Dredging up Minnesota’s past

Posted on August 8th, 2005 – 7:02 PM
By Ben Welter

Welcome, history lovers!

The Star Tribune newspaper archives, which date back more than a hundred years, are just about a hundred feet away from my perch on the copy desk. On slow nights, I head to the library, load up a roll of microfilm and take a look back in time. How much did it cost to block and clean a bowler hat in 1898? How did the Minneapolis Tribune play the sinking of the Lusitania? What were the hot nightspots during Roaring ’20s? What movies were showing in Hennepin Avenue theaters in the ’50s? Did St. Paul’s “super mayor” of the early ’70s, Charlie McCarty, really use an electronic device to turn traffic lights in his favor?

If you’ve lived in Minnesota, you probably have similar questions about the region’s history. (Well, some of you might!) If you do, send ‘em to welter@startribune.com and I’ll see what I can dig up. I post a couple of fresh items each week, usually on Sunday and Wednesday nights.

I hope that most of the articles (and occasionally photos and ads) will prompt readers to share observations, memories and links to additional resources. I’m striving to build a collection of enduring interest, snapshots that will, over time, paint an engaging portrait of Minnesota’s past.

A note on the format: I write an introduction for nearly every entry. These editor’s notes are indented and centered (like this paragraph and the next). Some entries also include follow-up interviews, which are also indented.

A note on title dates: For the sake of consistency, the title of each post shows the newspaper publication date, not the date or range of dates of the event covered. Apollo 11, for example, landed on the moon at 3:17 p.m. CDT July 20, 1969 (Earth time!). The Yesterday’s News title, however, is the date of publication of the Minneapolis Tribune story about the landing, July 21, 1969. You can derive the date of the event — if any; some posts contain only advertising, or are editorials about an ongoing event — from that publication date.

A note on photos: Most of the photos posted here are from the overstuffed filing cabinets in the newsroom library or from the Minnesota Historical Society’s awesome online archive of digital images. Unless otherwise noted, the captions are mine.

A note on research: Are you looking for your great-great-aunt’s paid obituary? I don’t have time, unfortunately, to track down items of narrow interest. But you probably have easy access to the same resources I use. In Minnesota, most larger libraries carry the Minneapolis Tribune, Minneapolis Star and Star Journal on microfilm, dating back more than 100 years. Check with your friendly neighborhood librarian to locate the microfilm trove nearest you. If you live outside Minnesota, check the nearest university libraries, especially those associated with journalism schools.

Hard-copy indexes of these papers are sometimes available, covering content from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s, when newspapers began archiving content in digital, searchable form. If you’re looking for content published prior to the mid-1950s, no indexes are available. You’ll have to do what I do: Pop in a roll of microfilm and start browsing.

November 2009 update: Yesterday’s News joined the parade of Star Tribune blogs migrating to a new platform. Entries posted prior to Nov. 5, 2009, remain available at their old locations. You can find them by using the “search posts” box at the top right of this page, or by browsing the links at right.

Ben Welter
News copy chief
Star Tribune
Minneapolis, Minn.

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