Friday, November 12, 2010

Northfield Historical Society--Friday History Field Trip #9

(This post is part of the back log I am working on. If you are getting it in a reader, I apologize, things will be out of order!)

This week our Friday History Field Trip took us back to the scene of the crime!


Actually, there was no crime here. This is where the James-Younger Gang was defeated. It is the proud moment in the city of Northfield's history that is celebrated every year the weekend after Labor Day. Every year, we go to the festivities, watch the reenactment, and generally have fun. But we had never taken the time (or braved the crowds) to go to the museum.

The museum is housed in what was the First National Bank in Northfield. Interestingly enough, most everything inside is original. The floors and counters are the same, the vault is the same, they have the original ledger on display, it is truly stepping back to the 1870's. The bank was only housed here for a short time, moving a few years after the thwarted robbery to it's present location across the street on the opposite corner. I don't know how they managed to keep this particular space so well preserved, given the timeline. Still, it is always so much fun to go into a building that is as it was.

The museum itself is small, but mostly well done. There is a brief video to watch that takes you through the events of September 7, 1876, the day of the attempted robbery, along with some of the events leading up to it. There are wall boards to read about the gang, the town, and the events of the day.


From there you proceed into the actual bank, where you can see the vault that was actually open on the day of the robbery. The robbers never got inside, however, largely due to the valiant efforts of bank employees who insisted it was on a timer. We spent a lot of time talking about why a robbery would have been so destructive to the town. Now, when money is largely electronic and we rarely see large amounts of it in one place, it is difficult to imagine that there would have been vast sums of money in the bank. We also live in a time when our deposits are insured, which was not the case then. I could see Kiddo wrapping his head around this as we stood there. It was here, in the actual bank, that I most wished for a guide for our tour. Here, where Kiddo had questions to which I could not remember the answers. We were fortunate, however, that the director wandered through while we stood there. Kiddo got to ask him a few questions, he showed us a seal which he stamped into play money for each of the kids, and verified some of the things I thought I remembered.

From there, you head into the artifact room. Kutey was lost at this point--tired and bored. Kiddo, however, insisted on viewing every single thing in the room and reading (or having me read) every description. My favorite display was of two inlaid wooden boxes made by the Younger brothers while they were in prison in Stillwater. My one complaint? On two description cards regarding weapons (they have quite a few on display), they used the word "witch" where they meant "which." Small, I know, but it is not helpful to young readers!


The staff at the museum was great. We tend to take a long time when we go to this kind of place, where there is no tour. On more than one occasion, a staff person wandered through and commented that we must be looking at every detail! We were; the other people who watched the video at the same time as us were long gone. You could tell they were also pleased to see the kids enjoying themselves in this setting. On the way out, they kids were even given a piece of candy by the woman at the counter. She seemed genuinely impressed with their behavior and attention to the exhibits.

We enjoyed our visit immensely. It was nice to get a more in depth picture of the events that transpired that day in 1876, an event we revisit each year. We are already making plans to return when the weather is nicer to do their podcast walking tour of Northfield! Sounds like great fun!

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