Tonight’s story, a memoir, also has a little bit of family history connected with it as well as some interesting political aspects. It is an excerpt from “The Victorian City in the Midwest,” by Harrison Salisbury, first published in Growing Up in Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press, 1976) and reprinted in Christmas in Minnesota (Minnesota Historical Society, 2005).
Harrison Salisbury (1908-1973) was born and grew up in North Minneapolis in a now-disappeared neighborhood of nice homes called Oak Lake. Its heyday was 20 years or so before his birth. By the time Harrison was born, the wealthy had moved south, and his father, a bookkeeper for a bag factory, could afford to live there with his wife, two children, a boarder and a servant (as of the 1910 census). The Salisburys lived at 107 Royalston Avenue. I was surprised to find that this street still exists, although 107 seems to be a parking lot; the area is completely given over to industrial and warehouse/commercial buildings now, and is just north of Glenwood Avenue near a conglomeration of freeways. (You can see for yourself if you type the address into Google Maps.)
In the memoir, Salisbury and his sister are taken to Holtzermann’s department store – the official name was Holtzermann’s Chicago Store Company. (Chicago seems to have been added for glamour.) Forty or so years after Salisbury’s World War I-era experiences there, Onkel Hankie Pants and his sister (oddly enough, as close in age as were Salisbury and his younger sister Mary) were taken to Holtzermann’s by their father at Christmastime also. Post-World War II, the store offerings seem to have recovered some of their magic, or at least that’s the way my husband and his sister remember it. My sister-in-law still treasures a large and beautiful ornament that she wheedled her father into buying for her at Holtzermann’s (and he was not a man given to impulse purchases.)
While looking for more information on Holtzermann’s, I discovered many interesting facts about Jacob D. Holtzermann – both the elder and the younger. The elder Holtzermann, born in 1869 in Piqua, Ohio, held the patent on Holtzermann’s Patent Stomach Bitters, a preparation intended to aid digestion (and which may have contained alcohol) but which is now mostly known for the collectibility of the bottles it came in. He and his brother Louis came to Minneapolis in 1887 and opened the store. It’s not clear whether Jacob died young, but he does not appear in the most recent censuses available; instead there is a younger Jacob D. Holtzermann, born in 1902, who is either the son or nephew of the first Jacob D. It is this Jacob D. Holtzermann who owned the store when my husband was a child. He graduated from the University of Minnesota, studied in Geneva and Munich, and received a master’s in International Law from Harvard – and then came back and ran the store. He made numerous trips to Europe on buying expeditions – I’ve never seen someone who showed up so often in the New York Passenger Lists on Ancestry.com – and remember, this was all on ships.
Whether because or in spite of his cosmopolitan outlook, Holtzermann was a staunch isolationist in the years leading up to World War II, and one of some influence, since he owned a local isolationist paper, The Beacon. But unlike some America Firsters, he was not an anti-Semite. A Lutheran, he belonged to a local organization called the Roundtable of Christians and Jews (and this meant something, because Minneapolis was a very anti-Semitic city in those days). When Charles Lindbergh was making speeches which might have been open to interpretation as anti-Semitic, he wrote to the aviator urging him to repudiate such statements. Lindbergh did not. And, when Soviet Russia invaded Finland, he was at the forefront of a campaign to raise money to help the Finns; $150,000 was raised in a statewide drive (in addition to money that the Finnish-American community raised.)
In later years Holtzermann was active in Republican politics and attempted to gain the nomination for Senator in 1966; he died in 1969. The store closed a few years later (I don’t think it was there any longer when I came to Minneapolis.) The building still stands and apartments in it are advertised as being in the “Historic Holtzermann Building.” There are also numerous businesses, many of them connected to the Somali community. In Salisbury’s time, Holtzermann’s was on “Snoose Boulevard”, the center of a Scandinavian immigrant community.
I just want to mention, though it has nothing to do with Christmas, that Salisbury’s book, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. It was totally riveting and I still remember it years after reading it; I highly recommend it. If the remaining 28 books of Salisbury’s oeuvre are even half as good they are worth reading as well.
Since Minneapolis is experiencing a big snowstorm today, and because of the German connection, I chose the song “Leise Rieselt der Schnee” (Softly Falls the Snow), sung by the Bielefelder Kinderchor sometime in the 1950s.