Enter Marlon Brando

Founded in 1858, Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault was one of the oldest and most respected college preparatory boarding schools in the Midwest. Shattuck was known for its rigid military discipline, strong academics, and were used to dealing with students who had been expelled from other schools. Enter Marlon Brando. After being expelled from his local high school for reportedly riding a motorcycle through the halls, Marlon Brando was sent to Shattuck Military Academy in 1941. Brando’s father, Marlon Brando Sr. attended Shattuck in the early 1910s and hoped the rigid program would sort his son out.

By all accounts, Brando was a popular but roguish cadet. Teachers at Shattuck have said that Brando was not disrespectful, but a prankster and a “character.” In his autobiography “Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me,” he recalled the bell that rang every fifteen minutes to remind students to attend drills, meals, classes, and other duties. One night, Brando recalled that he climbed the bell tower, removed the 150-pound clapper and carried it about 200 yards away and buried it. When school authorities found it missing the next morning, Brando organized a student committee to find out who committed the crime to divert suspicion from himself. The ploy worked, and Brando said that he would take the burial place with him to his grave.

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Fort Snelling and the Civilian Conservation Corps

In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the top position in the United States from Herbert Hoover and started his long tenure as President. At the time, the country was deep in the depths of the Great Depression. Unemployment was approaching 25% and more than 12 million people were unemployed. Something needed to be done quickly to get the country back to work.

Thirty-three days after Roosevelt took office, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was born on April 5, 1933, via the Emergency Conservation Work Act, passed by Congress just a week earlier. Men between the ages of 18 and 25 would work on projects including erosion and flood control, forestry, and park improvements. Known as the “tree army”, nearly three million men fanned out across the country, improving parks, managing erosion that ate away at topsoil, and planting nearly three billion trees.

We see their legacy every day in our national parks through the forest management and park buildings they erected. The CCC camps were built and run by military personnel, usually a lieutenant, and workers wore surplus Army uniforms. For both the men and the officers, camp life was good training for the world war that was to come just a few years later. The men learned the discipline of working hard as a team, and officers learned how to set up and run sprawling camps of men focused on a singular purpose.

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WWI Army Nurse Tena Heglund Johnson

During World War I, the military recruited 20,000 nurses for duty. More than 10,000 of them served overseas during the Great War. Most nurses either served at one of the 58 military hospitals or helped staff 47 ambulance companies that operated on the Western Front. This photo shows Tena Heglund Johnson of Fosston in her Army Nurse Corps uniform shortly before she left for Europe in 1918. She was 31 years old when she enlisted. After the war, Tena continued to work as a nurse at the Fosston Hospital.

Photo courtesy of the East Polk Heritage Center.

Colonel Colvill of the First Minnesota


William Colvill — does that name ring a bell? Unless you’re a Civil War history buff, this name probably doesn’t mean anything to you yet. Perhaps he’s been forgotten because he was a good, simple man — hardworking and generous. He held fast to what he believed was right and stood up against wrongdoing. Perhaps it’s only natural for his name to fade into obscurity after so many years, he probably would have preferred that anyway, but let’s not let that happen just yet. William Colvill deserves to be remembered. 

An often overlooked bronze statue of William Colvill currently stands in the rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol. Thousands of people pass but it each year, yet most probably never stop to wonder who Colvill was or why he has a place of such prominence in the Capitol. However, this statue is an exact reproduction of another that is more difficult to overlook. The original statue stands proudly in the Cannon Falls Community Cemetery where Colvill is buried. It towers over all of the other graves from a shady hill near the eastern edge of the cemetery.

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Upper Post of Fort Snelling: Quartermaster’s Shops

A building boom took place in this area of the fort when the Department of the Dakota moved its headquarters to Fort Snelling in 1879. Building 63 was originally constructed to house the Quartermaster’s Shops for this new area of the post, but soon became the Post Exchange. Originally lit with oil lamps, electricity was added in the 1910s. In 1926 it was converted into eight sets of apartments for non-commissioned officers and their wives. These one bedroom, one bathroom apartments had hardwood floors throughout and were heated by a fireplace and small wood stove. Each apartment was approximately 700 square feet.

Building 63 is the most recent to be razed. Prior to demolition, an array of obvious structural problems went unheeded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Serious problems, such as gaping holes in the roof and voids in the joints between exterior bricks were documented as early as the 1990s. By 1998, a survey of the building found that, “Brick work on the [outer] walls does not use common bond construction, using instead metal ties between the withes. These have rusted through and the outer withe of brick has collapsed in a section of the east wall.”[1] Recommendations to stabilize and mothball the building fell on deaf ears until it was too late. By the next documented survey of the building in 2006, the center section of Building 63 had entirely collapsed. The following year, even more of the building had toppled, leaving only a small, two-story section at the northern end standing. That section of the building held on proudly until a bulldozer tore it down in 2010.

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Upper Post of Fort Snelling

The Upper Post of Fort Snelling will be featured in a new series of posts dedicated to the buildings located to the southwest of Historic Fort Snelling. The Upper Post is comprised of World War I and II era buildings. Our new series will focus on the buildings that are still standing, as well as those that have been lost.

To get us started, here is a map shows the sobering reality we face today. I put this together to show which buildings at Fort Snelling that have been lost, and which are still standing. You can see how many houses along Officers Row were razed to make way for the airport expansion. Many of the barracks were also lost at that time. Some of the buildings were lost to more natural causes such as fire, tornados, or simply because they were temporary buildings that weren’t meant to stand the test of time. The buildings that are still standing are in various states of revitalization. The former Calvary Drill House has been completely restored and is being used by the Northern Star Council, Boy Scouts of America as a Base Camp. Many buildings have simply been mothballed until an alternate use can be found. Sadly, there are a few, such as the hospital, that are in dire need of repair and are at risk of demolition by neglect. Next time you visit the Upper Post, stand along Taylor Avenue and picture what we’ve lost. I think it’s the best way to appreciate the buildings that are still standing.

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St. Paul’s Oakland Cemetery

Under the cover of darkness, the living and the dead would come together to Jackson Woods. Here, the living would offer their final goodbyes to their loved ones before burying them in an unmarked grave under a canopy of old oak trees. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Jackson, his wooded paradise on the northern edge of St. Paul had become a popular burial site for those who couldn’t afford a proper burial or lacked ties to a local church. By 1853 Mr. Jackson had petitioned the city to allocate funds to purchase property that could be used for non-sectarian burials.

That same year, a group of prominent citizens gathered the money needed to buy a 40-acre parcel of oak savannah with gentle rolling hills just to the north of Jackson Woods to be used as a city cemetery.  Promoters of this new cemetery boasted that the site was so remote that there was little chance that “the hum of industry would ever disturb its rural quiet.”1 As the cemetery slowly developed, and more land was purchased, Chicago-based landscape architect Hoarce W.S. Cleveland was retained to fashion the cemetery into the rural garden design that was popular for cemeteries at the time. In 1873, Cleveland took the rectangular tract of land, 80-acres at this time, and designed an open curvilinear plan that did not try to change the nature of the topography, but enhance it and maximize its beauty. Winding pathways followed the natural contours of the land and groves of giant oak trees offered visitors a sense of serenity and comfort.

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