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Dec. 27, 1890: Lost in a Minneapolis sewer

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: December 28, 2010 - 3:35 PM
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)

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