For some reason, perhaps influenced by numerous stories of atrocities in the media, I recently recalled a visit I had made in 1976 to a very strange museum which was located in Northfield, Minnesota. It was a private museum, located in an old brick house and its attached buildings. It had, in its yard, a dozen or more old train bells; inside it had several ornate music boxes. There were displays of pioneer tools, old clothes and a human breast. My memory is pretty good, but the thought of that display made me wonder if it it had ever really existed. A short search through the photo archives soon turned up the negative for this print:
The text reads:
Breast of a colored woman tanned by
the father of F. A. Zuger. Donns. T
Texas in 1910. The hide was stolen out
of the laboratory at the state university
of Iowa by a school mate. Given W. F. S.
in Feb. 1948
W.F.S. was probably W. F. Schilling, the founder of the museum, who was a civic leader in Northfield for many years. The museum closed soon after my visit, with significant items going to various historical societies, and the rest going to auction. The fate of this item is unknown to me.
In what kind of a state did I grow up? Thirty years before I was born a multiple lynching took place in Duluth, fifty-five years before that the largest mass execution in US history took place in Mankato, not far from the museum. This "artifact" was on display for years without controversy.
Our state is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Due to budget constraints the festivities will be modest; I remember the Centennial, it was quite the big deal.
The dark side of Minnesota's history won't be forgotten this time, although this tasteless incident will be. With war, torture and all the related atrocities stemming from the US invasion of Iraq with us on a daily basis, I wonder how far we've come, and how far we have yet remaining.