Michelle Leonard has spent the last six years vacationing at the Minnesota Newspaper Museum at the Minnesota State Fair. The staff writer and photographer for the Farmington Independent planned to spend nine out of the 12 days of this year’s fair teaching visitors about the role newspapers have played in Minnesota’s history. That’s after she gets back from taking photos for her employer of Rosemount High School’s marching band in the 2 p.m. parade. (“I figure I’m here . . . ,” she says.)
For 23 years the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation has operated its letterpress museum at the southwest corner of the fair in Heritage Square by the Midway. Inside the red brick building is a working replica of a 1930s small town newspaper. Each year about 100 volunteers come to the museum to help operate the Linotype and produce a daily newspaper called The Maynard News.
The equipment came from a community newspaper in western Minnesota by that same name. When new owners bought the paper in 1984, they switched to a different printing technology and the letterpress equipment sat idle in the back shop. Eventually the owners donated the equipment to the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation. Now, it’s part of a living history museum open to the public each year for 12 days.
The museum allows visitors to see the letterpress printing process in action and there are exhibits on journalism and the First Amendment, as well as an opportunity to “ask the editor” about the business. Kids can learn to fold a four-cornered pressmen’s hat out of newspaper pages.
Like many nonprofits, the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation saw its endowments and donors decrease as the economy sank. But according to foundation president Jim Pumarlo, there’s enough money to keep the museum open this year and next.
Kristal Leebrick is a freelance reporter in the Twin Cities.
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