Minnesota is a state with some great museums. There are state-of-the-art ones like the highly-touted Minneapolis Institute of Art; the Weisman Art Museum; and the Minnesota History Museum. Then there are the quirky ones, such as the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting, Ed’s Museum in Wykoff, the SPAM Museum, and even a Museum of Questionable Medical Devices. And like many great off-the-beaten-path attractions, the Minnesota Military Museum seems to fly under the radar. It’s another hidden gem, right in the middle of Minnesota. Literally.
The Minnesota Military Museum is located inside Camp Ripley, a military base found between Brainerd and Little Falls, MN in central Minnesota, between Highways 10 and 371. Fort Ripley was established as a military post back in 1848 to keep peace among the local Indians and white settlers. Nowadays, it’s home to mostly Minnesota National Guard training and housing as well as DNR and State Highway Patrol training, and one kick-ass museum.
You have to check in with the gatekeeper to enter the base. The Military Museum is a few blocks past the gates on the right. Immediately noticeable out front are tanks, aircraft, cannons, artillery, etc, which you can walk right up and observe. The Museum itself is housed in a “Rustic-style” building on the grounds in which you enter and exit through the gift shop. Admission is $5/person, and it’s a very informative, underrated museum.
The Museum covers everything from each war the US was involved in, Minnesota’s role in those wars, and Minnesota’s own conflicts, mostly with the Dakota and Ojibwe. The Museum neither glorifies nor downplays the atrocity of war; instead it gives a sobering and factual look at each one. There are over 35,000 artifacts here, including authentic handkerchiefs and whiskey glasses that belonged to Adolf Hitler himself (below) which soldiers bogarted after the war.
The self-guided tour through the museum also goes through the “Arms Room,” (below) which is an exhibit of the development of military small arms in the 19th and 20th centuries. Dozens of on-display pistols and revolvers, rifles and carbines, machine guns, edged weapons, ammunition, and more.
Outside of the museum, in one of the many re-purposed barracks, is the story of the “Jeep,” which I found very interesting (above). Apparently its name came from the term “GP”, or “General Purpose” vehicle, as they were originally called. You will learn of its fabled history and Minnesota’s role in popularizing the Jeep. Other outbuildings display dozens of military vehicle, such as trucks, ambulances, and an old boxcar used to transport American troops and horses in France during World War I.
Camp Ripley is an interesting place. Besides the Musuem, it also is home to a beautiful Veteran’s Cemetery, the remains of old Fort Ripley, and a very active, self-sustaining little community. It’s definitely a great stop to take in some history even if one isn’t into Military artifacts and the like. This is a first-class museum, and sure doesn’t seem to get the press it deserves.
While in the area: Crow Wing State Park is just across the river, which is a great little state park complete with hiking, camping, and an interpretive guide of an official ghost town of Crow Wing. Little Falls and Brainerd are both pretty close, and are great towns all their own.