Post to the Host

Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

Send GK Your Question »

February 27, 2007 | 2 Comments

Post to the Host:
In 1917 my grandfather compiled and privately published a family history drawn largely from a collection of letters among family members going back to the early 1800's. A prominent figure is his grandfather (my great-great grandfather) Lewis Henry Machen, who, for much of his career served in various administrative posts in the office of the Clerk of the Senate. He is a footnote
in history as having the presence of mind, just before the British sacked Washington, D.C. in 1814, to commandeer a horse cart and remove to his farm in Prince George's County, Maryland, and thus rescue from certain destruction, all the archives of the proceedings of the Senate.

In the book my grandfather relates the following interesting mischief by his father, then a 22-year old student at Harvard College, resulting in profound impact to all the residents of your great state:

"In the winter and early spring of 1849, he [Arthur W. Machen 1827-1916] accompanied his father [Lewis Henry Machen 1790-1863] to Washington and assisted the latter in the clerical portion of his labours during the sessions of Congress. He used to tell how in the course of this work he changed the spelling of "Minesota." Prior to this time, the word had usually been spelled with one "n," and that spelling was used in the Bill for creating a territorial government as it was introduced and, I believe, as it passed Congress. But my father was entrusted with the engrossing of the Bill, and, thinking that "Minnesota" had a better appearance than "Minesota," he inserted a second "n." The Act as signed by the President, therefore, created the Territory of Minnesota, and by that name as territory and State it has ever since been known and probably will continue to be known."


John P. Machen
Baltimore, Maryland

We Minnesotans are grateful to your ancestor, Mr. Machen, and if you should ever come out this way, let us know and we'll put on a party.


Dear Mr. Keiller,
I so appreciate your stories that ramble on and on because that is generally how people really talk. I know this from personal experience because, as I am on the phone with my college-age daughter, she will start whistling in the background. She says it is because she is a Music Major (not an English Major, by the way) and supposedly doesn't realize she is doing it--HA! to that. So I pull myself up short and valiantly try to come to the end of whatever story I am telling. Sort of like this.
My point? I love the spontaneity (all told, perfectly practiced) of your tales and hope you will not change that format. Even if someone starts whistling.

Mr. Machen, Lewis Machen is also my great great grandfather. I am descended through James Machen. I would like to hear from you.

Previous Post:

Next Post:

Post to the Host Archive

Complete Post to the Host Archive

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy