Does the Bulwer-Lytton contest have a category for historical nonfiction? This tortuous (and torturous) 83-word lede from the Minneapolis Tribune would be a worthy contender.
LOST IN A SEWER.
Gustav Larson Loses His Bearings and Wanders Several Miles to Rescue.
An employe of the city in the sewer department, named Gustav Larson, had an experience yesterday forenoon, which will likely serve him with excitement enough to last the remainder of his days, for the excitement in question was nothing less than a wandering trip, accidental, of course, through the labyrinthian depths of the city sewers, with no light to show the path and very little encouragement in the way of discovering a manhole, from which to escape from the none too pleasantly odored passageway.
About 10:30 in the morning, Larson, accompanied by two other members of the sewer gang, raised the covering from a man-hole at Twenty-seventh street and Lyndale avenue, preparatory to making a descent into the sewer for an inspection and cleaning a jam, which seemed to exist. That particular portion of the sewer system is the main line for the Eighth ward residents and is 66 inches in height. The employe made the entrance to the sewer easily enough, his companions remaining above ground, according to agreement, in case of being needed to complete the job. The two, however, seemed to think their assistance would not be called into requisition and proceeded to walk about the neighborhood, while the third member of the party, having completed his inspection, endeavored to find the manhole at which he entered the sewer, some distance from the scene of his task.
Alone and without a light, Larson lost his bearings, and his shouts for assistance brought no answer from the men above ground. Finally, becoming scared with his situation and realizing that he might have a serious job in escaping from the sewer, the man yelled frantically for help, meanwhile keeping a close lookout for a manhole in the top of the passage. There was no scarcity of these, but the height prevented an avenue from that direction. After roaming about for nearly two hours the man noticed that the passageway was growing less in height and that he could probably manage to push the manhole covering from its place. An opportunity soon presented itself, and by the aid of the sewer walls, Larson reached terra firm, but completely exhausted from the poor ventilation and the excitement of his tramp, which was nearly three miles in length from the probable course he traveled. The escape was made at Fourth street and Cedar avenue, where the sewer is only 56 inches in height.
It was some time after reaching the open air until he could explain his experience, but in rather broken English, managed to declare that he had seen sufficient of the sewer work to satisfy any further desires in that direction.
Poor Gustav: Imagine wandering down a sewer line like this "with no light to show the path." (Image courtesy mnhs.org)
In 1885, workers probably preferred building sewer lines to maintaining them. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)
Sample Minnesota newspaper articles, photos and ads dating back more than 140 years. Fresh items are posted weekly. Go here for tips on how to track down old newspaper articles on your own. Follow the blog on Twitter. Or check out "Minnesota Mysteries," a new book based on the blog.
Email your questions or suggestions to Ben Welter.
Art Instruction Inc., once located just around the corner from the old Star and Tribune building on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, offered drawing courses by mail for more than a century. Here the Minneapolis Tribune profiles the commercial art school that trained the likes of Charles M. Schulz ("Peanuts") and Carlos de la Vega (who?).
Most of our readers in whose memory is still fresh the fact of the destruction by fire of the Merchants' Hotel, on the corner of State and Washington streets, on the morning of the 4th of the present month, will readily recall the particulars concerning the sad fate of the late Mr. R.A. Cook, of Joliet, who perished in the flames during that memorable conflagration.
Twenty irate office women appeared before the St. Paul city council today and demanded action. They said their nylons have been damaged by soot in the city's loop. William Parranto, commissioner of public safety, explained that such soot falls from the chimney at Saint Paul hotel. The hotel, he said, burns a Wyoming oil which contains a liberal percentage of sulphur.
It's no wonder that metro newspapers of the 1950s were extremely profitable: They had a virtual monopoly on classified ads, employed kids to deliver their product and had few if any skilled graphic artists on the payroll. Just try to make sense of this 1955 picture-graph from the Minneapolis Tribune. Appearing with a story headlined "Simple Guide to State School Finances," it's most likely a legislative handout hauled back to the newsroom by the beat writer and slapped directly into print.