A young filmmaking history buff was making a pitch at a recent Diversity Coalition meeting in Faribault. The community about 50 miles south of Minneapolis has always embraced its cultural mix, Samuel Temple told the group, ever since early mixed-blood fur trader and town namesake Alexander Faribault offered shelter to Dakota tribal members after the bitter U.S.-Dakota War in 1862.
Temple explained how his next video would carry that inclusive theme through ensuing influxes of German, Norwegian and Somali newcomers.
“About halfway through his presentation, our board chairman said, ‘What? Wait a minute,’ ” local history writer Lisa Bolt Simons recalled, with a chuckle.
In passing, Temple had mentioned that both he and his storytelling partner, Logan Ledman, were high school sophomores.
“Everyone was absolutely stunned and assumed they were in college,” Simons said. “They are both so mature, refined, professional, knowledgeable and comfortable with what they’re doing. It’s impossible not to be blown away by these kids — if I can even call them kids.”
Both 16 and still without their driver’s licenses, Temple and Ledman have produced a dozen engaging, slick-but-folksy videos that tell the town’s back stories on Faribault Community Television.
They blend humor with facts in the series of 15-minute videos they call “1855” — marking the year the city was formally surveyed and mapped at the confluence of the Cannon and Straight rivers.
Temple and Ledman air their videos on the community TV outlet and share their work on a Facebook page because, well, it’s free.
So far, they’ve told the tales of everything from the Faribault Woolen Mill to Heisman Trophy winning football player and local son Bruce Smith.
In an episode about Faribault’s Fleckenstein Brewery, they open with an admission: They aren’t allowed to go in caves, where the beer was once stored, let alone drink the stuff for five more years.
“Logan and I are similar in that we try to tie things together lightly with humor, but not at the expense of history,” Temple said. “We want to be respectful because we’re telling stories about real peoples’ relatives.”
Susan Garwood, who runs the Rice County Historical Society, calls herself an amazed bystander, helping the “creative geniuses” any way she can.
“They take any liberties they want because this isn’t a financial product for them,” Garwood said. “But what I so value is how they don’t play around with the history. They are extremely accurate in using facts to tell stories.”
Temple and Ledman met in a sixth-grade writing class in Northfield. Today they attend different high schools, with Temple in Faribault and Ledman in Northfield, about a dozen miles northeast. They say their video projects keep them close — with many Pepsi-fueled late nights.
“We quickly discovered our personalities and approaches to the world melded and flowed together,” Ledman said. “Some people just magnetically bond to the orbit of each other and share a similar propensity for theatrics, a sense of humor and a light element.”
Temple’s father, Troy, is a videographer and his mother, Linda, teaches elementary school in Northfield. “That moment most kids having playing catch with their dads? For me, that meant filming stories with my dad,” Samuel Temple said.
Ledman’s dad, Todd, works for a supermarket, and his mother, Gina, is a nurse.
“Our family and friends are remarkably tolerant and supportive,” Logan Ledman said. “Sam was raised with video software so we took his equipment ... and realized we have the opportunity to tell really good stories and capture this history in the present moment.”
These aren’t amateurish mini-documentaries. With Faribault Community Television helping finance their costs, they use a handful of cameras, drones and color-correction and stabilizing equipment.
On many of the videos, the two teenagers walk around Faribault, casually discussing its history. One of their most impressive segments features Betty Wall Strohfus, a Faribault woman who died last year at 96 after a dazzling career as an aviator.
In the Woolen Mill episode, they added an interview with an expert, local author Simons, but also featured sixth-graders from Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault.
“One of our goals is to encourage students’ interest in history,” Temple said. “So it was fun to include younger kids as we piece together this mosaic of different times in the city’s history.”
The upcoming episode on immigration and diversity “is a huge but vital topic with so many negative misconceptions,” Temple said. “I’m proud to be from Faribault, even when it gets a bad rap. I disagree and want to share some real positivity about a community that has welcomed diversity since the first contact between white settlers and Native Americans.”
With their videos now airing on community TV for more than a year, Temple and Ledman say they’re often noticed around town — especially when they’re together.
At a first anniversary party for the history series at the Rice County Historical Society, Ledman figured their parents would be the only ones to show up. But more than 40 people attended. “It’s not like a rock concert,” Ledman said, “but all the support boosted our confidence.”
Curt Brown’s tales about Minnesota’s history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at email@example.com. A collection of his columns is available as the e-book “Frozen in History” at startribune.com/ebooks.