For political junkies who have not yet overdosed on the 2016 elections, there’s a fun little nonpartisan exhibit on display at the Hennepin History Museum in Minneapolis.
The exhibit, “Behind the Ballot Box,” hearkens back to simpler, if no less intense, political times.
There’s a big old clothes trunk that Farmer-Laborite Floyd B. Olson used to haul around when he toured the state as governor in the 1930s.
“He gave the trunk to the fellow who maintained his car, who gave it to his niece, who gave it to the museum,” said Jack Kabrud, the museum curator.
And you can see a copy of a menu for a banquet at the Minneapolis Auditorium in 1909 where the guest speaker was President William Howard Taft and the entree was “Poulet à la Minnesota,” also known as chicken.
Check out Mahala Pillsbury’s gown from the 1876 gubernatorial inauguration of her husband, John Sargent Pillsbury, who co-founded the Pillsbury Co. The gown is the first thing you see when you walk into the exhibit room. She was an active philanthropist involved in social services to benefit destitute women and children, said Kabrud.
Opposite the gown is a lawn sign for Sharon Sayles Belton, Minneapolis’ first and so far only black mayor.
“So often in political exhibits, you always see white men,” said museum director Cedar Imboden Phillips, so the museum tried to even things up a little.
Still, there are plenty of white men in the exhibit, with big photos of four Minneapolis mayors: Hubert Humphrey, who later became vice president of the United States; Dorilus Morrison, the city’s first mayor; James Gray, a former reporter and editor; and A.A. (Doc) Ames, a physician and soldier who served four terms as mayor.
The display notes Ames was the subject of an article in McClure’s magazine by famed muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens. The article, “The Shame of Minneapolis,” described Ames’ graft-ridden administration in which police and politicians were routinely on the take.
But the display is nonpartisan.
There’s a full-page newspaper-sized ad for Albert Bastis, a socialist member of the 1912 Minneapolis City Council, who ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in 1942. Elsewhere, a copy of the 1969 Roosevelt High School yearbook is open to the page with the senior picture of James Janos, better known as wrestler Jesse Ventura, the Independence Party governor elected in 1998.
And there is a 1993 gay magazine, Gaze, promoting Brian Coyle for Minneapolis City Council, the city’s first openly gay council member.
Besides a batch of “Humphrey for President” buttons — he lost to Richard Nixon in 1968 — there’s a speech by attorney George MacKinnon, delivered in 1958 on WCCO-TV, when he ran unsuccessfully for governor on the Republican ticket. In the speech, MacKinnon blasts the “venal acts” of labor leaders, although he adds that “most labor unions are fundamentally a force for good.”
The speech sits next to a small 1950s television set that looks oddly ancient and attracts the attention of younger visitors.
“Sometimes kids will come here and ask, ‘What’s this?’ ” said Kabrud.
The museum gallery is located at 2303 3rd Av. S. and is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 1 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, 1 to 8 p.m. on Thursday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Adult admission is $5, senior and student admission is $3, and children 6 and under are free.
The political exhibit will be on display through Feb. 5.