Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Famous Minnesota Picture

"Saturday Night in a Saloon"
Picture Courtesy of Library of Congress
Recently I was doing some research and I came across this famous Minnesota picture. I knew it was taken in Minnesota, but I didn't know much about it...so I had to investigate further. It was taken in 1937 in Craigville, Minnesota in Koochiching County by Russell Lee.

Can you place it?

This iconic picture was used in the opening credits for the television show Cheers. A seemingly lighthearted photograph, this picture actually reveals a great deal about a town in Northern Minnesota that wasn't so idyllic.


Main street. Craigville, Minnesota, 1937
Main Street, Craigville, Minnesota 1937
Picture Courtesy of Library of Congress

Upon further research, I discovered this picture of Main Street in Craigville, Minnesota in 1937. It wasn't much. Most of the buildings weren't even finished. Logging was its main industry until 1952. During the logging season anywhere between 5,000-7,000 loggers would come into town.


Lumberjack with bandaged head after being beaten up and "rolled" in a saloon on Saturday night in Craigsville Minnesota, 1937
A lumberjack after a brawl in a saloon on Saturday night.
Picture Courtesy of Library of Congress
 
With the influx of loggers (and their hard earned money), the town was filled with all sorts of criminal activity. Prostitution, murder, theft and bootlegging--to name a few. It was so bad, no one could do anything about it. The town had a terrible reputation, not only in Minnesota, but across the USA.
 
Lumberjack and two "attendants" in saloon of Craigsville Minnesota, 1937
A lumberjack with two "attendants."
Picture Courtesy of Library of Congress
 
In 1937, photographer Russell Lee visited Craigville and documented the "seedy" lifestyle of the loggers, prostitutes, bootleggers and business owners. If you look closely, this man and his two "attendants" are the same people in the "Saturday Night in a Saloon" picture.
 
Researching can be an interesting adventure. You never know what you're going to unearth. Some of the stories I read about Craigville made me cringe. It was a dangerous town. I wanted to cry when I read about the prostitutes who inhabited the rough buildings. I always wonder what would lead a woman into such a sad choice. I don't think I'll ever look at this picture the same way.
 
Craigville is now a ghost town in Northern Minnesota. Some buildings remain, but they're falling apart and overgrown with weeds. The town that brought so much pain, to so many people, is now decaying in the Koochiching Forest.
Photographer Russell Lee

Russell Lee was an American photographer, best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration. He traveled around the United States between 1936 and 1943 documenting various American classes and cultures. Apparently he heard about the notorious town of Cragiville, Minnesota. Many of his photos are in the Library of Congress.

I wonder if Russell Lee had any idea how famous his "Saturday Night in a Saloon" photo would become?

In the words of Paul Harvey: "And now you know the rest of the story."

Have you seen the photo "Saturday Night in a Saloon" before? Did you have any idea what the real story was behind it?

13 comments:

  1. So cool to get the history behind that photo, Gabe! Reading about all the stuff that went on in that town--the drinking, prostitution, etc--reminded me of Jody Hedlund's book, Unending Devotion. I so enjoy your Way-back Wednesdays. :)

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    1. It reminded me of Jody's book, too! I love what I unearth while researching. I wasn't even researching the 1930s or Northern Minnesota, but this caught my eyes and fascinated me! Happy you enjoyed it.

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  2. Ve-ery interesting. Great research, Gabe!

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    1. Thanks, Beth. It was a fun research project! Although, like I told Melissa, it doesn't have anything to do with my WIP! ;)

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  3. So cool to uncover the story behind the pictures you're seeing! I admit I'd probably get bogged down in the research and never feel "finished" enough to actually start my own story! Cool how history can inspire thoughts and stories of their own, though.

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    1. We can get caught in the trap of never feeling like our research is "complete," but that won't get us anywhere! I know a lady who has been researching one subject for over twenty years and has over 600 pages of notes, but she doesn't feel she has enough research to write her book! And I wish she would, because it will be fascinating! For me, I get a "sense" that I'm ready--when I feel that I have enough to paint an accurate story world and I have enough details to support my plot. Like I said, though, this research was purely for enjoyment and not my story! ;)

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  4. Wow! No telling what you'll uncover in the name of research! How fun!

    And you've convinced me, Gabe. I must visit Minnesota. So interesting! :)

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    1. Yes, please do come for a visit! I might be a bit biased, but I love Minnesota. ;)

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  5. So cool! I've eaten in the actual Cheers in Boston. It was fun. Love looking through these photos!

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    1. My hubby has also been in the real Cheers in Boston. We're thinking about going to Boston in October, so I'm sure we'll make a stop there. :)

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  6. Research like yours simply brings history to vivid life! Absolutely fascinating. There are many notorious Old West towns in Texas, as well, not the least of which was made into a movie, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Gulp. Thanks so much for sharing, Gabe!

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    1. That's one of the reasons I write historical fiction set in my hometown, I want to show the best side of a sweet all-American town. Granted, we've had our share of notorious characters, but we've also had some amazing human beings call this town home. I'm happy you enjoyed my history lesson today, Donna! :)

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  7. This is interesting! I enjoy hearing "the rest of the story", for it seems there is always something to learn, you know? Thanks so much for sharing this.

    Have a great weekend! :)

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