For many reasons, quite a few neighbors around Minnehaha Park absolutely hated the commerce that sprang up outside the park from the 1890s onwards. All the commercial businesses were not equally hated. Everyone needed grocery stores near by, and James R. Hartzell was one who ran a grocery at 50th and Hiawatha. He was popular and respected. In many years he also ran the pony ride concession at the park.
But others running businesses near but outside the park had a harder time of it, with prominent citizens doing everything they could to run them out. This worked less well that one might think, though the ultimate result was that places designed to draw crowds and provide entertainments were closed down but neighborhood conveniences stayed.
In 1907, a building permit was issued to real estate entrepreneur Chas. Synder (who also sometimes ran the pony ride at the park). He began this building in the very same month that the strip of pavilionscloser to the railroadtracks were torn down.
This little grocery changed hands many times over the decades that it stood. Here, details date the picture to the summer of 1924, and by using the usual tools, we’ve figure out that it was run by Peder Grotta Iverson. He was a Norwegian immigrant who rented (likely contracted to buy) this little confectionery from Ida Hoeffken, who lived a few blocks away.
Peder was known as Peter in his new country. He and his wife Emma had 5 children, 4 boys and their daughter Beatrice who was right in the middle of the pack. They’d lived in Iowa, and it’s not certain why they came to Minneapolis. But the Hiawatha Confectionery seemed like an excellent opportunity. The shop was located at 4900 42nd Ave. So. on the high ground opposite Minnehaha Park. They had a house right across the street, so working long hours was easy.
The Iversons settled right into neighborhood life. They took a stand on the early 1920s’ hottest neighborhood controversy: should the new high school be named Nokomis or Roosevelt? (They were supporters of the Nokomis name.) They provided the same sort of amenities people still want from neighborhood marts: bananas, sandwiches, gasoline, ice cream. They kept a jug near the water spigot for motorists to top up their overheating cars. They had a scale out front so people could weigh themselves.
At this time, Peder and Emma were in their 40s and the kids were growing up fast. Of course it was a family business, and at least Beatrice helped in the store. A good thing that was, too. Because in 1924, “bandits” attempted to rob them.
Breathlessly exciting newspaper stories recall what happened. Two men peered in the windows, then entered with “revolvers leveled. ‘Stick ’em up, quick!’ they ordered.” Brandishing the ice cream scoop, Emma said, “Get out of here. We know you!” And 18-year-old Beatrice cried, “You won’t stick us up!” and swung the broom. The men fled, and were chased down the street by the two ladies. They got away. The bandits were thought to be between 22 and 27 years old, of slender build, and dressed in “modified sheik style” (whatever that was).
The Iversons’ attempt to make a go of it at the Hiawatha Confectionery only lasted three years. By 1925, someone else was running the place. And unfortunately, Beatrice died young, at just 21. She had no children or grandchildren to tell the story to, about that one time when she and her mom chasing armed stick-up men out of their store and down the street with a broom and a spoon.
This photograph is so worthy of study because the small refreshment stands, dance halls, illegal saloons, and “fakir booths” in or near the “Minnehaha Midway” were nearly never photographed. Only a handful of images from the era have come to light so far.
We don’t know who ran these businesses. But there probably is a little more information about the left-hand, southern pavilion. We probably have another picture of it. Like nearly all of these Midway pictures, this is considered to be a unique, one-of-a-kind image:
Is this the “Lunches” pavilion? That’s the most likely guess. We see tables and curved back chairs in both the MNHS picture and the Cracker Jack picture. The aesthetic of displaying plenty of advertising is clear in both. And we know where this isn’t: It’s not the Park Board’s work in their two refreshment pavilions, not the burned down pavilion from 1903-1904, nor the second one from 1905. That second one is still standing, after all.
There’s a bit of question about the supports for the roof. In the Cracker Jack picture, the supports appear to have a slight curve which we only see in the “Lunches” picture when looking at the Depot, not the pavilion. But, since we are not looking at the exact same uprights in both pictures, there’s room to believe that these are both the same pavilion in these pictures.
Still looking at this intriguing image, it seems that the businesses beyond the railroad depot appear on a map from the Rascher Insurance Co. that fellow historian Stefan Songstad found at the MNHS library. The original map was printed in 1892, but it was revised multiple times.
When these old insurance company maps were revised, that meant pasting paper over buildings that were no longer there, and pasting in drawings of new buildings. Reading through the pasted-over papers is a crucial part of this research and it isn’t always easy or even possible. It’s like an archeological dig.
What the map tells us, as we peer through paper and through time, is that there were two refreshment pavilions just opposite the depot, and that each was a single story tall, and had shingled roof. These were next to the easy-to-spot ice house. According to the meta-data on this map at Minnesota Historical Society, these paste-over updates were possibly done between 1904 and 1906. Other buildings removed from the map are surmised to have existed only in 1903 and 1904.
So, our black and white photo, which looks through the depot at these places, was taken between 1892 and 1902. But we can narrow down the date of what we see here because, the creation of this refreshment district happened in 1895-1896. The city directories begin to list them as they appear. With a little more work, we might be able to figure out who is standing in that refreshment pavilion, peering down the tracks, looking for the train from Minneapolis and his customers to arrive. Probably the ladies on the bench are waiting for the train, too.
At its beginning, photography required innovators. Clever problem solvers envisioned the next innovations and then invented the solutions that would make those innovations possible.
One of these was Chicago’s John Carbutt, who invented—among other things—the celluloid film that made motion pictures possible. Carbutt, of course, also photographed Minnehaha Falls on several occasions in the 1860s. Another Minnehaha photographer who was a prominent photographic inventor and who worked at the turn of the last century was another Chicagoan: George Raymond Lawrence perfected aerial photography. It was quite a feat. Airplanes had not yet been invented.
George Lawrence’s studio had the motto: “The Hitherto Impossible in Photography Is Our Specialty.” He began his inventive career with what was called “flashlight photography.” In the time before flashbulbs, he used chemical light explosions placed all over large rooms and set off simultaneously to illuminate the shot. He invented a sort of bag to capture the smoke of the explosions, thereby keeping the room pleasant after the photograph was taken. (This also stopped him from burning off his eyebrows, mustache, and hair, as happened quite often in the early experimental days.) He was famed for taking pictures of large crowds like banquets and legislatures and so on. He photographed the Minnesota House and Senate in 1901 and again in 1905.
Another of George Lawrence’s notable achievements was building giant cameras which he used for his large crowd pictures. The giant camera in the above newspaper photograph looks huge. It had an eight-inch lens and took pictures measuring 26 x 38 inches. But compared to Lawrence’s “world’s largest camera,” this is nothing. The world’s largest camera took 15 men to move it around, and the lens cap was almost as big as a manhole cover.
This camera was built under contract with a railroad to photograph their entire train in one huge exposure. The photo was submitted to the Paris Exposition of 1900, and was declared a fake: No one could take an 8-foot-long photograph. The exposition head dispatched the French Consul General from New York to Lawrence’s studio in Chicago to examine the apparatus. The photograph was proved authentic and won “The Grand Prize of the World for Photographic Excellence.”
Lawrence was famous for his panoramas, and these are his lasting legacy. He would use any tall building, or he would build scaffolds and towers to raise his camera high enough for the shot. Here was the inspiration for his invention of aerial photography. He began taking his pictures from tethered balloons. In June of 1901, while photographing the Armour stockyards in Chicago, his balloon escaped and he famously fell. The rope netting surrounding his balloon torn, the balloon broke free, and he came crashing down on the platform he had substituted for the basket. His fall was broken by the telegraph wires. He fell more than 50 feet (or 200 or 300 feet: stories varied) and was unhurt but for a few cuts, probably from all the broken glass plates. Unfortunately he needed that balloon for a shot the next day at a horse race. No replacement was available. He turned out a crew of men and built a 100-foot-tall wooden tower in just five hours. He got the shot. He was that kind of “get-it-done” innovator.
Even after his near-disastrous fall, he continued his bird’s eye photography from balloons, coming to Minnesota in 1901 and 1902 to shoot aerial pictures of both of the Twin Cities, as well as Litchfield, Hutchinson, and St. Cloud. He travelled with his own hydrogen gas plant, bringing along 4 tons of sulphuric acid and 3 tons of iron filings. When combined these would give off the 25,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas needed to fill his 80-foot-tall “bag.” These large aerial panoramas of towns, 3 feet or so in length, were intended for local people to send to their far-off friends and family who could not make the trip to see their Minnesota homes.
By 1901, this “balloonograph” photography was his predictable and practiced art. When, on August 14 of that year, Lawrence photographed Litchfield Minn. from 2,000 feet up, it was considered the first-ever photograph of an entire town in one exposure. Lawrence, ever the inventive perfectionist, saw that this technique would not give the best results for a photograph of Minneapolis or St. Paul. So he left Minnesota for a few weeks, returning to his Chicago studio where he quickly invented a panoramic camera better suited to the task.
The new device used a “sliding” or “traveling” film rather than a glass plate. Perhaps he used fellow-Chicagoan John Carbutt’s celluloid film. The new camera enabled Lawrence to take a panorama of the whole city. Apparently, shooting pictures from a balloon onto even quite-large glass plates was insufficient to get a good view of our larger cities. Not to be outdone, his assistant rigged up a way to improve communications from the ground with Lawrence a half mile up in “Cloudland.” He interwove a copper telephone wire into the anchoring cable so that they could talk. Lawrence seized on the idea of telephoning his wife while high in the sky. The general manager of the phone company allowed as how that had never been done before, but that there was no reason it could not work. A few days later, his wife telephoned him to announce the birth of their second son.
For all the hoopla of the above story–and it got days and days of coverage in the newspaper–no example of any Minneapolis or St. Paul panorama has yet turned up. Lawrence did attempt to photograph Stillwater, Minn. a short time later, but he lost the balloon to damage in a windstorm. The next year, in 1902, he took panoramas of Stillwater and of the Minnesota State Fair by constructing 150-foot-tall towers from which to take the pictures.
In 1903, Lawrence was again in Minneapolis, attempting to take a panorama of the city from a tethered balloon. Because the balloon had to be completely motionless while the plate was exposed, there were many false starts and failed attempts when taking these sky-high panoramic photos. These failures lead his always-inventive mind to launching cameras tethered to smaller balloons. With complicated stabilization constructions, and a smaller balloon presenting a smaller surface to be blown around, he expected more success. It wasn’t long, however, before he invented his kite photography technique called the Captive Air Ship.
Lawrence’s most famous pictures were taken with cameras suspended by kites, and were images of the remains of the city of San Francisco, Calif. after the earthquake on April 18, 1906. Lawrence could fly a train of as many as 17 kites, all separated by piano wire. These would lift his camera with its elaborate stabilization device, and he would take the picture from the ground. His shots of San Francisco were taken from this string of kites, the Captive Air Ship, from over 2,000 feet in the air. They were not the only panoramas taken of the disaster, but their exquisite clarity of detail made them a prized evidence of the catastrophe, and he sold them for $125 each. In today’s terms, they brought him well over a quarter of a million dollars.
It’s not known on which of his many trips to Minnesota that Lawrence photographed Minnehaha Falls. His panorama of Minnehaha was entered into the Library of Congress on March 7, 1906, just a few weeks before the catastrophe in California. The picture is clearly not March in Minnesota, however. With leaves on some but not all trees, it’s pretty obviously mid-May or September or October. Lawrence was in Minnesota in March of 1905, but that’s also the wrong time of year. Perhaps this was taken during his many prolonged visits in 1901 and 1902. But why would Lawrence wait so long to copyright his image?
For all of his innovations with balloons and kites and towers and cameras, the Lawrence panorama of Minnehaha Falls shows none of that inventiveness. The photo was taken at creek level by someone standing alongside the creek, or on a bridge. Perhaps he used the “traveling film” camera he built in 1901. The park board’s boulder wall is the only example of the built environment in the picture, and it was in place in the early 1900s. The exact date of this photograph is not certain.
The only known copy of the Lawrence panorama of Minnehaha Falls is held by the Library of Congress, and the scan they have on-line is frankly terrible. But it is easy to find copies of the panorama, and even colorized copies. Lawrence apparently sold the rights to the image to Chicago’s V. O. Hammon postcard company, which reprinted it in vast quantities.
For all his success, Lawrence had a remarkable failure when attempting to photograph animals in Africa from a balloon. That story can be found on-line. Lawrence also had an “interesting” personal life, with years of involvement with religious Dowieites; his own kidnapping of his sons; his first wife’s belief in the “Happiness” cult (she said it “fairly oozed out of her”–a charming if bawdy image); his photographic company’s bankruptcy, and his new successful career as an aviation designer. But none of that is about the Minnehaha panorama story. That quite ordinary photo represents a sadly missed chance for an aerial photograph of the falls by his era’s top practitioner of the skill. Today, we are fortunate to have drones, digital video, and the Internet and so we can see the falls from “Cloudland.”
Storyteller or liar? William Herrick–the Hermit of Minnehaha Park–was some of each. And Herrick told such convincing, engaging tales that it’s hard to believe that his stories are not true, even 100 years after his death.
His artful storytelling included details that both impressed his audience and added verisimilitude. When he told the story of his Civil War career, he left out the part about never seeing combat. He was stationed in Kansas, there to build bridges and protect the mail trains. Instead he said (truthfully) that he was stationed “near the Blue Cut country where the famous Younger and James brothers held forth.” Except that he’d been mustered out and sent home before the first James gang robbery. Surely that detail is unimportant in the higher calling of telling a good story.
Samuel Atherton Hatch was (after Longfellow) the most important story-teller in the history of Minnehaha Falls, and pretty much no one has heard of him. He died in 1904, just a few months after the publication of his obscure little tract.
Even in the years before antibiotics and vaccinations, when most people had been to funerals for small children, being “cut down in the prime of life” was a cause for shocked remorse and sadness. Death was more prevalent, but it did not matter less.
Possibly Samuel A. Hatch, who died at age 25, was just as great a guy as his obituaries suggested.
The Great Depression. Something like 25% of the work force had no jobs. Soup kitchens provided a hot meal, maybe the only one these people would get. Work relief programs were started by the presidents of the day, Hoover and then Roosevelt. These job-creation agencies worked on America’s infrastructure. And someone named Walter B. Dahlberg, possibly an employee of the parks, compiled some terrific reports on the works accomplished in the Minneapolis park system. These are available on-line for 1936-1942. (Perhaps any earlier reports were lost, or haven’t been put on-line yet.)