Garden story

History of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Winter 1941/1942

Snow Trilliums
Snow Trilliums, which bloomed early in 1942, prior to the Garden opening. Photo from a Kodachrome taken by Martha Crone on April 19, 1952.

1942 was a year of variable weather and restricted optimism due to the entrance of the United States into WWII. Rationing began, budgets were restricted, but life in the Garden went on, providing a restful atmosphere to those seeking it.

January had some warm days. When Curator Martha Crone and husband Bill stopped to check on the Garden and walk around some on January 21st it was 46 degrees (1). There was no snow on the ground in January. Monday, February 9th was the first day of “war time” beginning at 2 AM, This was year-round daylight savings time, and it lasted until September 30, 1945.

Martha received notice on March 26 from the Civil Service that her pay would be raised to $110 per month. On the 31st she and Bill took the kerosene stove out to the office at the Garden and for the 1st time in many years were able to drive right to the top of the hill near the south entrance with their newer car - the 1937 Plymouth purchased early last spring. The snow was gone and the ice was off the city lakes. (1)

Spring 1942

Showy Orchis
The Showy Orchis (Orchis spectabilis) of the type brought in by Gertrude Cram. Photo ©Jeff Hapeman, Wisconsin Flora.

As April 1 was a Wednesday, a day the Garden was always closed for Martha’s day off, April 2 became opening day. She noted that a few Snow Trilliums were in bloom. (2) The weather was warm, flocks of birds, the mildest Winter in at least 25 years. Bill helped her down to the office with a pail of water to scrub the place up, which she did, scrubbing the floors and cleaning up the front room of the office. She noted crowds of people came through, along with a Miss James who stopped in to visit. (1)

On April 3, Good Friday, Ben Johnson and a Mr. Hill, both from the Park Board, brought out the Garden’s assortment of books, the typewriter and kerosene for the stove. [Ben Johnson later became Supervisor of Maintenance for the Park Board.] The weather was still fine, so the stove was not used much. Miss Aler came in for the first time this season. (3) But it was April, so on the 5th cold temps returned along with a 2-day sleet storm. Everything was coated with ice, the office was cold all day and it was hard to heat the place, but everything looked beautiful with the ice coating.

Gertrude Cram called in on the 10th. It was still 20 degrees on the 11th and then heat arrived. Martha burned leaves, visited with Mrs. Cram and Miss Aler with the Hepaticas and Bloodroots in full bloom. She noted in her log (2) on the 15th:

Heat of today and yesterday extreme. Bloodroots all suddenly came into bloom, also Dutchman’s Breeches and everything else advancing very quickly.

Tribune Ad
The top section of the May 24th Tribune story on the Garden described below. Click on image for larger version.

On the 17th Mr. McDonald from the Park Board was in with 2 men to clean out brush. Martha worked with the men all day and “got much cleaned up.” (1) Theodore Wirth [retired Parks Superintendent] and his driver also visited. On the 23rd it was 81 degrees. Martha found the remains of several fires south of the Garden. Her first 1/2 month check for $55 arrived with Mr. McDonald. Then Mr. Dahlberg arrived with a reporter for an article on the Garden that was to appear in the Sunday paper. [Mr. Dahlberg is most probably Walter Dahlberg, the person who chronicled the work done for the Park Board by the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s and early 1940s.]

Then at the end of the month, on the 28th, an event occurred which would be strange to us today. A Mr. Milton Thompson [Head of the Science Museum at the Minneapolis Library] was in the Garden and “collected” a male Cooper’s Hawk, but couldn’t get the female. (1a) Martha Crone has asked him to come in and get it as she was afraid of losing many songbirds.(3, 5) On the 30th there was a thunderstorm, very quiet in the Garden and Mr. Whitney Eastman left a card saying “they had collected the female hawk and found 2 eggs in the nest, thereby establishing an early record for the State.” (1) This is the second note about Mr. Eastman who would later become a director of the Friends; Martha had noted a visit from him in 1941.

three-leaved solomon's seal
Three-leaved Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum trifolium) of the type Martha Crone brought to the Garden this spring. Photo ©Stephen L. Solheim, Wisconsin Flora.

Very little planting occurred in April - some Pasque Flowers on the 19th and some ferns on the 23rd. (2) April was one of the warmest Aprils ever.

On May 4 the Crones registered for their rationed sugar allowance - 1/2 pound per person per week. Mrs. Cram brought in three Showy Orchis for the Garden (Orchis spectabilis) and on the 13th they took her along on a Wednesday visit to their cabin at Cedar Creek.

Robert Dassett Jr. was in on the 16th. He was a young teacher who loved the Garden and birding, later joining the Friends in 1960, becoming a board member in 1969 and President in 1971. The next day he was back with Whitney Eastman to join in the great birding. (1) Birding was the best in May of 1942. Martha wrote on the 19th: (2)

A red letter day. This was record breaking birding. She listed 44 species of birds that day including 19 different warblers.

On the 20th Miss Aler recorded 86 species including 22 warblers, all eating canker worms which were terrible that year, eating all the leaves off the trees. (1) Another future Friends member, board member and officer, showed up on the 23rd - Mrs. Clarence Tolg (Ebba). She would be on the Friends Board from 1953 through 1968. With her was a Miss Cross which was undoubtedly Marion Cross who joined the Friends Board in 1961, staying through 1968. Martha noted that it was Mrs. Tolg's first visit since 1940. She had a large wildflower garden at her home on Meadow Lane, not far from the Garden. Miss Cross grew plants and flowers also and did birding.(1) More notes on the pair at this link.

Tribune graphic
The old elm in the north meadow that was highlighted in the May 24th newspaper.

On Sunday the 24th, the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune ran an almost full page illustrated story about visiting the Garden. It is all in drawings with little vignettes about different aspects of the Garden. Martha noted in her log there were thousands of visitors through due to the article. In her diary she wrote:

Millions through, had difficulty to close.

Only the upper section of the page is shown in the photo above. The spread had some interesting comments:
“This has been an early spring and many of the flowers of spring are past their prime.”
“20 acres of secluded beauty, you'll think you are way off from nowhere.”[That included the area that is now north of the current back fence.]
“One of the few civilized touches in the park is this stone setting for one of the four springs” [The spring inside what is now the current Woodland Garden was in the wetland and probably not reachable. Strangely, the spring pictured with the stone-work embankment and staircase is the one on the NW corner of Glenwood Ave. and Wirth Parkway, the one furthest from the Garden. The one outside the current back gate, referred to as the “bubbling spring” was not mentioned, nor the Great Medicine Spring outside the Garden on the west side. More on all the springs with photos.]

One of the vignettes highlights the large American Elm (girth 16 feet, 4 inches) that stood in the north meadow and was still alive in 1976 when the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden had it treated with Lignasan to prevent Dutch Elm Disease. The fence around the tree was erected by Theodore Wirth when he was Superintendent of Parks. While the article estimates the tree as 350 years old, modern tree age tables would calculate closer to 250 years. [PDF of the full Tribune page]

In the newspaper story the well dressed young lady is reading from the Butler Memorial Tablet and reading “she died while at work here and her ashes are scattered about the Gardens.” The part about the ashes is partially correct, they were scattered only around the Garden office. The part about dying while at work is a perpetuation of an old myth. She actually was stricken in the Garden but died at her lodging in the presence of a doctor. [Full story here]

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-Gray Gantcatcher Photo ©John Crawley.

The following Wednesday at Cedar Creek Martha walked to another island and got a clump of 14 Lady’s-slippers (apparently the yellow) and planted then near her cabin - can’t do that today.

May 29 - 30th had terrible rain storms. In her log:

Paths washed out and water seeping out of hillside flooding the paths. Several trees down. Glenwood lake has overflowed its banks completely submerging 6th Ave. No., car in center with only the top showing. Picnic grounds flowed over to tennis court and Glenwood Ave. almost under water. A record breaking high water.

Bassett Creek was roaring and Martha had water in her basement at home. (1) On June 1st Drs. Kilgore, Roberts and Breckenridge were in from the University. Roberts usually brought in his class for the birding. She mentioned on the 4th (1) that someone was in that day to take pictures of the Three-leaved Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum trifolium) that she said she brought to the Garden from Cedar Creek Bog. This is the first time this plant is mentioned in the Garden logs and she does not reference it again until her 1955 log.

Another big birding event of May and June was the sighting once again of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nesting near Birch Pond - between the Garden parking lot and the pond. Miss Aler found the nest in a White Oak. After the first brood in May, they made another nest. She records the events in both her log and diary. This was a rare bird in Minnesota at the time and had last been seen near the same spot in 1939, and first in 1936. It would be seen again in 1943, then vanished for years.

Summer 1942

Edith Schussler
Edith Schussler, 2nd from left, former pupil of Eloise Butler.

The summer of 1942 was one of the quietest periods of Martha Crone’s tenure as Curator. There were no festive activities at the Garden, plantings were few and far between. Most of her log is devoted to bird sightings and which plants are in bloom. In her diary she noted some activities not mentioned in the log. A Mrs. Davidson visited a few times in June. Could this be Marie H. Davidson who was on the Friends of the Wild Flower Board in 1974? She held various positions for a few years - Secretary, treasurer and newsletter editor until ill health forced her to step down in the summer of 1975. Or was it Eloise Butler's acquaintance Mrs. Gaylord Davidson who was mentioned several times in Butler's log and in notes to Martha Crone?? Or were they the same person or related?? We do not know.

Dr. O. F. and Mrs. Schussler (Edith) came in on July 10, the first time since 1938. Edith was a pupil of Eloise Butler and well known to Martha. [She is pictured in this 1931 photo of Eloise Butler’s birthday party.] July was the 3rd year of the Aqua Follies at Wirth Lake. By July Martha’s monthly wage was up another $10 to $120. Ebba Tolg was back August 7 and she and Martha drove to Lulu May Aler's for lunch; Martha walked back via Fruen's Mill and Babcock's glen.(1) Boys were fishing for goldfish in Birch Pond and Police officers were frequently around checking on a group of men that were hanging around the Park. By September they had moved on. On August 22 Martha recorded the first wave of warblers migrating through southward, just 3 months after the vast northward migration of May.

Autumn 1942

Office in fall
The Garden office nestled among the fall leaves. Photo from a Kodachrome taken by Martha Crone on Oct. 15, 1950.

The big event of the fall in Minnesota is the State Fair, but in 1942, it was the first in wartime and Martha noted that many exhibits were missing, there were no samples, and no machinery on Machinery Hill at all. [factories all converted to war production, not domestic equipment].

Very little planting was done in the fall, Martha reported putting in only 400 plants but she did plant thousand of seedlings she raised from seed (4) - an occupation she was very good at as she usually logged planting numerous seeds each year.

The entire year was wet, with an early onset of spring, but with a very early autumn.

September 26th: “Everything covered with several inches of snow followed by frosts.” (2)
Sept. 28th: “bitter cold with everything frozen.”(1)

Then on October 13 she wrote Weather like summer, all windows open and wearing no wraps. The season is ending as beautifully as it started in April. No extreme heat has been experienced this summer. The highest temperature was 95 reached only once. Rain has been most abundant. (2)

On October 15, the books were packed for return to storage and the Garden closed. December 1st was the first day of gas rationing for the war. This eliminated many future trips by the Crones to their cabin at Cedar Creek and for botanizing in general. There was no outdoor lighting or decorating for Christmas in 1942 (1).

(1) Martha Crone’s Diary - 1942
(1a) Milton D. Thompson instituted a children's program at the Science Museum that provided weekly field trips around the Twin Cities. Street cars were used for transportation. Raptors were not protected at that time and no permit was necessary. When Eastman collected the female hawk, his accomplice was undoubtedly Thompson, as the two were friends. Thanks to Friends member Mr. J. S. Futcher for this information.

(2) Garden Log - 1942

(3) Miss Lulu May Aler. She was one of the first visitors when the Garden opened in April and Martha would often note in her diary that “Miss Aler in” and sometimes for lunch together. Miss Aler set up and maintained a large bird feeding station at the back side of the Garden, so she would visit several time a week to maintain it. In later years when Miss Aler was too old to do it, the station was maintained by the Minneapolis Bird Club, which then became affiliated with the Minneapolis Audubon society. See this document. The feeding table is not maintained today.

(4) Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners dated January 20, 1943, to Superintendent C A Bossen.

(5) Same source as note 3.

Photo top of page: The top section of a story about the Garden on May 24, 1942

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Year chart - all years

Garden History Archive

Printable PDF file of this page.

Links to related pages:
- Abbreviated Life of Eloise Butler

- Martha Crone - 2nd Garden Curator

- Ken Avery - 3rd Curator and Gardener

- Cary George - 4th Gardener

- Our Native Plant Reserve - Short document on the origins of the Garden.

- Eloise Butler's writings, a selection of essays written by Eloise Butler on the early Garden years.

- Geography of the Garden- an illustrated tour


Martha Crone's Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners dated January 20, 1943.

Martha Crone's Diary - 1942

Martha Crone's Garden Log and her 1951 Census of plants in the Garden.

Various papers and correspondence of Eloise Butler and Martha Crone in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Kodachromes of Martha Crone are from her collection that was given to the Friends by her daughter Janet following Martha's death in 1989.

Historical Climatology of Minneapolis-St. Paul Area by Charles Fisk.

Friends Home Page

©2017 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. All photos are as credited or the property of the Friends and are used with permission for educational purposes, for which the Friends thank them and the organization providing the photos. Text and research by Gary Bebeau. "" - 030322