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Curt Brown

Reporter | Minnesota History
Recent content from Curt Brown
The Battle of Trafalgar was painted around 1900 by Scottish artist James Kay. It was donated to the University of Minnesota in 1996 by businessman Rod

The old painting and the U and the owner of the Thunderbird Hotel

A painting in Burton Hall of the British battleship HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar was donated by the late Rodney Wallace. But where did he get it?
Morris Rudensky spent his early years as a criminal and inmate. He knew the likes of Al Capone and other gangsters, but after a stint in prison, he fo

Safecracking gangster turned things around in St. Paul

After spending the first half of his life in crime, including with Al Capone, Morris "Red" Rudensky redefined prison reform during his later years.
In this photo from the spring of 1957, John Teresi, left, in his role as umpire, oversaw a YMCA youth program softball game in Golden Valley. Teresi w

St. Patrick's Day plane crash killed group from Minnesota in 1960

Tom Teresi and Mark Kaplan had to be grinning as the sun rose over Minneapolis on March 17, 1960. By nightfall, sorrow would shadow the…
“I think I can proudly say that I played my part in awakening that region to the appreciation of good music, and in making Minneapolis the center of

Music lover is unsung hero of Minneapolis

Between her time on the stages of Europe and as a voice instructor at Juilliard in New York, Anna Schoen-René spent 16 years in Minneapolis.
Little is known about the life of St. Paul barber Maurice Jernigan, save for his bold effort to demand equal treatment for himself and his fellow blac

Obscure St. Paul barber took a stand for racial equality

Maurice Jernigan asked early Minnesota legislators to remove just one word from the state Constitution: white.
Al Sieber’s life as an Army scout inspired film characters based on his life: Charlton Heston’s Ed Bannon in “Arrowhead” (1953); John McIntire

From Gettysburg to Geronimo, Minnesotan Albert Sieber led a Wild West movie-worthy life

His story arced from his days as an early Minneapolis cop, lumberman, teamster and wounded Civil War soldier to an Army scout in the Arizona Territory of the late 1800s.
The St. Olaf Band traveled the western coast of Norway aboard the 800-ton luxury boat the Andenaes in 1906.

St. Olaf College band sailed into history on notable 1906 Norway tour

In the summer of 1906, 48 members of the St. Olaf College band sailed into history. Playing 26 concerts in Norway that July, the all-male…
A.J. Rockne shares the record for the longest tenure in the Minnesota Legislature at 44 years, which included a record 36 years in the state Senate. H

At Capitol, at home, A.J. Rockne was a Depression-era budget hawk

During a Depression-era summer, a state highway patrolman drove Gov. Floyd B. Olson 55 miles south to Zumbrota, Minn. The socialist-leaning governor wanted to talk…
Adelphi Club, circa 1950, with Eva Neal and her husband at center.

Dressmaker Eva Bell Neal recounts growing up black in 1890s St. Paul

Minnesota's entire black population stood at one-third of 1 percent in 1890, when Eva was a toddler. Today, St. Paul is home to nearly 50,000.
Jay C. Hormel, seen here in 1952, blended groundbreaking innovation with a talent for promotion to build his company.

Jay Hormel's amazing (piggy) backstory

Jay Hormel became one of the first Minnesotans to enlist when the U.S. entered the Great War in 1917.
Swede Hollow, seen here in a 1910 photo, began as a Swedish enclave along Phalen Creek, but soon drew other groups.

St. Paul's Swede Hollow evolved as an ethnic patchwork

Razed in 1956 and now a public park, Swede Hollow became home to a revolving cast of poor immigrants on St. Paul's lower East Side.
The Rochester High School class of 1894, with Roy Allis and his shock of dark hair, left, standing above Anna Barnard, reading and wearing the wire-ri

Love letters reveal Minnesota family's old secret

Those letters surfaced in 1975. But the breakthrough that put a face with those words didn't come until 2017.
Hosiah “Hosey” P. Lyght with his wife, Stella, and their children in front of the family’s home in Lutsen, Minn., in about 1940. Lyght grew up i

Hosiah Posey Lyght left racial violence behind for the North Shore

The government was offering a 160-acre parcel near Lutsen, about 100 miles northeast up the shore from Duluth.
Joseph Elsinger, Golden Rule department store founder, was dismissive and worried that $50 million might “harden the heart of man.”

St. Paul residents get asked $50 million question in 1899

The more things change, the more the issues stay the same 120 years later.
Before advances in modern medicine brought dramatic improvement to the care of premature babies, many were relegated to carnival sideshows, like the o

At Wonderland in Minneapolis, preemies were the main attraction

Part freak show, part pioneering neonatal hospital, the brick structure at 31st Avenue S. and 31st Street is all that's left of the amusement park.
Guy Flanagan: Despite the fact that he could not swim, the ensign was instrumental in getting fellow sailors to jump into the burning waters as the US

Mankato ensign's reported death at Pearl Harbor turned out to be wrong

Guy Flanagan was among the last sailors off the USS Arizona, making him luckier than more than 1,100 entombed on the bombed battleship.
Adelbert Goheen was hanged for the murder of Rosetta Bray, whose body was found along some train tracks in Otter Tail County. Goheen maintained his in

Did Otter Tail County hang the right man in 1891?

Two hours before he was hanged, Adelbert Goheen penned a statement, still insisting his brother killed Rosetta Bray.
John “Tooze” Rogers climbed from cash-strapped hotel bellhop in 1880 to own a series of saloons, theaters and an elegant Nicollet Avenue hotel tha

Minneapolis hotel-saloon owner had a big heart, especially around Thanksgiving

John "Tooze" Rogers climbed from cash-strapped hotel bellhop in 1880 to own a series of saloons, theaters and an elegant Nicollet Avenue hotel.
Hy Berman, who died four years ago at age 90, with a portrait of Hubert Humphrey.

Historian Hy Berman was in the thick of Minnesota politics

The new book, "Professor Berman: The Last Lecture of Minnesota's Greatest Public Historian," is full of his delicious insight.
Dr. Martha Ripley established Maternity Hospital for unwed and destitute pregnant women, offering them social support, and also helped care for their

Suffragist, pioneering obstetrician was never silent to injustice

Martha Rogers Ripley didn't arrive in Minnesota until she was 40, but her 28 frenetic years here were frenetic ones.
Mark and Lorraine Hertz honeymooned in Florida in 1944 before he shipped out to serve as a bombardier in World War II. The pair had met as students at

Hope helped Jewish POW endure ordeal in WWII

Despite the squalid conditions, Marcus Hertz knew sticking it out as a prisoner of war was his best chance to get home.
Nick Cullop, left, of the Minneapolis Millers shoot hands with local legend Elmer Ellsworth Foster in 1930.

Minneapolis-born baseball star was a most colorful character

Elmer Ellsworth Foster, who played in the 19th century, is maybe the best Minnesota baseball player you never heard of,
Henry Carlson, above, quit his accounting job in Duluth 100 years ago and rode an early Harley-Davidson motorcycle 1,400 miles to Spokane, Wash., in 1

Pair of Duluth men dropped everything in 1919, hopped a Harley and headed west

At age 21, bookkeeper Henry Carlson got a crazy idea 100 years ago.
Busy St. Paul streets are named for Harwood Iglehart, above,and cousin Charles Mackubin, both from slaveholding families.

New book traces slavery's reach into early Minnesota

It is a complex legacy for a state that prided itself as an anti-slavery bastion and outlawed the practice in its territorial and state constitutions.
Volunteer researcher Carol Kissner helped solve the mystery of a broken headstone at Eden Prairie Cemetery. It turns out, it belonged to a soldier who

Tireless volunteer unravels graveyard mystery in Eden Prairie

Some people play pickleball when they retire. Others knit or play cribbage. Carol Kissner had a different idea. She became a volunteer cemetery sleuth, poking…
John Leslie and Jean Savage The couple were married in 1929, after exchanging dozens of ardent letters. Their granddaughter recently rediscovered a tr

Letters from 1927 an echo from lost era of communication

Handwritten during a couple's courtship, the 100-plus letters were laced with their beliefs, passions and dreams.
Nurses Elizabeth Gearson, left, and Beda Danielson prepared food trays in the Swedish Hospital’s diet kitchen, 1902.

Low-profile HCMC museum holds medical gems

It’s a museum hiding in plain sight. Take the elevator down from the chaotic lobby to the basement of Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown…
Engla Schey devoted her life to reforming state hospitals as an attendant in the 1940s. Her father had entered Fergus Falls State Hospital, setting th

Minnesota state hospital worker used angel's touch to bring reforms

Engla Schey was determined to make life better for 10,000 Minnesotans locked in seven state institutions in the 1940s.
Dorothy Swenson, right, with Victors teammate Jan Norton Berkland in July 1952. The team enjoyed great success.

Softball, Sears filled Dorothy Swenson's active, lively life

Until her retirement in 1987, she spent nearly 45 years as a cog in that giant Sears retail machine, taking her frustration out on the field.
A Sonnen has worked at the pet store for the past 88 years. The business actually started in 1892, and its continuous operation makes it one of downto

Downtown St. Paul pet store is one for the ages

Sonnen's Pet Shop oozes history at 408 St. Peter St. in the Hamm Building.
Myrtle Cain 1894-1980
This is from 1923, just after her election, along with three other women, as the first of their gender to be seated in the Legis

Trailblazing legislator fought fiercely for equality

Not surprisingly, Myrtle Cain's dark brown hair had gone gray. After all, she'd been waiting 50 years for this moment.Now 78, she sat in the…
After becoming the first woman elected school superintendent in Mower County, Gertrude Ellis Skinner continued her trailblazing work to become co-edit

Gertrude Ellis Skinner, trailblazing educator and editor, honored by Austin

When her southern Minnesota hometown came calling in 1890, she faced a career quandary rare for women of the era.
Clarence Penaz was stationed aboard a “tin can” destroyer in World War II. “The job of the destroyers was to go in harm’s way,” he said, “

World War II Navy veteran survived a kamikaze attack

"I was one of the lucky ones," Clarence Penaz said of the day when 19 sailors died and more than a dozen were injured.
Kathy Krotz Finn still flies the vintage 1940s Piper Cub her family used to shuttle anglers to their resort.

Grand Marais' first fly-in resort is just part of this family's high-flying legacy Up North

Clarence Krotz's postwar dream was lofty. And then his family took off as well.
This 1890 image of Mary Colter, as displayed in the book “Mary Colter, Architect of the Southwest,” was painted by her art teacher, Arthur Mathews

St. Paul architect Mary Colter 'ahead of her time'

It's the 150th anniversary of the birth of "one of the world's best-known unknown architects."
George Engesser 1889-1962
George Engesser, right, stayed off the circus road one summer in the early 1900s to help his father make bricks for a new ho

Minnesota History: Recalling St. Peter's circus couple with elephant at grave

Something quirky caught William Pedersen's eye as he pedaled past Greenhill Cemetery during a bike ride along Sunrise Drive in his hometown of St. Peter,…
In August 1991, a march and rally was held at Minneapolis City Hall in response to attacks against gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Rick Simon, left,

Minneapolis murders in 1990s targeted gays

Six months of heightened fear and friction between cops and the gay community followed.
In 2003, Raspberry Princess Beth Williams and Raspberry Queen Renee Drinkwine of the Hopkins Raspberry Festival greeted their fans during the Torchlig

Passion for the past shines in Hopkins and Waverly

They lead the way with upcoming nostalgic celebrations.
Cass County Attorney Ed Rogers in the 1960s

The remarkable life of Ed Rogers, Ojibwe and Cass County leader

Growing up, Greg Larson knew little about his grandfather Ed Rogers’ vast accomplishments. How could he? “He hardly ever talked,” Larson, 72, recalled from his…
U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, second from left, in 1928 in Cuba. His wife, Grace, is at right, with Cuban President Gen. Gerardo Machado y Morales.

Rare-stamp auction recalls Calvin Coolidge event in Minnesota

Two 100-stamp sheets of Coolidge-signed 2-cent and 5-cent stamps will be auctioned off Tuesday.
From the left, Elsa Robinson, Lela El Fundi, and Evie Tanner, all of Duluth, reflected during the Clayton Jackson McGhie Lynching Memorial unveiling i

Vigilante injustice killed 3 in Duluth nearly 100 years ago

It was an appalling prelude of things to come 25 years later and 150 miles to the north. Early on June 2, 1895, a 15-year-old…
Vera Johansen 1911-2008
Vera Johansen popped popcorn in Northfield’s Bridge Square starting 40 years ago after husband died and, in the process, bec

Vera Johansen's popcorn wagon became a Northfield landmark

The rat-a-tat sound of popcorn popping punctuated the farm kitchen of Lewis and Vera Johansen near Coulter, Iowa."Dad loved his popcorn," said Jeanine Landswerk, 82,…
Thomas Montgomery emerges as one of the memorable characters in “The Children of Lincoln” by William Green (University of Minnesota Press, 2018),

Civil War's veteran's letters show paradox

More than 150 of Thomas Montgomery's dispatches have been digitized on the Minnesota Historical Society's website.
Minneapolis undertaker and furniture salesman Joseph Brown kept two World War I journals as a mortar man. Photos courtesy of Paul Brown, his son.

Minneapolis doughboy kept diary, poems during WWI

Joseph Brown juggled two jobs in the early-1900s: undertaker and furniture salesman. A licensed embalmer, Brown studied mortuary science at the University of Minnesota —…
Herb Schaper, creator of the Cootie game, got the idea for it while carving fishing lures. When he deployed plastic in the manufacturing process, his

Robbinsdale toy innovator Herb Schaper gave the world Cooties

"It's pretty simple," Schaper said in 1953. "Everybody who sees it asks 'Why didn't I think of that?' "
Rose Totino’s pizza persuaded bankers to give her a loan to open Totino’s Italian Kitchen. In 1975, she sold her frozen pizza business to Pillsbur

Rose Totino brought pizza to masses: 'Money never changed her'

A 4-foot-11 dynamo, Rose learned about pizza from her dad's relatives in Pennsylvania and started serving it to friends and at church meetings.
Justine Kerfoot, above left, and a friend showed off a huge catch of trout in a photo from the 1920s or ’30s. Far left, Kerfoot in a Star Tribune ph

'She lived her life like age and gender didn't matter': North Woods icon started out as just a 'city girl'

Justine Kerfoot spent 60-plus years fixing plumbing, snowshoeing, welcoming visitors, servicing vehicles, guiding fishermen, building furniture, hunting moose, trapping mink, mushing sled dogs and writing about the woods and lakes in newspaper columns and books.
Eloise Butler spent 37 years teaching history and botany, mostly at South and Central high schools.

Botanist Eloise Butler left a living legacy at Theodore Wirth Regional Park

Both of Butler's parents had been teachers in Maine, and teaching was about her only option in the late 1800s.
William Rose was shaved and photographed the day before he was hanged in Redwood County in 1891. He steadfastly professed his innocence in the shootin

Questions still shadow 1891 hanging in Redwood County

Nearly 130 years later, Patricia Lubeck won't let William Rose's case rest.
Marian Le Sueur addressed the Democratic-Farmer-Labor convention in 1948 with convention chairman Paul Tinge at her side. She was the vice chairwoman

Early DFL leader Marian Le Sueur was feminist, educator and socialist firebrand

Seventy-five years after the merger that formed the modern DFL, several men are credited as architects. But it wasn't an all-boys network.
Lt. Charles Woehrle, standing second from right, with bunkmates at Stalag VIIA near Moosburg, Germany, where they were sent toward the end of WWII.

Watch brought timely hope to Minnesota POW during WWII

It's the subject of a film that premieres this month at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival.
Melissa Smith, with her son, Eugene and husband, 2nd Lt. DeWitt Clinton Smith. Melissa became the state librarian, a post her husband had held previou

Two Civil War widows became pioneering librarians

Pay equity for women probably wasn’t a burning issue in 1865 for Louisa Goodwin. The 33-year-old widow from Owatonna lost her husband, 2nd Lt. James…
Carlos Ellis raced cars and motorcycles in Rochester’s early auto era, when he wasn’t chauffeuring Dr. Charlie Mayo from 1907 to 1918.

Mayo chauffeur had front-seat view of history

A part-time bank clerk at 16, Carlos Ellis became a Rochester race-car driver and Dr. Charlie Mayo's chaffeur.
Albin Johnson was the target of a widespread manhunt, with an award offered by the Pinkerton detective agency after his wife and seven children were f

Minnesota family's 1933 slaying is still unsolved

The deaths of Alvira Lundeen Johnson and her seven children are the topic of a new book.
Lawrence E. LaLonde, seen in 2010

'I was not a patriot': Iron Range WWII vet reflects on his enlistment, life

Larry LaLonde's stories provide an unvarnished history.
Married for 58 years, Tolly and Betty Kizilos forged impressive careers at Honeywell in the 1960s and later delved into Christian activism.

He was from Greece, she was from Ely and together they added up

There are power couples, and then there are brainpower couples such as Apostolos Kizilos and his late wife, Betty Ahola Kizilos.
Harriet Scott, along with her husband, Dred, were at the center of an infamous 1857 Supreme Court case that helped precipitate the Civil War. The cour

Harriet Scott played her own pivotal role in landmark 1857 Supreme Court case

The ruling, denying rights to free and enslaved black people, is widely considered among the triggers that sparked the Civil War.
Lydia Torry, with a harp her husband made for her, lived for more than 50 years on Kubel Island in what became Voyageurs National Park.

Finnish émigré made Minnesota island her home

Kubel Island is one of the rocky outcrops dotting the lakes way Up North along the Canadian border in what became Voyageurs National Park.
Airship inventor Ferdinand von Zeppelin, touting a rifle, explored northern Minnesota by canoe before making his first balloon ascent in St. Paul in 1

Balloon ride over St. Paul fueled Count Zeppelin's dream

Considered the father of so-called rigid dirigibles, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin at age 25 made his first flight above downtown St. Paul.
Global ambassadors: This 1957 Plainview basketball team photo shows three Peace Corps pioneers from the area: Phil Mahle (second row; second from left

Four from Plainview, Minn., served as Peace Corps pioneers in early 1960s

They defied the odds: Nearly 60,000 people applied to join, but only 3,000 were selected and dispatched abroad.
Elizabeth Hughes was on hand on July 31, 1994, for the dedication of a monument at Fort Snelling National Cemetery honoring women who have served in t

The first Duluth woman to answer the call in WWII

Elizabeth Hughes enlisted right after President Franklin Roosevelt created WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).
The Rev. Malchior Falk Gjertsen, photographed circa 1870, enjoyed a long career as an influential pastor and Minneapolis school board member, but a 19

Steamy love letter tarnished the legacy of a late-1800s Minneapolis pastor

The Rev. Malchior Falk Gjertsen became ensnared in a scandal that would cleave his congregation and cloud his legacy of good deeds.
Railroad porter John Blair, second from right, posed about 1895 with other crew members in front of their locomotive that was caught in the vortex of

Train porter risked his life to save others during deadly Hinckley fire of 1894

The death toll, far greater than the Chicago fire 23 years earlier, would have been even worse without John Blair's calm heroics.
From unlikely beginnings, George Wandzel became a celebrated chef, first at the Nicollet Hotel and later at the Hollywood-chic Blue Horse in St. Paul,

Minnesota history reveals an unlikely culinary climb to fame

Built with thick stones in the late 1800s, the Red Wing reformatory provides the setting for an obscure Bob Dylan song — first performed in…
A portrait of Hector Skifter, who in 1922 launched the first broadcast on WCAL, the St. Olaf College radio station, which operated for 82 years. It wa

St. Olaf tinkerer went on to radio, military breakthroughs

On the first day of 1924, a little St. Olaf College radio station broadcast New Year’s greetings in 19 languages. WCAL’s feel-good message from Northfield,…
Woodbine 1887- The octagonal home in North St. Paul is the last eight-sided house in Ramsey County. The shape, popular in the 1850s, was thought to of

Story of 1887 North St. Paul house has eight sides

The discovery of a fading image kindled a 15-year plunge into the history of Ramsey County's last eight-sided house.
Lillian Yates, shown in her Waseca studio in the 1880s, holds a copy of “Photographer Review.” She and her sister Margaret ran their own shop, a r

Minnesota sisters were photography pioneers

Lillian and Margaret Yates plied their trade in Waseca, Waterville and later Worthington.
DFL pioneer Theodor Slen, left, discussed merging the Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties with national Democratic Party honcho Oscar Ewing at a fundr

Theodor Slen helped bring Democrats, Farmer-Labor together in 1944

Alvhild Sherve of Northfield, 91, is a living link to a largely forgotten but quietly influential pioneer of progressive politics in Minnesota.
After being mistakenly declared dead after the Pearl Harbor attack and serving nearly 20 years in the Navy, Herbert Brand returned to Wanda to work at

A Pearl Harbor nightmare turned miracle for tiny Wanda, Minn.

Herbert and Nicholas Brand, both crew members on the warship U.S.S. California, were left for dead after the attack. Except they weren't.
Genevieve “Gene” Ritchie Monahan’s painting of grain elevators in her hometown of Duluth.

Gene Ritchie Monahan made mark in New York art world, but called Rainy Lake home

She opened an art colony and caught the attention of renowned nature writer Sigurd Olson.
Wilhelm Muelbe and Fred Keller, from a 1927 Minneapolis Daily Star clipping, with the French horn abandoned by Muelbe and recovered by Keller during f

Once World War I enemies, Minneapolis musicians shared bond over French horn left on battlefield

Wilhelm Muelbe and Fred Keller fought and played in military bands on opposite sides of World War I a century ago.
Albert Cassidy 1883-1960 World War I courier Al Cassidy with his “Own Darling Sweetheart” Marie and their first three children just after the war

Minnesota history: St. Paul army courier 'affected the entire course' of WWI

Al Cassidy, a St. Paul candy salesman in the 1920s, played a sweet but little-known role in world history.
Ralph Sylvester Mayer, with his son Noel, around 1908, was among the soldiers who went to war at the end of the 19th century in Cuba and the Philippin

From war to whiskey, St. Paul 'scallywag' Ralph S. Mayer played varied roles

Mayer, who died in 1949, sported all sorts of hats in his 70 years in St. Paul.
A cartoon depicting women conservationists who fought the logging industry appeared in the Courant in January 1902.

Remembering two women who helped save Minnesota forests

Florence Bramhall and Maria Louise Sanford came together in the early 1900s to preserve what is now known as the Chippewa National Forest.
Wayne Brabender took an improbable journey from the soybean fields of west-central Minnesota in the 1960s to Spanish national fame as a two-time Olymp

A basketball star's journey, from Milan (Minn.) to Madrid

Wayne Brabender is the greatest Minnesota basketball player you've never heard of.