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June 2, 1914: Crush a can, save a cat

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: June 2, 2014 - 6:54 PM
Long before sea turtles were becoming entangled in six-pack rings, Twin Cities cats were getting their heads lodged in empty tin cans. From the Minneapolis Tribune:
  What cat could resist this 1915-era can, with its nautical theme and the inevitable association with seafood? Image courtesy of

Ordinance Demanded to
Keep Cats from Poking
Heads into Tin Cans

When the Minneapolis Humane society meet at 11 a.m. today, it may consider the request of Mrs. William Talmadge of St. Paul, who has asked W.W. Bradley, secretary, to lay before the members the need she sees for an ordinance providing that all tin cans, on being emptied, be flattened, in order to make it impossible for wandering and curious-minded cats to insert their heads.
Mrs. Talmadge’s compassion was aroused by the plight of her own pet cat, which got its head in a can and lost one of its nine lives.
It is possible that some inventor will come forward with a non-refillable tin can, and thus obviate the canning [of] the cats.
1905 Furness and cat
Another St. Paul woman of the period, Laura Furness, had a weakness for cats. The Minnesota Historical Society's online collection has more than 100 photos of Furness, granddaughter of Minnesota's second governor, Alexander Ramsey. Several of the photos, including this one taken at the Ramsey House in 1905, show her embracing a cat. (Image courtesy of

May 21, 1899: Young bicyclists top 10 mph -- and land in jail

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Crime, Transportation Updated: May 22, 2014 - 10:10 PM
Bicycling was booming in the 1890s, fueled by improved bike design and demand for cheap transportation. In the wrong hands, however, the new “safety bike” was anything but. Careless young “scorchers” pedaled furiously up and down urban streets, startling horses and pedestrians alike. Newspapers of the era regularly reported collisions that resulted in serious injuries and, on occasion, death. Across the country, bicycle speed limits were established to protect the population. In Minneapolis, the speed limit was 10 mph. And, as you’ll see in the Tribune story below, police were serious about enforcing the law.


They Could Not Resist the Temptation to Indulge in a Spin Along Park Avenue Last Evening.
It might have been a picnic party judging from the high spirits of the three lads who were enjoying an expensive ride in the patrol wagon last night.
“Scorching again, old man,” cried one of the prisoners, as the patrol wagon turned into lockup alley, and a curious crowd “rubbered” as if their necks would be stretched off.
“He certainly was good to me,” said another, and the crowd laughed.
But when the iron bars shut out their view, and the youthful trio had nothing but whitewashed walls to gaze at, they began to realize their doom, and the minutes of their imprisonment began to grow into hours, at least so it seemed to them.
It was an ideal evening for a spin. Of course it was a little chilly, but then a spurt of a block or two helped to warm the blood. And that asphalt on Park avenue was so tempting. Who  could help but ride fast just a short distance?
That is where the boys made a mistake. There was a mounted policeman – that is, he was mounted on a bicycle – watching them, and he could scorch a little himself. While the boys were tearing up the pavement he was after them, and as they slowed up a little for a breathing spell, he cut across them into the curb and they had to come to a stop.
“Well, boys, you are my prisoners, so just come along,” said Officer Fred Williamson, as he mopped the perspiration off his forehead and gave his wheel an admiring glance.
The policeman and his prisoner walked up Twenty-fourth street to the patrol box at Fifth avenue, and the patrol wagon was called. A crowd of wheelmen had gathered, and they joked both with the officer and the lads.
As the last of the trio of alleged scorchers was hustled into the wagon with his wheel, he issued the following challenge to the policeman:
 “I’ll bet, officer, I can beat you in a 100 yard dash,” but Williamson was busy by this time cleaning the mud off his machine.
On the way to the station the prisoners had a happy time, and they did not mind the “scorching” remarks made by passing bicyclists.
The boys gave their names as Frank Gardner, Guy Smith [and] Clarence Hanson, and they will plead to the charge of exceeding the ordinance speed limit of 10 miles an hour. The oldest of the trio is only 18, while the other two are less than 15 years. They belong to good families, but the police use no discrimination when they are after fast riders.
“Well, I don’t know how I’m going to get out tonight,” woefully said one of the younger boys. “My folks are all out of town.”
NIce rides: A man and a woman showed off their wheels in front of the Wallof house, 2200 Sheridan Ave. S., Minneapolis, in 1898. (Photo courtesy of Hennepin County Library's Minneapolis Collection)

Aug. 5, 1967: Monkee admits Beatles are better

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: May 13, 2014 - 9:34 AM
"We're more popular than Jesus now," John Lennon told an British journalist in 1966. A year later, the Monkees' Mike Nesmith, in town for a show at the St. Paul Auditorium, humbly explained his band's place in the cosmic pecking order.
Mike Nesmith of the Monkees spoke with a Tribune reporter at an undisclosed hotel in downtown St. Paul. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by Kent Kobersteen)

Monkee Mulls Music

Minneapolis Tribune Staff Writer
When Mike Nesmith of the rock group, the Monkees, wants to hear good music, he goes to a record store and buys Beatles’ records.
“Don’t buy us if you want good music,” he advised as he lounged in his suite in a downtown St. Paul hotel Friday. “our music is sort of inane, banal. The Beatles give the kids the good stuff.”
Dressed in blue jeans, cowboy boots and a green velvet shirt, Nesmith talked freely about the Monkees, their past and present.
“Do you remember our second album?” he asked, waving a pair of blue-tinted sunglasses. “That was all tripe.” It was until after that album that the group began accompanying themselves on guitar and drums, he recalled.
“WE’RE LIMITED in musical ability,” he said. “We have to over-dub, but those are really my fingers strummin’ on the records.
Nesmith credits the quartet’s weekly television show for their phenomenal success, but believes the Beatles “opened the door” for them.
Yet the 24-year-old former folk guitarist is quick to point out the difference between his group and the revered Beatles.
"The Monkees are just four long-haired fans -- super rich, yes [Nesmith owns seven cars and a Lear jet) -- but fans rather than stars," he explained.
"WE HAVE no cross to bear, no point to make," he continued. "Our only point is no point. These 13-year-old kids just want to use us for growing up, and that's fine with us. God willing, they will have forgotten about us by the time they're 20, and that's the way it should be."
Nesmith said the Monkees the kids see on TV are the same crazy guys in real life.
"The TV show makes no sense, and we're quite open about it," he said. "But what goes on on the TV show goes on 24 hours a day in real life. These guys will do anything for a gag."
NESMITH ADMITS that audiences at their concerts often hear only "a rumble" on stage ("With a $45,000 sound system, what do you expect?") But he noted that the group spices up the program with such extra musical diversion as movies, costume changes and anything else they feel like doing.
"The kids have been cheated so many times by groups who just play for 12 minutes, that we want to give them a real show," he explained.
What's in the future for the Monkees?
"We'll probably go for three years, but the kids we're playing for will grow up by then and we'll make way for a new group," he said.
"THE KIDS may not remember us," he continued. "But they'll there was something that brought them some fun back in their teens."
A knock on the door meant it was time for Nesmith to prepare for the concert, but first he had a "secret" to show.
"See these," he said, pointing to a pair of earplugs. "I wear them during every concert. I can't hear a thing with them, but then I wouldn't be able to hear anything without them either."
More than 10,000 "teeny-boppers" screamed for more than an hour when the Monkees performed at the St. Paul Auditorium in August 1967. "The group apparently played quite a few songs," the Tribune's Brian Anderson wrote in his review, "but because of the never-ending shriek, every song sounded the same." (Minneapolis Tribune photo by Pete Hohn)

March 12, 1912: 'Negro girl' is Mechanic Arts valedictorian

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: May 9, 2014 - 9:59 AM
Catharine D. Lealtad was the only black student in her senior class at St. Paul’s Mechanic Arts High School. Her “splendid record” prompted Principal George Weitbrecht to select her as valedictorian. He told the Appeal, an “Afro-American” newspaper in St. Paul: “It was simply a question of brains, not color.”
  Catharine Deaver Lealtad in about 1912.
It was the first of a lifetime of academic and professional honors. She later enrolled at Macalester College and in just three years earned a degree in chemistry and history, again finishing at the top of her class. For a short time, she taught school in Missouri and Ohio. She moved to New York and worked for the YWCA and the Urban League, then enrolled in medical school at Cornell. There she encountered racial prejudice and was forced to drop out. At the urging of a mentor, she enrolled in medical school in France to study pediatrics. She returned to the United States, interned at a Chicago hsopital and worked at infant clinics in Harlem. In 1945, she was commissioned as a U.S. Army major and served in Germany, where she oversaw medical services for displaced children, and China, where she helped in the fight against a cholera epidemic.

After the war, Dr. Lealtad returned to New York and over the next two decades served children from impoverished families. After her “retirement” in 1968, she worked for many years at a mission hospital in Puerto Rico and a free clinic in Mexico. She is the only person to receive two honorary degrees from Macalester College, one for her career and one for her post-retirement service. She died in 1989.

From the Minneapolis Tribune:

Negro Girl Valedictorian

Daughter of Colored Minister to Lead in St. Paul School Exercises.

A negro girl, daughter of Rev. Alfred H. Lealtad, rector of St. Phillip’s Episcopal church, will be the valedictorian at the graduating exercises of the Mechanics’ Art senior class of St. Paul, which takes place next June. Her name is Catherine Deaver Lealtad. She is 17 years old.

The only negro in her class Miss Lealtad, according to the principal of the Mechanics Art, has made a splendid record as a student and has stood at the head of her class since she entered.

As far as any trouble among the members of the senior class over the selection of Miss Lealtad as the valedictorian, the teachers and students are silent. They intimate that no protest will be made. Marcus L. Countryman, son of M.L. Countryman, general counsel for the Great Northern railroad, stands second in the class and under ordinary circumstances will represent his class as salutatorian.

Principal George Weitbrecht in front of St. Paul's Mechanic Arts High School in 1909. (Image courtesy of

Feb. 13, 1906: Minnesota’s last execution

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Crime Updated: May 1, 2014 - 11:37 AM

In May 1905, itinerant worker William Williams was convicted of killing a St. Paul teen and the boy’s mother and sentenced to die by hanging. An 1889 state law designed to prevent executions from becoming public spectacles prohibited newspaper reporters from attending and limited the number of witnesses to a few dozen. But a St. Paul Daily News reporter somehow managed to enter the basement of the Ramsey County jail and write this dramatic and detailed account of the last execution to take place in Minnesota.

Minnesota abolished the death penalty in 1911. For more on the Williams case, see “The Botched Hanging of William Williams,” The Rake, March 2004.

[Originally posted Sept. 24, 2006; reposting to add and update links, clean up the layout and reopen comments.]

Dispatch headline
The St. Paul Dispatch published its execution story under this headline on an inside page.


- William Williams

Slayer of Johnny Keller Makes
Statement Before Being
Strangled to Death


“Gentlemen, you are witnessing an illegal hanging. This is a legal murder. I am accused of killing Johnny Keller. He was the best friend I ever had, and I hope to meet him in the other world. I never had improper relations with him. I am resigned to my fate. Goodbye.” — William Williams’ Last Words on Earth.

William Williams has been hanged.

The drop fell at 12:32 and he was cut down at 12:46, two minutes after physicians pronounced him dead.

Williams strangled to death.

His neck was not broken by the fall.

His feet touched the ground by reason of the fact that his neck stretched four and one-half inches and the rope nearly eight inches.

Deputies then pulled the rope so that Williams’ head was kept up and strangulation could slowly go on. His feet touched ground all of the time that the death agonies were playing in his mind.

Slowly but surely life was squeezed from the body until at 12:46, just 14 minutes after the trap was sprung and 21½ minutes after Williams left his cell, death relieved the murderer of his suffering.

The Only Newspaper Man Who Witnessed the Execution

William Williams was strangled to death by three deputies holding the rope, which stretched, at 12:42 this morning in the basement of the county jail.

The execution was witnessed by 32 persons, all that the law allows.

Williams, who was the coolest man in the crowd, left his cell, accompanied by Father Cushen, at exactly 12:27. He walked to the elevator and then down the long flight of steps, smiling and chatting pleasantly with the priest and his two guards.

Execution graphic
The St. Paul Daily News’ front-page coverage of the execution featured a three-column graphic showing a cutaway of the jail where the hanging took place.


At the foot of the stairs Williams entered the death chamber and there before him stood the machine of execution.

Without uttering a word, but slightly pale, Williams, with long strides, reached the foot of the steps. Without hesitation he walked manfully and bravely up the steps and stood facing the crowd below.

Father Cushen stood beside the condemned man and the sheriff asked him if he had anything to say. With his hands handcuffed behind him, Williams faced his hearers, and with a firm voice, but slightly pale of face, spoke the words quoted above.

When he had finished the rope was placed around his neck and the black cap adjusted. In an instant Sheriff Miesen pulled the trap and the condemned man shot down.


The trap was sprung at exactly 12:32.

Gradually the rope stretched until the murderer’s feet touched the floor. Then Deputies Frank Robert, Frank Picha and Frank Hanson took turns at holding up the body.

For 14 minutes the body hung there, Sheriff Miesen himself assisting at 12:44, when Williams was pronounced dead by the four physicians, Drs. Whitcomb, Miller, Ohage and Moore.

William Williams
William “Bill” Williams

“Bill” Williams has paid the penalty of his crime.

No gamer man has walked to the scaffold in Minnesota.

With a smile on his lips, he joked with death.

With firm tread he descended to the sub-basement of the jail, where the scaffold awaited him.

It was just 12:22 when Sheriff Miesen entered Williams’ cell and announced that the hour of death had come.

For an hour Father Cushen of the cathedral, who had converted Williams to the Catholic faith, had prayed with him.

Williams stood erect and said not a word.

Frank Robert, chief deputy, stood behind. Deputies Hanson and Picha handcuffed his hands behind his back..

The procession of death started. Williams walked alone. With firm tread he covered the 30 feet that lead to the elevator.


With the priest at his elbow, the deputies close at hand, he descended to the basement floor.

Then came the most trying ordeal of all. Williams, undaunted, started down the 27 steep iron steps that led to the sub-basement and death. Father Cushen hurried forward and clasped his arm about the murderer’s shoulder. The deputies dropped behind.

Slowly the procession wound its way.

The door that reached to the large room beneath the cell house was reached. The door was opened. Electric lights cast a flood of bright rays on the prisoner.

A new spirit seemed instilled in Williams. He was to die as he had lived, caring naught for the future though death lurked only a score of feet away.

He rounded the ventilating fans of the jail.

Before him loomed the scaffold, grim striking, of yellow-tinted pine.


For just a second Williams quivered. Then he looked death in the face and smiled.

Sheriff Miesen
Sheriff Anton Miesen

“Hurry up,” he whispered to Sheriff Miesen, and lengthened his steps.

Almost with a bound he was at the 13 steps that led to the scaffold platform and mounted eagerly.

The courthouse clock was striking 12:30.

From across the way the strains of music from a dance at Elks’ hall penetrated softly, soothingly, to the inner recess of the jail.

“I am ready to die,” murmured Williams.

Deputies aided him to the trap.

There was a sudden movement. Chief Deputy Robert had adjusted the black cap. Sheriff Miesen took a deep breath. He cast one glance toward Deputy Robert. Then his right hand grasped the fatal lever.

Click. Then a faint thud, and “Bill” Williams’ body had dropped six full feet, and with a sudden jerk bounded upward.


Then it hung, swaying slightly from side to side. It was a twisted hemp rope that held the body that gripping tight about the throat was strangling the murderer of little Johnny Keller to death.

And, strange to say, the body did not whirl as is usually the case.

The black capped face still faced the audience. The body hung almost as it had stood upon the scaffold. The fingers scarcely twitched.

The legs did not contract.

“Bill” Williams, nervy, desperate, caring naught for life, was dying. The few spectators bared their heads. They stood transfixed with awe. It was the moment of death.

Not a sound was heard. Dr. George R. Moore, police surgeon, stepped forward and felt the dying man’s pulse.

Drs. C. A. Wheaton and Justus Ohage stepped forward.

Then silence reigned.

Tick, tick, slowly the watch told the time.

Tick, tick – “Bill” Williams’ soul was speeding to the great unknown that no man can fathom.

Five minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, 14 minutes.

Still the spectators waited hushed with awe. The doctors’ fingers were on “Bill” Williams’ pulse.

Work of the moment
– St. Paul Dispatch, Feb. 13, 1906

Thirty seconds more.

“The man is dead,” said Police Surgeon Moore. The other physicians nodded.

Deputy Frank Robert cut the rope.

“Bill” Williams, murderer of Johnny Keller, had paid the penalty of his crime.

The stark form was hurried to an undertaker’s wagon and taken to the county morgue.


Yet this strange, incongruous “Bill” Williams was indifferent to death.

It was just 9 o’clock when his attorney, James Cormican, entered the jail, all hope gone.

“Billy,” he said, “the jig is up.”

“Won’t the governor do something? Won’t the British consul do something?” queried Williams.

Then Attorney Cormican recounted his effort of the afternoon. How he had been unable to stay the certain death of the gallows; how he had pleaded with Judge Lochren as Mrs. Lochren, with tears in her eyes, asked that the condemned man be given a chance for life. But the law is just and certain.

And Judge Lochren, despite his tender heart, heeds ever its mandates.

So there was naught he could do to stay the execution.


“What’s the difference? I ain’t afraid of death,” said Williams. “I had 18 teeth pulled once and I think that is more pain than death will be.”

Then Attorney Cormican gave him a paper which gave Williams’ body to Mr. Cormican, but provides that the body must be interred in consecrated ground.

Williams signed the paper without hesitation.

“I don’t want the doctors to cut me up,” he said, “and send me around the world. They can cut my head up and take my brain – show people I am not crazy, that is all.”

Attorney Cormican can claim the body any time within the next 36 hours, if he inters it in consecrated ground, and he can let the doctors make an examination of Williams’ brain, if he wishes.

But Attorney Cormican would not see Williams die.

“Come and see my finish,” urged Williams.

“No, I can’t, Bill,” said Cormican. “I’ve done all I can for you. I don’t want to see you die.”

So at Mr. Cormican’s request Williams named L.C. Cole to see him die, and John H. Hilger, who had been his death watch, and Rube Reynolds, a friend of Johnny Keller’s, for whose death Williams had undergone the death penalty.

Then the attorney left.

Brain quote
– St. Paul Dispatch, Feb. 13, 1906

Father Cushen, the man who had converted Williams, came.

If was not with hope of earthly life. It was the soul of Williams that he comforted. Yet, perhaps, more than anyone else, Father Cushen was responsible for Williams’ calm demeanor, and for his strange indifference to death.


“If I had met a man like that,” Williams told his jailer, “I should not be in a murderer’s cell now. I would have been an honest, upright, industrious man. I wish I had known him sooner. He is the only person besides Johnny Keller that seemed to care what became of me.”

So Williams listened while Father Cushen prayed the last prayer for his soul.

So, devoutly the murderer knelt as the priest anointed his neck and head with sacred oil and pronounced the benediction.

Then “Bill” Williams rose from his knees ready to answer the summons of death.

Then he walked steadfastly to the scaffold, for he had learned to know the God that was a stranger to his youth.


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