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Powerful thunderstorms moved through Minnesota on a steamy Sunday afternoon in July 1890. A huge tornado, later immortalized in a Julius Holm painting, churned across Kohlman Lake, “a little summering place” in what is now Maplewood. At least seven people were killed and dozens injured.
That evening, about 70 miles to the southeast, on Lake Pepin, a much larger tragedy unfolded. A “cyclone” blew in from the west, capsizing a steamer carrying more than 100 passengers and crew up the Mississippi River. A Minneapolis Tribune correspondent who happened to be on the scene told the tale in gripping — if maddeningly chronological — fashion.
[Originally posted in April 2008, this entry was among hundreds that evaporated in a server purge on or about Aug. 1, 2014. Reposting in connection with Curt Brown's excellent piece in the Star Tribune. Thank goodness for archive.org's Wayback Machine.]
In June 1931, Arthur and Edith Lee bought a two-bedroom bungalow at 4600 Columbus Av. in south Minneapolis. The Lees were black; the neighborhood white. Despite threats from the neighborhood association, they moved into the home in July, along with their 6-year-old daughter. A group of neighbors offered to buy the home back for $300 more than the Lees had paid. The family declined.
“Nobody asked me to move out when I was in France fighting in mud and water for this country,” Arthur Lee, a World War I veteran, told the Tribune. “I came out here to make this house my home. I have a right to establish a home.”
In mid-July, thousands assembled nightly at 46th and Columbus in protest, many hurling taunts and rocks at the home. Friends gathered in the Lee home to show their support. Police stood outside, urging the crowds to disperse as tensions rose. On Friday, July 17, an end to the “race row” appeared near. The Tribune reported “definite progress” in negotiations over the sale of the house, and said it appeared Lee would move soon, perhaps within a week. The protests waned, but neighbors continued to pressure the Lees to move. Years later, they finally sold the house and moved to another part of the city, but only after waiting long enough to prove they could not be forced out.
The “Miss L.O. Smith” mentioned near the end of the Tribune’s dramatic account below is Lena Olive Smith, then president of the Minneapolis branch of NAACP. Smith, the first black woman licensed to practice law in Minnesota, advised the Lees through much of the conflict. Before earning her law degree, she had practiced dermatology, studied embalming, owned a hair salon and sold real estate. Ann Juergens, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, wrote about this fascinating civil rights pioneer for the school’s law review in 2001.
[Reposted in November 2014 to note the passing of Pearl Lindstrom, who owned the home for more that 50 years and embraced its recognition as a historic site. Scroll to the end to read a brief interview with her in 2006, the year this was originally posted.]
April 2006 update: 4600 Columbus Av. is now owned by Pearl Lindstrom, 84. She is white. I stopped by to photograph the house and spotted her holding the front storm door open, peering out at the intersection where I stood, camera in hand. I climbed the steps to the house and introduced myself. She said she had learned about the 1931 protests only a few years ago when another man stopped by to take pictures.
Lindstrom and her first husband bought the house from a white family for about $12,800 in 1958. Were there any black families in the neighborhood when she moved in? “None whatsoever,” she said. How about now? “Probably about four,” she said. How about race relations? “There’s no problem,” she said, with a surprised tone that suggested that such a thing would be an impossibility in 2006.
In 1898, the Minneapolis Journal launched a Saturday section for young readers. For the next 15 years, the Journal Junior featured writing and artwork sent in by schoolchildren from Minnesota and surrounding states. The topic for late November 1903 was, of course, Thanksgiving. Top honors went to Helen Margolis and Margaret Harrison of Minneapolis. Helen wrote about an irresistible pudding in her kitchen; Margaret wrote about a live turkey let loose in her living room. Mildly amusing but not worth recounting here. John Knapp, a sixth-grader at Longfellow School, on the other hand, earned an honorable mention for this somewhat disturbing Thanksgiving memory.
An unrelated and uncredited cartoon anchored the front page of the section that week:
The University of Minnesota football team finished with 10-1 record in 1905, good for second place in the Big Nine conference. The team's only defeat: a 16-12 loss to Wisconsin at Northrop Field. Interest in the game was apparently intense. The Minneapolis Journal described the city as "football crazy" that afternoon and published this cartoon on the front page.
The forecast for Armistice Day 1940, as reported in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune dated Nov. 11, gave barely a hint of what was to come that day: “Cloudy, occasional snow, and colder, much colder.”
Many took advantage of the mild holiday weather and made plans to spend the day outdoors. Then came rain … which turned to snow, accompanied by howling wind … and more snow … and then the cold. More than 16 inches of snow fell in Minneapolis, more than 2 feet in other parts of the state. Temperatures dropped from near 60 to the single digits in less than 24 hours. Telegraph and telephone lines went down, cutting off communications and complicating the task of reporting the big story. In the end, 49 people died in the Armistice Day blizzard in Minnesota, many of them duck hunters trapped in remote bottom land along the Mississippi when the blizzard hit.
The Minneapolis Morning Tribune’s “6 A.M. Alarm Clock Edition” of Tuesday, Nov. 12, 1940, provided exhaustive coverage. Here is the lead story, followed by a few of the dozens of storm-related briefs. The photos below appeared in subsequent editions of the Tribune and the Star Journal.
(Originally posted in August 2005.)
Forecast Gives No Hint of Letup; 7 Die as Zero Wave Rides Blizzard
Motor Traffic Paralyzed; Scores of Towns Isolated
Gale Hits Hard at Telegraph and Telephone Services — Auto Mishaps Trap 100 Near New Brighton – Blocked Streets Send Hundreds to Hotels