Technically not part of Road Trip 2019 because we flew from Missoula to Minneapolis and back. Our reason for going? To hang out for a few days in “The Cities” before attending a biennial family reunion on my dad’s side in Bemidji.
It wasn’t our first trip to Minnesota. We lived there for the first five years of our marriage, moving all our earthly possessions in a U-Haul trailer from Lawrence, Kansas to a tiny mobile home on Cedar Lake located a few miles outside of Faribault on New Year’s Eve in 1975.
We experienced significant milestones during our years in Minnesota – first “real” jobs, first home purchase ($34,000), birth of our first child (Philip) – and soaked up the culture of our new surroundings. Right after we bought warm coats, hats, gloves and boots to keep from freezing to death.
After moving to Kansas in 1980 and then to Colorado four years later, we never made it back for a visit, but we cherish the memories from our time in the North Star State. So this trip was a chance to get reacquainted. And honestly, we never spent much time in the Twin Cities back then, so it was also an opportunity to expand our Minnesota horizons.
Our home for the week was an Airbnb condo located at the edge of the East Bank of the University of Minnesota – a convenient jumping off point for exploring the two cities on foot and by light rail/bus.
A special highlight was catching up with long time friends Sarah and Stephen at their new home in Minneapolis. We met when they lived in Fort Collins, and we were delighted to see them again!
Operating in serious tourist mode, we visited a different Twin Cities attraction every day. With many good options, it was tough to decide which ones to forego. In the end, we visited the Minnesota History Center, Museum of Russian Art, American Swedish Institute, and the Mill City Museum.
Minnesota History Center
A short ride on the light rail took us to St. Paul, home of the Minnesota History Center and our destination for the day. The museum’s most compelling exhibit (in my opinion) was Minnesota’s Greatest Generation.
I saw my dad and heard his stories as we explored the exhibits. Like many of his peers, he grew up in rural Minnesota during the Great Depression, enlisted in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the late 1930s, and served in the military during and after World War II. In the 1950s, he embarked on a successful 30-year career with The Boeing Company and, along with my mom, raised four little baby boomers. My parents embody the spirit and values of the Greatest Generation, but they would never use that phrase to describe themselves. Their perspective is that they just did what needed to be done.
We visited four additional exhibits, all of which were interesting. Weather Permitting explored how Minnesotans have adapted to, and even thrive, in extreme weather conditions. First Avenue: Stories of Minnesota’s Mainroom examined the history and impact of the venue that is at the heart of the state’s music scene, including information about Prince’s multiple performances there. Open House was a well-researched and innovative exhibit about the various individuals and families that have lived at a single address in St. Paul over the years. And finally, Then Now Wow was a kid-friendly interactive exhibit about all things Minnesota.
One takeaway from our visit to the Minnesota History Center was our lack of knowledge about the state’s history and evolution despite living there for five years. We just weren’t plugged into that sort of thing back then.
The Museum of Russian Art
Full disclosure – we visited this attraction in Minneapolis only because our other choices were closed on Monday’s. It turned out to be a good decision, however, because this niche museum contains an impressive collection of art and other artifacts not readily available in the U.S. Of particular interest were two temporary exhibits – Village Wardrobes: Traditional Dress from Central and Western Ukraine and The Body in Soviet Art.
The first featured traditional clothing from ten different ethnographic regions in Ukraine, including period jewelry, shoes, and other accessories. It was a large exhibit that spanned the entire lower level of the museum. The colorful displays provided numerous photo ops, and here are a couple of examples:
The Body in Soviet Art featured more than 50 art pieces created between 1950 and 1970 depicting the human form, including many that showed happy workers laboring for the collective good of the Soviet state.
Some pieces highlighted aged bodies:
And one section of the exhibit featured mutant bodies:
Without hesitation, we recommend a visit to The Museum of Russian Art when you are in the Twin Cities, even if it’s not on a Monday!
The American Swedish Institute
The mission of the American Swedish Institute (ASI) is to be “a gathering place for all people to share experiences around themes of culture, migration, the environment and the arts, informed by enduring links to Sweden.”
I’m 25% Swedish (confirmed by Family Tree DNA testing) and will soon be attending a family gathering of my Swedish relatives, so it seemed appropriate to pay a visit to this museum and cultural center.
The ASI complex is located near downtown Minneapolis and includes the historic Turnblad mansion shown in the photo above. Built in the early 1900s, this ornate structure, often referred to as a castle, was home to Swan and Christina Turnblad and their daughter, Lillian.
Swan and Christina were Swedish immigrants who arrived in Minnesota in the late 1800s. With a background in printing, Swan worked for and later purchased a Swedish language newspaper called the Svenska Amerikanska Posten that, under his leadership, became the largest and most successful such publication in the U.S.
The Turnblad home was donated to the American Institute for Swedish Art, Literature and Science (now known as the American Swedish Institute) in 1929, and a self-guided tour of the mansion and its furnishings are a core component of a visit to the ASI.
We also enjoyed seeing the Norse Saga Room, which is a re-installation of an entire room and its furnishings originally designed for an apartment in Stockholm owned by wealthy Swedish businessman Anders Andersson (1859-1929). The ornate wood carvings feature symbols and motifs from Viking culture and Norse mythology.
The museum also contained two Viking exhibits – one was an interesting collection of ancient artifacts from Viking-era boat graves discovered in Sweden. The other was a collection of modern day artifacts from the Minnesota Vikings football organization. Am I the only one who finds that odd?
We enjoyed our visit to the ASI museum but were expecting more emphasis on the Swedish-American experience – stories about the large numbers of Swedes who migrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s and their subsequent experiences in America. A missed opportunity from my perspective.
Lunch at the museum’s restaurant, however, was outstanding!
The Mill City Museum
Between 1880 and 1930, Minneapolis was the nation’s largest producer of wheat flour, with as many as 25 flour mills operating along the banks of the Mississippi River. Today there are none, but the Mill City Museum – built within the ruins of an actual mill that was destroyed by fire – has preserved the history of the Minneapolis flour mills and guides visitors through the ups and downs of the industry over the years.
The exhibits were well done, and the old ads for Gold Medal flour and Bisquick brought back childhood memories, but we just couldn’t generate that much enthusiasm for an entire museum that pays homage to processed wheat.
The view from the museum’s outdoor deck, however, was amazing!
We had a wonderful week in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Next up is driving “up north” to Bemidji for the upcoming family reunion.
Enjoyed the pictures. We are woefully lacking in our understanding of that period in Minnesota history.
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A very cool city and loved the photos…as always. That was one busy sidetrip!
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So much more to see than we had time for (as usual). A reason to go back . . . except in the winter.
Here’s a fun fact. Well, maybe a few. The rail baron James Hill had a large farm in Kittson County in a town along his Great Northern Railway called Northcote. Actually it was called Hill Siding if you are a true railroader. His reasoning was to improve the cattle via the introduction of selective breeding among other things. The house that was built is still standing is somewhat of a mansion and I heard it is being gradually restored to it original beauty. But, one of the many things that came out of this outpost in Kittson County was the result of Mr. Hill and his son bringing a great mechanic with them by the name of Fred Jones. While in the Hallock area he was known as a renowned inventor. It was one of his many patents that resulted in refrigeration units in railroad cars and perhaps more importantly in trucks. He eventually moved to Minneapolis where he was the brains behind a company called Thermo King where his inventions were put into practical use. But, as far as Kittson County was concerned, he was still Fred “Casey” Jones the brilliant inventor and race car driver. There are several books that have been written about him. And, one other interesting fact was that he was an African American who excelled in all of his endeavors in Kittson County. The County Museum had a display about his inventions and contributions to the State of Minnesota at the Historical Museum in St. Paul several years back.
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Wow! Thanks for sharing that amazing story about Fred Jones and James Hill.