"A good actor can read the phone book and hold the audience's attention."
That old saying clearly insinuates it would take someone with great talent to make a listing of names, addresses and phone numbers interesting. Well, yes, I can't say I would sit still for such a recitation from even George Clooney, but I find the phone books some of the most fascinating books in our library.
Old phone directories offer a wealth of information for researchers. They tell not only the adults' names, but also their occupations and the names and often ages of their children. Until a decade or so ago, the phone directories also included a reverse look-up so you could easily look up your neighbors or previous owners of your home and find out a lot about them.
My favorite part of the phone books are the "yellow pages" with display ads for places long gone and listing of businesses by type. If I'm researching grocery stores, for example, the listings provide a good indication when Edina no longer was served by the corner market like Docken's and Tristler's and instead had larger supermarkets like Hove's (which became Lund's).
We have almost every year of the Edina phone directories, beginning with 1931 which was issued for Country Club District residents only. However, we have only a few books for the Morningside, an Edina neighborhood that was a separate village from 1920 to 1966. Morningside listings don't show up in most Edina books, even though the two belonged to the same school district. (Perhaps that's an unwritten story that the phone directories can tell you as well.)
Please donate your Morningside phone books to add to our collection. You're welcome to visit the museum and read the books yourself - but please not aloud.. unless George Clooney wants to give it a try.
April 1, 1946 Daily Times photo had a caption that read: Grass Fires Keep ’Em Busy. Warm, dry weather with little moisture in the ground has given Minneapolis and suburban fire departments some busy days fighting grass fires. Grass fires have been reported in almost every area of the city. Here the Edina fire department is battling a grass blaze.
No snow this March means grass fires in April. Today's news cautions residents of the new burning ban imposed because of low-moisture and high temperatures. (For those reading from out of state, Minnesota has had a record March of NO snow and predictions of 70-degree temperatures this week).
That made me think of the equipment used to fight grass fires in Edina in the 1940s: wet burlap bags and brooms, water cans, and stomping feet.
Edina men often were the first at the scene of a fire, even though Minneapolis Fire Department was contracted for services. The closest station was at 43rd Street and Upton Avenue in Linden Hills. Because of distance and poor roads, Minneapolis often could do more than stop the flames from spreading. A resident recalled that a firefighter was killed after being thrown from a truck that got stuck in the mud.
In 1941, the Edina Fire Department formed with volunteers. Because many men were fighting in World War II, even teenage boys were called to help (the figure in the background of the above photo appears to be a boy.)
Edina immediately purchased a Willies Jeep with a 500-gallon water tank for off-road travels. When that tank ran out, firefighters didn't have hydrants out in the country so they often dropped hoses into ponds and creeks. A strainer kept weeds and debris from clogging the lines.
Firefighters also carried five-gallon water canisters on their backs to spray down smoldering land. (Today’s Super Soaker water guns for kids can hold two-gallons!)
Grass fires continued to plague Edina into the 1950s; 109 were reported in 1958 and were the most common type of blaze. But by the 1960s, when most of the grass fields became homes and office buildings, the Jeep was hauled out mainly for parades and finally sold to the city of Motley.
Several times year, we receive a call at the museum from residents who want to know, "What is that bridge over Nine Mile Creek that is not connected to any roads?" (And yes, more than one person has dubbed it the "Bridge to Nowhere.")
The description seems apt, since the bridge is tucked in the southwest residential area of Gleason Road and Vernon Avenue. Why have a bridge where no one travels?
The answer lies in Edina's history. At one time, the roadway now known as Vernon Avenue meandered through Edina on a path created by Indian tribes traveling between Shakopee and Eden Prairie to summer camping grounds at Lake Calhoun.
Early white settlers traveled the route as well, naming it Eden Prairie Road or Edina Mills Road. Rutted with wagon wheel tracks, the road was impassable much of the year, although new bridges helped during times of high water.
By the early 1900s owners of new-fangled automobiles began lobbying Hennepin County commissioners for more improvements and soon sections of the road were paved.
Although Indians curved their trail around trees and hills, early roadway planners believed that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. When Eden Prairie Road was upgraded to become Highway 169 in the 1930s, the curves were taken out. One was a short .2 mile section that curved north between Olinger and Blake Roads - the only stretch that still retains the original name of Eden Prairie Road.
Also abandoned was a piece that curved south, where Edina's own "Bridge to Nowhere" sits today. In the not-so-distant past, however, the bridge definitely was the community's link to "somewhere."
Do you have a "history mystery" you want us to solve? Call the museum at 612-928-4577. If I don't know, I have great volunteers who probably will. We also can consult rooms of books, documents, maps, photographs and more.
Edina's first homecoming button, 1949
Edina High School no longer makes homecoming buttons.
Your response will likely reveal how long ago you watched the Hornets sting Minnetonka or hurt Hopkins. If you're surprised like I am, let's just say you've been out of school for a while. If you wonder what a homecoming button is, you're closer to the age of one of our high school volunteers who told me students now wear homecoming shirts to the big game.
Huh. I felt as old as I do when visiting second-graders wonder where the screen is on a manual typewriter or what an album is.
We have dozens of homecoming buttons in our collection. Even without knowing buttons were things of the past, I have seen them as pieces of pop art that reveal the values and styles of the years they were made.
I love the other school buttons too: "Edina The Team You Love to Hate" or "Ed1na" with a big number 1 replacing the letter I.
Thank you to Carolyn Schroeder and Patricia Bender for their recent button donations to our collection. It has prompted us to comb our collections to see what years we're missing.
And now, of course, we will have to acquire homecoming shirts as well.
I spent an enjoyable hour reading the Edina-Morningside Blue and Gold student newspapers yesterday. While some stories could have been published any year (homecoming court, Sadie Hawkins dance, honor roll students), other stories revealed the time period as easily as poodle skirts or Ugg boots.
My goal when I started reading was to find out how World War II affected Edina students. My answer came quickly: our collection does not have any issues during the war years. Either the school ceased publication because all resources went to the war effort, or the newspapers were recycled through the many paper drives during the war. I'll have to do more research to find that answer.
I kept reading, and found that rumblings of war in 1939. A student editorial proclaimed "War, that's about all we hear about now, isn't it? ... United States has no need to go into war. It is a European War and we should take no part in it."
The bombing at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, changed it to a US war. The war cast a shadow long after V-E Day on May 8, 1945.
Even through the 1950s, one of the most active groups on campus was the Junior Red Cross who assembled gift boxes to soldiers overseas, sent basic necessities to our allies struggling to survive in bombed out cities, and raised money to assist the Red Cross. "I received the first bar of soap I had seen in 7 years in a Red Cross box at Christmas in 1946," one recent German immigrant said at a Red Cross Assembly in 1950.
Patriotism ran high. Students often mentioned their gratitude for living in a democracy, with its many freedoms, and their comforts in the United States compared to conditions in Europe.
Our collection of student newspapers runs from the first issue in 1939 to 1952. The "Blue and Gold" covered junior high and some elementary grade activities at Wooddale School (now gone. Wooddale Park at 50th Street and Wooddale Avenue is the site of the former school.)
Even the paper's name reflects Edina history. The Edina-Morningside "Blue and Gold" tells of a time when Edina and Morningside were separate villages and Edina's school colors were not green and gold.
The paper was renamed the Buzzette after the city's first high school opened and the student body voted the hornet as its mascot.... and that is another story, for another day.
We welcome additions to our school newspaper collection. Please contact me if you have issues (newspaper issues, that is!)
NOTE: A little deeper digging in our collection revealed that the newspaper did publish during the war years. I'll include some of the articles in our exhibit on World War II, that will have a grand opening party on Thursday, May 20. Doors open at 5:30, with a program at 7 p.m. Admission is free.
Constable George Weber with children -- and a chicken. Photo by Dick Palen.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently covered a small controversy in the western suburbs on whether or not a family can raise a few chickens in their backyard. The names and dates have changed, but the story played out the same way in Morningside more than a century ago.
In 1905, people moved to Morningside, Edina's oldest residential neighborhood, to get away from the city. The large lots in a farming community seemed perfect for "suburban farmers" to plant gardens, raise bees, a few chickens and, in some cases, a goat or two.
Not everyone wanted livestock in the neighborhood, and the Village Council dealt with the controversy for years. Still, the Depression kept the Village from acting too harshly against chickens, which kept neighbors in eggs (and sometimes meat) during lean times.
Chickens were an accepted part of Morningside life, as this photo shows. The legendary Constable George Weber is shown talking about World War I with neighborhood children, one of whom mysteriously holds a chicken.
Suburban farming seemed to be a rule rather than an exception in the early days. The Minneapolis Journal, described the farmer on the streetcar, not tractor (although even then, chickens roused some mixed emotions.)
From the April 2, 1911 issue:
"The seeding of lawns, painting of houses, how best to make the garden, and whether the house would look best if the shrubbery on the vacant lot next door were burned away, make up the conversations these mornings in the city-bound streetcars. Also there sits in a corner of the early car a man who reads intensely a book entitled: Six Dollars Profit Per Hen Per Year. Ah, ha! The man who sits behind him and has visions of a garden full of juicy tomatoes, peas that will burst the pots for richness, beans that will boil into delectability, and corn that in the fall will send its wavy stalks so high that he can have his picture taken standing alongside a stalk to send to his married sister who lives in a Chicago flat, scents danger. How far away does the man with the chicken book live? He waits until he turns. Then he recognizes him and breathes easier. The chicken man lives three blocks away and probably no chickens would come that far to scratch up a garden."
When I put together a Morningside exhibit a few years ago, I wanted to have a live chicken for the exhibit grand opening party but I couldn't find any local poultry. Although some chickens were rumored to still be in the neighborhood, their owners apparently didn't want to be outed. So, I had to "import" a chicken from a friends' farm out of town.
I heard a couple of people talk about our Clancy's Drug display, set up in the corner of our permanent exhibit on the history of Edina.
Newcomer: So Clancy's was a drug store?
Long-timer: Yes, but they had this fabulous breakfast counter.
Newcomer: It also was a diner?
Long-timer: More than that. It was...so much more.
Clancy's Drug, located at 50th Street and Halifax in downtown Edina, also had the largest toy selection in the Twin Cities during the 1950s and 1960s. Children of the era fondly remember beginning the day with breakfast at Clancy's, followed by a window-shopping visit in the downstairs "Toyland" to compile a Wish List for Santa.
Clancy's moved from the 50th and France area to Wooddale Avenue near Valley View Road several years ago, and it recently closed. I've been collecting stories and photos to document the business. The photos in the document above are from the City of Edina's building records. A former employee promises to provide more. Help out by loaning or donating your photos and telling us your Clancy story!
Two children walking to school in a quiet upscale neighborhood evade a kidnap attempt...
How do you think that story would play in the local newspaper or on the 6 o'clock news today? Probably a bit differently than this story in the March 1935 issue of The Crier, a monthly newspaper for the Country Club District.
No newspaper today would print the kids' names, ages, and address. It's almost like telling the kidnapper: hey, I know the children got away the first time, but here's where you can find them if you want to try again.
I'm sure the reporter's assumption back then was that the bad guy wouldn't see the article because he obviously wouldn't live in the County Club neighborhood, the only place the newspaper was delivered. Today, on the other hand, no one is above suspicion.
School newsletters don't even publish the full names of children who appear in photographs to assure privacy.
People felt safer in the 1930s, before the famed kidnapping case of Jacob Wetterling and so many other child kidnappings that make national headlines. They were much freer with personal information; phone directories listed occupations, as well as children's names and ages.
Still, as this story shows, children faced dangers walking to school even 75 years ago. Even "the good old days" had bad people.
A dilapidated mansion stands empty for years. Children dare each other to enter, only to discover that the house appears as if the family abandoned it in the middle of dinner. Dishes are still on the table, a fully decorated Christmas tree stands in the corner, and beautiful dust-covered furnishings fill each room.
Sounds like a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery, doesn't it? The story is true, however -- or at least parts of it are. I'm still trying to separate fact from fiction about the Parbury house, which is stuff of suburban legend.
Many museum visitors have asked about the home, labeled a mansion by many because of its dramatic decor, tennis courts and swimming pool. The home, located at 44th Street near Grimes Avenue, was leveled after a fire and the property became Kojetin Park.
As one blog reader emailed: "As kids, we thought of it as a 'haunted house' and made daring exploits into its scary -- but splendid -- interior. I've always been curious about why such a gandiose property would be abandoned. My conjecture is that the Parburys were victims of the crash of '29 and had to leave their estate behind, but I have no evidence to support or refute. Any ideas?"
The reader also shared a well-documented story about the Parburys. Officer George Weber received reports about a big black bear running loose in the Morningside neighborhood. His intrepid investigation skills discovered that the bear was only the Parbury dog, a huge black Newfoundland.
If you have information about the Parburys or their home, please let me know. I'm working on a story for an upcoming newsletter. In the meantime, here is a photo of the home from our files. The rear view of the home shows an upper level greenhouse as well as the famous dog (lower right). From this perspective, I wouldn't have called the home a mansion, but many people have assured me that the home was one of the nicest in town.
Click on each image above to see a larger view and description.
The Smithsonian and the Edina History Museum share something in common. We both have Burma-Shave items in our collection.
For those of you chuckling, I don't need to explain the good fun the Burma-Shave signs provided during long road trips. For those of you too young to recall the 1960s and earlier, the Burma Vita company of Minneapolis advertised their Burma-Shave brushless shaving cream with humorous rhyming jingles, told in a series of six signs at the side of the road.
Every visitor has a favorite. Edina resident Allan Odell, who created the jingles for the family company started by his grandfather, loved this one: "Within this vale/ of toil/ and sin/ your head grows bald/ but not your chin /Burma-Shave" He chose that set to give to the Smithsonian.
We don't have a full set of signs -- the family kept just a few signs for nostalgia purposes. Out of the thousands of signs that dotted the landscape throughout the country, many ended up as fishing docks, furniture and firewood.
However, thanks to Allan's son Clinton B. Odell, we have a lot of very cool items, such as Burma-Shave products sold throughout the four decades it was in business as well as a bag, made by Allan's wife Grace, with a needlepoint image of a Model T driving by Burma-Shave signs,and other Burma-Shave memorabilia.
Another fabulous artifact is a huge wall map that hung in the Minneapolis sign shop, dotted with red pins that show where each set of signs was located. This sign was donated by Richard Kammerer, whose father John received the map as a gift when he retired as head of the sign shop. The map had been stored in a pole barn in northern Minnesota, and the family felt that the museum was a better home for the sign.
The company struggled until the advertising jingles brought fame. The Odells moved from Minneapolis to Edina. Patriarch Clinton M. Odell and son Allan Odell each lived in the Country Club District, and son Leonard Odell, who was also very involved in the company, lived in Morningside.
The Burma-Shave story is chronicled in two books, both available at Hennepin County libraries: "The Verse by the Side of the Road: the Story of the Burma-Shave Signs and Jingles" by Frank Rowsome and "Burma-Shave: the Rhymes, the Signs, the Times" by Bill Vossler. The Vossler book is also available in our Gift Shop, and it includes a handy index to the jingles. (For example, if you can't quite remember a favorite, you can look it up by key words.) All 500-plus jingles are listed in the book.
For a quick education on-line, check out the website for Eisner American Museum of Advertising & Design. Their feature on Burma-Shave includes video and audio files and lots of interesting graphics.
We are grateful to both the Odell and Kammerer families for their donations. These items are currently not on display, but every time we bring them out for an exhibit, visitors take a little trip down memory lane. Even those who didn't grow up with the signs long for the days when life was simpler, travel was more leisurely and families enjoyed reading signs like this one: "Around the curve/ lickety-split/ beautiful car/ wasn't it?/ Buy / Burma-Shave" or "Santa's/ Whiskers/ Need no trimmin/ He kisses kids/ not the wimmin/ Burma-Shave".
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Jennifer Adam is the Executive Director of the Edina Historical Society. She welcomes your contributions. Comment on a post or send an email (see below). Traditional mail, of course, can also be sent to:
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