This issue: Contents
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: WCHS Annual Meeting with Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell
  • WCHS News: Washington County History Network
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Flirting via Sleigh Ride
  • Featured Article: The St. CroiX-Files

Editor’s Note

Hello everybody! Welcome to the latest edition of our humble e-newsletter, the Historical Messenger!

During our last issue, we discussed the current state of our Boutwell House Preservation Project and I finished the update with a reminder that direct donations were the easiest way to support our preservation efforts. Well, another way to help preserve this piece of history is to purchase one of our limited edition Boutwell House T-Shirts. Show off your pride in Washington County history!

Our Annual Membership Meeting is March 31st, check out the first News Story for more details on reserving your spot.

We’ll check in on the other historic organizations of Washington County in today’s second bit of News.

Folks are saying I’ve been too easy with the last few “What Is This Thing?!” challenges…hopefully today will be a little trickier for you!

Head down to our Old News section to read about a bit of friendly competition between the sexes from 1869.

Now, some of you might not quite be as big of nerds as I am, but I have been absolutely loving watching new episodes of The X-Files after its 14 year long hiatus. Watching everyone’s favorite FBI agents track down monsters and little green men every Monday night has become a highlight of my week. I’m just waiting for the episode where Mulder and Scully come visit Stillwater. That’s right, did you know that over the years the St. Croix Valley has had it’s share of UFO sightings?

Fire up the X-Files Theme and head down to our Featured Article to learn about Stillwater’s mysterious “airship” of 1897.

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 

WCHS Annual Membership Meeting with Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell

The Washington County Historical Society Annual Meeting will be held at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater on Thursday, March 31st.

The evening will begin with a social hour at 5:30 PM followed by dinner at 6:30 PM. The meeting will begin at 7:30 with an election of board members and conclude with our Featured Speaker – “Jumpin” Jim Brunzell.

Over the course of his 21 year long career, Brunzell trained under the legendary Verne Gagne with Ric Flair and the Iron Sheik and even faced former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura in the ring. At the meeting, Brunzell will discuss his long history with professional wrestling in Minnesota and his association with the Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Brunzell will also be selling and signing copies of his new book with “True Stories from the Wrestling Road: MatLands

Reservations are required.

WCHS Members – $20.00 Reserve Tickets Online

Non-Members – $25.00 Reserve Tickets Online

For more information or to make reservations contact Brent Peterson at 651-439-5956 or


Washington County History Network Meeting

Yesterday, the Woodbury Heritage Society hosted the quarterly meeting of the Washington County History Network. Ten organizations came together to discuss their ongoing and upcoming activities…and to drink coffee.

Here’s a quick glance at what’s going around the county:

Afton Historical Museum: The Afton Historical Museum reports that its 2015 display on the ‘Roaring 20’s’ was widely popular and is currently installing a follow-up exhibition featuring the history of the 1940s. They are also paying close attention to the proposed street sewer renovations scheduled to take place in Afton. The Afton Historical Museum would like to see the protection of the Rattle Snack Native American Mound made a top priority.

Cottage Grove Advisory Commitee on Historic Preservation: The Cottage Grove ACHP is closely following the fate of the Hill-Gibson House which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. The site recently went into foreclosure and the bank would like to see the house preserve, but perhaps moved from its current location.

Denmark Township Historical Society: The Denmark Township Historical Society is continuing to raise money and write grants to repair and renovate the Valley School House that was purchased by the society. Their annual meeting will take place on April 26th at 7:00 PM at Point Douglass.

Gammelgården Museum: The Gammelgården Museum reported that their Lutfisk Dinner and Lucia Dagen were both very well attended at the end of 2015. They’re looking forward to an event-filled 2016!

South Washington County Heritage Society: The South Washington County Heritage Society hosted another well attended program on St. Paul’s gangster history. The Society will be meeting with a bit before 10:00 AM on February 13th at the Saint Paul Park City Hall to carpool to Obb’s Bar & Grill for breakfast, brunch and a bit of history. On March 12th, John Hemlick of Super America and Super Mom’s will be hosting a discussion on the history of the donut!

Stillwater Library: The Stillwater Library has recently upgraded and modernized their St. Croix Reading Room Collection. Researchers will now be able to use flash drives to save images from their microfilm collection rather than having to print individual pages.

Stonehouse Museum: The Stonehouse Museum will be opening to the public on Memorial Day. They are currently seeking interested volunteers to help run the museum.

Washington County Historic Courthouse: The Washington County Historic Courthouse is still transfering event and wedding operations away from county employees towards a private business. This will allow the county parks staff to focus more on the historic aspects of the Courthouse. There is a possibility of expanding the annual Victorian Tea and Christmas at the Courthouse will be able to continue and thrive.

Woodbury Heritage Society: The Woodbury Heritage Society is currently undertaking efforts to preserve the Miller Barn on Valley Creek Road. The Barn is one of the few remaining in all of Woodbury and represents the city’s early farming history. The Society is currently seeking signatures for a petition to request the demolition of the Barn be halted for four years while the Society raises the money necessary to preserve the barn. Petition blanks can be obtained by contacting Bill Schrankler at 651-738-1836.

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 27)

Many of you put on your best jacket and top hat and were able to correctly identify last issue’s What Is This Thing?!

This is indeed a man’s detachable shirt collar! Detachable shirt collar? Yes, this extinct bit of fashion was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s when high collars were extremely fashionable. However, shirts and all clothes in general were cleaned irregularly since doing the laundry was such a lengthy process.

By making collars a separate article of clothing folks could clean, iron, and (most importantly) starch their collars without having to launder the entire shirts; which made the whole process a lot easier.

As you can see in the Reverse Image, the final copyright on this particular collar was 1921. This decade would be see high-collars fall out of fashion in favor of more comfortable shirts. As pointed out by one loyal reader, the company that produced this shirt, Van Heuson, is still in business today!

Onto this week’s challenge!

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

Good luck!

Full Image

Old News

Flirting via Sleigh Ride

Last issue, we discussed what folks in Stillwater were reading about during the Civil War.

Today, we’ll move 5 years into the future and see that by the end of the 1860s, life was thankfully starting to get back to the realm of normalcy. Gone are the figures on the “Rebel Navy” and “Union artillery” and the notes hoping for the suicide of important Confederates have disappeared as well. Instead we find the re-telling of a fun and harmless little episode staged by the St. Croix Valley’s young men and women.

Going it Alone – Stillwater Republican – February 9, 1869

Last Thursday being quite a pleasant day and the last day of Leap year, the young ladies of our city took it into their heads that they would have a sleigh ride all to themselves, and to this end, hired one of Bromley’s best four-horse rigs, into which some fifteen or twenty of them piled, taking a drive through our streets and there down to Hudson. This was about the sweetest load we ever saw, and many was the sighs the young men gave as they passed them with a saucy wave of the head and a look that said as plainly as words, “don’t you wish you were here.” They did wish it every one of them and we will tell those young ladies, as a secret, that there was not a young man in town but what would have given his boots to have been with them.

But this was not the end of it. For several weeks back the young men had been making arrangements for a grand sleigh ride on New Years in which the girls were to have a part, but this determined them to “go it alone,” and accordingly on Friday they hired one of Bromley’s best horses with six horses. Everything was of masculine gender, even the horses. Into this some twenty or twenty-five of them piled, and supplying themselves with horns, drove around our streets, serenading several of the young ladies engaged in the ride of the day before. Not to be out done in any particular (except behavior) the young men went to Hudson, too, blowing their horns, and succeeded in making the good folks of Hudson believe that they were all “tight,” to use a technical term. They also carried a banner on which was inscribed – “Leap year ride continued – as the Girls rode the old year out, we ride the new one in and go it alone.”

Of the two loads we would rather have been with the first, and, girls, between you and ourselves every one of those young men would too, for they told us so.

Featured Article

The St. CroiX-Files

by Brent Peterson, Executive Director of WCHS

Obviously, there are many people in the St. Croix Valley that enjoy listening to ghost stories. They never seem to tire of the translucent white woman in the creepy old house that looks out the window, or the sounds of footsteps creaking up the old staircase. But these aren’t the only “paranormal tales” in the Valley. Others would fit better in an H.G. Wells story.

In the book, “The M-Files: True Reports of Minnesota’s Unexplained Phenomena,” author Jay Rath scanned the country side and publishes newspaper notations of “unexplained” nocturnal lights and “mystery airships” from across Minnesota. Naturally, Stillwater appears in many of these reports.

The earliest report Rath finds in a Stillwater paper dates back to December 1871 when an unexplained nocturnal light is seen by witnesses. Then in January 1890, N.A. Nelson again spots an unusual light at night and is never able to find a reasonable explanation for its appearance.

The mystery airship caused quite a sensation in Stillwater. Many speculated on the mysterious object’s origins and purpose. The local merchants even got into the act using it for advertising purposes. The meat market of D.J. Hooley placed and ad in the Stillwater Messenger in May 1897 with the heading, “The Air Ship Seen and Heard From.” The ad reads that farmer Nolan of Lake Elmo had seen the craft and that it looked very much like a large barge. The crew were of strange appearance, according to Hooley, and they communicated that they drank nothing but water and ate nothing but meat. However, the peculiar aviators were nearly out of meat but luckily Hooley was ordering more and everyone in Stillwater should come in and purchase some before the strange visitors cleaned him out!

The air ship was finally discovered according to an article by S.E. Sanderson in the Stillwater Gazette of April 14, 1897. “The notorious air ship is not a fake, it landed in August Nelson’s strawberry patch about 5 o’clock yesterday morning. The operators had just got the machine securely anchored when they were discovered by Hon. Geo. A. Oliver, who was on his way to the post office.” The article then said that the men who operated the air ship had taken off from San Francisco and were on their way to Duluth.

Other UFO sightings in the Stillwater include August 17, 1961 when 5 people observed a group of UFOs arranged vertically in a “V” formation. Another nocturnal light was observed on July 18, 1975 and on March 22, 1978 a man spied a flying saucer while traveling north on Highway 95.

There have been many stories about mystery “air ships” “UFOs” and ghosts that go up and down the St. Croix Valley. These stories are a part of our heritage and get told from one generation to the next and I hope the stories will continue. So the next time you see a large barge shaped object in the sky, a blue light on the St. Croix, or something else, please let us know the story for other generations to read and enjoy.

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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.

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Mission Statement

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