Exhibit showcases 150 years of local pet lore

Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum

A few times in the early 1900s, Hiawatha the lion would run out of the Longfellow Zoological Gardens and stroll up and down Hiawatha Avenue in South Minneapolis. His owner, Robert “Fish” Jones would always find him, put him back in the gardens and continue to house him as his pet.

The lion’s story, and his pelt, are part of a new exhibit at the Hennepin History Museum, “Hennepin County Wags its Tail,” which tells Hiawatha’s story and showcases the 150-year-old history of Minneapolis pets and their owners.

The Hiawatha the lion display.
The Hiawatha the lion display.

“As far as the care of animals goes and the relationships between people and their pets, it’s pretty much unchanged,” said museum curator Jack Kabrud.

Visitors can see how pets lived in the 20th and 21st centuries through different photographs, documents, and pet-themed memorabilia that were collected from the Hennepin History Museum archive.

Hennepin County residents were able to donate photographs to the exhibit. One of the donors, Melissa Anderson, gave Kabrud pictures of her mother and her dogs as a way to preserve her family’s history.

“We’re thrilled that they’re in here. My family just loved dogs,” Anderson said.

Kabrud said he wanted to show pets as members of a family, rather than as a decoration.

“Often times, people are snickered at because they develop these wonderful, close relationships with their animals, and people think it’s silly. But it’s really not,” Kabrud said.

Cedar Imboden Phillips, the museum’s executive director, added that while the outward appearance of pets can change, the connection and love of animals between the past and the present remains the same.

“You look at all these pictures and stories from the past and you realize that even if people weren’t buying their dogs a swag bag or a designer coat, their pets were still part of their family,” Imboden Phillips said.

The exhibit is also a place where current or prospective pet owners can come and appreciate the history of animals, Kabrud added, all while learning more about the best ways to care for pets.

“I feel good that we’re supporting and bringing attention to those types of organizations,” Kabrud said. He said that MN Snap is a statewide organization that offers spaying and neutering services.

The exhibit room is lined with trees, while a soundtrack of dogs barking, birds chirping and other outdoor noises are playing.

“I sort of wanted to evoke the outdoors. Creating the kind of ambiance of a dog park or a park where you would walk your dog softens the edges and makes the exhibit a little more welcoming,” Kabrud said.

Liz Anderson is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota.

If you go … 

The exhibit runs through Sept. 18. There are also plans for a pet festival May 22. The Hennepin History Museum is located at 2303 3rd Ave. It’s open Tuesday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday 1 to 5, Thursday 1 to 8 and Friday through Sunday 1 to 5. For more information, visit their website.