august, 2020

thu13aug12:00 pm8:00 pmCANCELLED until spring: BUS-eum exhibit - Hidden or Forbidden No More: Prequels to the Greatest Generation (1914-1939)12:00 pm - 8:00 pm Winneshiek Farmer's Market - Oneota Co-op Parking LotAge:All agesCost:Free/Small Donation

Event Details

 

UPDATE: This event is being cancelled for August 13 due to the director becoming ill. We will bring the exhibit next spring, and hope to see you there!

 

A 20th-Century “Tale of Two Cities:” A New Exhibit Explores Two Northern Iowa Communities’ Responses to “Plagues” a Century Ago

 

In this era of deep, intractable political divisions even on municipal or county levels, something happened at the last Decorah City Council that is a rarity these days—perhaps even a “miracle:” Its members voted unanimously to approve a proposed public event! It was no ordinary occasion, but one singularly relevant to today’s crises: the showing of an exhibit exactly about how our ancestors responded to crises a century ago.

Hidden or Forbidden No More: Prequels to the ‘Greatest Generation,’ 1914-39” examines, among other topics, how Midwesterners reacted to two “plagues”—one viral, the other social: first, to the flu pandemic of 1918-19; then, only a few years later, to the so-called “Second Wave” of the Ku Klux Klan. Local responses varied greatly to each, depending on citizens’ and officials’ behaviors and actions. This exhibit and related programs intend not to blame or shame, but explore long-lasting effects of short-term collective choices.

These themes will be explored in showings and presentations at:

CANCELLED, 12 Aug., behind River City Communications, 820 S Pennsylvania, Mason City, and

CANCELLED, 13 Aug., the parking lot across from the Post Office, 401 Heivly St, Decorah, Iowa 

— additional showings, such as at Prairie du Chien on Fri., 14 Aug. and onward, are cancelled for this summer/fall.

The Mason City-based TRACES Center for History and Culture will show its all-new exhibit in the “BUS-eum,” a mobile museum in a retrofitted school bus, which houses exhibit space and a pop-up bookstore. The exhibit’s five sub-topics review:

— anti-German hysteria during WWI;

— the 1918 global pandemic;

— Prohibition-era bootleggers in the Midwest;

— the KKK’s “Second Wave” of the 1920s; and

— Depression-era social strife borne of the times.

The experiences of both communities comprise the core of the presentations. In Decorah, Birgitta and Marguerite Meade will read excerpts from letters their grandfather and his brother—at the time Luther College students—which chronicle the spread of the mis-named “Spanish” flu [it likely originated in Kansas], not only through the college but also the larger community. In Mason City, local historians have been asked to speak about the destruction the pandemic left in what became known as “River City.”

While both Northern Iowa county seats experienced much loss of life from that global viral pandemic, how each handled a second “infestation” in the 1920s differentiates them greatly. In Mason City, among others’, TRACES director Michael Luick-Thrams’ paternal great-grandfather was reportedly present at a Ku Klux Klan demonstration and parade down what is now Federal Avenue, from downtown to Elmwood Cemetery. According to a “Postville Herald” article from April 10th 1924:

 

transcript: Eighteen members of the Ku Klux Klan, in hoods and robes, attended the funeral of [cement-plant worker] William B. Cook at Mason City, and conducted committal services at the grave. In spite of the cold rain the robed figures moved in a body, simulating a cross in their formation, from the funeral parlors to Elmwood Cemetery while hundreds lined the sidewalks seeking to identify the marchers. The foremost Klansman carried a flag and a Bible. This is the initial public appearance of the Klan at Mason City.

 

 

Klansmen (in foreground and background, 

wearing masks and robes) preparing a 

parade float in the 1920s. The occasion 

for the parade is now unknown.

 Source of both images:

Mason City Public Library

 

In contrast, while tens of thousands of Klan members—per estimates, every sixth was a woman, who had only gotten the right to vote in 1920—marched elsewhere across the Midwest, Winneshiek County is the only known governing body to have successfully blocked the Klan from demonstrating and marching. How? To learn the answer, attend the planned presentations about the Klan in Iowa—at noon at both showings.

Source of the photos, Penny Morse wrote “burning German books in [May] 1918 in front of Cedar Valley Seminary” in Osage, Iowa.

 

Similarly, other local experiences of larger dynamics current in the United States at that time find their way into the exhibit—such as national anti-German hysteria. It played out—to cite a regional example—at a public burning of German-language books, newspapers and magazine, calendars, even sheet music in Osage, Iowa. Not an isolated event, book burnings also took place in Algona, Davenport… Baraboo, Wisconsin… nationwide. German-American citizens were tarred and feathered; many were beaten or kidnapped; at least one was lynched—Robert Prager, an immigrant from Dresden who had settled in East Saint Louis, Illinois. In response, thousands Anglified their names—or moved, changed jobs, dropped all ties to “the Old Country.” Dramatic episodes at the time, almost all have disappeared with time’s passage.

Some people would prefer that most of these stories would disappear—for various reasons. Others who support their being remembered, however, have reservations. Elisa Guyader—who along with her mother and former-museum-director sister, Veronica, supported the new BUS’ creation—says, “At first, we resisted including in this project’s PR images like even ‘everyday’ Klan scenes. When the director asked, however, ‘How much longer are we to hide those images before we confront what actually happened in the past that still affects us, yet is too taboo to name?’ I had to concede that if we keep on doing what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we always got.” 

Having helped launched this, TRACES’ third BUS-eum, Operations Coordinator Kristine Zylstra-Takbe adds, “When I met Michael—ironically, an expert on the 1918 global pandemic who has not been able to tell that story because of 2020’s viral scourge—I felt skeptical. We sat down one day, however, to find artifacts for our Klan display. He said ‘Send out a call for relics among your friends and fam,’ so I did—then was stunned that even cousins and close friends of mine had inherited Klan regalia. Why didn’t I ever hear that there’d been tens of thousands of members in the Midwest in the ‘20s? I mean, they were everywhere!”

Like most visitors to TRACES’ exhibits since its first in 1995, Zylstra-Tabke learned about things she had never known had taken place. “Everyone knows that Japanese Americans were interned in WWII, but who knew that thousands of Germans or Italians were kept behind barbed wire and towers in places like Camp Crystal City, Texas—and of which there’s a 1945 color film by the US Justice Department on YouTube? And to discover there were also thousands of German-American internees during the First World War—what sort of parallel country were we all being born and growing up in, that we didn’t even suspect existed?”

Michael Luick-Thrams opening the exhibit “Behind Barbed Wire”, shown in spring 2015 at Universität Heidelberg’s Center for American Studies (HCA). He directs two non-profit, educational organizations, the TRACES Center for History and Culture in the Midwest (www.TRACES.org) and Spuren in Germany (http://de.traces.org/vision-und-mission). Photo courtesy of the Schwäbische-Zeitung in Tübingen, Germany.

 

As TRACES’ executive director, Michael Luick-Thrams, explains, “We were supposed to be on the road with our new exhibit for eight months, but Corona shredded those plans, so the tour’s shrunk to 2.5 months. But it’s exactly because the case studies we present on the BUS are such a revealing mirror to our current mess that we have to take it to where the people are, now.” He notes, “Our current disaster didn’t just erupt in our midst out of context: This exhibit’s dovetailing topics help us understand how we got to this place—and if we think carefully, how to get out of it. Above all, we’re in this together. In an era marked by hate, fear and paralysis, our exhibit and presentations strive to cultivate compassion, courage and action.”

Expectedly, some people hesitate at present to venture to a public event. “But if we can meet the City of Madison’s [WI] strict standards on Corona-precautions measures,” Zylstra-Tabke assures, “we’re doing pretty good. We’ve limited the number of people around the outsides of our big bus to 25 at any time and those in the waiting line will be asked to stand on tape or chalk marks on the sidewalk, 1.5 meters apart. Mask-wearing is mandatory, as is maintaining distance while viewing the exhibit panels mounted outside.”

Visitors to the BUS can get a print version of the exhibit catalog, so they can take the text and illustrations to digest in the quiet safety of their home. “They may need some quiet time to digest documented facts that got edited from their history books, decades ago” Luick-Thrams warns. “We’re not out here, dancing with danger hour by hour, day after day, for the thrill of it. Nor are we peddling laminated floors or hotdogs but rather mostly hidden, even ‘forbidden’ information about who we have been as individuals, as families and as a nation. Exactly now, at this crossroads in our country’s biography, we need honest soul-searching if we wish not only to reclaim a fuller past, but correct our trajectory and set off in a better direction.”

As Elisa Guyader realized during the in-team squabble about self-editing “explosive” images, “you can only change something if it has a name, but to name it you first have to be able to see it—even hard things.”


Although little-remembered today, America was wracked by the fear and paranoia that swept from coast to coast during the Great War. Pictured above, a crowd gathers for a German-language book burning at Baraboo High School in Wisconsin in 1918.

 

Grants from Dane Arts and logistical support from ArtsWisconsin help make possible bringing this ground-breaking project to the Badger State. Vander Haags, Vytech Signs & Designs and Prins Insurance underwrite it across the region, yet the loss of five of eight months of planned showings has left TRACES cashless and the BUS facing closure. Each visitor helps keep this resource accessible to thousands; given our nation’s concurrent crises the exhibit topics are of heightened relevance and shown as a public service. 

The BUS-eum will show across the Midwest between now and the November election. Because of the pandemic, staff had to scrap the original schedule, hosted at libraries, museums and colleges currently unable to do so. It now depends on spontaneous, Crowd-Funding-style volunteerism in each community in order to show the exhibit, yet observe Coronavirus-era precautions: Locals must initiate initial contact.

Specifically: The number of exhibit visitors will be limited to 25 people viewing EXTERIOR panels at any given time (no one need enter the BUS to view the exhibit; the bookshop inside, however, remains open, as it finances the tour); hand sanitizer is available; seating during presentations will be physically distant.

— Volunteers will greet visitors and explain social-distancing measures in place remind them to wear their masks, as required of all attendees; monitor both sides of the BUS display keep OUTSIDE videos playing; assist docents facilitate presentations (top of every odd hour) and Listening Circles (even hours).

— Hosts provide an ample place to show the BUS some volunteers to help. Any personal assistance for the driver/docents (meals, shower, etc.) helps keep the docents focused on essential historical content. 

Would-be hosts and volunteers should contact TRACES’ staff or confirmed hosts to discuss the possibilities. Visitors can facilitate safe and expedited viewing of the BUS by bringing their own masks and, for those wishing to attend presentations or Listening Circles at the top of each hour, a folding chair or stool on which to sit two arms’ lengths from others. Depending on weather forecasts, an umbrella might be desired. 

Anyone can support this project by: viewing, liking, subscribing to and sharing its YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMXietD-X0Q-LXgAcZ7eehA/videos; purchasing the exhibit text and leading images in E-book form by entering “Michael Luick-Thrams” at Amazon.com; following “TRACESpuren” at Facebook; donating on-line per “TRACES Center for His/Culture” at PayPal; or telling others “down the pike” of planned showings coming near them, which they could host or volunteer at.

As currently planned, from Wisconsin the BUS-eum tour will snake north to Duluth, then wind town-by-town through the Twin Cities, La Crosse, Chicago (Labor Day weekend), Ann Arbor, Columbus, Indianapolis, Saint Louis and then back to Iowa. For details or to host/sponsor, contact: Kristine Zylstra-Tabke, Operations Coordinator for TRACES Center for History and Culture, at staff@TRACES.org or 515.450.1548

TRACES’ original WWII-era social-history site is at http://usgerrelations.traces.org/ or also see:

http://roots.traces.org/vision-and-mission (introduction to our biographical-history approach) as well as

http://de.traces.org/vision-und-mission (introduction in German/Einführung auf Deutsch).

 

Time

(Thursday) 12:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Location

Winneshiek Farmer's Market - Oneota Co-op Parking Lot

Oneota Co-op Parking Lot, Decorah, IA, 52101

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