By Heather Carlile
ST. PAUL — What would you say if someone asked what people, places and things shaped Minnesota’s history?
To celebrate Minnesota’s upcoming 150th anniversary of statehood in 2008, the Minnesota Historical Society asked that very question and 2,700 people answered.
Their nominations were whittled down to 150, which now comprise the MN150 exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.
It was the most public participation used to make any exhibit that Kate Roberts, senior exhibit developer, knows of.
"It was just great," she said.
MN150 opened in October and Roberts said it could remain for up to five years, well beyond the official anniversary on May 11.
"It’s important because a lot of folks in Minnesota simply don’t recognize how much has happened here in the last 150 years," she said.
The final nominations were chosen to represent different corners of the state in various categories from sports to political figures and pop icons.
So what made the cut?
A rotating display shows off Prince’s outfit from his movie, Purple Rain. There’s a picture of the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team and you can climb aboard a Greyhound bus because the company has its roots in Minnesota.
Each display has a picture of the nominee and an excerpt from their argument on how their nomination changed history.
One of Roberts’ favorite displays in the exhibit came from her husband, who nominated Tonka Trucks without her knowledge. She struggled with the idea that the toys, created by a Minnesota company, truly made historical change.
But after research, the exhibit’s team confirmed that people do think the toys impacted a generation of kids’ imaginations.
"This is how we played," she said.
Many people walking through the exhibit in December said they were impressed.
"I think it’s fantastic," said Stew Johnson of Woodbury.
He visited the exhibit with his family and found a familiar face — that of Howard Hathaway, also known as Don Miguel. When Johnson was in school he and his classmates would have to listen to the black and white televised Senor Miguel every other day for 15 minutes in an effort to learn Spanish.
"What took place here really hits home," said Johnson.
Joy Nelson of Minneapolis knew someone whose nomination made it into the exhibit.
"I’m impressed with the great variety of people," who contributed, she said after walking through MN150.
Joseph LaFerla, who works in the exhibit as a museum interpreter said it instills Minnesota pride.
"It makes me feel proud to live here," he said.
Sixth-grade students from Lakeville’s Century Middle School were also enjoying MN150 and its many hands-on features. They took an interactive quiz in the exhibit’s amphitheater, cranked wheels, watched videos, pushed buttons and video-recorded their feedback.
Comments and continuous input from the public are a key component to the exhibit, said Roberts.
You can still nominate what you think shaped the state in the MN150 wiki, an online collaborative Web site, at the history center or at home on the Internet at www.mnhs.org/mn150. The wiki also contains more details on the nominations for the exhibit.