 1911.* While the park board included these photos in its annual report, they are a bit misleading. Park board records indicate that it didn’t really begin to support skiing in parks until 1920 — 35 years after the first ski clubs were created in the city.

Minneapolis, the American city with the largest population of Scandinavians, was not a leader in adopting  or promoting the ski running and ski jumping that originated in that part of the world. Skiing had been around for millenia, but it had been transformed into sport only in the mid-1800s, around the time Minneapolis was founded. Ski competitions then included only cross-country skiing, often called ski running, and ski jumping — the Nordic combined of today’s Winter Olympics. Alpine or downhill skiing didn’t become a sport until the 1900s. Even the first Winter Olympics at Chamonix, France in 1924 included only Nordic events and — duh! — Norway won 11 of 12 gold medals.

The first mention of skiing in Minneapolis I can find is a brief article in the Minneapolis Tribune of February 4, 1886 about a Minneapolis Ski Club, which, the paper claimed, had been organized by “Christian Ilstrup two years ago.” That article said the club “is still flourishing.” Eight days later the Tribune noted that the Scandinavian Turn and Ski Club was holding its final meeting of the year. The two clubs may have been the same.

Ilstrup was one of the organizers two years later of one of the first skiing competitions recorded in Minneapolis, which was described by the Tribune, January 29, 1888, in glowing and self-congratulatory terms.

Tomorrow will witness the greatest ski contest that ever took place in this country. For several years our Norwegian cultivators of the noble ski-sport have worked assiduously to introduce their favorite sport in this country, but their efforts although crowned with success, did not experience a real boom until the Tribune interested itself in the matter and gave the boys a lift.

The Tribune mentioned the participation in the competition of the Norwegian Turn and Ski Club, “Vikings club” and “Der Norske Twin Forening.”  The Tribune estimated that 3,000 spectators watched the competition held on the back of Kenwood Hill facing the St. Louis Railroad yard. Every tree had a dozen or so men and boys clinging to the branches, while others found that perches on freight cars in the rail yard provided the best vantage point.

The caption for this photo from the Minnesota Historical Society Visual Resource Database claims the photo is from the winter of 1887, but was almost certainly taken at the ski tournament held on Kenwood Hill late that winter in February, 1888.

The competition consisted of skiers taking turns speeding downhill and soaring off a jump or “bump” made of snow on the hill. Points were awarded for distance and for style points from judges.

The winners of the competition were reported as M. Himmelsvedt, St. Croix Falls, whose best jump was 72 feet, and 14-year-old crowd favorite Oscar Arntson, Red Wing, who didn’t jump nearly as far, but jumped three times without falling. Red Wing was a hot bed of ski-jumping, along with Duluth and towns on the Iron Range. (The winner was perhaps Mikkjel Hemmestveit, who along with his brother, Torger, came from Norway to manufacture skis using highly desirable U.S. hickory. The Hemmestveit brothers are usually associated with Red Wing skiing, however, not St. Croix Falls.)

A Rocky Start

Despite the enthusiasm of the Tribune and the crowds, skiing then disappeared from the pages of the Tribune until 1891, when on March 2, the paper reported on a gathering of thirty members of the Minneapolis Ski Club at Prospect (Farview) Park. “This form of amusement is as distinctively Scandinavian as lutefisk, groet, kringles and shingle bread,” the Tribune reported. “With skis on his feet a man can skim swiftly over the soft snow in level places, and when a slope is convenient the sport resembles coasting in a wildly exhilarating and exciting form,” the report continued. The article also described the practice of building snow jumps on the hill, noting that “one or two of the contestants were skilful enough to retain their equilibrium on reaching terra firma again, and slid on to the end of the course, arousing the wildest enthusiasm.”

The enthusiasm didn’t last once again. The Tribune’s next coverage of skiing appeared nearly eight years later — but it came with an explanation:

During recent winters snow has been a rather scarce article. A few flakes, now and then, have made strenuous efforts to organize a storm, but generally the effort has proven a failure. The heavy snow of yesterday was so unusual that it is hardly to be wondered at that there arose in the breasts of local descendants of the Viking race a longing for the old national pastime, skiing…The sport of skiing was fostered to a considerable extent in the Northwest, and particularly in this city, a few years ago, but the snow famine of late winters put a damper on it.
— Minneapolis Tribune, November 11, 1898

The paper further reported that the “storm of yesterday had a revivifying effect upon the number of enthusiasts” and that the persistent Christian Ilstrup of the Minneapolis Ski Club was arranging a skiing outing on the hills near the “Washburn home” (presumably the orphanage at 50th and Nicollet). The paper also reported that while promoters of the club were Norwegian-Americans, “they do not propose to  be clannish in the matter.”

Within a week of that first friendly ski, Continue reading

Glenwood Toboggan Slide II: 1887

Since posting a newspaper photo of a toboggan slide on “Glenwood Hill” in 1887, I found this photo in the Minnesota Historical Society Visual Resources Database. This photo is purportedly of the same toboggan chute on the same hill in the same year, but they are obviously different places. The photo clipped from a newspaper had trees right up to the sides of the track.

The North Star toboggan chute on Glenwood Hill, 1887. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Looking up the hill instead of down, gives a completely different prespective on the possible location of the slide. I doubt that the slide in this photo is in the same location as the ski jumps that were built after the park board acquired land in the vicinity. Any guesses as to the location of this toboggan slide? Or the other one? Which one is the real “North Star” chute?

In the same wonderful photo collection, I found this picture of the St. Paul toboggan slide in front of the State Capitol, which I referred to in my earlier post.

A 1957 photo of the toboggan slide I rode as a kid, a few years later, in front of the State Capitol. (Minnesota Historical Society)

David C. Smith

Glenwood Toboggan Slide: 1887

It’s an old, wrinkled photo clipped from an unidentified newspaper, but it’s also the oldest photo I’ve seen of a toboggan slide in Minneapolis.

A privately run toboggan slide on “Glenwood” hill in 1887, years before the park board acquired land in the area.

The newspaper caption calls it the “North Star” chute and puts the date at 1887. That was two years before the first land (64 acres) was acquired for what was then Saratoga Park. The park was renamed Glenwood Park in 1890 and was renamed for Theodore Wirth in 1938. The majority of the land for the park we know today was acquired in 1909. I suspect that this hill was a part of that acquisition. Although I’m not certain, I think this slide was located near where the ski jumps were later built.

At different times the park board operated toboggan slides at Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Glenwood (Wirth) Park, Columbia Park and Minnehaha Park. I don’t believe any of them were operated after the 1940s, but as always its difficult to discern from park board records when such services or programs were stopped.

The only toboggan slide I remember from growing up in the Twin Cities was the long slide erected on the approach to the State Capitol in St. Paul. I remember it being operated as a part of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. It was one of the highlights of winter life as a boy in St. Paul.

David C. Smith

Minneapolis Park Memory: A Wonderful Gift

About two years ago, when our son-in-law was in the North St. Paul Library, he saw David Smith’s book about Minneapolis parks. He bought one and gave it to me for Christmas. We have enjoyed reading it and looking at the pictures.

Jim became acquainted with Minnehaha Park and Parkway when he came to freshman orientation at Hamline in 1948. He particularly remembers the beauty of the lilac trees. When we lived in Rosemount, we came to Nokomis Park to picnic, swim and sail with friends. When we moved to Columbia Heights, Jim started to bike daily, and a few times each summer, he biked the Grand Rounds. We biked it with a church group a time or two. We continued to do that when we lived in Champlin and in north Minneapolis.

The house we owned since 1985 was near Lake Harriet and we biked around that lake and  also Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. We slid in the snow and watched our grandson’s rugby games at Columbia Park. We enjoyed many picnics near each of those lakes and the Rose Garden, Hiawatha, Nokomis, Farwell, Powderhorn and Wirth. Sometimes there were only two of us; other times it was a family gathering. We celebrated many birthdays and events by having picnics at a park. Following Thanksgiving dinner at our house, most of the guests enjoyed a walk around all or part of Lake Harriet. A recent memory is walking with our five-year-old granddaughter to a bridge over Minnehaha Creek and dropping sticks into the water and watching them float away. We are glad that our new home is near the Parkway, Minnehaha Park and Lake Nokomis, so we can continue to enjoy our wonderful gift of parks.

Phyllis Minehart

Minneapolis Park Memory: North to South

Minneapolis truly is a “City of Parks” for everyone — north, south, east , and west. As a ten-year-old tomboy in north Minneapolis, the neighbor kids and I would hike three miles to Glenwood Park, where we hunted for golf balls at the golf course, climbed the ski jump, and went wading in the creek until the golf workers would yell at us, “Hey, you little brats, get the heck out of that ‘crick’ NOW!” We would find a shady spot and dry off, giggling while eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or we would hike along Victory Memorial Drive to the Camden Pool, where every kid in north Minneapolis came to swim or get a bath. It was jam-packed with grubby young bodies all day long! When I was twelve, we moved to south Minneapolis, the Nokomis Lake and Lake Hiawatha area, another neat area for having fun in the parks.

After marriage and four kids, it was my kids who kept up the “fun in the parks” tradition, especially at Minnehaha Park. They investigated every nook and cranny, often ending up at the Falls, where they would crawl down the steep banks to the bottom of the Falls and work their way behind the water falls so nobody could see them and then make scary sounds and howls when little kids came to look at the water falling. Down the path from the Falls to the river was a large tree on a high bank. My son found a sturdy branch to which he tied a long, 2″-wide rope. Then he crawled to the top of the bank, holding the rope firmly an gave a bloodcurdling “Tarzan” yell, swinging form the top of the bank to a small island in the river where he landed. All the kids had a good time with the “Tarzan tree.” There weren’t so many park police or restrictions to keep kids from getting into mischief in the 30s to 60s, but I don’t recall any accidents occurring.

Thanks to Theodore Wirth and the Minneapolis Park Board for their foresight and wonderful planning of our great park system. There is so much for our enjoyment, and it’s free.

Judy Knutson

Webber Pool, year unknown. From the time it was built in 1910 until 1927, water was diverted form Shingle Creek to fill the pool. Beginning in 1927 the pool used filtered and chlorinated city water. In the early years, boys and girls used the pool at different times. One reason for the high wall around the pool was to prevent boys and girls from watching each other swim. In the 1930s, more than 1,500 children under the age of 14 used the pool every summer day. (City of Parks, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The Mother of All Minneapolis Golf Courses: Bryn Mawr II

When the golf and social activities of the Bryn Mawr Club shifted to the newly opened Minikahda Club at Lake Calhoun in July 1899, the Bryn Mawr golf course and club house didn’t stand empty for long. Two weeks after the Minikahda Club opened—and promptly became the hub of Minneapolis social life—golfers were already at work to get back on the Bryn Mawr links.

The Minneapolis Tribune on August 9, 1899 attributed the interest in reviving a golf club at Bryn Mawr to “young businessmen who find the Minikahda links at too great a distance from the city.” The paper speculated that the organizers of the new club also expected that the links could be used “at comparatively little expense.” A meeting of those interested in organizing the new club was announced at the West Hotel.

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