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A window to the past

Mon, May 29th, 2000
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Wykoff museum boasts historical treasures, odditiesBy Carol Thouin

Monday, May 29, 2000

Smack dab in the middle of a worn, glass display case sits a jar of fifty-some year old gallstones. Nearby is a box of gold teeth and across the room, a preserved tarantula, whose fate was sealed, literally, in a jar of alcohol.

This is no research lab or one of those stranger-than-life roadside exhibits. Youll find these rare treasures inside Eds Museum in downtown Wykoff, Minnesota.

The quaint, corner building on the towns main street was once a thriving Jack Sprat grocery store, owned and operated by the late Ed Krueger. During its heyday in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Krueger offered locals freshly butchered meats, custom ground coffee and a wide variety of Jack Sprat canned goods and spices, with their signature yellow and white label. Nothing unusual about that except many items Krueger brought into his two-story building, spanning nearly six decades, never left.

"Ed was a man who kept everything," said Esther Evers, one of the towns volunteers who helped turn the dilapidated store into a historical treasure. "He was a collector of many things a man who seemed to want to leave a legacy."

And that he did. When Krueger died in 1989 at the age of 91, he willed his vast lifetime collection to the City of Wykoff. Thanks to volunteers like Evers and Kathleen Mulhern, the local Historical Society now oversees the preservation and operation of Eds Museum.

Once inside the doors to this unique establishment, you cant help but notice an old wire rack that used to display fresh fruit. At closer glance, one of the succulent fruit that once added color to Kruegers old-time grocery counter still lays, in a shriveled, petrified mass, at the bottom of the display rack. While its hard to know for sure, Mulhern is convinced it was an orange. An oversight when cleaning up? Or perhaps just another item, like the teeth, gallstones and spider, that Krueger just couldnt part with.

Canned goods and spices

Behind the counter, shelves are lined with original Jack Sprat brand canned goods and spice containers, including contents, which have long since passed their expiration dates. The containers are the envy of any antique tin collector, but Evers recalls a different reaction to the canned collection after a long day of work at the museum.

"When we got close to the front of the building, I smelled something," Evers recalled. After some sleuthing among the collectibles, the odor became so offensive she could hardly bare it. Then, the disgusting culprit was found.

"An old can of salmon had exploded all over everything," Evers said.

Mulhern, who had also put in an exhausting day at the museum, helped clean up the putrid mess. "We had just finished cleaning up and were pulling down the front shades when we discovered the salmon had sprayed all over the canvas," she said. It was an even longer day for the two dedicated volunteers.

Walls inside the store are plastered full of Jack Sprat memorabilia including cardboard figures that are said to fetch nearly $400 in collecting circles. But theyre not for sale here. Nothing is. The extensive collections housed in Eds Museum are meant to be shared with the public a reminder of days gone by. Ed was so proud of his collectibles that he labeled nearly everything in his store, so that nobody would forget the origins of his pieces. Toys, pictures and even food items are labeled by name and some include the price that patrons used to pay for the items.

Hazards of grinding coffee

A 1910 coffee grinder is displayed around back, near the industrial size antique Frigidare icebox that dominates the back part of the store. The bright red paint still shines on the machine that, in its day, got a good workout. Eds only son, Fred, recently paid his first visit to the museum that pays tribute to his namesake. He recalled a story about the grinder and the coffee that used to arrive in whole bean form in oversized burlap bags.

"I remember dad opening one of those big bags and pouring coffee into the grinder," said Fred. Apparently, the string that opened the bag was still attached and with the machine in full gear, quickly pulled the bag and contents into the grinder.

"I think he lost the tip of one of his fingers that time," Fred recalled. Another close call occurred across the room on the well-scored butcher block. Another appendage was lost on that fateful day remembered Fred. The days of the old-fashioned grocer were definitely precarious.

According to records, Ed purchased meat in quarters and then cut and sliced to order. A good, deep whiff and you can still smell the smoky aroma of the bacon slabs that once hung on the meat hooks inside the huge Frigidare. Cardboard containers for ground meat, along with a large spool of white string hung above the butcher counter used to bind parcels of meat, are left as they were. Grocery orders, receipts, maps and even prescription elixirs were left in place to tell a story of another era.

Polka music and more

To the rear of the store, in a little back room, Mulhern sat down to a 1918 player piano and begins to rigorously pump the pedals as if she were peddling a bicycle up a steep hill. Its hard to choose from the 400- roll collection of music, but for this tour, "Roll Out The Barrel" is the selected piece. As the strains of polka music fill the tiny space, tour goers are treated to another one of Eds pastimes a vast collection of old movie star photos and posters, many of which are autographed. The movie memorabilia literally papers the walls in the stores back room.

According to Mulhern, Ed had a proclivity toward movies and even ran the towns A-MUZ-U Theater during the silent film era. Rows and rows of opera albums, many of which Ed ordered but never even opened, commemorate his love of music.

The museum tour doesnt end with the store. Ed Krueger lived with wife, Lydia and son, Fred, in the upstairs apartment, which has been historically restored. Just ask Fred, who climbed the steep steps to his boyhood home for the first time since he left to join the Navy.

"This is very nostalgic for me," said Fred. "It brings back so many memories and makes me almost cry that kind of feeling," he said. Arranged neatly in Freds childhood room are play clothes and rows of shoes he wore as a young boy. Next to his Navy dress blues hangs a small white and blue sailor suit he wore as a child. Evers and other volunteers painstakingly searched through countless boxes to uncover and restore many articles of clothing as well as other pieces of history.

"There are still boxes that we havent even gone through," admitted Evers. Freds room, complete with his old iron bed, overflows with old toys that seem to beckon him back to play. Most of the toys still have their original boxes. When asked, Fred recalled getting many of the toys as Christmas gifts. As to their excellent condition? Fred explains that growing up during the depression made him respect and take care of anything that was given to him. The familys dining room, living room and kitchen still contain the original furnishings used by the family since the 1930s.

The famous basement

Nobody leaves a tour of Eds Museum without a trip to the famous basement. Once an old cellar, volunteers have given the underground storage area a beautiful facelift. One peek inside room number one and you understand just how massive Eds collection is. The entire corner room is stacked with every issue, except for the very first, of Life Magazine. The collection dates back to October, 1938. Stacks and stacks of other collectibles pack th

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