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Back to School

It's that time of year.  Nothing is more inspiration or exciting to me as fresh highlighters and G2s in pretty colors all on sale for back to school prices.  Is it bad that I still get giddy to get a five star notebook?  I don't think so.  Hey, it's the little things, right? (C'mon, just agree with me so we can move on...). 

Being as things are always a little hectic this time of year, I'm going to post an article from the archives of my Zimmerman Today column for your reading pleasure:


 My first year as a “Zimmerman Zebra” was as a fourth grader in Mrs. Blattner’s class. The halls seemed dauntingly large, and the sixth graders appeared to tower above me. What I remember most is the most amazing playground I had ever seen. From the jungle gym to the spring-loaded balance beam, that place was enough to erase all the fear in a nine-year-old’s heart.

Zimmerman Elementary has been in operation since 1957. For over fifty years it has been an epicenter for educating the city’s youth, imagine in that time, the number of residents current and former who have walked those halls, the multitude of lessons taught, and the echoes of childhood laughter that must still swell in the space between the walls. But have you ever wondered what was there if you were to go back another 50 years? Back to 1903, where did the children go to school? What was where Zimmerman Elementary stands now?

The site of Zimmerman Elementary was farmland belonging to Hans Mickelson and his wife Sarah. Hans was born in Norway in 1850 and Sarah in Wisconsin in 1863. The couple was wed in 1879 in Beaver Creek, Minnesota. Together they had nine children: Mabel, George, Luella, May, Harry, Clifford, Theodore and Mary. Hans worked as a farmer through much of his residency in Lake Fremont, acquiring a sizeable chunk of land.

In the early 20th century, there were several schools throughout the area, small one room school houses where classes were held. One was located on the land of Mary Tildon, it is possible that she may have been a school teacher, or she may have provided boarding to the woman who was. The school would have been near what is now 269th Avenue and 5th Street West. The Mickelson children would have walked from where Zimmerman Elementary School is now to sit in a one room school house heated by a wood stove to listen to their lessons.

While the story of Hans and his children may be different, it is still very much the same as the story of my childhood and the story of your children’s first day of school. Even a hundred years ago, children still squirmed in their desks waiting to be excused, teachers were still overworked and under paid. For all the differences, so many things remain the same.   


Where did you go to elementary school? What are your first day of school memories? Share them below in the comments!

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Top 5 Best Museums in Minnesota

It seems pretty obvious if you know anything about me at all that I love spending my free time in museums.  It works out pretty well for me because my husband is a restless man who loves exploring new cities anytime we have a free day.  Usually this means we are in lots of new areas, and a museum is a good way to find out some general information about points of interest.

Here are 5 of my favorite museums we've visited:

  1. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
    his museum focuses less on local art and historical artifacts and more on art.  I have many wonderful memories of coming here as a child and teenager.  I fell in love with art inside this building.  I saw my first mummy here.  Decided I wanted to be an Egyptologist for a time.  Became obsessed with Frank Lloyd Wright in their furniture gallery... the memories are endless.  Yes, this museum may have had an unfair advantage.
  2. Minnesota Historical Society
    I have done hours and hours of research for clients and personal projects here.  What I love about MNHS is the staff is helpful, courteous and kind.  The library is well organized and the building itself is gorgeous.  The exhibits are always engaging and interesting.  I also love that they have so many events including concerts, plays and speakers that bring the community in. 
  3. Crow Wing County Historical Society
    This one is a little on the smaller side compared to the others, but compared to many of the other small county museums I've been to I found it most memorable.  Located in the historic sheriff's home and old jail they have traditional exhibits that wind through the front half of the house and jail cells and regularly scheduled tours of the other rooms in the back all staged with period-specific items.  The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the house and the families who lived there as well as the origination of many of the artifacts on display.  
  4. The James J. Hill House
    As part of the MNHS, I was hesitant to put this on the list separately, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it deserved its own line.  The number of interesting and unique activities they run here are so varied that it gives a person reason to come back again and again, not to mention they run different tours so you can see different parts of the mansion at different times.  James J. Hill is such a prolific part of Minnesota history that  every Minnesotan should see this house at least once. 
  5. Northfield Historical Society
    Northfield has such a fun quirky vibe to begin with, as a college town with a young hip populous. Add to that the incredibly rich history of Jesse James attempted robbery of the Northfield Bank and defeat by the townspeople and you have a fun and interesting museum accompanied by the annual Defeat of Jesse James celebration.  


Compiling this list was fun, but challenging, so many other great museums were contenders, and I enjoyed all of them! Some of the front runners include:

Winona County Historical Society, Carver County Historical Society, Mcleod County Historical Society, Dakota County Historical Society, Oliver Kelley Farm, Stearns County Museum, The Pioneer Village in Nisswa, LeDuc Historic Estate, Fort Snelling, Sherburne County History Center, The Folsom House

Are you going to visit any museums on National Museum Day this Sunday?  Would any of these have made your list?  Which would you add?

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Research Trip to Sherburne History Center


I'm a bit shocked that this was my first time visiting the Sherburne History Center, but it was! I was stunned by the beautiful facility, and the staff was very friendly and helpful.  Their materials were very well organized and easy to find.

I can't say enough good things about this place!  I'm sure I'll be back there again soon to collect more information.

Have you ever visited a local historical society?  What was your experience?

Tragedy in History: Respectfully Acknowledging the Dakota Conflict

I confess I have been somewhat anxious for the coming of 2012, however, unlike those who expect the world to collapse in on itself, I have been anticipating it for a different reason... In history, so often we acknowledge the terrible, world-altering events with a certain kind of reverence.  Some events are idealized, shaped by scholars, historians and teachers to be more positive than negative.  Or, at the very least, the injustice, sacrifice, or sometimes abuse is considered a "necessary evil"  in order to accomplish change, revolution or advancement.  Sometimes, of course this is true, and there is never a "right" way to look at these things or address them, as with any historical event, it is open to interpretation and opinion.

It becomes more difficult in situations where conflict is present, what is an awful tragedy to one side, can be a victory to the other.  As the old adage goes, History is told through the eyes of the winners.

This August, 2012 marks the anniversary of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862.  The MNHS exhibit on this topic opens this Wednesday.


Unlike many wars, I have never read anything glorifying this one.  Personally, it is a perspective I wish we saw more of  in history.  The story of this war is devastating and horrific.  Six weeks, and hundreds dead, settlers and natives alike. In the end, no one wins.  People are starving and suffering, injured and dying.

In case you don't know the story of the Dakota Uprising: The Dakota were being pushed from their land by yet another land treaty, they were starving, living off of small government annuities which were continually late and  slowly dying.  Then it all started when on a dare, 4 Dakota men slaughtered a white family.  Chief Little Crow feared what the white settlers would do once news spread, he declared war in an effort to organize and protect his people from whatever would come next.  Lead by Colonel Henry Sibley who had until 1860 been the first Governor of Minnesota, the settlers charged.  After months of fighting 600 settlers were killed and 50 to 60 Dakotas.   At the end of the war 1,600 Native Americans were rounded up and moved to internment camps, over 400 went on trial for war crimes and consequently 300 were condemned to death.  President Lincoln issued an order to reduce that number to 39 and shortly thereafter on December 26, 1862 38 Dakotas were hanged to death in Mankato.  The largest mass execution in U.S. History.

This event spurred decades of racism against Native Americans setting ablaze the embers of all kinds of civil injustice and abuse.  By 1863 the Dakota people were banished from Minnesota and the U.S. Government abolished their reservations.

The whole matter is a delicate balance.  So many accounts in archives, libraries and museum are so grizzly and proud.   The details put forth are so horrific that I won't offer up the details here.  Rest assured, if you are curious and you have a strong stomach for such things, there are many online (and offline) resources that offer specifics.


Additional Reading:

The No-Win War - Minnesota Monthly

Dakota War of 1862 - Wikipedia

U.S. -Dakota War - Minnesota Historical Society

Family and Friends of the Dakota Uprising Victims 

Here Were Hanged 38 Sioux Indians - Nick Coleman, The State I'm In

Minnesota's Uncivil War - MPR

To Understand U.S. Dakota Conflict, Historians resort to 'Truth Recovery' - Mankato Free Press

And HERE is a fantastic list of additional resources put together by the City of Mankato on the topic, some are print, some are online.

The Star Tribune put together this transcription of newspaper articles from 1862 detailing the war.


Upcoming Events: 

May 16th - October 20th - Civil War and Dakota Conflict Exhibit - Minnesota History Center

June 3rd - The U.S. Dakota War of 1862 - Author's Sunday Historic LeDuc Estate


Every Historic Home Needs a Butler- Animate or Not.

Really.  I have found photographic evidence that it must be true.  While wistfully paging through historic mansions of Minnesota, I noted two beautiful multimillion dollar abodes, both built in the late 1800s, completely renovated, restored, and loved by their current owners. 

Apparently both of these homes, despite their enormity and the apparent abundant wealth the owners must have possessed, lacked butlers of the moving, breathing, waiting type.  Why you ask? How could I know this from simple real estate listings? Because, my dear friend, both of them found it necessary to purchase inanimate butlers. 

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Here you'll note the prominent figure standing upright tray in hand awaiting your arrival in the foyer.  This house is an amazing beauty in St. Paul (you can click the photo to see the listing for the home).  The stunning woodwork throughout accentuated by the incredible chandeliers make it a place that any wax butler would be proud to service. 

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

This one is a little bit harder to spot, but I assure you, dear readers, if you look carefully you'll see the little butler standing there in the far left corner of the room, which is apparently some type of home theatre.  This house is also in St. Paul, and while equally lovely if not slightly more modern, it has a couple really unique quirks, that I got a real kick out of (that is aside from the tiny butler).  Despite the presence of a huge replica of the Mona Lisa and other classic art pieces, in the billiards room, painted on the walls are life-size portraits of gangsters lining the walls.

I hope this amuses you all as much as it did me!  Of course, if I owned a house like this, I'd surely consider buying a little butler to stand in a corner of my mansion.

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