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Len Nachman, left, and Jeff Jerde of the Burnsville Historical Society were delighted by Jeanne Zwart’s loan of a doctor’s buggy.

LIZ ROLFSMEIER , Special to the Star Tribune

Pat and Jeff Jerde worked on the installation of the Burnsville Historical Society exhibit now on display at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center gallery.

Liz Rolfsmeier, Special to the Star Tribune

Taking a peek into Burnsville's attic

  • Article by: LIZ ROLFSMEIERSpecial to the Star Tribune
  • January 4, 2013 - 6:13 PM

Leo Martin grew up on a farm in the 1930s and attended one of Burnsville's one-room schoolhouses. The 81-year-old Burnsville resident milked cows by hand at age 6. For fun in winter, he said, they played cards, skated on Lake Alimagnet or built fires by the sledding hill that they flew down on tin toboggans.

"It was just a bit of bent-up tin," he said, laughing. "It was a lot of hard work back then. We never did have any running water on the farm. We never had much money. But we always had a good time."

Martin -- who still cans beets, sauerkraut, and bread-and-butter pickles, just like his mother did -- was one of those interviewed for "Stories of Burnsville" now showing at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center gallery. The show contains photos, maps, artifacts and videos of oral histories. It runs through Jan. 27.

"These are salt-of-the-earth people that nobody's paid attention to," said Jeff Jerde, a member of the Burnsville Historical Society, which organized the show.

The exhibit also has a portable TV studio so visitors can chat in front of the camera during the day on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

"We have a waiting list of people," said volunteer Len Nachman. So far about 20 people have been interviewed.

Some talked about when Black Dog Lake was crystal clear and ice blocks were cut from it. Some described waking at 3 a.m. to deliver milk. Others recalled the history of Buck Hill or the annexation attempt by Bloomington.

The society is very interested in hearing from new immigrant populations as well, Jerde said. "Going forward is another part of our stories," he said. "We want to get their stories."

Jerde said he hopes to weave interviews and photos together into a Ken Burns-style documentary.

"We're big fans of this," said Chad Roberts, director of the Dakota County Historical Society. "We live in the video age, so why not? What's really cool about this is ... the fact that history isn't 50 years old, it's happening now."

Also on display are poster-size maps and photographs, informative displays, and artifacts like a doctor's buggy, a beauty shop's permanent wave machine, a "cutter" (like a sleigh but smaller), a handheld candle lantern used for skating at night, and an egg weigher. The display also includes one mystery object. If visitors are able to guess what it is, they win a prize.

"What we've really done is taken a first peek into Burnsville's attic," said Jerde. "We've taken out plums."

Nachman said the historical society, which regrouped in 2011 after a long hiatus, is making a big push to use technology. This spring the group went live with a website containing photos, YouTube videos and two books of local history in electronic format. In displays at the current exhibit, QR codes can be scanned to take visitors to online articles.

"This new world of communicating is what we really wanted to do," Nachman said. "This is a whole new world in terms of museum displays. Instead of all the newspaper clippings, it's all digital. Future generations won't have to go through 75 boxes."

Roberts said that for smaller historical organizations like the Burnsville chapter, "digital museums" are cost-effective and "can really be distributed in some interesting ways."

"It's the first time we've been involved with a group working in this digital direction so strongly," he said. "I think they are doing something that a lot of historical societies need to think about doing. I think that's going to be the future."

Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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