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Posts about Minnesota newsmakers

July 16, 1914: Lake Harriet queen candidate aims for 3rd place

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: July 21, 2014 - 10:27 PM
In 1914, the Lake Harriet Commercial Club – “an organization that does things” – held a midsummer jubilee to celebrate the club’s success and raise money to pay down debt on its new building at 2718 W. 43rd St., Minneapolis. A “vote contest” was held to select a jubilee queen. Three prizes were offered: a diamond ring for the winner, a trip to Niagara Falls for second place and a fully equipped canoe for third. Fifteen-year-old Mercedes Isabelle Nolan, who lived a few blocks from the club, coveted only the canoe. She entered the contest and campaigned vigorously … for third place. Her father, William I. Nolan, a state legislator and future congressman, must have been mystified by her political instincts.

From the Minneapolis Tribune:

She Wants That Canoe

Miss Mercedes Nolan After Third Prize in Harriet Club’s Queen Contest.
  Mercedes Nolan in 1914
Miss Mercedes Nolan, one of the eight daughters of W.I. Nolan, the Forty-third district legislator, is out for the third prize in the “queen” contest of the Lake Harriet Commercial club’s midsummer jubilee. Miss Nolan doesn’t care for the first prize or the second; she is going to campaign for the third, which is a canoe with all the equipments that a well-appointed canoe should have.
The diamond ring and the trip to Niagara Falls, the first two prizes, tempt her not at all. If she should run strong in the race so as to be uncomfortably close to the top she will have to strive to get her vote down to keep in the neighborhood of that canoe. Miss Nolan is an expert canoeist, and she is going to paddle hard between now and Aug. 3, when the jubilee week opens.
There are now four entrants in the “queen” contest. Mrs. A.C. Wakefield of 4308 Alden drive has entered and threatens to make all the unmarried contestants do some speeding. The other two entrants are not to be announced yet, as they have not turned in any votes, but they are understood to be ready to break in with a large number to their credit.
In early returns – the voting method is unclear, but it appears that a penny had to accompany each vote submitted to the club – Miss Nolan was in third place. But as more women jumped into the fray, she fell behind and in the end finished seventh. Esther Mackey won the diamond ring, Artha Anderson won the trip and Anna Giroux paddled off with the canoe.

But the “vote contest” story was neither the first nor the last time that Mercedes Nolan’s name appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune. The previous summer, she played the role of a “feminine negro servant character” in a well-received church production of “A Virginia Heroine,” a three-act comedy drama, at the Lake Harriet Commercial Club. In November 1914, she displayed quick thinking and bravery when a fire raced through the family home, 2014 W. 40th St. “Groping through the smoke,” the Tribune reported in a page one story, Nolan carried her 3-year-old sister Patty to safety, then returned and alerted another sister to the fire.

After graduating from West High, newspaper records show, Nolan worked at two banks and served on the State Bonus Board in St. Paul. In January 1920, she landed a job as booking agent for the Midland Lyceum bureau in Des Moines. Later that year, I’m sorry to report, she and two friends were killed in a car accident near Excelsior. The driver of the small roadster was unable to negotiate a tight turn on a Minneapolis & St. Louis railroad trestle. The vehicle plunged through a railing and fell bottom-side up on the road below. “Besides her father,” the Tribune’s account of the accident concluded, “Miss Nolan is survived by her mother and seven sisters, of which she was second oldest. The sisters are Genevieve, Agnes, Edwina, Wilhelmina, Theodora, Germaine and Patty.”  

June 28, 1964: Minnehaha Falls pumped up for LBJ visit

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: June 26, 2014 - 4:39 PM
Barack Obama isn't the first U.S. president to visit Minnehaha Falls. The falls were barely a trickle the week before President Lyndon Johnson visited the Twin Cities in June 1964. His itinerary included a brief stop at the falls, prompting the Minneapolis  Park Board to arrange for water to be pumped into the creek and embellish the scene. Here's the resulting Kodak moment, shot by the Tribune's Duane Braley:
LBJ looked unimpressed with the view. If only the Park Board had thought to hire a daredevil kayaker.

June 11, 1941: ‘Health lecturer’ arrested in Minneapolis

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: March 18, 2014 - 7:53 PM
Russell James, described as a “health lecturer” in stories in the Minneapolis Star Journal, was arrested during one of his presentations in 1941. He was accused of claiming that Riddo, a health food product he sold, would cure a variety of ailments.  Riddo, a concoction of powdered bananas and whey, was marketed by California bodybuilder and health food advocate Paul Bragg in the early 1940s. Judging by these photos from the Star Tribune archives, James was probably a bodybuilder himself. His secretary, Ruth Cook, was no couch potato either. Hubba. Hubba.
Ruth Cook and her boss, Russell James, dressed appropriately for court. But photos like this don't sell papers -- or build Web traffic. It went unpublished. (Star Journal photo by Russell Bull)
This photo, also by Russell Bull, ran with the story below, with the caption: "RUSSELL JAMES AND BLOND SECRETARY, RUTH COOK: Will this 'picture of health' convince jury?"

Maybe Juror Can Throw
Pair of Crutches Away

One of the women in the jury of six women and six men to hear charges of practicing healing without a license against Russell James, 50, health lecturer and “Riddo” salesman, hobbled into the jury box on crutches.

According to Reginald M. Johnson, attorney for the state board of medical examiners, James claims his patients are able to throw away their crutches after using “Riddo” and practicing the form of exercises he prescribes in his health lectures.

Johnson will be the first witness called by the state when testimony in James’ trial starts before Judge Mathias Baldwin Monday.

Ernest Malmberg, attorney for James, said the health lecturer will take the stand in his own defense in an attempt to “sell” the jury on “Riddo.” He and his blond secretary, Ruth Cook, above, are shown as they appeared before their audiences in the Wesley Temple basement.

THEY BOUGHT IT: After three hours of deliberations, the Hennepin County District Court jury found James not guilty of practicing healing without a license.
Although it is somewhat less disturbing than the photo above, this one didn't make the paper. Say, what was going on between these two?

Sept. 12, 1966: No rockin' chair for this sprightly elder

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: March 18, 2014 - 5:37 PM
Elizabeth Gilfillan, a native of northern Minnesota, made a delightful appearance on “What’s My Line?” in 1952. Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen and the rest of the panel were charmed by the wit and energy of the 72-year-old contestant. She fooled the lot and earned $15. Her unique line of work: She taught facial exercises to men and women interested in keeping their skin supple and radiant. Fourteen years later, still radiant herself, the New York entertainer was invited to bring her act to Minneapolis. The Star published this profile on 6B, the “Women’s News” page.
Gilfillan, 86, demonstrated one exercise, an exaggerated pout guaranteed to keep lips full and youthful. (Minneapolis Star photo by Russell Bull)

No Ol' Rockin' Chair for This Elder

Minneapolis Star Staff Writer

“The rocking chair goes to and fro.

“And makes you think you're on the go.

“But keep off that ole rocking chair,

“It won't get you anywhere.”

With a toss of her head at the idea of such props for the senior citizen set, an 86-year-old New Yorker sings and dances her way through a new life she created for herself about 20 years ago.

“There's something strange about me,” Elizabeth Gilfillan will tell her audiences, mostly New York women's clubs.

“I'm a woman who doesn't mind telling her age. The older I get, the more valuable I'll be. I can hardly wait until I reach 90. I will do what I do now even better then.”

What Miss Gilfillan does now is an informal act in which she plays the guitar, sings and dances, usually all at once.

And she gives delightful interpretations of humorous verse she has written – “My Eightieth Easter Outfit,” “Who Wants an Old Age Pension,” “No Old Age for Me” and “On Your Rocker.”

These and others were recently published in a book, “Sensible Nonsense.”

In addition to these activities, she also teaches facial exercises, which she developed herself.

She recently completed a visit in Minneapolis with her sister, Mrs. Ernest Meilman, 130 Orlin Av. SE. And she was the guest of honor and entertainer at a luncheon by Mrs. Owen L. Johnson, 3203 E. Calhoun Blvd., who first saw Miss Gilfillan on the television program “What's My Line?” (facial expressions) 14 years ago.

Mrs. Johnson decided this spring to look up Miss Gilfillan and called New York. When the New Yorker said she would be in the Twin Cities in September, Mrs. Johnson made arrangements to meet her.

Miss Gilfillan was born in Minnesota. Her father was a missionary among the Indians in the northern part of the state. She left the state to attend Cornell Medical School, Ithaca, N.Y., and then graduated from the Sergeant School of Physical Education.

“I used to be very shy,” she explained. “I played the piano for a Russian dancing teacher for 46 years. I was beginning to think the job was permanent.

“Then I was asked to give a speech on the school's history. I tried to make it humorous, and I tasted success.”

Miss Gilfillan at the time was 65 years old. “I wanted to entertain so I started preparing myself by taking voice lessons. They say I can be heard two blocks away when I want to be.”

She said she also began exercising to “make myself more presentable.” And she developed facial exercises at this time.

“I had studied at a school of physical training and I felt that if exercises could change the body, it could also change the face.

“As the face ages, the muscles shrink and unsupported skin falls into wrinkles. Exercising the muscles makes them thick again and brings back the original design of the face.”

Miss Gilfillan said she doesn’t claim the exercises perform miracles but most persons can shed 10 to 15 years.

“And if they start in the early 30s, they will never look old.”

She added that another benefit from the exercises is improved circulation which gives the skin color and radiance.

“I teach men too, but they don’t need the exercises. When they get older they look distinguished. Women look extinguished.”

And, she added, “all my pupils are good looking. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother with the exercises.”

June 8, 1944: Luverne’s D-Day

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: June 6, 2013 - 10:43 PM
Many thanks to the Rock County Star Herald for granting permission to post this D-Day column by Al McIntosh, the Luverne, Minn., newspaper editor whose work is featured in Ken Burns’ WWII documentary, “The War”. The column was published on June 8, 1944, two days after the Normandy invasion. [Originally posted here on Sept. 7, 2007; reposting to fix outdated links and coding.]


More Or Less Personal Chaff

When we sleepily stumbled down the hall to answer the clamorously ringing telephone we made a mental note that it was shortly before 3 a.m. We picked up the receiver, thinking it was Sheriff Roberts calling to say that there had been an accident. Instead it was Mrs. Lloyd Long, playing the feminine counterpart role of Paul Revere, saying “Get up, Al, and listen to the radio, the invasion has started.”

  Al McIntosh

Altho we had written in this column several weeks ago that the news would break between midnight and 5 a.m. we still couldn’t believe that the long awaited “D” Day had arrived. We sat by the radio for over an hour listening to the breathtaking announcements of eyewitness observers of the assault.

And then we went back to bed — to lie there for a long time, wide eyed in the darkness — thinking, “What Rock County boys are landing on French soil tonight?”

Please Lord, may this not be another Dieppe.

And so the invasion news came to Luverne, quietly. There were no whistles, no sirens. People got up and automatically turned on their radios to get the biggest news in all the world’s military history. There were no demonstrations — not much was said. The coffee shops were filled almost to standing room as the 10 o’clock news approached, Argus Leader “extras” were grabbed up like hotcakes and eagerly scanned. There were sober faces on the men as they listened to the news but there was a smile of exultation when they heard that the Allied forces had penetrated ten miles inland. One mother dropped in the coffee shop. She shook her head and pushed the cup of coffee, which had been placed in front of her, aside.

“I just want to listen to the radio,” she said. Her boy, by all the odds, was “there.” One didn’t have to be psychic to know what was in her mind – or her heart. The prayer that she was uttering right then as she listened to the announcer was multiplied a thousand times and more in Rock County countless times during the day.

This is no time for any premature rejoicing or cockiness because the coming weeks are going to bring grim news. This struggle is far from over — it has only started — and if anyone thinks that a gain of ten miles means that the next three hundred are going to go as fast or easy he is only an ostrich.

There’s a War Bond Drive starting next Tuesday. Rock County has a big job cut out for it. But Ned Brown, county chairman, is gambling on the patriotism of you Rock Countians. Ned is starting the campaign where the last one left off — without a single meeting of any of the workers.

“I don’t feel like calling a county meeting of the workers,” he said, “that’s asking an awful lot right now when most everybody is busy with their farm work, asking them to take off four hours to come to a meeting.”

Here is the way Ned looks at it — the workers have been thru four previous campaigns — they know their job and what has to be done. There is nothing new he can tell them that they don’t already know. Why should he impose further on these volunteer bond salesmen by taking their time for an organization meeting when they will have to give so much time during the drive?

With a man having so much faith in the people of Rock County we can’t afford to let them down. Just remember this — some of those boys who are battling ahead in France will never “get back” but you’ll get every dollar you invest
“back” and with interest too. It’s “better to buy bonds than to wear them.”

And another thing — the Red Cross has received a terrific quota for surgical dressings. These are needed — and will be needed. Let not any woman in Rock County think that she isn’t needed in this effort. Your help may save a
boy’s life. Need we say more.

Luverne’s Main Street, 1947: “The War” premiered at the restored Palace Theater in September 2007. ( photo)


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