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

When people parked boats downtown

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 26, 2015 - 12:14 PM

I was looking through a 1960 Life magazine the other day, and paused at an ad for outboard motors.

Scott motors were made by McCulloch, as the fine notes - based in LA, Toronto, and Minneapolis. Which explains the small picture:

Well, well. Everything in that picture is gone, except for Dayton's. On the left side of the picture:

The First Federal, knocked down along with the Woolworth's for the IDS center. I wonder if this was just an ad fantasy, or something that really happened on a summer Friday. It's quitting time! We're off to the lakes. 

What you learn from a bygone donut ad.

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 9, 2015 - 12:08 PM

There’s a bit more history to this picture than you might think. An ad from a 1933 church recipe book:

Who was Langford? Googling around yields this:

L. C. Langford, 79, who invented the frozen malted milk shake 40 years ago, died Thursday after a long illness. Langford, a native of Clarksville, Tenn., expanded a sandwich shop in Mason City, Iowa, into a chain of 129 restaurants before he retired in 1965. Langford devised the frozen malt in the 1930’s, when he had an ice cream shop in downtown Nashville and another on the highway to Gallatin, Tenn.

Langford was 11 when he started his career as a soda jerk after his mother died. Through various jobs he saved $500, and borrowed another $500 to open Langford’s Sandwich Shop in Mason City.

He prospered there before selling out and starting again at Minneapolis in 1921. 

Those stores led to a multi-state chain. As for the claim about the malted milk shake -  I suppose there are some who’ll insist he did, but Wikipedia says:

The use of malted milk powder in milkshakes was popularized in the USA by the Chicago drugstore chain Walgreens. In 1922, Walgreens' employee Ivar "Pop" Coulson made a milkshake by adding two scoops of vanilla ice cream to the standard malted milk drink recipe (milk, chocolate syrup, and malt powder).[ This item, under the name "Horlick's Malted Milk", was featured by the Walgreen drugstore chain as part of a chocolate milk shake, which itself became known as a "malted" or "malt" and became one of the most popular soda-fountain drinks.

That seems to be the consensus, although whether it’s WALGREENS PROPAGANDA or not you decide. In any case, no one remembers Langford's around here. Just as few people seem to recall Mr. Donut. 

ART Why did “Jupiter Ascending” fail? It’s your fault for not trusting imaginative fresh material that’s not a sequel. Here’s a quote in Variety:

“Audiences are kind of reticent to take a chance on something they don’t know or understand,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “They marketed the heck out of this movie, and it was still tough to bring people through the door.”

First of all, reticent does not mean hesitant. It means unwilling to unload what you're thinking. Second, as far as the audience’s unwillingness to see something they don’t know: “Guardians of the Galaxy” wasn’t exactly full of time-tested characters. It just looked fun. “Jupiter” looked stupid, and saying that something is from the directors of the “Matrix” is like saying it’s “From the Mind of George Lucas.” It’s a warning label. He goes on:

Where are the fresh visions of distant worlds and futuristic conflicts to inspire the next George Lucas or Steven Spielberg? Younger audiences are already abandoning the theater in favor of videogames and mobile devices. Nostalgia for an era of popcorn films they didn’t grow up with is unlikely to lure them back.

Except that “Guardians” was a fine example of a popcorn movie with humor and intelligence. And the reason they’re abandoning theater in favor of games is because the storytelling and situations are often more immersive than movies.

“Jupiter Ascending” may have crashed and burned, but at least it tried to soar on the strength of its own originality and daring. Its failure makes it harder for other filmmakers to get a chance to take similar risks. In this climate, would “The Matrix” ever have gotten made?

I don’t know. But the lesson isn’t support visionaries who manage to convince studies to gives them millions of dollars even though their last four films have been noisy soulless disappointments. The lesson isn’t support movies because the marketing budget are big. The lesson is make better movies. This just looks like a guy with elf ears trying to save a woman whose entire face has been novacained.

WOOF Meet the Turnspit Dogs - canines especially bred to walk on a treadmill and turn a spit over a fire. In case you’re curious:

The Latin name for the Turnspit Dog is the Vernepator Cur; the scientific name is Canis vertigus, which means “dizzy dog”.

VotD Coming through.

Lost Bars of Hennepin

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 2, 2015 - 12:10 PM

​Interesting piece at MinnPost on the collision of preservationists and urbanists in Dinkytown. I think it was a mistake to turn down the hotel proposal; the building it would have replaced was nothing special. But the larger point about saving the neighborhood’s character by keeping enough of the undistinguished old commercial structures is valid; at a certain point, you’ve lost everything that made Dinkytown what it was. But then you have to ask whether a neighborhood is ever settled, and whether we’re freezing it at an arbitrary moment. The Dinkytown of yore - Dylan was here! - is irrelevant to most modern occupants, and it might be nostalgia for its post-war / pre-00s days that keeps it from being something more to its current residents. BUT its current residents are transitory; should the neighborhood be sacrificed to accommodate people who pass through in four years and move on? And so on.

Which brings us to this all picture.

It’s about nine inches long. Scanned at 600 dpi, it yields all sorts of bygone information. Signs like this would be revered today; back then, they were Blight.

Back then the area was filled with transients, and no doubt places like the Hub were rather . . . fragrant. The windows seem designed so you couldn't see in side, and if you were huddled indoors over a Gluek, all you could see of the outside world was the big blue sky.  If you needed something to soak up the hooch, there was Han's  next door:

If any of this had survived to the present day,  no one dare tear it down. The buildings might be integrated into larger structures. But tear it down they did, and it took decades for the area to recover. 

Billboards were blight, too:

I'd still take that over a parking lot. Regular meals! At all hours!

So the preservations have a point. If most of the buildings on that block had been torn down, the street would have lost its character, and while it was ratty and down-at-the-mouth, it could have been reclaimed. In the end we got housing and Whole Foods, and the area is revived. But nothing at all like it was. But the urbanists have a point as well; left alone the block would have been a dump that dragged everything else down with it. There has to be a way to save the street and build up the blocks, and if that means landmarking two corners of Dinkytown and letting the others change, everyone's unhappy and everyone's served. 

The other Bonnie and Clyde

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: December 10, 2014 - 3:22 PM

A reader sent this along:

 In case you’re wondering if the church is still around, of course it is. Most are. Here it is:

It's an interesting place inside - almost a time capsule untroubled by modernization. It has a homeless shelter in the basement, with a kitchen that serves meals to anyone who shows up. More on its mission here, if you're interested. 

Anyway: the note said the ads were interesting, and that’s true. More so than the recipes. It’s the usual - Pig Aspic, Cream of Acorn Soup, the usual stuff from the era before food got interesting. I’ll be posting some ads now and then, for a few reasons: everything mentioned in the book is gone, but many of the addresses remain. The neutron bomb known as “Time” eliminated all the animate matter, and it was all so long ago that the grandchildren have probably thrown out the photos and receipts and scraps left behind by the business owners. The book has a date “1933” written on the inside cover, but the graphic style is still stuck in the 20s. And that’s the real 20s, not the Gatsby-Deco style some people believe was the look of the decade. This was typical:

The Electric Laundry! Your clothes will be shocked into cleanliness. The Transportation Brotherhoods National Bank opened in 1922 and printed money for nine years; they could do that back then. 

Also of note in the cookbook: some recipes cut out by the owner from a newspaper. It was the other side that got my attention:

SMALL TOWN GIRL WHO TURNED GUN MOLL.  Here's where Wikipedia comes in handy. Cue the banjos:

Bennie (Born Topeka, Kansas, died April 6, 1939) and (Estelle?) Stella Dickson (née Redenbaugh) (August 25 Topeka, Kansas, 1922 – 1995 in Missouri) were Depression-era outlaws and bank robbers in the United States. They successfully stole over US $50,000 in an eight-month period from August 1938 to April 1939.

A husband and wife team in the style of Bonnie and Clyde, Bennie Dickson and his newlywed wife "Sure Shot" Stella began their criminal career on Stella's 16th birthday by robbing a bank in Elkton, South Dakota of $2,174 on August 25, 1938. Two months later, they stole $47,233 in cash and bonds from a bank in Brookings, South Dakota on October 31. Although tracked by police to a tourist campground in Topeka, Kansas, the Dicksons were able to escape after a brief gunfight when officers attempted to arrest them on November 24.

Separated during the escape, Bennie drove his car to South Clinton, Iowa, and after stealing another car, doubled back to Topeka to meet Stella at a rendezvous on November 25. Traveling to Michigan, several attempts over the next few days were made by authorities to capture them, including one incident in which Stella shot the tires out on a pursuing patrol car (earning her the moniker "Sure Shot" Stella).

After taking three men hostage, Bennie and Stella were able to steal getaway cars in Michigan and Indiana, later eluding police on the countryside backroads. Shortly after arriving in St. Louis, Bennie was shot and killed by arresting FBI agents while at a hamburger stand on April 6, 1939, with Stella being arrested in Kansas City the following day.

Taken back to South Dakota to stand trial, Stella was convicted of two federal counts of bank robbery and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Stella Dickson remained behind bars until she was 26. She later lived in Raytown, Missouri., where she worked as a grocery store clerk and was married several times.

She died of emphysema at age 72, in 1995.

Much more here - seems Benny's family had a cabin Lake Benton. A 1939 Liberty Mag story here, with a picture of Stella. By the way, the first link has this assertion: " Descendants of Benny, who died at the age of 27, contend he was railroaded into crime. The couple were victims of the FBI public relations machine in the 1930s that ignored organized crime, instead focusing on small-time crooks the federal agents knew they could capture, a biographer of the Dicksons said."

It would seem difficult to railroad someone into robbing banks at gunpoint.

Happy Birthday, Peg Lynch

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: November 25, 2014 - 3:30 PM

A train compartment out east, many years ago. Two Minnesotans sitting across from each other, one behind a newspaper. She thinks: is it him?

It’s possible he’d caught a glimpse of her and wondered: is that her? After all, she’d been in the papers. She had a sitcom on TV for three years.

“I thought, well, that’s him,” she said, recounting the meeting last year. “That’s Lindbergh. So when I got up to go I just had to say something, you know, and he looked at me and smiled, and I said, ‘How was your flight?’”

She rolls her eyes and laughs, but it’s just the thing one of her characters would have said - flustered, a bit forward, then knocking herself afterwards for such an obvious remark.

You know Lindbergh. The woman? Well, let’s back up a bit.

Her radio career started in Albert Lea, writing ads. She started to frame the pitches as a conversation between a husband and wife. Ordinary folk, chatting like a million other couples who knew each other inside and out. If the voice on the air sounded like someone you knew, that was her gift as an actress; if the copy made you want to buy something, that was her skill as a writer. Somewhere along the line, between doing ads in Albert Lea and writing comedy for radio, she invented the sitcom.

It’s time we give a hand to Peg Lynch, a pioneer of the airwaves who deserves to be considered as one of the most marvelous talents who got her start in this state.

She doesn’t live here now, but we can make the case to claim her as one of us. U of M grad. Her mother was a Mayo nurse - personal nurse to Dr. Charles Mayo, as it happened. If the name isn’t immediately familiar, you can blame the historians of TV and radio’s golden age; they’re all about Lucy and Jack Benny, neither of whom wrote their own stuff like Peg. Or you could blame a WCCO programmer who passed on her show in 1958.

I’m not saying that still rankles, but when you introduce yourself as a Minnesotan and she brings up ‘CCO’s decision 56 years after the fact, you suspect it rankled. As it should have.

When I first discovered her work last year I did something you can’t do with most of the giants of old radio: I called her up. I expected a frail voice - she was 97, after all - but I got a robust Hello? I apologized for the intrusion.

“Oh, I’m just watching that movie where Olivia DeHavilland goes crazy," she said. "How can I help you?”

If I wasn’t the first fan who’d called her out of the blue, I felt like it. I got the Full Peg, a flood of anecdotes and recollections. At the end of the conversation she invited me to come out to the Berkshires and stay a while. (“Bring your family!” she said. “We have a whole upstairs. We never use it, we’re old.”) Come the summer I flew out, rented a car, and drove the narrow roads into the woods, and sat down for a few interviews, some of which can be found in the video above.

It hasn’t been Peg’s best year; she landed in the hospital for a spell, and lost her husband of many decades, a former Norwegian WW2 commando later named one of New York City’s most handsome businessmen. But her tireless daughter, Astrid, has not only put up a website celebrating her mother’s work (, of course) she struck a deal with a distributor of old radio shows, and Peg’s brilliant comedy serial has appeared SiriusXM radio. She’s on the air again.

Lindberg, by the way, smiled when Peg asked how his flight had been.

“I made it!” he said.

And so did Peg.

(Here's the site: enjoy.)


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