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Have you read "Canoeing With the Cree," Eric Sevareid's engaging account of his 1930 canoe trip from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay? Sevareid, 17, and a 19-year-old friend paddled more than 2,200 miles that summer. They caught fish, shot rapids, ate pemmican. They mingled with Indians and slept under the stars.
A few decades earlier, another 17-year-old boy from Minneapolis set out on a canoe adventure that was nearly as ambitious and just as likely to inspire others to pack up a canoe and head north. Bruce Steelman submitted this account to the Minneapolis Tribune:
|Bruce Steelman intended to take photos, but his camera got soaked early in the trip. Thank goodness the Minnesota Historical Society has scores of images from that time and place. Here, an Ojibwe family paddled Lake Vermilion, the starting point of Steelman's 1,100-mile journey. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)|
Three Boys Cover 1,100 Miles on Lakes and Rivers in Five-Week Trip.
Range Waters and Rainy River Country Explored – Rare Experiences.
They Come Down Mississippi From Bemidji – Outing to Be Repeated.
Bruce C. Steelman, 119 Thirty-third street west, his brother, Clyde, and Loyd Sherman have returned to Minneapolis after a canoe trip of 1,100 miles on the lakes and rivers of northern Minnesota. Some of the places visited have seldom been visited by white men. The boys plan to repeat the trip some time.
Bruce Steelman tells the story of the voyage as follows:
“Loyd Sherman, my brother, Clyde, and myself had long planned to take a canoe trip. We shipped out two canoes and supplies to Tower, Minn., on July 16. We stocked up with bacon, salt pork, navy beans, flour, corn meal, rice and everything that generally goes with a camping outfit. We started from Minneapolis, where we all live.
“We arrived at Tower at 11 a.m. the next day. Early in the afternoon we launched our canoes and pushed out from shore in Vermillion [correct spelling: Vermilion] lake. Crossing the lake we entered the river of the same name and passed through Crane lake, Sand Point lake, Namekan lake and some smaller bodies.
“At the outlet of the Vermillion river we pitched our tepee. The owner of Hunters’ lodge there advised us to ship one of our canoes back, because there were many portages to make, but we went on with the two canoes.
“The first day out from there we made five portages. One of the canoes got away from us and was swept down the rapids. It turned partly over and filled with water. We lost all our ammunition, part of our clothing and some of our grub. Loyd rand down stream and headed off the canoe, jumped into the stream and towed it to shore. Our camera was soaked and this prevented us from taking many pictures along our trip as we had intended doing.
“At this point we decided that one canoe was plenty and were sorry we had not followed the advice of the man at Hunters’ lodge. The next morning Loyd and I started back with the smaller canoe to the foot of Vermillion lake and shipped it back home.
“My brother was to go down stream a little farther with the large canoe and the supplies to a small creek. Though we had never been there we thought we could easily find him. After getting the canoe off our hands we started back overland to join Clyde. We found the creek, but Clyde was not there. As we had spoken of no other meeting place we did not know what to do. We made a search of the surroundings and found an old boat, which we got into and went back to our camping place of the night before. He was not there. Night was coming on and we had nothing to eat with us and no gun. In the meantime a strong wind came up and a heavy shower, which drenched us to the skin in a few moments.
Had No Dry Matches.
“We had no matches that were dry and we could not start a fire. It was now dark. We groped around and found a windfall, pulled off some boughs, made a bed and remained there all night. At the break of day we got out and started back in the boat. The morning was bright and the warm sun felt good to us. We had not gone far when we saw three moose only a few yards away. They trotted off briskly.
“After a search of a couple of hours we found Clyde and the supplies. We were more anxious to find the latter than the former, for our appetites were pretty keen. The waves had driven Clyde ashore and we had passed him.
“In a few days we had reached the Rainy Lake river, after making about 18 portages, two of which were over a mile long.
“Up to this time we had caught wall-eyed pike weighing up to seven pounds and plenty of northern pike. We had also seen a number of deer.
“At our first camping place on the Rainy Lake river we were besieged with timber wolves. We kept up a pretty high camp fire and they kept their distance, but hung around most of the night. When daylight came they had disappeared and we saw nothing more of them.
“We saw many Indians along our trip, but as they could not talk English they could not benefit us much. They have some fine birch bark canoes which we could have bought for from $3 to $10.
“We started up the Rainy lakes and could not make over about seven miles a day, as it was showery for about three weeks. We had to use our compasses, for we could not tell the islands from the mainland. Part of the time we camped on the Canadian side. Some nights we camped on islands when we thought we were on the mainland. Moose seemed plentiful on the international boundary. Fishing was most excellent.
|The Mississippi River below Lake Bemidji in about 1910. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)|
“The trip through the lakes was very interesting as the shores are very rocky and covered with timber. There are scarcely any white men up there, but Indians are everywhere to be found. We traveled by moonlight a great deal, for the nights were calm while the waves rolled nearly every day. We lost our way many times on these lakes and were several days reaching International Falls, where we camped for a few days.
“We shipped our canoe and luggage to Bemidji, Minn. Here we launched our canoe in Bemidji lake, the outlet of which flows into Cass lake, and after passing this lake we went down the river to Lake Winnibigoshish. The Mississippi is so shallow up there that we were aground every little while and we had to work like galley slaves to get along.
“From Bemidji to Minneapolis by the river it is over 500 miles. We found but few whites along the river clear down to Aitkin.
"We were almost out of supplies and could get but little from the Indians. When we were almost ready to land at home we came very near losing our whole outfit in a log jam. We landed Friday evening at the Union station, Minneapolis, at 7 o'clock. All we had left of our provisions was salt and pepper and a little rice.
"The trip cost us about $40 apiece, not counting our experience."
|Cooling off in Cass Lake in about 1910: Steelman didn't report seeing any bathing beauties like these while crossing the big lake. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)|
Here a nameless Tribune reporter spins a ghost story worthy of any campfire. The scene is set near an abandoned graveyard in northeast Minneapolis, most likely Maple Hill Cemetery, the city’s first, established in 1857. Over the next 30 years, about 5,000 bodies were buried there.
The cemetery fell into disrepair in the 1880s. Plots were cheap—just $8 or $9 according to an 1889 Tribune story—and recordkeeping was shoddy at best. Some remains were buried no more than two feet deep. Neighbors feared that the poorly maintained burial ground was a health threat and began a campaign to have the remains moved and the cemetery closed. By the time the story below was published in 1899, the removals had already begun and burials ceased. But with no source of funding, most of the remains and markers remained there untended for years. The grounds were “loaded with rubbish and so neglected that many of the caskets are exposed to view,” the Tribune reported.
In April 1907, the Tribune reported that Maple Hill Cemetery was in "deplorable condition." Rain had washed away sand at the western edge of the cemetery, exposing caskets to view. And children playing baseball had broken grave markers to pieces for use as bases.
The city’s Park Board took possession of the land in 1908 with the idea of restoring a portion of the cemetery and reserving 10 acres for a children’s park. A playground was established there in the summer of 1916, but the adjoining cemetery was still largely a mess. By that fall, the neighbors had had enough of the eyesore: under cover of darkness, about thirty men hitched up three teams of horses and cleared the land of debris and headstones, dumping the markers in a ravine on the west side of the property. Eight men were implicated in the “Maple Hill Raid,” but only two faced vandalism charges and they won acquittal at trial.
Soon after the raid, the Park Board removed most of the remaining markers, and Maple Hill became firmly established as a park. A skating rink, a warming house, horseshoe pits and other amenities were added. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts gathered there for activities. The park’s hockey teams enjoyed success in citywide competition. In 1948, it was renamed Beltrami Park, after the Italian-American explorer of the 19th century. But signs of the park’s past are still visible to this day. At least two small gravestones can be found amid the grass and trees on the park’s northwest side, not far from a monument to 46 Civil War veterans who were buried there.
Weird Adventure of a Young Woman While Walking Near a Cemetery in Northeast Minneapolis.
"Help! Help! The ghost will get me!" shrieked Ida Olson, last evening, as she rushed up to a pedestrian who was walking in Central avenue, near the abandoned cemetery in Northeast Minneapolis.
The girl, who is a domestic, was frightened so badly that it was impossible for her to talk in a coherent manner, and for time it was feared she had been driven insane by fright. She declared that while walking past the old cemetery with Ole Johnson, her sweetheart, a white object had arisen from one of the neglected graves, and, with an unearthly yell, had pursued them.
|Reminders of Beltrami Park’s past as a cemetery remain to this day.|
Ole, she said, had deserted her at the first sign of danger, and had left her to her fate. She was sure the object she had seen was a ghost, and she declared with equal firmness that it was the ghost of a man with horns, for she had seen the horns on his head, and had noted further that he wore a long white beard. Several times while telling her story she became hysterical, and it was with difficulty that she could be induced to continue.
John Adams, employed in the Columbia Heights mills, was the man whom she accosted on the street, and he at once took the girl into a drug store, where her story was related. At first it was thought Ida had been drinking, but there was not the slightest smell of liquor on her breath, and she was evidently badly frightened. While she was talking her sweetheart entered the place, and cried with joy at seeing the girl safe and sound.
Johnson, who is a laboring man, and a fairly intelligent appearing young fellow, told a story quite similar to that related by the girl, except that he said he had, instead of running away from the ghost, run towards it, in an endeavor to find out what it was.
Searching Party Formed.
Several persons were in the drug store at the time, and they at once formed a party and paid a visit to the old cemetery. As the abiding place of the dead was approached the courage of John disappeared, and he lagged behind. The girl, on the contrary, was fairly brave, now that there were other persons near by, and she led the party to the place where she said the ghost had appeared.
The spot from which the figure had arisen proved to be a slight depression on a mound, and the crushed down leaves and dead grass showed that a body of some sort had lain there. The adventure was becoming serious, and two or three members of the party did not venture as far away from their companions as they had done before the depression was found.
An extended search of the locality was made, but not trace of a ghost or anything looking like one could be found. Just as the party was about to give up and return to Central avenue a gasp of horror burst from the lips of Johnson, and he sank to the ground in a heap. A short distance away, only just visible in the dim light, was a white figure, with horns and a long white beard, just as Miss Olson had said.
Strange Sounds Heard.
As the little party looked a sound that cannot be described came from the object, followed by a silence that was painful in its intensity. For a moment no one moved or spoke; then one of the more adventuresome members of the party started in the direction of the ghost, carrying a revolver in his hand.
“Speak or I’ll shoot,” he called, as he scared the object.
There was no response, and again he repeated his command. This time the object moved a trifle and seemed to advance toward the party. As the man with the gun was about to fire there broke upon the silent night a plaintive:
Then a large white goat, with a beautiful pair of horns and a magnificent bunch of gray whiskers, walked up to the men and began nosing around as if expecting to be fed. The reaction was too much for the party, and the various persons laughed until they cried. Meantime Johnson had disappeared, and Miss Olson was sent to her home in University avenue northeast.
The goat, it was learned later, has been pastured in the old cemetery and the surrounding locality during the last summer, and he has been in the habit of sleeping around in any old place, and of going up to passers-by and asking in his dumb way for something to eat. Who the owner of the goat is could not be learned.
Be sure to catch Kim Ode’s marvelous piece on the canoe craze of the early 1900s in Minneapolis. “At one time,” she writes, “the number of couples cuddling in canoes grabbed headlines, spawned park police patrols and saw metaphorical lines drawn in the sand about naughty boat names such as Kismekwik, Skwizmtyt (sound it out) or Kumonin Kid.”A Tribune story from 1912 lists more of the names declared by the Minneapolis Park Board to be unacceptable:
Owners to Be Notified at End of Season to Rename Craft.
|Canoes packed with paddlers packed Lake Calhoun in about 1912. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)
|The gents in this postcard from about 1912 seem nice enough. But wearing a tie instead of a life jackets shows poor judgment. Am I wrong, ladies? (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)
Twelve-mile-long Bassett Creek once meandered unfettered through marshlands from Medicine Lake in Plymouth to the Mississippi River near Nicollet Island. In the late 1800s, developers began filling in the wetlands near the river, but the homes were prone to flooding, and, thanks to widespread dumping of garbage upstream, the creek became little more than an open sewer. After the spring floods of 1913, described in the Minneapolis Tribune story below, the Legislature approved funding to divert the creek into a storm sewer. By 1923, the final mile and a half of the creek was underground.
|This image, taken from microfilm, accompanied the Tribune flood story. The caption provided no address or names, only this: "Preparing to move."
A link between brain damage and anti-social behavior has been well-documented. It’s unclear how well-documented the link was in 1920, when a court sent a robbery suspect to a St. Paul hospital for a bit of cranial surgery to cure his “criminal tendencies.” Did it work? That's also unclear. There’s no mention of the scofflaw in subsequent issues of the Minneapolis Tribune, and no record of a Nobel prize for the surgeon.
|St. Joseph's Hospital, Ninth and Exchange, St. Paul, in 1912. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)