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Nov. 20, 1899: Crazed by a fierce infection

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: November 22, 2009 - 11:38 PM
Tear gas and flash-bang grenades were not available to police who, when summoned to a Minneapolis home, had to deal with a bartender who, stricken by an infection, had gone into a knife-wielding delirium. The Minneapolis Tribune put this vivid, and comma-filled, account on the front page:

WAS CRAZED
BY ILLNESS

Chas. Elliott, Suffering From
Erysipelas, Fears That His
Life Is in Jeopardy.

He Barricades Himself and
Defies All Attempts to
Aid Him.

Delirious, the result of sufferings from erysipelas, and fearful that his relatives intended harm, Charles Elliott, a bartender, last night barricaded himself in the kitchen of his home, 249 Eighth avenue north, and for three hours stationed himself in the middle of the room, while, armed with two large knives, he waited the attempts of friends and the police to overpower him.

 
Elliott was taken ill three days ago, and Dr. E.S. Kelley, the attending physician, pronounced his malady erysipelas. Proper medicines were left for his treatment, but his condition grew worse.
 
The climax came a short time after 9 o’clock last night. Two young men, neighbors, were attending the patient, and were in the act of bathing him, when the attack of delirium came. Jumping from bed Elliott, who weighs over 200 pounds, threw off the restraining bands and dashed for the kitchen.
 
Seizing a large knife from the drawer of a table he turned on the men who had followed him, and pointing to a line on the floor he declared “there is your limit,” and ordered them from the room. His threat to kill any one who attempted to take him frightened the men, who had already received rough treatment, and they withdrew.
 
THE POLICE SENT FOR.
 
Elliott was in his bare feet, and arrayed only in a thin nightdress, and fearing fatal results if he succeded in leaving the house in this attire, all the doors leading from the kitchen were locked and word was sent to the police.
 
When Sergt. Kennedy and Patrolman Wetherell arrived Elliott could be seen through a window sitting in the middle of the room. He was near a table and armed with a carving knife, which at intervals he sharpened against the side of the stove. The officers were informed that Dr. Kelley had telephoned for an ambulance, and it was decide to await the arrival of the vehicle before an attempt was made to capture the man.
 
A curious crowd surrounded the house and peered through the windows of the kitchen, but for a time Elliott appeared unconscious of their presence, and the only movement he made was to continue his grinding of the knife against the stove.
 
For a half hour the delirious man thus sat, but suddenly he sprang to his feet and stealthily stepped to the door. The watchers at the other window did not know what movement was contemplated, and they crowded closer to the window as they silently watched him.
 
He had evidently heard some one near the outside door, for moving swiftly to a table he secured a fork and another handful of knives, and returning to the door he proceeded to plug up the keyhole with the fork. The knives were placed conveniently near, and then with the big carver in his hand he drew himself up beside the door and waited to thwart any attempt to enter.
 
The officers and relatives had seen all this, and no one was possessed with a burning desire to break in and grab the man. Without a move Elliott stood for some time waiting for the attack, and some noise must have warned him that he was watched from the outside, for, stepping swiftly across the room, he extinguished the light.
 
The Hub Bar at 5th and Hennepin in Minneapolis, shown here in about 1898, looks like just the kind of sketchy place a bartender could pick up a delirium-inducing infection. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)
 
NOT WANTED AT THE HOSPITAL.
 
It being impossible to see what the crazed man was doing the officers settled back to await the arrival of the ambulance. It had been telephoned for some time before, and then a second message was sent to the city hospital. The attendant replying to this message declared that the doctor was not in, and that the ambulance could not be sent for and erysipelas patient until he returned.
 
Later the attendant telephoned that the city hospital ambulance could not take the patient, and then Health Commissioner Norton was notified. Dr. Norton was willing to send the quarantine hospital ambulance if the city hospital would accommodate the patient, and then inquiry was made of that institution.
 
By this time a large head light lantern had been secured, and the watchers again looked in the window of the kitchen.  At first Elliott could not be seen, but at last he was discovered crouching behind a closet near the outside door, still waiting for the attack.
 
While the watchers were discovering this, Dr. Norton was asking the city hospital what disposition could be made of the man, and he was informed that the institution did not have an empty cot in the place, and could not take the patient.
This information Dr. Norton imparted to the watchers, and he told them that it would be useless to send the quarantine hospital ambulance for the patient, as there was no place to accommodate him.
 
The officers then determined to break in the door, and at least get the crazed man into a comfortable bed, and they were laying their plans for the attack when another examination of the room discovered that Elliott had returned to bed. Dr. Kelley was again summoned, and with medical attendance Elliott again sank into peaceful slumber.

 

If injury or illness landed you in Asbury Methodist's ambulance in 1895, you were in for a bumpy ride to the Minneapolis hospital. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

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