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Uncovering hidden history

Wabasso native investigates the Minnesota River Valley in her debut book

April 9, 2011
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

Discovering the rich history of the Minnesota River Valley, the place she grew up, appealed to Elizabeth Johanneck.

Last July, Johanneck, a Wabasso native, had her book "Hidden History of the Minnesota River Valley" published. The book features stories about the people and events that made up the history of the area.

Johanneck grew up on a farm in Redwood County and remembered how her parents took her and her siblings on Sunday picnics.

"My dad is a wonderful storyteller and shared with us kids what he knew about the valley," Johanneck said. "I also worked for four years in tourism at the Redwood regional tourism office."

Johanneck said her writing was discovered online by her publisher, the History Press in South Carolina. She does a blog, Minnesota Country Mouse Folk Blog, writing about the river valley and the publisher saw it, figuring it was a good match.

"The commissioning editor emailed me and asked if I would like to submit a proposal to them, so I did," Johanneck said.

"Hidden History" is a collection of stories about the Minnesota River Valley from the Sacred Spring near Fort Snelling to a double hanging in Redwood Falls and onto the Swensson Farm located near Montevideo, Johanneck said.

"It includes parts of Minnesota history most of us haven't learned about - including the myth about scalping," Johanneck said. "It also includes current and vintage photographs of the region. The book also has journal entries which convey my personal experiences and include mention of some local Minnesota individuals such as musician Jerry Ostensoe."

"A lot of people tell me 'I didn't know that' about the parts of history we aren't taught in school," she added.

Johanneck went about researching her novel by visiting the locations she wrote about and interviewing a few individuals, like Chief Ernest Wabasha and his wife, Vernell. She said the Wabashas pointed her in the right direction, encouraging her to read books on the subject.

"A good deal of the research came from online sources and I located some information on the New York Times archive," Johanneck said.

One of the interesting people Johanneck stumbled across while gathering information is one called "Little Annie," a ghost from near New Ulm, she said.

"I learned a lot about diphtheria while I was writing that chapter," Johanneck said.

Other items included in Johanneck's book are stories on Alexander Ramsey, the Gilfillians and Andrew Volstead and a chapter on J. Edgar Hoover.

"Hidden History" was Johanneck's first book. She recently finished a book about the Prohibition era in Minnesota which is due out in June.



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