Who says history has to be dry?
The Maplewood Area Historical Society and the Beer Choir Twin Cities joined forces Wednesday to draft off the tradition of Thanksgiving Eve home-for-the-holidays revelry.
Dozens gathered in the barn at the Historical Society's Bruentrup Heritage Farm for "A Draft to the Past," where they sipped beer, belted out songs — including some traditional German and Irish drinking songs — and learned a bit about the area's history.
"You have your songbook in your left hand and your beer in right hand, and that's all you need," said Beer Choir Twin Cities song leader Adam Reinwald. "No one cares how you sound in Beer Choir. You are there to have a great time."
Beer Choir Twin Cities formed in 2017, but these types of happy hour harmonies are actually steeped in history.
"We are trying to keep alive the European tradition of communal singing in non-performance spaces," Reinwald said. "These German songs are a great fit for this German heritage farm."
The Maplewood Area Historical Society's new executive director, T.J. Malaskee, said he knew hosting the Beer Choir would entice new, younger visitors and revive a German immigrant tradition.
"These were the type of things taking place here in Minnesota in the 1850s through the 1880s at German bierstubes," Malaskee said. "The bierstubes were almost like community halls and community centers. Often there were families gathered there."
Bierstubes also served food, Malaskee said, so the historical society invited Vikings Table, the Minnesota Vikings Foundation-operated food truck, with proceeds going to charity.
Malaskee, who recently was named the society's first full-time executive director, said he hopes this is the first of many new immersive events focused on local heritage and how people once lived, worked and played.
Maplewood, population 42,000, has grown into one of the Twin Cities' most diverse suburbs, with 37% of the population identifying as a person of color or Hispanic heritage, according to data from the U.S. Census.
Malaskee is already brainstorming event ideas with a variety of groups, including members of the Hmong community, to plan more cultural events at the farm, he said. He's also developing interactive field trips for school groups and wants to expand gardening at the site with heirloom crops.
"A lot of this is to tap into that younger generation," said Mike Ericson, president of the Historical Society board. "We want to be a regional influence and have people come out to the farm for a bunch of activities and programming."
Pop-up events such as "A Draft to the Past" are very popular, Ericson said, and are a great introduction to the organization.
"All you have to do is show up," he said.
The Thanksgiving Eve event paid homage to the Bruentrup family, whose farmhouse, barn and other outbuildings now make up the historic site on County Road D in Maplewood.
German immigrant William Bruentrup married Ida Wagner in 1891, and the bride's family gave the couple 40 acres of farmland on the east side of White Bear Avenue as a wedding present. Grandson Bill Bruentrup and his wife, Raydelle, donated the buildings to the historical society in 1999, and the buildings were moved to their present 2.5-acre site. Leased from the city for 99 years, the land is surrounded by 20 acres of public open space.
Raising the money, which included state bonding, to relocate buildings and establish the site was a monumental task. It took years to add restrooms, access for people with disabilities and fire sprinklers to meet building codes so the historical society could host events.
Two decades later, the society confronts another big challenge: staying relevant.
Bill Bruentrup, vice president of the Historical Society and a retired sheet metal worker, said he supports these new efforts to draw in a more diverse group of visitors. He grew up on the farm, raising dairy cows and growing crops including corn, soybeans, oats and potatoes.
"It is so important to get younger people involved," Bruentrup said. "Otherwise a lot of these places just die."