NEW ULM - If you are a history lover - or even if you just like to indulge in the spirit of the upcoming holiday season - your options in New Ulm include more than hunting for deals and excitement at local retail stores.
Friday, Nov. 28, is a day of special events at the Brown County Historical Society (BCHS) Museum, with special displays, a series of book signings by visiting authors, and, of course, refreshments.
The museum will be displaying its Christmas staple - the glorious, festive Menzel Village - and also featuring Christmas trees decorated in accordance with several ethnic traditions.
A display of books by the authors that will be on hand for a book signing 1 to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 28, at the Brown County Historical Society Museum in New Ulm. Pictured from left: “Fire” by John Koblas, the recipe book “Make It Minnesota,” “Becoming the Mother of Me” by Kathryn Adams Doty, a collection of essays on the Dakota Conflict entitled “Trails of Tears” and “H.V. Jones” by Koblas.
Marylin Hesse (left) and Opal Dewanz set up the Menzel Village on the second floor of the Brown County Museum in New Ulm. Louise Fritsche Menzel and her husband Walter began collecting the display in 1937 and later donated the collection to the BCHS.
Marylin Hesse, office manager, expects German, Norwegian and maybe Irish and Mexican-style trees.
Several authors will be on hand to sign newly published historical books or memoirs - including books that have generated a lot of recent publicity.
The book signing event is 1-4 p.m.
The books include: "Trails of Tears: Minnesota's Dakota Indian Exile Begins," a collection of essays written by various authors and edited by Mary Hawker Bakeman and Antona Richardson; a trilogy on the Dakota Conflict, "Let Them Eat Grass," written by John Koblas; "Becoming the Mother of Me" by Kathryn Adams Doty; and "A Ministry Remembered" by her husband, Dr. Fred Owen Doty.
A few contributors to the cookbook "Make It Minnesota" will also be available to sign it.
The following is intended to give the public a rough idea of the special displays, events and books:
The Menzel Village was originally the collection of Louise Fritsche Menzel, a New Ulm native. Louise and her husband Walter started collecting in 1937 while traveling, and continued to add pieces for many years. They would place the village in their home under a tree and invite the neighborhood children in every Christmas to see the display. The exhibit has also been on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and some of the larger banks in the Twin Cities area.
The collection has more than 1,000 pieces - including a 100-year-old clay village, three other village sets, small dolls dressed in crocheted outfits, dolls with ceramic heads and wool-wrapped legs and arms, snowbabies, angels, monks, wood village people and animals, farm people, skiers, skaters, sledders, deer, cows, donkeys, geese, chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, lambs, dogs, pigs, horses, polar and brown bears, elves, bridges, many different trees, street signs, mirrors for ponds, fences and even an outhouse.
The scene pieces are from Germany, West Germany, Japan, England and Czechoslovakia and are of the following materials: glass, wool, metal, wood, cardboard, porcelain, wax, papier-mache and plaster.
Louise Menzel has asked the BCHS to display the horse driven sled with the dog following and a goose chasing the dog - and the BCHS staff has followed her tradition by placing that scene somewhere in the display.
The BCHS has displayed the village since 1983, and each year the exhibit has been set up differently. Items such as the mountain background, tinsel waterfalls, stone walls, some bushes and trees have been added to enhance the scene.
Authors and books
"Trails of Tears"
This collection of essays was researched and written by scholars who realized that not much time has been devoted recently by the academic world to certain aspects of the Dakota Conflict, said one of the essay authors, Lois Glewwe.
The first piece of evidence to prompt "some different questions" about the routes taken by the Dakota captives was a bill-of-sale - it suggested that the captive Dakota women and children were marched through Henderson, rather than, as legend claims, New Ulm.
The researchers also uncovered strong evidence of a plot by citizens of New Ulm (as well as Mankato and St. Peter) to massacre the Dakota prisoners en route to Mankato - a fate prevented by Henry Sibley's ability to impose military discipline. This, suggests Glewwe, is "a new reality" to deal with, "a key piece of the story."
Glewwe points out that the book - likely to be seen as controversial by many - does not aim to prove that the "terrible events" of 1862 did not happen; the "trauma" of those events, she says, changed Dakota life forever.
Rather than disproving the "terrible events" (boiling water being poured on the captives, etc.), Glewwe says, the book strives toward greater historical accuracy - and would hopefully encourage others to dive deeper into the subject.
Beside Glewwe, available to sign the book will be contributors Alan R. Woolworth, Mary H. Bakeman and Curtis Dahlin.
"Let Them Eat Grass"
John Koblas' trilogy on the Dakota Conflict, "Let Them Eat Grass," has been described as "an impressive history" that "brings together a massive compendium of sources and accounts never collected and presented in quite this way before."
Koblas says he "likes" Minnesota history - and has written many books on it, as well as Jesse James and the Youngers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis, Civil War and Indian history.
Koblas said he was at first afraid to tackle the Dakota Conflict - because it is such a "massive subject."
He recalls talking to a park ranger at Fort Ridgely when he first embarked on the project - and hearing that, "if you write about this, you cannot start with the conflict."
(Later, Koblas recalls, a Dakota man told him, "if you write about this, you should start with the very first white man who set foot on American soil."
"He was right," Koblas puts in.)
Koblas had written 800 pages before he even got to the hostilities here; by the time he was done, he had a 1,400-page manuscript.
His publishers told him that a 1,400-page "brick of a manuscript" would not sell, and divided it into three books, chronologically titled "Smoke," "Fire" and "Ashes."
The first book deals with the causes of the conflict and events leading up to it, the author explains. The second book zeroes in on the hostilities; and the third focuses on their aftermath and effects.
"I try to stay objective in all the books I write," Koblas said. In that sense, the books on the Dakota Conflict were "very hard to write."
The war was "a tragedy," he muses. "Nobody won," "nothing was settled," and "unlike cowboy movies, there were no good guys."
Koblas recalls how emotionally difficult it was to write the books. He'd sit down to write in the morning; by noon, on the book's pages, 200 to 300 people would be dead. He'd have to switch to writing one of his children's novels to "stay sane."
Koblas sought to write a "definitive book - if any such thing exists." He read everything he could find on the subject, including as many first-person accounts as possible. He visited outlying counties.
What surprised him was the scope of the conflict - "how extensive this really was" - and how widely it reverberated "all over the Midwest."
Kathryn Adams Doty, "Becoming the
Mother of Me"
Dr. Fred Owen Doty, "A Ministry
Born Kathryn Elizabeth Hohn in New Ulm, Kathryn Adams Doty had a film career under the name of Kathryn Adams. One of her most notable roles was as Mrs. Brown, the young mother in Alfred Hitchcock's 1942 film "Saboteur."
She was married to actor Hugh Beaumont (who starred in the TV sitcom "Leave It to Beaver"); earned a Master's Degree in Educational Psychology; and had a career as a psychologist.
Doty now lives in Mankato with her husband, Dr. Fred Owen Doty.
Doty is the author of the novels "A Long Year of Silence" and "Wild Orphan" and the memoir "Becoming the Mother of Me." "A Long Year of Silence," set in New Ulm during World War I, was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award and winner of the 2005 Midwest Book Award.
At the local museum, Doty will be signing her newest book, "Becoming the Mother of Me."
The book describes Doty's life growing up as a minister's daughter (her father was Christian Hohn, pastor of New Ulm's German Methodist church); and her trip to Hollywood and marriage to Hugh Beaumont (or, as the author put it, the story of "how I wandered in Hollywood"). It covers the time up to her mother's death.
The book has been described by reviewers as the story of Doty's "understanding of self through the understanding and appreciation of her mother's special gifts."
Doty's husband, Dr. Fred Owen Doty, a retired minister, has an extraordinary story of his own.
A friend of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as other national figures, he marched for civil rights in Selma, Ala. During the Civil Rights Movement, he endured hate calls and even threats to the safety of his young children.
For 60 years, Dr. Fred Doty served tiny, as well as prominent, congregations, from South Carolina to southern California. He relives many intimate and dramatic moments, in his own memoir, "A Ministry Remembered."
It's an "warm-hearted" account of his "exceptional ministry," said his wife Kathryn.
Photos by STEVE MUSCATELLO; text by KREMI SPENGLER