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Area Voices: New book focuses on 1960-1980 Bemidji

Cecelia McKeig smiling and holding Bermidji 2 book
Cecelia McKeig
Cecelia McKeig holding BERMIDJI2 in 2023

Historian Cecelia McKeig joins "Area Voices" to discuss her lates "BERMIDJI" book and the future of photo preservation.

BEMIDJI — “I think there was so much change between 1960 and 1980 that it was important to try and document that,” said Cecelia McKeig, historian and author of “BERMIDJI2: A Snapshot of Bemidji 1960-1980."

McKeig will be presenting at 12 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 21 at the Beltrami County History Center as part of the center’s Brown Bag History series. The book can be purchased at the Beltrami County History Museum, Bemidji Woolen Mills and at the gift shop at the Sanford Hospital.

Where Bermidji Came From

The book series is called “BERMIDJI” for two reasons. The first reason was due to an official spelling error. When Bemidji's Post Office was first organized, there was quite a bit of paperwork to get it changed from Bermidji. The second reason is because the radio stations McKeig listened to growing up referred to Bemidji as “Bermidji.”

McKeig was born, raised and married in Bemidji, so she has a lot of history with the area. Some of the stories from the book are from her own recollection. She wrote about businesses, places that aren’t here anymore and about the changes in town.

She volunteers at the Beltrami County History Museum which made for a great research resource. She also had access to the archive at the Bemidji Pioneer and used information from the county administration building to understand things like property sales and trends within the city.

Her first book covered Bemidji in the 40s and 50s and it has taken 11 years to create the sequel. McKeig feels that’s too long to work on a book.

“If I were to do another book of this type, I would just make it the main focus of all my research and not try to be distracted as much as I was while I was working on this one,” she said.

McKeig expressed her love of the photo selection process, noting her father's photography studio had many photos and negatives from 1940 to 1969. She donated these to the Beltrami County History Museum.

McKeig believes 1960 to 1980 was an important era to cover in Bemidji because of all the changes going on in the world at that time.

“I felt like the first years of the 60s were really good years. Then came the assassination of President Kennedy in late ‘63. And then we had Martin Luther King, Jr. and we had riots and we had protests, and we had the Vietnam War... It just seemed like there was an awful lot of change going on, and it should be recorded if possible.”

Future History

McKeig said she was concerned that in the digital age, people don't often donate their photos and negatives to museums. “People do not think that their materials of 30 years ago or 10 years ago are of value historically, but they will be,” said McKeig. She wants people to print and share copies of their photos with places like the Beltram County History Museum for the next generation of historians. Sharing them on social media may not be enough for preserving history.

When asked about if there will be another sequel to this book, McKeig doesn’t think she’ll be the one to write it.

“I wouldn't have the materials to do a book on the 1980s or 90s. We would need people, scrapbooks, stories, interviews, photos. And despite my best intentions to go and interview people, I don't have enough to really write a book that's a sequel. I'd like to think someone will.”

However, McKeig is working on a book on the history of Nymore, a southside neighborhood of Bemidji. She hopes to finish the book within a year or two.

As for the future, McKeig hopes that people will continue to support the people who write these types of books. It’s becoming more difficult to come up with the money to print these books.

“I just think we really need to support our authors. We need to buy our books and we need to support local history.”

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Area Voices is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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