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Aug. 8, 1915: The naked wood nymph of Sparta

Posted by: Ben Welter under Corruption, Newspapers, Crime Updated: June 9, 2012 - 5:01 PM
 
Newspaper reporters of the early 1900s offered readers a fanciful phrase or two in almost every quirky story. In this Minneapolis Sunday Tribune piece, an obviously unhinged and possibly fictional young woman wandering around naked and startling farmers near Sparta, Wis., is described a “mysterious wood nymph.”  What other kind is there?
 

Mysterious Wood Nymph
Seen Near Sparta, Wis.,
By Astonished Farmer

 
(Special to The Sunday Tribune.)
 
La Crosse, Wis., Aug. 8 – The mysterious wood nymph of Sparta, Wis., who appears clad only in a dainty lace night-cap, was seen again today at close range by Valentine Busby, a farmer, three miles east of Sparta. The fair apparition appeared within 100 feet of Busby, but fled into the woods upon sight of him. Busby says the woman, whoever she is, has the form of a Venus. She was also seen by passengers on an eastbound Milwaukee train in the same neighborhood.
 
Sheriff George Poss and Humane Officer Manuel of Sparta have started in quest of the mysterious creature, and are hunting through the woods where she was seen yesterday.
 
Two days later, the nymph was “captured,” but her identity remained a mystery. The Tribune ran this piece on Aug. 11:
 
 
  If you're the straitlaced sort, don't type "wood nymph" into a Google image search box, even with "safe search" in strict mode. This detail of a 1900 photogravure by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones is one of the few "safe" images that turn up.
 

Mysterious Sparta Nymph
Is Captured By Sheriff

 
Nude Woman, Clad Only in Night Cap, Invaded Wisconsin Woods Two Weeks.
 
Now in La Crosse Jail, but Her Identity Is Not Yet Known.
 
La Crosse, Wis., Aug. 11. – (Special.) – After a week’s search Sheriff George Poss and Humane Officer George Manuel drove into Sparta late yesterday afternoon with Sparta’s mysterious wood nymph securely wrapped in a horse blanket. Excitement ran high in Sparta when it became known the mysterious woman had been captured and crowds followed the sheriff’s buggy to the jail, where the nymph is now being cared for by the sheriff’s wife.
 
Meets Questions With Laugh.
 
The identity of the girl is still a mystery, and she refuses to talk. She meets all questions with a laugh and seems to care not at all that she has been cavorting about through Monroe county woods for nearly a fortnight clad only in a lace nightcap trimmed with blue ribbon.
 
The girl is a decided blonde and appears to be about 25 years old.
 
Beyond admitting that she had been in La Crosse and that this city might be her home, she refuses to answer any questions. The sheriff’s wife is endeavoring to ascertain her identity.
 
A story on the front page of the La Crosse Tribune on Aug. 11 offered more details. But the details cast doubt on the entire story – and on the Wisconsin newspaper’s commitment to accuracy:
 

“EVE” GONE HOME
IS SHERIFF YARN
AFTER “CAPTURE”

 
Sparta Official Says Parents Came and Took the Greek Goddess Away
 
THRILLING STORY OF CAPTURE
 
Undersheriff Relates Interesting Events Surrounding Taking of the Wood Nymph
 
SPARTA, Wis., Aug. 11 – “Eve” has disappeared from the county jail at Sparta. Sheriff George Poss, who claims he snared her in a horse blanket late yesterday, perspired freely when relaying the circumstances of her departure.
 
“We parted – friends,” he said, sentimentally. It was evident that the romance was too deep and sacred a thing to be so soon [routed from] that manly bosom.
 
Pressed for details of the capture, Poss said:

“I found that she came from a good family in La Crosse. I permitted her to call them on the telephone last night. They came and took her away. I doubt if I shall ever see her again. I can’t divulge her name, but she was a perfect lady.”
 
The sheriff was visibly affected.
 
Sparta people do not readily accept Sheriff Poss’ official report. In preference they are inclined to credit a widespread story that “Eve” slipped through the sheriff’s fingers at an early hour this morning.
 
“What right had you to let her go?” a reporter asked.
 
“We didn’t have a thing on her,” explained Mr. Poss.
 
“T.P. Abel, the district attorney, advised me to release her,” he added.
 
The reporter [pressed] on that this was a question of law. “By what authority did you act?” he insisted.
 
“We were ably advised,” he said, catching the point. “Following his custom, Mr. Abel consulted a lawyer.”
 
Inquiry developed the fact that attorney Graves had been called and asked whether it would be legal to let “Eve” go.
 
“I shall have to examine the witness,” said Graves.
 
Poss fixed him with a suspicious stare.
 
Following the examination Mr. Graves said:
 
“You asked me whether it would be legal to let this woman go. Upon thorough investigation I advise you that it would be legal, but foolish.”
 
The reporter learns that Mr. Graves is regarded as an expert in these cases.
 
Mr. Abel verified the story of “Eve’s” release. “The bare facts were sufficient to justify it,” he said.
 
Sheriff Poss is a neat little man at the susceptible age of fifty. Asked to describe the capture of “Eve,” he blushed furiously. “The credit belongs to Vieth,” he said.
 
George Vieth is the undersheriff. He told a straight story.
 
“It was very simple,” he said. “Women can’t resist Poss. I used him for bait. I stood him up in an open place and told him to make a noise like Adam. Then I secreted myself nearby.
 
“Hardly was I under cover before ‘Eve’ appeared. She looked out timidly from a [shrub] of hazel. Fear and fascination struggled for the mastery. Quickly the charm of Poss’ personality won her confidence, and with a twitter of bird music she danced lightly toward the sheriff. She was wonderful – wonderful. The cigarette the sheriff was smoking went right out. ‘Eve’ approached him with rhythmic movements through which her lithe body flowed in [tropical] undulations. Circling about him for a moment, she suddenly swooped down upon him with the delightful abandon of the latest tango step.
 
“It was at this moment that I rushed forward and snared “Eve” in a horse blanket. Poss [complained] that I was premature.
 
“I turned the prisoner over to Poss and resumed my place in the driver’s seat. ‘Drive slowly,’ ordered the sheriff, over my shoulder. We then proceeded leisurely back to the city.”
 
As proof that he had really captured “Eve,” Sheriff Poss produced a horse blanket.
 
“I shall keep it as a souvenir,” said Mr. Poss said tenderly. “It is the only thing by which I shall be Abel to recall Eve. I shall treasure it until we are all lying in our Graves.”
 
The reporter extended his hand in farewell.
 
“You’ll all be lying in your graves as a matter of habit, Mr. Poss,” he said.

 

The Pittsburgh Gazette Times, of all papers, reported that an appearance by the nymph "demoralized" soldiers on maneuvers at a nearby military encampment. These members of Company B of the Minnesota National Guard arrived at Camp Sparta three years too early to be demoralized. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)

 

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