Special Collections Newsletter - Mar/Apr 2024

hennepin county library special collections

March/April 2024

Check out what’s new and noteworthy this spring in Special Collections.

New in the Digital Collections

city directories

More Hennepin County City Directories

The online city directory collection is growing! Last month we added three more years of Minneapolis directories, which now cover nearly 100 years (1859-1955). We also added Lake Minnetonka (1941-1977) and Morningside (1962-1966). More directories will be digitized later this year from additional suburbs including Richfield, Golden Valley, Brooklyn Park and more.

Search and browse the online directories

Flowers, Children, Kittens….and Racism: The Business Trade Cards Collection

Business trade card

Late 19th Century trade cards were an easy and popular means for small businesses to supplement their traditional means for advertising—word of mouth. Before the rise of modern print advertising in newspapers and magazines, these colorful little cards drew the eye and sometimes a smile. The most common images decorating these chromolithographic cards were idealized pictures of children, beautiful flowers, or sometimes dogs or cats.

Humor was also frequently used catch the attention of the viewer: A play on words or a visual gag. Immigrants and non-whites were a common target, particularly African Americans, who were usually depicted as slow-witted or ridiculous. However offensive these images are to us now, at the time, the intent was to be funny.

The bulk of this collection dates from Minneapolis’ boom town years of the 1880s when money was flowing, and shops of all kinds were popping up in the new and rapidly growing city. Take a look at over 500 of these cards, now available in our Digital Collections—a visually appealing and sometimes ugly window into a long lost world of local commerce. View the collection online

Meet Special Collections volunteer Steve Bragg

Steve Bragg

Steve began volunteering in Special Collections in January 2016. Since then, he’s been working on the newspaper photograph collection in various roles, from sorting locals from non-locals, to researching photo questions in city directories and digitized newspapers. Steve comes almost weekly, coffee in hand, prepared to spend hours digging into old newspapers.

Here’s more from Steve:


Q: Why did you start volunteering in Special Collections and what makes you keep coming back?

A: Doing research for my book (in progress) on an early inhabitant of my Logan Park neighborhood, I came across the library's Minneapolis Collection. I keep coming back because I have a passion for research and local history.

Q: Have you found anything weird, unusual, or especially interesting in the newspaper photos?

A: Working on the Star-Tribune photo collection, I have come across so many quirky stories—like the 1936 Lake Harriet nudist who stumbled out of his crashed vehicle after a high-speed police chase (where the police fired 4 shots in pursuit). Or the 1940 story of the world champion boxing kangaroo "Peter the Great" who suffered fatal injuries when his tail was caught in the doors of the elevator at the Minneapolis Auditorium (the owner filed a lawsuit). Sometimes the photos themselves have interesting comments. The back of a 1939 photo of a dignified group of ladies from the Sunshine Society includes specific instructions from one of the ladies: "Have the artist take out her 2nd chin or she will stop advertising and come down with a club to boot!" These are glimpses of the city which you won't come across in any history book.

Q: Favorite place or building in Minneapolis or Hennepin County?

A: I love my neighborhood in the NE Arts District and the artists who bring so much vibrancy to life there. Every day—rain or shine, snow or sleet—my canine companion, Jim, and I walk the trail by the river and take in the change of the seasons. Jim knows every stop along the way where the free treats are handed out, and I know where the best coffee and conversations are to be had.

In the Archives: New Acquisitions

Milwaukee Avenue Homeowners Association Records

Minutes, financial files, building plans, subject files, and photographs. The Milwaukee Avenue Homeowners Association is a nonprofit organization made up of residents of the Milwaukee Avenue area in the Seward Neighborhood of Minneapolis. A nationally and locally designated historic district, Milwaukee Ave. contains dozens of workers houses built in the 1880s. Thanks to a historic preservation movement that challenged urban renewal efforts in the Seward West area in the 1970s, many houses were restored, a few houses were rebuilt, and the street was converted to a pedestrian mall. The homeowners association was founded in 1978 to oversee common areas along Milwaukee Ave.Click to edit this placeholder text.

Milwaukee Avenue


West Maka Ska Neighborhood Council Records

Administrative records, newsletters, and minutes of the West Maka Ska Neighborhood Council. Most records were created while the organization's name was West Calhoun Neighborhood Council.

Friends of the Hennepin County Library Records (Accrual)

Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library, Friends of Hennepin County Library, and Library Foundation of Hennepin County records from the 1940s to 2010s. Includes board minutes from each organization, financial statements, board member biography files, print photographs, negatives, slides, scrapbook, awards, and oversize posters.

A Discussion With… Video Tapes

160 U-Matic master video tapes of the "A Discussion with..." television program. Each tape contains one 30 minute program. "A Discussion With…" was produced by Hennepin County Library from 1989 to 1991 and included interviews with nationally-known authors.

In the Archives: New Finding Aids

Shoreham Repository

Gudrun Lock Shoreham Repository

This experimental archive focuses on the interstitial world of the buffers of Shoreham Yards in Northeast Minneapolis. Created and compiled by artist Gudrun Lock, between 2019 and 2023, the repository houses exhibition ephemera, corporate reports, data sets, maps, illustrations, photographs, artworks, personal notes and observations, books, a Dakota language poem, a short experimental film, plant pressings, four pairs of degraded men’s underpants from a soil test experiment, and found objects such as rocks, seed pods and debris. View finding aid

Minneapolis Public Library School Libraries Records

Correspondence, fact sheets, news articles, petitions, reports, statistics, and other documents pertaining to the elementary, junior high and high school libraries run by the Minneapolis Public Library within Minneapolis Public Schools from the 1890s to 1950s. View finding aid

Linda Rud Collection of Emrich and Egekvist Bakery Material

Promotional documents and snapshot photographs from Emrich Baking Company and Egekvist Bakery. These two local bakeries merged in the 1960s. Materials were compiled by employee Russell Anderson. View finding aid

Upcoming Events

Researching the History of Your Home

Researching the History of Your Home

Saturday, April 13, 10-11:30am

Nokomis Library

Register online

Saturday, May 11, 1:30-3pm

Hosmer Library

Register online starting March 9

Learn about the historical resources at the library that will help you piece together a history of your Minneapolis house, neighborhood or property. We’ll explain and demonstrate resources, emphasizing online resources in the Digital Collections that will allow you to jump-start your research from home—including permit records, maps, city directories, photos and more. This class is best suited for researching properties located in the city of Minneapolis, though some county-wide resources will be discussed.

Exhibits on View

Humans of Minneapolis

Humans of Minneapolis

A selection of photographs from the Humans of Minneapolis Collection are now on view in the exhibit case on the skyway level of Minneapolis Central Library. View the photos through June 2024. This exhibit was funded with money from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. View the full collection online

Award-Winning Minnesota Book Artists

Award-Winning Minnesota Book Artists

View a selection of work from our Book Arts and Fine Press Collection by past winners of the Minnesota Book Artist Award, on display on the 1st floor of Central Library from March through May. A collaborative venture between The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library and Minnesota Center for Book Arts, the award was established in 2008 as part of the Minnesota Book Awards, to recognize excellence in the field of artists’ books. The award is now presented biennially.

Visit Cargill Gallery on the 2nd floor of Central Library, April 5-May 25, 2024, to see more artists’ books in the exhibit The Next Chapter: Artists’ Books from the Winners of the Minnesota Book Artist Award.

Women’s History Month: Grace Wiley

Grace Wiley

There’s no shortage of interesting women in our photo archives—take Grace Wiley, for example. Wiley was a reptile trainer, snake enthusiast, and curator of the Natural History Museum at the Minneapolis Public Library from 1922 until 1933. “The Snake Lady,” as she was known, built up a collection of 450 snakes and reptiles at the museum before leaving to take charge of the reptiles in a Chicago-area zoo. She was let go from that post just two years later, after she accidentally left a cage unlocked one night, unleashing 19 snakes (several of which were highly venomous). After that incident, Wiley moved to California where she provided trained snakes and reptiles for Hollywood motion pictures like the Tarzan films.

In 1948, while showing her snakes to a photographer from True Magazine, Wiley attempted to get a new cobra to spread its hood in attack position for a photograph. The cobra finally obliged and then struck Wiley on the finger. It was one of many snake bites for Wiley, but this time, the bite was fatal. Wiley was rushed to hospital and died within 90 minutes of the bite.

Learn more about Grace Wiley and the library’s Natural History Museum in the library archives in Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library.

Photo from the Minneapolis Newspaper Photograph Collection. See more photos of Grace Wiley. Learn about more amazing local women in our Tumblr archive.

Women’s History Month: Munsingwear Women

While women like Grace Wiley are named and known, many women found in our Digital Collections remain unknown—including the female factory workers in these three silent films taken at the Munsingwear factory. Munsingwear was a Minneapolis-based underwear company and was once Minnesota’s largest employer of women.

Women’s History Month: Munsingwear Women

Contact Us

Special Collections vault

James K. Hosmer Special Collections

Hennepin County Library
Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Hours: Monday - Thursday, 9am - 4:30pm.

Appointments are not necessary, but you do need to call Special Collections or check-in at the 4th floor reference desk upon arrival for department access. You can speed up your visit by requesting materials be pulled in advance. Photocopier and scanners are available. Please bring a flash drive to store your scanned images.

Photo: Inside the climate-controlled Special Collections vault, where rare books, negatives, and AV material is stored.

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