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Posts about City streets

May 31, 1913: Rattlesnake pointedly proves handler's point

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: July 4, 2013 - 10:24 PM
 
This story snapped and slithered its way onto the front page of the Minneapolis Tribune:
 

Carnival Snake Bites
Man; Frightens Police


Trainer in Danger from Fangs of Big Rattler He Was Showing.

Same Reptile Slinks Into the Lake Street Station in Afternoon.


The skepticism of a visitor at the “Reptile World” show at the Lake Street festival last night came near causing the death of Montana Jack, snake trainer. He was bitten by a poisonous rattlesnake when he attempt to prove that the reptile had not been defanged.

“Jack” was demonstrating methods of handling the snakes to a crowd, when one spectator declared that the reptiles had all been deprived of their fangs and that they were perfectly harmless. Grabbing the largest of the dozen rattlers from the bottom of the pit, Jack declared he would prove that the snakes were poisonous.

In forcing open the snake’s mouth it slipped from his grasp for a moment and buried its fangs in the fleshy part of the man’s left arm.

He wanted to treat the bite by his own method, but the police took him to Dr. George E. Thomas. He will recover.

Yesterday afternoon half a dozen policemen in the Fifth precinct station believed they were “seeing things” when the same snake, which had escaped from the tent, slid into the station. There was a scramble for the doors and tops of desks and chairs, and for a few minutes the rattler was in full control of the situation. Then it continued on its way and noiselessly slid out of the rear door into the alley.

It was captured a short time afterward in the grass in the rear of 3032 Third avenue south.
  

 

I was unable to find a photo of Montana Jack or any other snake handler of the early 1900s in the Star Tribune's rich archive of photos. But -- snakes alive! -- how about the caption on the back of this 1937 photo: "Radioman from KSTP interviewing a cobra snake." Tell us more, dear archives, tell us more!

Dec. 27, 1893: Down in Fish Alley

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: January 28, 2013 - 1:34 PM
 
Known as the “slum of all slums” in the city’s early days, Fish Alley was a crime-ridden warren of decrepit structures and narrow paths on the northeastern edge of downtown Minneapolis. The block was bounded by Washington Avenue, S. Third Street and what are now known as Park and Portland Avenues S. The crumbling “fish building” for which it was named was condemned as unsafe on May 2, 1906, and ground was broken for the J.I. Case warehouse a few weeks later. The Case building, about a block from the Metrodome, is now home to an Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant and other businesses.

Brace yourself, dear reader. The Tribune reporter did not paint a pretty picture of this blot on the city’s escutcheon.
 

DOWN IN FISH ALLEY

 
ONE OF THE VERY FEW BLOTS ON THE CITY’S ESCUTCHEON.
 
Visit to a Place Which Frequently Figures in Police Annals – The Alley Is Not What It Used to be However, and Its Prestige as a Center of Criminality Is Gradually Being Lost – Sights and Scenes in Its Dark Recesses Which the General Public Little Dream of – The Day in Police Circles.
 
“Fish alley.”
 
Little that is pleasant can be said about it. Even the light of the universal festival just celebrated cannot penetrate those dingy rookeries to throw even a semblance of cheerfulness upon them. The usual pastime and even occupation of the inmates are cards and whisky, and petty crimes, and Christmas is usually celebrated by having a little more of these.
 
The place frequently figures in the annals of the police, and hardly ever comes to the surface in any other connection. Time was when crime of a more or less desperate nature was enacted in the place, or elsewhere by its boldest inmates, but whatever of the criminal element now found there is of the cheap, timid sort, and the people are utterly without stamina of any kind. Formerly the place swarmed with negroes, Chinese and low-down white trash, but the alley is now largely deserted. A few families are found there, but most of the population is composed of roomers, devotees of vice in various forms. The latest exploit was the enticing of a farmer into one of the upper rooms by a street siren whose alleged husband at the proper moment came rushing upon the scene. Hush money was of course demanded, and would no doubt have been paid had not Officer Conroy, on whose beat Fish alley is located, appeared to prevent the consummation of the crime. The woman was sent to the work house. Conroy has made it rather unpleasant for the criminal gentry, and more than 20 inmates have moved away since he began his duties there.
 
NAMED FOR EARLY TIMES.
 
The place has its name from the fact that in early times a fish market was located there. The original building is still standing, a low, narrow structure, in the middle of the block between Seventh and Eighth avenues south. A narrow space separates it from the next building on the right, an alley just wide enough to permit a person to walk through to the rear. Here a concatenation of half-rotten stairs, galleries and doors lead to the rooms on the right and left and to the first and upper floors. Everything is in a condition of decay, corresponding well with the unwholesome moral and mental attributes of the denizens of the place. Many of the ground floor rooms fronting on Washington avenue are used for various sorts of business, meat markets, saloons, candy stores, second hand dealers, etc., and outward appearances are not so bad. But in the rear corruption and decay have full sway. The houses run into the ground here, and what is the second or third story in the front may be the first from the rear. The place swarms with rats. Dogs bark and growl as one threads his way carefully through the labyrinths, and the wails of children, or the carousal of debauchees fret the midnight air. Formerly it would have been a dangerous undertaking to go through the rookeries alone, but the danger is not great now. The surveillance of the police over the locality is so close that criminals find it but an insecure hiding place.
 
In its palmy days Fish alley was a city refuge for the criminal fleeing from justice. Negroes were then swarming in the block, and the razor artist who had carved a fellow citizen uptown would flee to the rookery and, sheltered by his friends, it was a difficult task to ferret him out.
 
 

Detail of C. Wright Davison's 1884 Pocket Map of Minneapolis shows the location of Fish Alley: Block 45, just south of the Chicago Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway's "Car House."

Oct. 7, 1906: 'Vampire rats' terrorize Minneapolis chickens

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: December 7, 2012 - 7:02 PM
 
Perhaps an experienced exterminator can identify the blood-sucking, kangaroo-like rats described in this Minneapolis Tribune story.
 

COMPLAIN OF REIGN
OF VAMPIRE RATS

 

CHICKEN RAISERS WORRIED BY NEW SPECIES OF RODENT.
 
Has Appearance of Kangaroo and Attacks Ducks and Turkeys.
 
IMMUNE FROM POISON AND EVEN RESENTS THE APPEARANCE OF HUMANS.
 
Has Minneapolis been visited by a colony of vampire rats and are they propagating a new and foreign breed? are the questions which Minneapolis people are beginning to ask, and which many of them answer for themselves in the affirmative from experience.
 
The discovery that rats were acting very peculiarly, was first made by the chicken fanciers. There are more of this class of people in Minneapolis than in any other city of its size in the country and they breed more high priced fowl than any western city.
 
Poultrymen assert that while chicks are liable to be carried off by rats, when they get of a good broiler size, they are safe. But this season it is different. Rats not only have been killing full grown chicks during the night, but they have been seen to leap upon chickens in the daytime. Stephen Conlow, a North Minneapolis breeder, tells of these rats dragging down a full grown duck, and Mart E. Cressing, an East Side fancier, asserts that they even have seized his young turkeys.
 
FEED ON YOUNG TURKEYS.
 
“I heard a commotion one day in the yard,” he said, “and there was a young turkey thrashing about the yard with two rats hanging to its neck. I ran into the yard and drove them away and found that they had sunk their teeth into the back of the turkey’s neck and had been sucking the blood. The turkey was strong, but the wounds poisoned it, and swelled its head and I had to kill it. The worst of it is, these rats won’t be poisoned, for they refuse to eat raw meat or cheese that has been fixed for them.”
 
Several poultry fanciers are going out of the business entirely because they cannot fight these queer animals, which they say are too cunning for them. One man reports only a dozen chicks left to grow to maturity out of 233, all carried off by rats in spite of his precaution.
 
“I have never seen rats like them,” said one North Minneapolis fancier. “I have had rats that were easy to handle, but I never heard of this kind until Mrs. Turnbull, who lives near me, told of rats that killed grown chickens, roosters and hens. I couldn’t believe it, but she assured me that she had to shut hers up in barrels over night to protect them. Then finally they attacked my colony.
 
RAT THREW CHICKEN.
 
“One day I heard a flopping out in the yard, and saw a big broiler, one of my best chicks, flopping as if his neck had been run. I found that a rat had thrown it. I drove it away, and it retreated a short distance, and blinked at me. The struggles of the chick had ceased before I picked it up. I plucked it to find how it was injured and found teeth holes at each side of the back of the base of the neck. The rat had broken the spinal [cord] and sucked the blood until the chicken dropped from weakness. I have found many killed in the day time this year and all have the spinal [cord] broken.
 
“I want to tell another peculiar thing about these rats. I have watched them about the yard, and they are afraid of nothing. They will lay in wait for sparrows, as a cat does, and leap for them when they get near, and I have seen more than one caught by them. I can’t catch them nor poison them. They seem to disappear no one knows where, when they want to sleep.”
 
LOOK LIKE KANGAROOS.
 
People who have been troubled with them, say they are different from the ordinary rat. They are not as large, are rather lean and long, have tails, which are more than usually large at the base. Their ears are quite long, and their eyes piercing and large, and they run by a series of bounds, instead of the close travel of the ordinary rat.
 
Mr. Johnson, a fireman in the department, asserts that his experience with the rats are that when they get hungry they always prefer animal food to the extent of eating the family shoes when they can’t get meat. He says they don’t seem to care for bread and cheese, and poison they simply turn up their nose at.
 
“I have driven them from my place,” said one poultryman, speaking of the rat question. “They don’t seem to live in sewers. I take chopped liver and lay it in the center of a large board square, say four feet square. I sprinkle the board around it with potash. They come to get the nice juicy meat, and get the potash on their feet. It burns and they lick it off, and that kills. I advise every one to try it. After I did, my chickens were unmolested. Of course you have to put the potash where the chickens won’t get it.”
 
Rattus norvegicus -- known as Mus decumanus in the early 1900s -- also had a taste for poultry. (Image courtesy of Kurt Stueber)

 

Oct. 20, 1899: How to move 120 tons of bridge

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: October 25, 2012 - 3:38 PM

 

Over the past 150 years, five bridges have spanned the Mississippi at Wabasha Street in St. Paul. The first, a wooden Howe truss span known as the St. Paul Bridge, was completed in 1859. The second, built in 1872, was of the same design. The third was built in about 1884. That bridge was, according to a rather dated page on St. Paul’s website, an all-iron Pratt truss, “an innovative version known as a Whipple double-intersection Pratt.” Innovative, perhaps, but not enduring: Five years later it was replaced by an iron cantilever deck-truss that served the city for a century before the high cost of maintenance and repair spelled its doom. The current Wabasha Street Bridge, a concrete segmental box girder bridge, was completed in 1998.
 
The 1889 bridge was built in two parts, first the north section and, 10 years later, the south section. The latter project required that a 120-ton span of wood and iron be moved 50 feet, from temporary wooden piers built downstream to permanent masonry piers. In the story below, the Minneapolis Tribune explained how six men, without the aid of horses or steam power, completed the job in just eight hours. The feat was described in detail in the January 1900 issue of the Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies.
 

Bridge Moving
by Modern Methods

Six men moved the 120 tons of wood and iron contained in one span of the Wabasha street bridge, St. Paul, 50 feet Wednesday, and they didn’t make much fuss about it as an expressman would in getting a trunk upstairs. The men were not unusually tired after their feat, for screws and compound levers accomplished what their hands could never have done and completed a task in which it would have been dangerous to have used machinery.
 
By the aid of screws and rollers the men pulled the bridge the entire distance in eight hours. The lifting and trussing of the bridge requiring a week or more, and it will take almost that long for each of the other two spans that will have to be moved. After all this is done the approaches will have to be shaped up and the connection made with the permanent portion of the bridge.
 
An attempt was made at first to move the bridge without the use of rollers, but it was found the friction was too great and that it could not be done. The rollers are simply iron bars cut in short sections, and as fast as they roll out from under the plate they are placed in front again. A screw mechanism is employed at each end of the span. In moving the bridge it is necessary to exercise the greatest care to avoid demolishing the old piers.
 
The contract for moving the old bridge amounts to $7,500 and for building the approach $40,995.
 
A photo from the January 1900 issue of the Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies - thanks, Google Books -- shows a 120-ton section of St. Paul's Wabasha Street bridge being maneuvered into place.

 

The fourth Wabasha Street bridge, shown here in about 1900, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

 

Oct. 14, 1914: Dight Avenue's Hitler connection

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: May 26, 2012 - 6:06 PM
 
What does it take to get Minneapolis to name a street after you? Serving on the City Council might put you in the running, especially if you work tirelessly to pass an ordinance to improve food safety. A distinguished teaching career at a local university can’t hurt. And living in a “tree-top house” near Minnehaha Falls might endear you to the public as a charming eccentric.
 
 
  Dr. Charles F. Dight
But you’re probably not going to win wide acclaim if you push for laws to prevent “mentally subnormal” and “obviously unfit” adults from reproducing. And writing a letter to the editor of the local paper in support of Adolf Hitler’s plan “to stamp out mental inferiority among the German people” will more likely get you run out of town than get your name on street signs.
 
So how did a nine-block stretch of road just east of Hiawatha come to be named Dight Avenue? Dr. Charles Fremont Dight, a Socialist, pasteurization advocate and treehouse dweller, was granted the honor by the Minneapolis City Council in 1918, at the end of his four-year stint as an alderman. But don't be too harsh on the City Council: This was some years before Dight advocated sterilization for the “feeble-minded” and praised Der Fuehrer in a letter to the Minneapolis Journal.  
 
Below are three snapshots of Dight. In the first piece, the Minneapolis Tribune introduced readers to the “avowed Socialist” on Oct. 14, 1914. 
 

12th Ward Aldermanic Candidate
Has Dwelling Among the Treetops


Dr. Charles F. Dight Tells Why He came to Build Home Where and How He Did.

Socialists Choose Former University Professor to Stand for City Hall Honors.

 
BY JOHN A. ARNOLD.
 
 “Truth Shall Triumph:
Justice Shall Be Law.”
 
This legend, neatly painted on a board, adorns what might be the cornice of the oddest residence in Minneapolis, or the state.
 
It adorns the unique home of Dr. Charles F. Dight, 4818 Thirty-ninth avenue south, and presumably it is his motto. Dr. Dight is a socialist, and he is the socialist candidate for alderman of the Twelfth ward. In a sense, he is a vicarious sacrifice. He says he never had any particular beat for aldermanic honors and work. He did not seek the office, or to become a candidate. Members of the socialist party in the Twelfth took a referendum vote on candidates for the office, and without consulting Dr. Dight, spotted him to make the race at the primary.
 
He modestly accepted the post, made the run, and was second highest candidate at the primaries. Alderman Barr was the only man in a field of a half dozen or so who go more votes than Dr. Dight. Hence the voters of the ward will have to choose between Alderman Barr, who was elected four years ago as an independent, and Dr. Dight, who is an avowed Socialist.
 
Home That Is Unique.
 
Dr. Dight’s home is hard to describe. It is the second story of a one story house. If that description falls short, here is another: It is a house on stilts. Again, it is a house in the trees; it is a house on the general lines of a crane.
Once Minnehaha parkway swerved off just before it reached the west bank of Minnehaha creek at Forty-eighth street, and traversed Thirty-ninth to Forty-ninth, and then skirted the brow of the bluff across the creek from what is now the Longfellow Zoo, and connected with the Minnehaha park drive near the Minnehaha station of the Milwaukee road. The park board bridged the creek, and the parkway was then continued east along Forty-eighth street. There was so little travel on Thirty-ninth avenue after that it became grassed over and is now little more than an abandoned woodland trail. In winter it is more popular, for one of the best coasting hills in that part of the city is down the slope from Forty-ninth to the parkway, and any good coasting sled can easily glide from one street to the other. On a winter afternoon or evening the hill is alive with youngsters and their shouts drown the howls of the coyotes across the creek.
 
Longs to be Physician.
 
Dr. Dight is a bachelor and a physician. He has lived in Minneapolis for 16 years and in the ward for six years. He is of Scotch German parentage. He was born in Pennsylvania, where he grew up and did all kinds of farm work.
 
When 13 years of age he decided to study medicine, and at the age of 22 he graduated in medicine, second in scholarship in his class at the University of Michigan.
 
During the years of his medical study he earned every cent that he expended. After two years of private practice he became one of the medical faculty of the University of Michigan, and two years later a professor in the American Medical school in [Beirut], Syria, Asia, and was in charge of the hospital there, where from 10,000 to 12,000 patients were treated yearly.
 
Many Years a Teacher.
 
Since he returned to this country he has been occupied chiefly in teaching medicine, in Hamline Medical school for nine years, and for several years in the University of Minnesota.
 
He is author of “The Human Body, a Co-operative Commonwealth,” “Sanitary Progress” and other pamphlets found in the university library. He severed his connection with the university about a year ago, when the rule was adopted requiring professors to devote all their time to the university. He had been medical director of an insurance company as well as a teacher, so when he had to make the choice between his two jobs he took the insurance work. Now he devotes all his time to that.
 
He has traveled extensively in the orient and in Egypt, as well as in Europe. He has always been a close observer and a student, and has a store of practical knowledge on municipal affairs.
 
 
Dight's "tree-top" house in about 1930. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)

 

 About One House.

 
But about Mr. Dight’s House: A man’s house is his castle: moreover, it is his own private business. If a man chooses to live in the treetops, who should worry as long as the man himself does not? And apparently Dr. Dight is well satisfied. There may be an impression that he obtained the idea of his house from foreign countries, but he dispels that.
 
Dr. Dight planned the house himself. This is said in justice to him and to the members of the architectural society of Minneapolis. No architect had a hand in it. This is the way Dr. Dight explains it:
 
Reasoning it Out.
 
He was a bachelor and alone. He owned the lot facing Minnehaha creek on Thirty-ninth avenue and had owned it for several years. He generally went away somewhere to spend the summers, and was getting tired of it. He thought he would put [up] a house of some sort, good enough for a summer cottage. But his lot was in the woods, with higher ground around it. The autumn and winter winds would wantonly pile all the leaves from all the trees around his summer house, and since it would stand unoccupied for nine months of the year, there would be great danger from fire. Moreover, the lot was rather low, and a house built on or near the ground would be liable to dampness.
 
Up in the Air.
 
Then Dr. Dight advanced a peg in domestic architecture. He figured that since he could occupy a summer house only a few weeks, he might as well build an all the year house, and live in it all the time if he cared to. And in order to get drainage, and air, and a better view of Minnehaha creek which flows just across the road, and prevent the leaves from piling around him, he decided to build on stilts.
 
The house is supported on iron pillars imbedded in concrete. The walls are of hollow tile, and floors and ceilings are made with air space. There are two small rooms, and a sort of cupola room, really a kitchenet, still higher. A large hard coal stove supplies heat, and kerosene lamps give light. Rugs and draperies make the rooms cozy enough for any bachelor. Around the rooms are stray bits of laboratory apparatus, and on the walls are X-ray photographs of bits of the human anatomy. Books, pamphlets, and papers are scattered around promiscuously. One can not expect a scientific bachelor to be too prim.
 
Scenery Is Restful.
 
The house is reached from the ground by a spiral iron stair such as one sees in a large vault. This stair reaches to a very small porch at the side of the house. In front is a larger porch built around trees, where the resident and his friends may look into the tree tops, or down into the brimming creek where the ducks disport, or across at the Longfellow garden with its flaunting flags. There are a half dozen or so near neighbors, but their houses are not much larger than Dr. Dight’s and some of them are almost as high above the earth. In the trees around Dr. Dight’s home are many boxes for the birds, some of wood, others improvised from earthen pots, others, still, of tiles left from the house walls. Rabbits nibble the brush along the creek, and other wild creatures share the woodsy dingle with the human nature lovers.
 
One Big Advantage.
 
Strictly speaking, Dr. Dight’s house is not big enough for ward meetings. If a delegation should call on the alderman to discuss needed improvements, the meeting would have to be under the house, or among the trees, or over at Forty-fifth street in the town hall. The alderman might address his constituents from his front balcony, but he could not entertain many at a time in his residence. There might be valuable advantage in that.
 
Dr. Dight is a Socialist of the more conservative sort. He has no sympathy whatever with the violent type of Socialism. He accepts the theories of the Socialist party, but he is a believer in the step by step attainment of those theories. He believes in putting public ownership and other ideas into effect only as fast as the public is educated up to them, and in no case would he do violence to public opinion by too abrupt methods. He believes in educating the people up to the accepted ideas of his party.
 
Willing to Be Shown.
 
If he were elected alderman, he says he would be guided in his official acts on great and important matters, such as renewing franchises or taking over public utilities, by the consensus of opinion of his recognized party leaders, determined in conference. But he says these conferences are not executive nor are they confined to the Socialists. Anybody interested in bringing about better conditions for the common people is welcome to attend these councils and to participate in them. He would accept the suggestions of these councils on big matters, he says, on the broad theory that two or a half dozen heads are better than one. On matters of routine business, minor ward improvements, and business on which there could be no party question, he would act on his best judgment. But always, he says, he would put the interests of the common people first.
 
The political pot is already simmering in the Twelfth. Party leaders are announcing meetings, and literature is being distributed. The Barr forces are not asleep. Soon the engagement will become general along the whole front. If Dr. Dight is elected, he doubtless will be the only alderman in the United States who has his abode among the birds in the tree tops. In that respect he will be unique.
 
Dight won the 12th Ward seat and served for four years. He helped pass an ordinance whose aim was to ensure that all milk sold in Minneapolis was “a fresh, clean, lacteal product, free from a high bacterial count, objectionable odor, flavor and color, produced, pasteurized and bottled under the most sanitary conditions.” According to an Oct. 25, 1917, report in the Tribune, dairies were required to label every bottle with this information:
 
[The] kind of milk contained in the bottle, -- milk, cream, skimmed milk, buttermilk, etc.; it must show the class of milk, whether it be certified raw or pasteurized; it must show the amount of fat content; it must show the day of intended sale, which must be not later than 24 hours after bottling, and it must bear the name of the firm bottling it.”
 
Consumers also bore some responsibility under the ordinance: “The housewives must see to it that the milk bottles are washed thoroughly before returning them to the deliveryman.”
 
Dight’s dairy initiative was well-received, and the City Council voted to rename Railroad Avenue in his honor in 1918. He quit the council that year to focus on his job as medical officer at a Minneapolis  insurance company. By the early 1920s his interest in public health turned sharply from support for government rules on food safety to support for government rules on human breeding. Dight helped found the Minnesota Eugenics Society in 1923 and began to campaign at the Minnesota Legislature for a sterilization law. In this piece, published in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune on March 19, 1921, he argued for government involvement to “check the breeding of incorrigibles.”
 
Young men tended to livestock at the Faribault School for the Feeble-Minded in 1904. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)

 

 
The Public Pulse

Remedy for Incorrigibility


To the Editor of The Tribune:
 
In The Minneapolis Tribune of March 13, under the heading “Juvenile Delinquency Through the State is Branded as Alarming,” it was said that the report of the members of the State Board of Visitors of Public Institutions states that “Some remedial measures must be taken which will diminish the number of incorrigibles.”
 
The measures urged by the board, as you state them, are superficial as remedial measures. They are confined to matters which have to do with poolrooms, dance places, and moving picture shows which young people attend, and with parental negligence in bringing up children.
 
These are all environmental conditions and do not at all touch a more important preventive measure, namely, that of checking the breeding of incorrigibles.
 
There are just two causes which produce incorrigibles, heredity and environment, and neither one should be overlooked in the study of prevention.
 
Every person who has anything to do with this big question brought up by your article should read Luther Burbank’s book called “The Training of the Human Plant.” In a striking way it brings out how children are great imitators of their elders and how example and environment have much to do with their behavior and with determining their future character. But Mr. Burbank and geologists generally with most careful students of heredity and eugenics are agreed that human character is determined less by environment than by inherited mentality. Such high authority as Prof. Karl Person believes that heredity as a determiner of character is five to ten times as great as is environment.
 
Of course, it is understood by studious and thoughtful people that most boys as they grow up naturally pass in their behavior though a period of savagery. But it is soon outgrown by the normal boy. It does not constitute incorrigibility, which means depravity beyond the power of reform. That is generally due to mental abnormality that is constitutional and inherited in most cases.
 
Is it any wonder that there should be so many incorrigibles as to excite alarm when we consider the poor human stock from which they come? It can no doubt be safely asserted that the parents of most incorrigibles are chiefly of the groups who, if not themselves actually abnormal mentally in some way, such as feeble-minded, insane, epileptic, criminally inclined, avaricious or physically diseased, are person who carry in the germ-plasm of their reproductive cells the determiners of one or another of these defects, and which by inheritance is the cause of defect in their offspring. Reproduction by such as these is the great cause of the rapid increase of incorrigible youths for which the visiting board seeks a remedy.
 
What must that remedy be? The correction of evils connected with poolrooms, dance places, moving picture shows and negligence in bringing up children is good and necessary, but it will never circumvent the laws of heredity and prevent constitutional defects in parents from being passed on to their progeny.
 
The real remedy lies in securing marriage matings between those who are free as possible from inheritable defects. With this will come better environment also. When this is done incorrigibles and the mentally defective will rarely be born. Good human stock will then breed true to its kind when unmixed with bad. This is a law of nature.
 
The testimony of all careful students of this subject is that a mentally inferior human stock – inferior in many ways – is being bred and is increasing at an alarming rate in all the states. Statistics gathered by experts inform us that in the year 1910 there were more insane people in our 366 institutions for the care of the insane than there were students in all the colleges and universities in the United States. This insane group is far outnumbered by the feeble-minded population who have to be cared for, while if to these the large number of less mentally defective ones known as “morons” be added, and these increased by the epileptics, by those who are criminally inclined and the avaricious, the number will no doubt run into the millions. A high authority believes that one person in thirty in this country carries in the germ-plasm of his or her reproductive cells the determiners of inheritable defects. These defectives are largely permitted to reproduce their kind. This is the chief source of incorrigibles.
 
In the breeding of stock – cattle, sheep, hogs – certain simple and well understood laws in selection are applied which produce the good and exclude the bad through heredity. But in human reproduction in which these laws apply with the same certainty as in breeding stock they are neglected with results that are appalling when investigated.
 
This country for many years has been the dumping ground for inferior people from Europe. This accounts in part for our excess of incorrigibles. It is estimated that from 6 to 7 per cent of the immigrants who have recently been arriving are feeble-minded. From 1900 to 1910, 8,500,000 immigrants came here. A United States health authority says that probably only 5 per cent of the mentally deficient were detected and kept out. In 1910 at one of our ports where 1,483 immigrants certified by the inspecting surgeons as unfit to land because of serious mental or physical defects 1,370 were landed anyway.
 
In view of the grave situation it is almost criminal to continue to absorb European undesirables. To get rid of the over-load of mentally sub-normal people which we already have is the big problem. To do this requires three things:
 
First, that state and national pedigrees of families who are free from, and those not free from serious inheritable defects be assembled and made available as an aid to better marriage matings. This work is now being done by the Carnegie Institute, aided by institutions in various states.
 
Second, that adults who are mentally sub-normal and obviously unfit shall be prevented from reproducing, either by segregating them, of course under good conditions, during their reproductive period, or by performing on them the operation of vasectomy. This operation is now legalized in 12 states. It is simple and safe, and when it and its effects are explained to persons on whom it is proposed many of them welcome it.
 
Third, that young people be instructed on the great facts of heredity that have been discovered in recent years, and on the vital importance to themselves and their children of shunning marriage with one who is socially unfit.
 
By these means the incorrigibles will disappear. Industrial democracy will be established by good human stock that will appreciate and maintain it. A better era for mankind will be ushered in. – Dr. C.F. Dight.
 
The State Asylum for the Insane in St. Peter, Minn., in 1931. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)

 

Two years after Dight organized the state eugenics council, his lobbying efforts at the State Capitol found traction. The Legislature passed a law that allowed the sterilization of residents of state institutions for the “feeble-minded” and “insane.” Sterilization was voluntary in that it required the consent of the resident’s legal representative. By the time the law was taken off the books in the mid-1960s, nearly 2,500 Minnesotans – 78 percent of them women – had been sterilized.
 
In 1933, Dight sent this letter to German Chancellor Adolf Hitler:
 
August 1, 1933.
 
Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
Berlin, Germany.
 
Honorable Chancellor:
 
I inclose a clipping from the Minneapolis Journal of Minnesota, United States of America, relating to and praising your plan to stamp out mental inferiority among the German people.

I trust you will accept my sincere wish that your effort along that line will be a great success and will advance the eugenics movement in other nations as well as Germany.

Sincerely,

C.F. Dight, M.D.
President Minnesota Eugenics Society.
 
The Minnesota Eugenics Society faded from the public scene soon after, and Dight died in 1938. He left his $200,000 estate to the University of Minnesota, where he had taught before his election to the Minneapolis City Council.  The money was used to found the Dight Institute for the Promotion of Human Genetics. According to the terms of his will, the institute had a mandate to work for "race betterment" through research, instruction and counseling. It was associated with the university until the 1960s and quietly closed up shop in the early 1990s.
 
Cargill grain elevators at 3500-3600 Dight Av. in July 1931. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)

 

 

      

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