In 1914, the Lake Harriet Commercial Club – “an organization that does things” – held a midsummer jubilee to celebrate the club’s success and raise money to pay down debt on its new building at 2718 W. 43rd St., Minneapolis. A “vote contest” was held to select a jubilee queen. Three prizes were offered: a diamond ring for the winner, a trip to Niagara Falls for second place and a fully equipped canoe for third. Fifteen-year-old Mercedes Isabelle Nolan, who lived a few blocks from the club, coveted only the canoe. She entered the contest and campaigned vigorously … for third place. Her father, William I. Nolan, a state legislator and future congressman, must have been mystified by her political instincts.

From the Minneapolis Tribune:
 

She Wants That Canoe

 
Miss Mercedes Nolan After Third Prize in Harriet Club’s Queen Contest.
 
 
  Mercedes Nolan in 1914
Miss Mercedes Nolan, one of the eight daughters of W.I. Nolan, the Forty-third district legislator, is out for the third prize in the “queen” contest of the Lake Harriet Commercial club’s midsummer jubilee. Miss Nolan doesn’t care for the first prize or the second; she is going to campaign for the third, which is a canoe with all the equipments that a well-appointed canoe should have.
 
The diamond ring and the trip to Niagara Falls, the first two prizes, tempt her not at all. If she should run strong in the race so as to be uncomfortably close to the top she will have to strive to get her vote down to keep in the neighborhood of that canoe. Miss Nolan is an expert canoeist, and she is going to paddle hard between now and Aug. 3, when the jubilee week opens.
 
There are now four entrants in the “queen” contest. Mrs. A.C. Wakefield of 4308 Alden drive has entered and threatens to make all the unmarried contestants do some speeding. The other two entrants are not to be announced yet, as they have not turned in any votes, but they are understood to be ready to break in with a large number to their credit.
 
 
In early returns – the voting method is unclear, but it appears that a penny had to accompany each vote submitted to the club – Miss Nolan was in third place. But as more women jumped into the fray, she fell behind and in the end finished seventh. Esther Mackey won the diamond ring, Artha Anderson won the trip and Anna Giroux paddled off with the canoe.

But the “vote contest” story was neither the first nor the last time that Mercedes Nolan’s name appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune. The previous summer, she played the role of a “feminine negro servant character” in a well-received church production of “A Virginia Heroine,” a three-act comedy drama, at the Lake Harriet Commercial Club. In November 1914, she displayed quick thinking and bravery when a fire raced through the family home, 2014 W. 40th St. “Groping through the smoke,” the Tribune reported in a page one story, Nolan carried her 3-year-old sister Patty to safety, then returned and alerted another sister to the fire.

After graduating from West High, newspaper records show, Nolan worked at two banks and served on the State Bonus Board in St. Paul. In January 1920, she landed a job as booking agent for the Midland Lyceum bureau in Des Moines. Later that year, I’m sorry to report, she and two friends were killed in a car accident near Excelsior. The driver of the small roadster was unable to negotiate a tight turn on a Minneapolis & St. Louis railroad trestle. The vehicle plunged through a railing and fell bottom-side up on the road below. “Besides her father,” the Tribune’s account of the accident concluded, “Miss Nolan is survived by her mother and seven sisters, of which she was second oldest. The sisters are Genevieve, Agnes, Edwina, Wilhelmina, Theodora, Germaine and Patty.”  

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July 14, 1890: Lake Pepin steamer capsizes

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Aug. 7, 1914: First years of life are never pleasant