Before becoming the 30th governor of Minnesota, a young Elmer L. Andersen sold newspapers and wrote about birds.
When Andersen’s family moved to Michigan from Chicago, he helped support his family by working as a paperboy for the Muskegon Chronicle. His circulation manager introduced him to the Chronicle’s editor, Archie McCray, and Andersen, then 14 years old, began writing essays about birds for the newspaper.
Later in life, Andersen collected these articles into a small book—originally called “Birds of Muskegon” and later “Birds of Michigan”—that was preserved by the family for over 100 years. The book was donated to the Andersen Horticultural Library (AHL) last April by his daughter Emily Andersen, along with his autobiography inscribed to her.
“It is an honor for us to donate Father’s album to the Andersen Horticultural Library, which has brought constant joy to us all,” Emily wrote in a letter accompanying the donation. “The future it will have a continuing safe existence in its new, beloved home.”
When the family reached out to the Andersen Horticultural Library, looking for a permanent home for the book, Katherine Allen knew that it was the right place. From the beginning, the library has not only been for horticulture, but also natural history and animals, like birds.
“Just having this added to the collection seems like the perfect fit,” said Allen, the then-lead Librarian for AHL. “It was emotional, just receiving it from the family. And I had no idea that he had that lifelong interest in birds, like really lifelong from when he was a kid.”
The Andersen Horticultural Library was established in 1974 by Elmer and his wife, Eleanor, and much of the library’s collection of “truly amazing” rare books, including dozens about birds, comes from Andersen’s private library, or from purchases made specifically for the horticultural library.
“Birds of Muskegon” details Andersen’s observations about the bluebird, Baltimore oriole, house wren, robin, kingbird, red-headed woodpecker, goldfinch and more. Andersen also included two other articles, written about the cardinal and catbird, by writers John Behrends and Delphia Phillips, respectively.
“I think the libraries owes so much to the Andersen family,” Allen said. “They’re still supporting us. I think the Andersen’s have played a huge role in the University Libraries, and to have this piece of Elmer as a young man — a teen — it just rounds out the picture of him.”
Andersen’s book, as well as the donated autobiography and Emily’s donation letter, are currently resting with Libraries Preservation, while the department creates a display box to house all three items.
“Just knowing that it’s been sitting for more than 100 years with his family, and that it’s still there, and that they are willing to give it to us and pass it on, so that we can keep it for a few more 100 years,” Allen said