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Curt Brown

Reporter | Minnesota History
Recent content from Curt Brown
Carlos Ellis raced cars and motorcycles in Rochester’s early auto era, when he wasn’t chauffeuring Dr. Charlie Mayo from 1907 to 1918.

Mayo chauffeur had front-seat view of history

A part-time bank clerk at 16, Carlos Ellis became a Rochester race-car driver and Dr. Charlie Mayo's chaffeur.
Albin Johnson was the target of a widespread manhunt, with an award offered by the Pinkerton detective agency after his wife and seven children were f

Minnesota family's 1933 slaying is still unsolved

The deaths of Alvira Lundeen Johnson and her seven children are the topic of a new book.
Lawrence E. LaLonde, seen in 2010

'I was not a patriot': Iron Range WWII vet reflects on his enlistment, life

Larry LaLonde's stories provide an unvarnished history.
Married for 58 years, Tolly and Betty Kizilos forged impressive careers at Honeywell in the 1960s and later delved into Christian activism.

He was from Greece, she was from Ely and together they added up

There are power couples, and then there are brainpower couples such as Apostolos Kizilos and his late wife, Betty Ahola Kizilos.
Harriet Scott, along with her husband, Dred, were at the center of an infamous 1857 Supreme Court case that helped precipitate the Civil War. The cour

Harriet Scott played her own pivotal role in landmark 1857 Supreme Court case

The ruling, denying rights to free and enslaved black people, is widely considered among the triggers that sparked the Civil War.
Lydia Torry, with a harp her husband made for her, lived for more than 50 years on Kubel Island in what became Voyageurs National Park.

Finnish émigré made Minnesota island her home

Kubel Island is one of the rocky outcrops dotting the lakes way Up North along the Canadian border in what became Voyageurs National Park.
Airship inventor Ferdinand von Zeppelin, touting a rifle, explored northern Minnesota by canoe before making his first balloon ascent in St. Paul in 1

Balloon ride over St. Paul fueled Count Zeppelin's dream

Considered the father of so-called rigid dirigibles, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin at age 25 made his first flight above downtown St. Paul.
Global ambassadors: This 1957 Plainview basketball team photo shows three Peace Corps pioneers from the area: Phil Mahle (second row; second from left

Four from Plainview, Minn., served as Peace Corps pioneers in early 1960s

They defied the odds: Nearly 60,000 people applied to join, but only 3,000 were selected and dispatched abroad.
Elizabeth Hughes was on hand on July 31, 1994, for the dedication of a monument at Fort Snelling National Cemetery honoring women who have served in t

The first Duluth woman to answer the call in WWII

Elizabeth Hughes enlisted right after President Franklin Roosevelt created WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).
The Rev. Malchior Falk Gjertsen, photographed circa 1870, enjoyed a long career as an influential pastor and Minneapolis school board member, but a 19

Steamy love letter tarnished the legacy of a late-1800s Minneapolis pastor

The Rev. Malchior Falk Gjertsen became ensnared in a scandal that would cleave his congregation and cloud his legacy of good deeds.
Railroad porter John Blair, second from right, posed about 1895 with other crew members in front of their locomotive that was caught in the vortex of

Train porter risked his life to save others during deadly Hinckley fire of 1894

The death toll, far greater than the Chicago fire 23 years earlier, would have been even worse without John Blair's calm heroics.
From unlikely beginnings, George Wandzel became a celebrated chef, first at the Nicollet Hotel and later at the Hollywood-chic Blue Horse in St. Paul,

Minnesota history reveals an unlikely culinary climb to fame

Built with thick stones in the late 1800s, the Red Wing reformatory provides the setting for an obscure Bob Dylan song — first performed in…
A portrait of Hector Skifter, who in 1922 launched the first broadcast on WCAL, the St. Olaf College radio station, which operated for 82 years. It wa

St. Olaf tinkerer went on to radio, military breakthroughs

On the first day of 1924, a little St. Olaf College radio station broadcast New Year’s greetings in 19 languages. WCAL’s feel-good message from Northfield,…
Woodbine 1887- The octagonal home in North St. Paul is the last eight-sided house in Ramsey County. The shape, popular in the 1850s, was thought to of

Story of 1887 North St. Paul house has eight sides

The discovery of a fading image kindled a 15-year plunge into the history of Ramsey County's last eight-sided house.
Lillian Yates, shown in her Waseca studio in the 1880s, holds a copy of “Photographer Review.” She and her sister Margaret ran their own shop, a r

Minnesota sisters were photography pioneers

Lillian and Margaret Yates plied their trade in Waseca, Waterville and later Worthington.
DFL pioneer Theodor Slen, left, discussed merging the Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties with national Democratic Party honcho Oscar Ewing at a fundr

Theodor Slen helped bring Democrats, Farmer-Labor together in 1944

Alvhild Sherve of Northfield, 91, is a living link to a largely forgotten but quietly influential pioneer of progressive politics in Minnesota.
After being mistakenly declared dead after the Pearl Harbor attack and serving nearly 20 years in the Navy, Herbert Brand returned to Wanda to work at

A Pearl Harbor nightmare turned miracle for tiny Wanda, Minn.

Herbert and Nicholas Brand, both crew members on the warship U.S.S. California, were left for dead after the attack. Except they weren't.
Genevieve “Gene” Ritchie Monahan’s painting of grain elevators in her hometown of Duluth.

Gene Ritchie Monahan made mark in New York art world, but called Rainy Lake home

She opened an art colony and caught the attention of renowned nature writer Sigurd Olson.
Wilhelm Muelbe and Fred Keller, from a 1927 Minneapolis Daily Star clipping, with the French horn abandoned by Muelbe and recovered by Keller during f

Once World War I enemies, Minneapolis musicians shared bond over French horn left on battlefield

Wilhelm Muelbe and Fred Keller fought and played in military bands on opposite sides of World War I a century ago.
Albert Cassidy 1883-1960 World War I courier Al Cassidy with his “Own Darling Sweetheart” Marie and their first three children just after the war

Minnesota history: St. Paul army courier 'affected the entire course' of WWI

Al Cassidy, a St. Paul candy salesman in the 1920s, played a sweet but little-known role in world history.
Ralph Sylvester Mayer, with his son Noel, around 1908, was among the soldiers who went to war at the end of the 19th century in Cuba and the Philippin

From war to whiskey, St. Paul 'scallywag' Ralph S. Mayer played varied roles

Mayer, who died in 1949, sported all sorts of hats in his 70 years in St. Paul.
A cartoon depicting women conservationists who fought the logging industry appeared in the Courant in January 1902.

Remembering two women who helped save Minnesota forests

Florence Bramhall and Maria Louise Sanford came together in the early 1900s to preserve what is now known as the Chippewa National Forest.
Wayne Brabender took an improbable journey from the soybean fields of west-central Minnesota in the 1960s to Spanish national fame as a two-time Olymp

A basketball star's journey, from Milan (Minn.) to Madrid

Wayne Brabender is the greatest Minnesota basketball player you've never heard of.
Bernie Lieder, shown in 2006, served moonshine in the Depression, served in the Army in WWII and, more recently, served in the Legislature from Crooks

From Dillinger to World War II: Retired Minnesota legislator has witnessed history

Bernie Lieder was the last WWII vet to serve in the Minnesota House.
John Albert Erickson 1874-1963
Erickson, seated at right, with his father Bernt and his sisters, was a longtime night watchman at the Duluth grain ele

Cigar butts spark memories of grandfather, a night watchman in Duluth

The life of a first-generation Norwegian offered few comforts.
Bayer Ross went from stitching clothes as a tailor in Mountain Lake, Minn., to patching wounds as an Army medic on front lines in North Africa, Sicily

Mountain Lake, Minn., tailor shares his WWII memories

Paul Arneson will discuss his book about Bayer Ross next month at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.
Hoofhower cabin New Prague, minn.
Catherine Hoofhower’s 1870s-era cabin was moved in 1956 from Lydia to Memorial Park in New Prague. Later, it was f

New Prague holds on to a vital piece of its past

Writing optimistically in her native German, Catherine Hoofhower poured her heart out in an 1877 letter from her log cabin in Lydia, Minn., to her…
Ruby Cora Webster

St. Cloud State honors first black graduate

She rolled her own cigarettes, played guitar, painted with oils and watercolors and insisted her grandchildren mind their manners and use proper English. “She was…
Edina delegate Ed Schwartzbauer, left, and Minnesota State Chairman Warren Spannaus discussed a problem at the Democratic National Convention in Chica

Edina delegate to Democratic National Convention remembers fateful summer of 1968

Edward Schwartzbauer found himself at the center of mayhem 50 years ago this week.
Wally Orsund's father signed papers that allowed him to enlist in the Navy at 17. While at sea, he often prayed to “let us get them before they get

World War II vet from Aitkin looks back on life aboard USS Alabama

Two years before the Alabama victoriously led the American fleet into Tokyo Bay in 1945, the 45,000-ton ship was anchored off Trondheim, Norway.
France Lafranque was 20 years old in 1918 when her father arranged a tennis match near Bordeaux for her and an American serviceman, Francis Meany, spa

A French-Minnesota connection forged by tennis and war

The friendship is going strong four generations after it was forged by a Minnesota dentist and a French professor's daughter.
Margaret and Joe Meglen were married in 1936 — 21 years after her harrowing immigrant journey from Slovenia to Eveleth in the midst of World War I.

How one woman journeyed from Slovenia to Iron Range — twice

Margaretha Sevshek's immigrant story is tinged with pain and perseverance.
Protesters at Woolworths in St. Paul in 1960 picketed for integrated lunch counters. Racist policies and exclusionary practices — in Minnesota and e

Book, website track history of racist 'sundown towns' in Minnesota, U.S.

Although far from the violent racism that erupted in the South, Minnesota's racial history is punctuated with chilling tales of hate.
Bob Bergstrom Korean War flight crew member Bergstrom — front row, far right — with his B-29 bomber crew during the Korean War. He grew up in Bock

Bock, Minn., veteran carries his war memories back home

While Bob Bergstrom's days are sweet, his nights have been wracked with nightmares from a 1951 bombing mission over North Korea.
Jordan brewery 1866-present A look at a handful of brewery workers from about 1934, only a year after the end of prohibition.

Historic Jordan brewery's future is connected to its rich and colorful past

Built with limestone blocks near hillside cooling caves in the 1860s, the 152-year-old brewery operated until 1949.
Joseph Graham arrived in Eden Prairie around 1870 and spent his last 30 years there.

Freed slave now has a place in Eden Prairie history

Joseph Graham arrived in Eden Prairie around 1870 and spent his last 30 years there.
The Gray Line 1853-PRESENT Amos and Susan Gray, flanked by some of their children and grandchildren, settled in Minnesota near what is now Grays Bay i

Pioneering women helped settle Minnetonka in the 1850s

Talk about a rocky start.Betsey Streeter Chowen was born on a ship in the mid-1790s as her family emigrated across the Atlantic Ocean from England.…
Yoshiko Akamatsu with her son, Toshio, and daughter, Hideko, who turned 6 a month before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The people of St. Paul rallied o

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, St. Paul family was exiled by country, not community

U.S. Secret Service agents seized the family's store as part of a Treasury Department effort to freeze all Japanese funds in the country.
Joseph J. Ollinger

Cop and convict both died in 1911 shootout

Minneapolis cop Joseph Ollinger had an eerie feeling when he headed to his beat on the night of July 15, 1911.
Ossie Bluege as a 1937 Senator.

Ossie Bluege: Important but forgotten figure in Twins history

He just might just be the most influential person in Twins history you've never heard of.
On this Memorial Day weekend, it’s time to lift Carl Knutson, a teacher from Redwood County and fallen WWI Marine, from obscurity.

Marine Cpl. Carl Knutson: Not just another war statistic

His name is among 144 engraved on a bronze tablet listing Minnesota Marines who died in World War I.
Millerville farmer Henry Schecher was involved in a shootout over property ownership that left a neighbor dead. Schecher was later exonerated, but not

Evidence was buried in 1888 murder in Millerville

By the time word of the buried gun finally surfaced, a young, hard-luck, one-armed farmer had been locked up in Stillwater prison for seven years.
Rosalie Butler, a notoriously tough and tenacious St. Paul City Council member, had made her way from a Depression-era orphanage in Indianapolis to St

St. Paul's Rosalie Butler: 'loved, respected, hated, loathed and feared'

In a city known for colorful characters, Butler's rags-to-riches tale still bedazzles 50 years after she finished second in the 1968 mayor's race.
New Ulm pilot 1st Lt. Robert Niemann was shot down over North Korea in 1953 when he was just 25. His remains were never recovered, and his family stil

New Ulm honors a lost fighter pilot and native son

For years, relatives of 1st Lt. Robert Niemann have tried to get answers gnawing questions about just what happened to him.
St. Paul police records document the arrest of gangster Harry Sawyer in the kidnapping of banker Edward Bremer. Sawyer was imprisoned for nearly 20 ye

1928 car bombing that killed St. Paul mob boss 'Dapper Dan' Hogan still unsolved

Bootleggers, gamblers, racketeers and a boxing champ lined up at a St. Paul hospital offering to donate blood to keep "Dapper Dan" Hogan alive on Dec. 4, 1928.
Joseph KillpatricK 1933 - present
In the 1960s, the Honeywell engineer helped develop ring laser gyroscopes (RLGs), which now are used for guidance an

When you land safely, you can thank 85-year-old Joseph Killpatrick

Joseph Killpatrick doesn't fly or build airplanes. But he joined four fliers and an airport operator inducted in the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame at…
A commemorative button honored James Gallagher’s achievement as captain of the first nonstop flight around the globe.

Melrose pilot made aviation history in 1949 as captain of first nonstop flight around the globe

The early Cold War mission was so cloaked in secrecy that reporters weren't told why they were summoned until just before James Gallagher landed.
Robert March saw World War II war crimes trials.

Slayton, Minn., family bookends two world wars

The 1900 census shows Van Buren March working as a house painter and living on Second Street in Slayton, the Murray County seat near the…
Holdingford, Minn., was considered ground zero of the Stearns County moonshine operation, including the remains of this still, slashed with axes durin

Shining a new light on Stearns County moonshine

The childhood flashback struck documentary filmmaker Kelly Nathe as she watched HBO’s Prohibition-in-New Jersey series “Boardwalk Empire” at her home in Los Angeles. Although she…
Daughter of Robbinsdale's founder was a well-to-do-woman serving on Western Front in World War I

Daughter of Robbinsdale's founder was a well-to-do-woman serving on Western Front in World War I

Amy Robbins Ware was born in 1877 in her uncle's art-filled home in Minneapolis. A daughter of privilege, she could have lived a life of leisure like many ladies of her era. But Ware made a name for herself on the trench-pocked battlefields of France during World War I as a Red Cross canteen worker, radio operator and front-line nurse.
Helen Hoover and husband, Adrian, in June 1969. When she was ready to write, Helen Hoover worked like wildfire. “If I’m not ready, it’s blah. No

Writer Helen Hoover found her voice on the Gunflint

They were a quirky couple, both 44, who had ditched their Chicago careers in 1954 to hunker down in a rustic log cabin on Gunflint…
A clerk sorted mail on a Railway Post Office car in Kansas City in 1932. The RPOs, basically moving post offices, began delivering mail in Minnesota i

Moving mail by rail made for fond memories

Noel Beaudette flashes back fondly to his first shift on what he insists was his best job ever — sorting the mail on trains zipping…
The reclusive George Herter was photographed around 1980 on the shores of Lake Superior, with a lake trout.

Celebrating Waseca's outsized outdoorsman and bamboozler

George Herter and a pal once covered their hunting boat with mirrors so ducks wouldn’t see them. It sank from the weight. After growing up…
Ebenezer Hodsdon 1820-1907
This photo sits on Steffanie Musich’s mantel. She’s a Minneapolis Park Board member who lives across the street from La

The tale of old Ebenezer Hodsdon (1820-1907) and his new bicycle

The framed photograph on the mantel shows an older-but-dashing man wearing a derby, three-piece suit and bow tie — the chain from a pocket watch…
A new memorial plaque in Richfield explains how a typo (shown on the original headstone) accidentally sent Union sharpshooter John Dolson’s bones to

Two Minnesotans at war, both teens, were witnesses to history

Two Minnesota teens — separated in life by 60 years, nearly to the day — pulled on military uniforms and soon witnessed two of the…
The house of Henry Hastings Sibley, Minnesota’s first governor. The site’s new manager, Andrew Fox, who studied medieval history at Augsburg Colle

Partnership gives new life to the home of Minnesota's first governor

A 26-year-old is charged with puffing new life into the state's oldest house museum, the 180-year-old Mendota home of Henry Hastings Sibley, the state's first governor.
Very few men survived Operation Tiger, a top-secret practice run for the Normandy invasion that went horribly and tragically wrong. Sgt. Polzin, above

Nazi torpedo couldn't sink Minnesota man

Nazis had just torpedoed Winfred Polzin’s landing ship. “There was an awful jolt,” he recalled recently from a rehab center in Cambridge, Minn., where he’s…

Schulz remembers the early days in Minnesota, before he lived on 'Peanuts'

Approaching his 75th birthday celebration Wednesday, Charles Monroe Schulz could wax nostalgic about growing up as a barber's kid in the Twin Cities. But forget…
In 1895, Joseph Farr sat down with the Pioneer Press, providing one of the most detailed accounts of Minnesota’s Underground Railroad.

Following the tracks of Minnesota's Underground Railroad

Billie Jo Boehmke remembers the hatch door in her sister Jennie’s second-floor bedroom closet. “She kept her shoes there,” Billie said, “but if you moved…
A formal glass-plate portrait of William Duley in his military jacket, probably taken between September 1862 and February 1865.

Image found of soldier who was executioner of 38 Minn. Dakota in 1862

A recently unearthed glass-plate photograph, about 150 years old, puts a new face on a pivotal figure in perhaps early-Minnesota's grimmest moment.
Main Street on the Milford Mine property in 1924, the year the mine was flooded; only seven miners escaped.

Milford mine disaster was state's worst

Fourteen-year-old Frank Hrvatin had quit school to work in one of Minnesota’s mines. That wasn’t unusual in 1924 for the son of Croatian immigrants. But…
While researching a Civil War soldier, Robbie, 12, a student at Mahtomedi Middle School, found his own family tree.

History project about Minnesota Civil War vet hits close to home

It was one of those "Eureka" moments that family-tree buffs crave, but this one connected a Mahtomedi 12-year-old to history.
James Erskine, the Earl of Rosslyn, and Anna Robinson had a short but high-profile marriage.

Minneapolis showgirl Anna Robinson's fairy tale lost its happy ending

The front page of the Minneapolis Journal on March 21, 1905, included a story about a Wayzata man committing suicide “in preference to a lingering…
The Round Tower of Fort Snelling with residential windows, later returned to the original rifle-openings slits.

Round Tower at Fort Snelling was a 'lovely home' to grow up in

Nina Marcum is the last living person who once called Fort Snelling's iconic Round Tower her home.
Jayne Rimer shared the pain of daughter Natasha Weigel’s death with GM CEO Mary Barra when she and husband Ken Rimer went to Washington.

April 2014:GM recall reopens wounds for family of a teen killed in crash

She's faced off against the CEO of General Motors, attended a congressional hearing and filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in Minnesota. Recent weeks have been a whirlwind for Jayne Rimer, more than seven years after her only child was killed in a crash now suddenly linked to a defective ignition switch.
A pumpjack and storage tanks at a nearby oil pad loomed behind Milo Wisness as he helped coral cattle for branding near Keene, N.D.

Life in the Boom: Towns balance new oil wealth, prairie heritage

The oil frenzy has thrust quiet, tiny dots on the map such as Keene, N.D., into cataclysmic change — forever altering the stark landscape and the lives of families whose ancestors settled here generations ago.
Nick Wilz, left, and Ryan Rowland of Target Field grounds crew painted the All Star Game logo, one piece of the preparation.

Minneapolis has its game face ready for All-Star spotlight

Years of planning and work are about to fulfilled as Minneapolis takes advantage of the showcase that is the Midsummer Classic.
Paige McConkey, an advocate with the St. Cloud Police, visits traumatized kids at home to help them feel more at ease.

St. Cloud police reach out to children scarred by trauma

Experts say the mental health of kids and teenagers often falls through the cracks of a system built to handle perpetrators and direct victims of violence.
Glen Taylor has stakes in 80 businesses with 9,000 workers but still finds time to raise animals and do farm chores.

June 29, 2014: From farm boy to billionaire, Taylor steers own course

The Mankato businessman looks forward to the latest addition to his corporate family: the Star Tribune.
Isaac Kolstad

Isaac Kolstad moving out of Mankato hospital to rehab facility

Kolstad, 24, suffered serious brain damage and other injuries during a fight that erupted May 11 after Mankato bars closed.
Whit­ti­er School, which op­ened in 1939 in north Brainerd, faces pos­si­ble dem­o­li­tion. A group of neighbors is try­ing to save it.

75-year-old Brainerd school faces demolition as residents urge city leaders to act

Ac­tiv­ists want city lead­ers to buy the De­pres­sion-era school build­ing for $1. Dem­o­li­tion may cost as much as $225,000.
A pedestrian moved barriers for traffic to get through some dry stretches along flooded areas near Cedar Avenue and Minnehaha Parkway, Friday, June 20

Flood troubles across Minnesota follow mid-June deluge

Gov. Mark Dayton hinted that he might need to call a special legislative session to allocate flood-relief dollars to nearly three dozen counties under a disaster declaration.
A lightrail train on the new Greenline approaches Union Station after the ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open the line Saturday, June 14, 2014,

Green Line trains get the green light, with ribbon-cutting, free rides

After 30 years of talk and $957 million in public money, the area's second light-rail line got off to a soggy start Saturday, connecting the two downtowns, myriad neighborhoods and the University of Minnesota.
Candace Herbert and Mary Beth Doherty, together 20 years, will be getting married today on their land in Trempealeau, Wis.

Wisconsin same-sex marriage ruling sets off rush to the altar

While the state fights to preserve the ban — and reportedly refuses to process any of the new marriage licenses — county clerks are caught in the middle and left to decide on their own whether to allow gay couples to fill out a marriage license.
Frank Warren Preeshl

Obituary: Frank Warren Preeshl, bond salesman, Burnsville school board chairman

Frank Warren Preeshl would hop in his 1951 Ford and drive 50,000 miles a year around Minnesota in the middle of the last century —…
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