This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

Posts about Minnesota History

Electrocute your way to robust health

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 21, 2015 - 12:23 PM

Someone should do a survey to see if sales at the liquor stores tick upward when the phrase “Wintry Mix” is spoken by broadcasters in April. Well, don’t despair. You know how some people mitigate the depressing effect of prolonged spring rains by saying “it’s good for the crops”? This weather, MPR instructs us, is good for the lakes. 

Nice to know! Also, absolutely no consolation whatsoever.

HISTORY For no particular reason, some more ads from the 1933 Simpsons Methodist cookbook. Behold a series of unfamiliar medical treatments:

Diathermy heats you up. The Morse Wave Generator is explained here:

Quackery. The Kromeyer Lamp is described here. More quackery.

Another ad reminds you it might be time for your COUNTER-ACTION FACIAL:

The Barnum Building? As far as I can tell, it was named for a local trunk manufacturer. All long gone.

SCAMS Atlantic has a story on door-to-door magazine salesmen. You may not be surprised to find they are not exactly on the level. They used the word “trapped” to describe the participants. They weren’t dragooned or gang-pressed into the job, but it sounds like the worst of indentured servitude without the job security. Ever had a run-in with these crews? I had one guy yell at me for not even wanting to talk about magazines. Not the best sales technique.

Key pull-quote: “When companies parade as something they are not, sell goods that never arrive, and don’t refund the money, it all leads to suspicion of fraud.” That’s getting waaaaay out there, but you know, it could be so.

The Bygone Boiler

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 24, 2015 - 12:09 PM

At Hunt and Gather the other day, this logo plate was sitting on a shelf in the far corner of the basement:

It's beautiful. But what was it attached to? A boiler, perhaps one in a rural school; that seems to have been one of the markets they served. There's not a lot on the internet about the company, save some lawsuits digitized and uploaded to sit unread for the entirely of human history, but archive.org had a pamphlet - and here we begin with some 1930s marketing. TERROR IS STRUCK:

I wonder where that house is. Probably still standing, unless it was in the path of 35W. Here's the couple who are worrying about their obsolete home:

You never see people this worried in ads anymore. Things are generally A-OK in ads. She seems less bothered by the Obsolete Home Problem, though. Perhaps she's going to suggest a Waterbury. An ad from a 40s magazine includes the logo:

But if it was a Minneapolis company, where was it?

Ah, that helps. Wonder what's there today. 


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Well, what do you know. It's not a factory today - it's used for art galleries, as far as I can tell. But next time the Art-O-Whirl takes you there, you'll know why it's named what it's named. 

What's wrong with this picture?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 23, 2015 - 2:52 PM

I try to avoid nostalgia for the sake of lamenting and complaining, because it suggests your brain shut down after you passed 40 and assumed the permanent scowl of someone who views everything with ignorance and contempt. Why can't we take the trolley down to the Gopher theater and talk about Dave Moore? Things were better then.

Well, in some ways, sure.,The Gopher theater was beautiful in its day, but it was a grimy grind-house when I arrived in Mpls to go to the U, and downtown was something you did once or twice a month as a field trip.  Minneapolis and St. Paul lost a lot in the the last three decades, but we're better off, overall. Downtown is better. The riverfront is better. The freeways are better. If you're a light-rail enthusiast, you have two lines and more to come. If you're a sports fan, you may lament the loss of the Met, but c'mon: Target Field. And so on, and so on. Change is a given but improvement is not, and we're not only getting better but gaining recognition by the sources that count the most - surveys and magazine articles, of course.

That said: consider The Weatherball. If the subject makes you scratch your head, consult this account at Forgotten Minnesota, a nifty blog about just that. Watch this jingle:

Now consider this, which I spied at Hunt & Gather Antiques.

It's for a branch office; wonder where it's been all these years. But. What's wrong with this picture? I'll put the answer down below.

Illustrator's cliche: show the reflective nature of a globe by drawing a window mirrored on its surface. Except this was a giant orb atop a tall building. There would have to be a massive, enormous window floating above downtown. 

"House of Cards" found a Minnesota relic

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 13, 2015 - 12:40 PM

Eagle-eyed viewers who watched the season finale of “House of Cards” may have noticed a small scurrying mouse, because that’s what an eagle would be looking for. A human being with a sense of retail history might have been surprised to see this:

That's the original Gambles logo. But - but they’re gone. Aren’t they? Yes, they are - as a chain, anyway. As Wikipedia puts it:

In 1980, Gamble-Skogmo was sold to the Wickes Corporation of California. The purchase was highly leveraged, the combined companies struggled, and in 1982 Wickes filed for bankruptcy. In the subsequent reorganization, the Gamble-Skogmo empire was sold off in pieces or, in the case of Aldens, closed. In 1986, Bert Gamble died. Tempo and Buckeye Mart stores in Ohio and Michigan were sold to Fisher's Big Wheel in the late 1970s, with the remaining Tempo stores transferred to the Rasco Variety Store Division.

Bonus: in ’68 they bought Red Owl. For a while, the company operated out of this building in downtown Minneapolis:

Anyway, they didn’t slap an old brand on an empty store. It’s a real place, and it’s in Vegas.


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VotD If you could bring to life a character many kids know only as a meme, that’d be great.

It’s a wise move, but I don’t think it’ll stop anyone from moving to Slack. Because Slack has “buzz” and Hipchat has a stupid name.

Skogmo, though: that was fun to say, once upon a time.

Looking for ghosts

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 11, 2015 - 12:10 PM

But first, some movie remake news.

 Tim Burton will do a live-action Dumbo. Expect Johnny Depp as a quirky, strange clown who purses his lips and looks out of the corner of his eyes a lot.

You too can get spun up over unnecessarily gendered Ghostbuster franchises! Here’s how. Share with like-minded friends who’ve run short of things to be incensed about.

Big Hero 6 sequel: in the works, it seems. Good. The first was charming, even if it did lean on the Evil Mr. Business trope a bit.

The Alien 5 news is all over the road; first everyone was excited because Neil Blomkamp said he wanted to forget 3 and 4 ever happened, and then he said no, that’s not it exactly. The Mary Sue:

Blomkamp won’t be “undoing” Alien 3 or Alien: Resurrection, but all signs do point to him bringing back at least one character from their untimely demise. At Pensacola Comic Con last weekend, Michael Biehn was allegedly asked by a Reddit user if he planned to join the Alien 5 cast, “to which he replied, ‘Looks like it!’ and smiled.”

Which would be great, because the start of “Alien 3” was stupid and cruel. Nothing like ruining everything you took away from the end of the previous movie.

STREET ART Via Coudal, a site devoted to old urban sign typography gleaned from Shorpy posts. 

Did Minneapolis once look that rich? Sure. But an aerial view of the city hall district shows how much the city had been scrubbed by the 50s. The billboards provide the only color. Here's a detail:

Logo literacy test: what's the one in the middle on the bottom row?

Another detail:

That one can be glimpsed today, if you use your imagination:


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Let's boost the contrast and see how much remains:

Every city is full of ghosts.

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