This issue: Contents
Tuesday, April 21st, 2015
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Warden’s House Open House
  • WCHS News: Paranormal Investigation Raffle
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: The Wrong Sort of Ghostbusting
  • Featured Article: 1965 St. Croix Valley Flood

Editor’s Note

Are we really sure we had 70 degree weather last week? As I’m sitting here typing this note, some sort of strange white fluffy stuff is fluttering outside the museum window…were those sunny days just a cruel shared hallucination?

…Welcome to Minnesota!

Thankfully, we’re about to be too busy to mourn “shorts and t-shirts” weather anyways! By the next issue of the e-newsletter, both the Warden’s House and Hay Lake School museums will be open for the season! Cue fanfare and trumpets.

And to properly start our season, our Annual Warden’s House Open House is this Sunday! Head down to our first News Story for additional details and information.

As fans of everything WCHS – you’ve probably heard of the paranormal event we have held at the museum for the last two years near Halloween. It’s become one of our most popular events and this year, we’re offering a chance for a lucky individual to get an insider’s access to the supernatural element of the Warden’s House overall narrative. Check out our second News Story if that rather cryptic teaser has piqued your interest.

Of course, I’ll also invite you wonderful readers a chance to take a crack at our sixth installment of the “What Is This Thing?!” challenge.

In Old News, you’ll read that the public’s fascination with the unknown, mysterious, and paranormal is nothing new.

And finally, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the record breaking 1965 St. Croix Valley Flood. You’ll be able to see a full exhibit, with remarkable photographs, on this harrowing episode throughout the 2015 touring season at the Warden’s House.

Want to learn more about the history of Washington County? “Like” WCHS on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

WCHS News 

Warden’s House Open House

Help us launch the 2015 touring season while getting a sneak peek at the new Warden’s House exhibits at our free Open House this Sunday, April 26th from 12:00 – 4:00 PM!

This year we’ll be highlighting the industries from the Old Stillwater Prison, commemorating the end of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, and remembering the dramatic 1965 St. Croix Valley Flood.

And all the while, you can enjoy generously donated Caribou Coffee, delicious treats and snacks, and live music by Mary Taylor Allen and her string instrument students all in a unique historic setting!

More: Events

WCHS News 

Paranormal Investigation Raffle

“Is the house haunted?” is probably the single most common question folks ask me about the Warden’s House.

If you Google “Haunted Places in Minnesota” – the Warden’s House will inevitably appear on almost every online list. Because of this reptuation, every year we receive dozens of requests to perform paranormal investigations at the museum which is simply too numerous for us to reasonably accomodate.

So this year, we’re trying something new…

Starting at the Open House on April 26th, WCHS will be selling raffle tickets to join the Johnsdale Paranormal Group on their annual overnight paranormal investigation of the Warden’s House. The tickets will be on sale at our museums throughout the summer until the drawing in early September.

Now, this isn’t a raffle for a “haunted house experience”. No costumed characters will leap out from behind curtains at you. At the same time, we obviously lack the ability to conjure any personal supernatural encounters.

The raffle winner (and one additional guest of their choice) will have a unique opportunity to learn from and work alongside experienced paranormal researchers and their state-of-the-art equipment. They will also be invited to be a part of our wildly successful Paranormal event in October.

The $10.00 ticket cost supports WCHS’ continued efforts of collecting, preserving, and disseminating the history of Washington County.

Full Contest Rules

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 6)

Thank you for another great round of What Is This Thing?!! I think we had a first this time – literally everyone who answered was able to correctly identify that the item was indeed a shoe-repairing device. (Although one person did amusingly ponder if it was a foot to a robotic grape-stomper). Two folks were even able provide the correct name: “shoe last”.

E-newsletter reader Carol Brotzler said, “How many of us youngsters didn’t have their shoes resoled on this “shoe last” during WWII?? My grandfather had several on stands and various sizes, too…made our shoes go from sibling to younger sibling while rationing lasted.”

I love hearing that people have personal stories and connections with the items in our collection, so thank you for allowing me to share that bit of your personal history with everyone!

And of course, thank you to everyone who participated!

Onto this week’s challenge! I hope this is a bit harder for you all – I think you might be able to guess what it’s used for, but do you know what this artifact is called?

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at, tweet @WCHS2, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Old News

The Wrong Kind of Ghostbusting

As soon as I saw this article, I knew I had to include it in today’s Historical Messenger. I wanted to use this as an example of literally the exact opposite of what you can expect from the paranormal investigation raffle.

It’s definitely worth noting that the newspaper reported not only the suspected con-artists’ full names but also their home address.

…And I absolutely love that “Bob Kelly” is the name these geniuses came up with for a Fifth Century sailor.

Fake Spirit Trapped – Stillwater Messenger – April 21, 1906

Minneapolis – Cowering with fear and imploring mercy from every lineament of their palid faces, Mr. and Mrs. C. Amundson, 1125 Sixth street southeast, were exposed at a private séance, and the mask was lifted so effectively that both confessed that they had been deceiving the public for years.

While the spirit of “Bob Kelly”, a sailor, who was supposed to have died 1,500 years ago, was cavorting about the parlor floor, one of the spectators in the mystic circle leaped from his seat to embrace the ethereal Kelly, and clasped instead the living Mrs. C. Amundson, dressed in black tights and her bust draped with a veil of white silk. A struggled followed. There was a crash of breaking lamps, mingled with the groans of those whot hought they had communed with the spirits of their departed loved ones, until a pocket searchlight was turned upon the quivering form of Mrs. Amundson and another revealed the blanched face of Mr. Amundson.

Featured Article

1965 St. Croix Valley Flood

by Brent Peterson

In a case of true Minnesotan weather, the state “enjoyed” record-breaking snowfalls across the state in late March 1965. When this coupled with raising temperatures and unusually high amounts of rain – officials began to realize a serious situation was forming. The Mississippi River and its tributaries, including the St. Croix River, were going to flood.

Knowing the devastation that surely would occur without immediate action, St. Croix Valley residents leapt into action. Every available body was needed to hold back the raising waters; high school students were released from class and even fifty inmates from the Minnesota State Prison were sent to help. Starting on April 10, 1965, construction began on a massive sandbag and earthen dike to save Stillwater’s downtown area.

Because of the large number of youths helping to build the barrier, the defensive line became known as the “Teenager’s Dike”, and was adorned with a large painted sign labeling it as such.

By April 15th, city and county officials decided that all “pedestrian or moving vehicles” be prevented from entering the business district of Stillwater. Effectively sealing off downtown Stillwater for the first time in history.

Other river communities were also facing the onslaught of water. Dikes sprung up all along the banks of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Unfortunately, many of these could not hold back the volume of water and the dikes at Mankato, North Mankato and Chaska gave way and the volunteers were ordered to higher ground after loosing the battle with the river.

But in Stillwater when the St. Croix River finally crested at 694.07 feet above sea level on Easter morning April 18th, 19 feet above normal, the “Teenager’s Dike” held.

Fifty years later, this episode remains in our memories not only for the record water levels – but for the efforts of people from all walks of life to save their community. Roger Peterson, a Stillwater city council member during the flood, recalled that he received a call from a Minneapolis man at 6 AM Easter morning and wanted to know if it would be all right if he came over with a car load of other volunteers and help in anyway he could. Peterson responded by saying, “Sure, come on over!” The man on the phone was blind.

After the crest, the city of Stillwater re-opened on April 21st. The Hooley Supermarket created a commemorative medallion. “This medallion was designed to honor those who worked so hard to save Stillwater from a flood disaster” said Jack Hooley. The medallions, that had a picture of the “Teenager’s Dike” sign on it, were given away free with every purchase at both the Hooley stores in Stillwater.

As for the eponymous paper and paint sign, it was carefully taken down when the dike was hauled away and placed into the collections of the Washington County Historical Society where it remains as a physical reminder of the strength and comradery of the St. Croix Valley communities.

It is currently on display at the Warden’s House Museum.


Upcoming Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.