Monthly Archives: October 2011

Last Call for Winter Wear to Share

The cold breath of winter is blowing in – and the sun is on winter vacation – so warm winter gear is an absolute necessity for every man, woman and child who is challenged by the elements.

Knowing the special suffering of neighbors in need East Side Neighborhood Services will sponsor its 15th Annual East Side Coat Giveaway on Monday, November 7, 2-5 p.m.

Actually, it’s more than a coat giveaway.  Friends and neighbors may drop off gently used coats, gloves, mittens, hats and boots – especially children’s items – at the East Side Thrift Store, 1928 Central Avenue NE or East Side Neighborhood Services, 1700 2nd Street Northeast.   October 31 is Monday, so it’s not too late – yet.

The ESNS Thrift Store has also put out a call for volunteers.  Call 612 789 0600 for more information.

This is a great service, a welcoming and well-stocked store, and a great chance to unload the closets by helping a neighbor.

Halloween Stats – Tricks, Treats and 4.1 Million Costumed Kids

In the midst of all of the anti-Washington sentiments that pour forth from the pundits and seem to be lapped up by the public, it’s good to see that the information wheels of our federal government continue to gather, interpret and ultimately spew forth immense quantities of usually essentially, sometimes just plain fun, information.

The Census Bureau, which continues to process the inestimable data collected in the 2010 Census, takes time now to share some fun facts about Halloween.

Did you know?

Some 41 million children age 5-14 hit the Trick or Treat trail in 2010 – Add to this number the 0-4 and 15+ generations who seemed be part of the crowd on my front steps particularly before and after “rush hour.”  (U.S. Census Bureau)

The T or T crowd has their pick of some 116.7 occupied housing units.  I have observed of late that the sophisticates – and their parents – tend to have checklists of criteria by which they judge the generous spirit of the homeowners so there are no disappointing treats. (U.S. Census Bureau)

1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins brighten the Halloween festivities;  a small fraction even turn up in pies, puddings, soups and cookies.  Illinois produces an estimated 427 million pounds of the gourd.  California, New York and Ohio are also major pumpkin producing states.  (U.S. Department of Agriculture

1,177 U.S. manufacturing establishments produce chocolate and cocoa products and employ 34, 252 people.  California leads the nation with 135 followed by Pennsylvania with 111 (including Hershey which probably gives PA a leg up in the chocolate marathon)

409 U.S. establishments manufacture non-chocolate confectionary products; they employ 16,974 people.  Again, California leads the sugary pack.  (Note: My informed-by- consumption opinion is that some of those chocolate/cocoa manufacturers should be reclassified with this group)

24.7 pounds per capita is the rate of Americans’ candy consumption – I assume that’s an annual figure, in which case I probably should stop now…..

Where to spend the day:

The Bureau thoughtfully suggests some places around the country “that may put you in the Halloween mood.”  Consider these possibilities, or add your personal favorite:

  • Transylvania County, NC
  • Tombstone, AZ
  • Pumpkin Center, NC
  • Cape Fear, NC
  • Skull Creek, NE

You may want to consider including or substituting these factoids with the M&Ms and Twix – the digital data dump is pre-paid by the public, readily accessible, and clearly better than sugar for those high spirited young beggars who are already on a sugar high – or those teens who show up late after you’ve run out of candy and are desperate to give them something just to keep them at bay.

Or then again you may want to stick with the safer tradition and avoid the consequences of withholding treats.  Even the President expressed his concern that the White House will be egged if Michelle insists on handing out veggies.


Don’t Dump on Northeast Redux


“Don’t Dump on Northeast” signs that once marched boldly across Northeast have faded and faded from view.  The threat has not.  In fact, the Minneapolis-Hennepin County proposal to construct a “recycling and drop-off center” in the Holland neighborhood, at 340 27th Avenue NE near University Avenue, is currently boiling on the “front burner” at City Hall. The “Don’t Dump on Northeast” campaign has engaged all of the Northeast neighborhoods.


Though Holland residents are most immediately affected, other neighborhoods, including my own Windom Park, are concerned about a host of issues including pollution, truck traffic, and the inclination of City officials to dismiss the concerns of Minneapolitans who happen to live East of the Mississippi.

Spring 2012 is the proposed start of construction of the site which is projected to be fully operational by spring 2013.  The project as outlined by the City will include two buildings that will house separate functions:  The first building, approximately 26,000 square feet, will contain the Hennepin County Household Hazardous Waste Drop-Off Center (HHDC) and support offices.  The second building, termed the Voucher Program Building (VPB), is approximately 22,800 square feet and is planned to operate as a drop-off point for construction and demolition materials and clean up debris for the City of Minneapolis voucher program whereby residents receive City vouchers to unload “household debris.”

More details re. the City-County plan for the Recycling-Drop-off Center  are laid out in a recent detailed document with copious links to detailed reports, maps, studies, and other government-produced information.

And then there are the opinions of the affected Northeasters who have consistently and persistently organized and protested the City-County plan.  When local residents sued to stop the project, largely on the basis that the dump does not meet zoning requirements, they were held at bay by the City Attorney’s contention that “the city will move to dismiss the lawsuit because no application is yet pending for the facility with the city.”

Another major bone of contention between Northeasters and the City of Minneapolis concern the very purpose of the facility.  The City and County prefer the more benign “recycling and drop-off center” terminology.  At the same time, plans seem to call for the move of the Hennepin County Southside Transfer Station to the site.  Statistics indicate that only 1/3 of the materials at the Southside Transfer Station are recycled.  Residents’ challenge on this issue could put a crimp in the plans for a joint City-County venture.

In spite of City officials’ assertion that there are no definite plans, residents argue that the taxpayers have already invested $2 million in the planning process.  Opponents also object to the fact that several City staffers with whom they had been working have been reassigned.

The facts are indisputable:  1) The City continues to work on a recycling-drop off center (whatever it’s to be named) and 2) opposition to what is locally known as “the dump” in Northeast is alive and well.  In today’s E-Democracy post local activist and Holland resident Bruce Shoemaker writes:

It’s time for the City (or the few proponents for this that are left among City staff) to face reality,[to] stop wasting their time and our money, and give up on the current plan.  The opponents – who have won every neighborhood vote that has taken place in Northeast by substantial margins – aren’t going away.  Every step of the process is going to be under intense scrutiny.  We have a strong and compelling legal argument and a substantial majority of our community on our side and we are going to prevail.






Pillsbury School Readers “Targetted”

Later this week several hundred members of the American Association of School Librarians will be gathering for their annual conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  The program covers the rapidly expanding outpouring of books that depict and reflect the diversity in the schools, improving reading skills, all manner of technology, information literacy and the inexplicable joy of reading and learning.  I hope to spend some time learning myself.

Even more, I wish I could organize a contingent of these learning librarians to visit my nearest school library media center at Pillsbury School, 2250 Garfield Northeast in Windom Park.  Pillsbury is a K-5 school in which some 650 emerging scholars are just becoming acquainted with the richness of their school library media center, recently rehabbed and restocked through the generous financial contribution of Target Corporation, the redesign of a national partner organization, Heart of America,  and the contributed services of scores of Target employees.

In a 2010 talk to Grantmakers in Education Reba Dominski, Target’s Director of Community Relations Education Initiatives, describes her corporation’s broad commitment to reading and literacy, the commitment that led to the grant to Pillsbury.  School Principal Laura Cavender saw a need to revamp the twenty-plus year old library – and she saw the possibility of Pillsbury applying to Target Corporation for funding.

The result was a $200,000 grant that spiffed up the media center and added 21st Century technology including IPads and computers, new furniture and redesigned reading nooks, and a school-wide buzz about what was happening in the school media center.  Most important, the library collection was the focus of the make-over;  over 2000 new books reflect the time and the student population.

I was fortunate to be on hand September 28 for the Grand Reopening of the Library Media Center – and I was not alone!  Some 175 Target employees who had worked on the project were there to enjoy the fruits of their labors.  Mayor Rybak, Councilman Kevin Reich and Senator Amy Klobuchar stood out in the overwhelming mass of parents and siblings, Pillsbury students, neighbors, teachers and red-shirted Target workers.

One of the most touching aspects of that day was the fact that every child, Pillsbury student or sibling, received a generous stack of age appropriate books – and a canvas bag in which to tote their treasures.  Families in need were also invited to share a plentiful bounty of good food.  These same families will continue to receive food, including fresh produce, throughout the school year.

There were cheers and tears, beaming teachers, proud Target employees and above all young folks reading, showing off their new digs to their friends and families.  This was a day to remember – I replay the event and the idea every time I pass the school.

If the librarians visiting from around the nation – and the readers of this post – don’t have the chance to visit Pillsbury, this video snippet:]

captured by television KARE 11 offers an honest and informative overview of the project, their spirit and energy of the students and volunteers,  and its long term impact on a much deserving school.

Sarah Muench, Pillsbury School librarian, also found time to snap some great photos of appreciative young learners exploring their new media center.

Northern Lights Videos Reflect Minnesota’s Literary Landscape

Every day in libraries, bookstores and living rooms throughout the state Minnesotans gather to pore over books by local authors, books about the state’s history, studies of the land itself, idiosyncrasies of Minnesotans and stories of their unique approach to life. Bibliophiles venture forth on lush summer days and blustery wintry evenings for readings and talks by Minnesota writers and illustrators, those who review Minnesota press, publishers and reviewers. In a word, Minnesota is a state of lifelong readers.

What many folks don’t know is that there is a rich heritage of interviews with Minnesotans who have left their words or continue to write for Minnesota readers. Northern Lights and Insights is a little known collection of videotapes that record interviews with well over 500 Minnesotans with ties to the written world. The videos were produced over a period of thirteen years, first by Hennepin County Library and subsequently by the Minnesota Center for the Book which, during the late 1980’s and 1990’s, was housed at Metronet. As Director of Metronet at that time I was and remain inordinately proud of having had a hand in the production.

Production of the series has ceased, though the need has not. Many of the interviewees have achieved great literary success in the intervening years; sadly, many have died. Over time I have developed an absolute compulsion to assure that those incredible interviews are known by Minnesotans who love the books and who may want to the authors, illustrators and publishers.

This post is a preliminary but determined step aimed at preserving and sharing one of the state’s literary treasures through the best means possible.

All of the Northern Lights videos, in a mix of formats including VHS and Beta, are available at the Minnesota Historical Society Library. With funding from the state Legislature we were able to make videos available through interested regional public library systems in 1999-2000. Many schools include Northern Lights videos in their collections. All of the videos are cataloged in elegant detail and posted on the Web. My fervent hope is that some day, if an appropriate agency or collaborative will take responsibility, this video legacy of Minnesota literature may be streamed on the Web.

Because the project was low key and low budget emphasis was on content, matching interviewees with the right interviewer, assuring that local cable, including the Metro Cable Network, carried the half-hour shows as they were produced. The low tech production involved the writer and willing interviewer (who had read the book) sitting down in a working office. Dave Carlson, a producer who could work video magic without a studio, top of the line technology, or fanfare captured the conversation, then edited the tape for distribution on cable.

In some ways this 20th century effort was a precursor of today’s quick and easy on-site video. Promotion of Northern Lights was far from a realistic possibility for our bootstrap system; having no resources for promotion freed us to focus all of our efforts on seizing the moment and preserving it for posterity.

Some samples of the Northern Lights and Insights offers the a taste of the richness of the video collection. To wit: The series includes interviews with Bill Holm, Robert Bly, Meridel LeSuer, Kate DiCamillo, Eugene McCarthy, John Sandford, Gary Paulsen, Patricia Hampl, Elmer L. Andersen, James Shannon, and some 700 others. Program episode lists can be found on the Minnesota Historical Society website and on the online catalogs of participating public, academic and school libraries through MnLINK . (Search “Northern Lights” and look for video recordings – you will find some entries that include the term but refer to books; just move on to the videos.) Many of the videos are available in several libraries around the state – or patrons may request interlibrary loan at any local library.

Halloween — Did the Irish “think it up” – Or Not — And Does it Matter

A few years ago I got my Halloween comeuppance when I sent a seasonal e-card to my young niece Lily, probably 10 years old at the time and living in Dublin. In a thoroughly patronizing digital gaffe I inquired if they celebrated Halloween in Ireland. By return e-mail I was informed by Lily that “of course we do, they (the Irish) thought it up!” According to some schools of thought re. All Hallow’s Eve, Lily had it just right.

There are dozens of massive tomes on the topic of Halloween and All Hallow’s Eve – far more historic research and theory than I want to contemplate. So, with a nod to wise Lily, the focus here is on the Celtic origins of All Hallows Eve, one intriguing, if debatable, explanation of the roots from whence come our Halloween customs of today. Suspend modern objections for a few minutes and enjoy the abundance of delicious stories that float around Halloween – focus here on the Celtic tales.

Start with the historical fact that All Hallows Eve is the night before All Saints’ Day, November 1, long celebrated in the Catholic tradition that involved a vigil to pray for and honor the deceased who led saintly lives, particularly those who do not have a special day of commemoration.

Recognize that, as is so often the case, pagan celebrations long predate the Christian tradition. The pagan rituals surrounding All Hallows Eve involved bonfires and feasting on apples, nuts and harvest fruits. Mary Reed Newland writes that “the Britons celebrated in honor of their sun-god with bonfires, a tribute to the light that brought them abundant harvest. At the same time they saluted Samhain, the ‘lord of death,’ who was thought to gather together at least the souls of the year’s dead which had been consigned to the bodies of animals in punishment for their sins.” (1)

Samhain, a “very Irish feast” is the source of the Celtic tradition that offers one purported root of modern Halloween lore and customs. The Celts had a unique way of marking the passage of time; the year began in darkness and worked towards the light. Samhain was one of the four “quarter days” of the Celtic calendar, along with February 1, the start of spring, May 1, marking the start of summer and August 1, the start of the harvest. Supposedly, Samhain involved days of feasting before and after the actual day.

The challenge of Samhain was to batten down the hatches for winter – tending to the animals and filling the larder. For example, the Irish believed that all fruit harvested after November 1 is bewitched and thus inedible. Samhain also meant making peace, settling debts and a rich tradition of religious activities. Fires were extinguished, making All Hallows Eve the darkest night of the year, a darkness broken when the fires were re-lit on November 1.

For the Celts that dark night of October 31-November 1 was a time between years. During this dark night “the borders between our world and the otherworld(s) were flexible and open”(2) The night was filled with once-a-year visitors including the pooka who roamed free, a black, ugly horse with red eyes and the ability to talk; the pooka was into kidnappings and other undesirable exploits. Banshees could be killed by humans during the night; fairies were visible; the underworld palaces of the fairies (aka the gentry) were open for the creatures of the netherworld to come and go.

Though earthly folks were free to do whatever, the penalties for a misstep were such that most didn’t test the hazards of the night. Last but not least, the long deceased were free to revisit their earthly homes and, if they so chose, to settle debts. The bonfires set by the living were the highway helper system of the day.

Samhain morphed into All Hallows Eve when Christian missionaries took it upon themselves to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In 601 Pope Gregory I issued an edict to the missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the people he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native people’s customs and beliefs, the pope, being a pragmatist, instructed missionaries to connect them with Christian practices, presumably to ease the “conversion” process for the unreconstructed Celts.

Still, Samhain didn’t make the cut as a Christian holy day. The essential paganism, with its emphasis on the supernatural, didn’t correlate with any Christian feasts. The Druids, the “clergy” of Samhain, were ultimately labeled evil worshippers or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld was predictably identified with the Christian hell.

Ultimately, the Samhain tradition and other Celtic customs were diminished but not obliterated. In the end, the Church defined them as merely dangerous, not malicious. And the Christian feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st, the major Samhain celebration with the assumption that the pagan worshippers would switch to honoring every Christian saint.

On the one hand, it’s a stretch from Samhain and the early decades of the First Century. On the other, it’s intriguing – and eerily fun — to trace some of the customs to see if there is so much as a hint of a connection with Samhain or parallel theories in our ancient cultures. This is one story, as good as any, better than some.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m good with Lily’s contention that the Irish “made it up.” Still, I’m open to any good story that draws a line between those batmen and sponge bobs and princesses at the door and the customs of our forebears, even if they do go back a bit. Time just makes the story more enticing. In an era when we are loathe to look back to yesterday, mere consideration of what our ancestors were up to a couple thousand years ago is probably a good mental exercise. Know that deep thoughts about Samhain or any of the other ancient rituals that may or may not shape 21st Century Halloween traditions go best with a clutch of salvaged M&M’s at the ready.

(1) Mary Reed Newland, All Hallow’s Eve, Chapter 19 in The Year and Our Children. P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1956, 270-278.
(2) Bernd Biege, “Samhain – A Very Irish Feast: The Roots of Halloween in Celtic Ireland., Ireland Travel.

If you really want to explore some other Halloween lore, stories and rituals, you might want to check out the following:

Rogers, Nicholas (2002). Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, New York: Oxford University Press.

Morton, Lisa. The Halloween Encyclopedia, McFarland & Company (2003). 240 pages.

These are two among scores of books and articles that deal with origins and traditions about Halloween. And then there are hundreds of books and articles about costumes, decorations, menus, and games – but that’s a whole other realm of interest!

An Ardent Archives Advocate Is Born

Regular readers of this blog may wonder why so many recent pieces about archives and archivists. The truth is that American Archives Month has presented an opportunity to think about a topic I’ve wanted to ponder for a relatively short while. Though folks may think it’s in the librarian DNA to think about archives, the fact is my interest is fueled not by training or long years of working in the library world but by my more recent dip into writing, particularly writing about the history of my neighborhood.

As a patron of Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library I have had the opportunity, the time and the incentive to dig deep into those archives. It’s in handling the documents and photos, reading the notes left by past archivists and librarians, noting the care with which the records are physically preserved, that I have come to appreciate the commitment of the individuals and of the institution itself to preserving the stories of our community.

Clearly, this is the same attitude and support that have created community library collections, county and local historical societies, the records of state agencies, nonprofits, the papers of individuals and institutions that have been shared, even digitized – and the records that have yet to be discovered.

Though it is my good fortune to be able to explore the archives in the serenity of the James Hosmer Special Collections – and with the generous assistance of extraordinary staff, I have become a ardent advocate for digitization that brings the content, if not the ambiance, to the learner. Whether that learner wants to know about his or her family, town, college, church, business, environment, house or neighborhood, the armchair searcher has exponentially expanding digital access. That means that archivists have not only turned paper photos into machine readable digits; they have cataloged the information so that the finding tools guide the searcher to the range of options or to the precise goal of the information quest.

It is of increasing concern that today’s extreme focus on today blinds the public and the Deciders to the importance – and the delight — of knowing from whence we came – and the beautiful human inclination to share with our descendents the stories of what we were thinking and doing “in the day.”

Something to think about as legislators, lobbyists and football franchise owners covet those Legacy funds that have opened the doors to many of the state’s archives.