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Posts about Minnesota newsmakers

June 11, 1941: ‘Health lecturer’ arrested in Minneapolis

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: March 18, 2014 - 7:53 PM
 
Russell James, described as a “health lecturer” in stories in the Minneapolis Star Journal, was arrested during one of his presentations in 1941. He was accused of claiming that Riddo, a health food product he sold, would cure a variety of ailments.  Riddo, a concoction of powdered bananas and whey, was marketed by California bodybuilder and health food advocate Paul Bragg in the early 1940s. Judging by these photos from the Star Tribune archives, James was probably a bodybuilder himself. His secretary, Ruth Cook, was no couch potato either. Hubba. Hubba.
 
Ruth Cook and her boss, Russell James, dressed appropriately for court. But photos like this don't sell papers -- or build Web traffic. It went unpublished. (Star Journal photo by Russell Bull)
 
 
This photo, also by Russell Bull, ran with the story below, with the caption: "RUSSELL JAMES AND BLOND SECRETARY, RUTH COOK: Will this 'picture of health' convince jury?"
 

Maybe Juror Can Throw
Pair of Crutches Away

One of the women in the jury of six women and six men to hear charges of practicing healing without a license against Russell James, 50, health lecturer and “Riddo” salesman, hobbled into the jury box on crutches.

According to Reginald M. Johnson, attorney for the state board of medical examiners, James claims his patients are able to throw away their crutches after using “Riddo” and practicing the form of exercises he prescribes in his health lectures.

Johnson will be the first witness called by the state when testimony in James’ trial starts before Judge Mathias Baldwin Monday.

Ernest Malmberg, attorney for James, said the health lecturer will take the stand in his own defense in an attempt to “sell” the jury on “Riddo.” He and his blond secretary, Ruth Cook, above, are shown as they appeared before their audiences in the Wesley Temple basement.

 
THEY BOUGHT IT: After three hours of deliberations, the Hennepin County District Court jury found James not guilty of practicing healing without a license.
 
 
Although it is somewhat less disturbing than the photo above, this one didn't make the paper. Say, what was going on between these two?

Sept. 12, 1966: No rockin' chair for this sprightly elder

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: March 18, 2014 - 5:37 PM
 
Elizabeth Gilfillan, a native of northern Minnesota, made a delightful appearance on “What’s My Line?” in 1952. Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen and the rest of the panel were charmed by the wit and energy of the 72-year-old contestant. She fooled the lot and earned $15. Her unique line of work: She taught facial exercises to men and women interested in keeping their skin supple and radiant. Fourteen years later, still radiant herself, the New York entertainer was invited to bring her act to Minneapolis. The Star published this profile on 6B, the “Women’s News” page.
 
Gilfillan, 86, demonstrated one exercise, an exaggerated pout guaranteed to keep lips full and youthful. (Minneapolis Star photo by Russell Bull)
 

No Ol' Rockin' Chair for This Elder


By SUZANNE HOVIK
Minneapolis Star Staff Writer

“The rocking chair goes to and fro.

“And makes you think you're on the go.

“But keep off that ole rocking chair,

“It won't get you anywhere.”

With a toss of her head at the idea of such props for the senior citizen set, an 86-year-old New Yorker sings and dances her way through a new life she created for herself about 20 years ago.

“There's something strange about me,” Elizabeth Gilfillan will tell her audiences, mostly New York women's clubs.

“I'm a woman who doesn't mind telling her age. The older I get, the more valuable I'll be. I can hardly wait until I reach 90. I will do what I do now even better then.”

What Miss Gilfillan does now is an informal act in which she plays the guitar, sings and dances, usually all at once.

And she gives delightful interpretations of humorous verse she has written – “My Eightieth Easter Outfit,” “Who Wants an Old Age Pension,” “No Old Age for Me” and “On Your Rocker.”

These and others were recently published in a book, “Sensible Nonsense.”

In addition to these activities, she also teaches facial exercises, which she developed herself.

She recently completed a visit in Minneapolis with her sister, Mrs. Ernest Meilman, 130 Orlin Av. SE. And she was the guest of honor and entertainer at a luncheon by Mrs. Owen L. Johnson, 3203 E. Calhoun Blvd., who first saw Miss Gilfillan on the television program “What's My Line?” (facial expressions) 14 years ago.

Mrs. Johnson decided this spring to look up Miss Gilfillan and called New York. When the New Yorker said she would be in the Twin Cities in September, Mrs. Johnson made arrangements to meet her.

Miss Gilfillan was born in Minnesota. Her father was a missionary among the Indians in the northern part of the state. She left the state to attend Cornell Medical School, Ithaca, N.Y., and then graduated from the Sergeant School of Physical Education.

“I used to be very shy,” she explained. “I played the piano for a Russian dancing teacher for 46 years. I was beginning to think the job was permanent.

“Then I was asked to give a speech on the school's history. I tried to make it humorous, and I tasted success.”

Miss Gilfillan at the time was 65 years old. “I wanted to entertain so I started preparing myself by taking voice lessons. They say I can be heard two blocks away when I want to be.”

She said she also began exercising to “make myself more presentable.” And she developed facial exercises at this time.

“I had studied at a school of physical training and I felt that if exercises could change the body, it could also change the face.

“As the face ages, the muscles shrink and unsupported skin falls into wrinkles. Exercising the muscles makes them thick again and brings back the original design of the face.”

Miss Gilfillan said she doesn’t claim the exercises perform miracles but most persons can shed 10 to 15 years.

“And if they start in the early 30s, they will never look old.”

She added that another benefit from the exercises is improved circulation which gives the skin color and radiance.

“I teach men too, but they don’t need the exercises. When they get older they look distinguished. Women look extinguished.”

And, she added, “all my pupils are good looking. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother with the exercises.”

June 8, 1944: Luverne’s D-Day

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: June 6, 2013 - 10:43 PM
 
Many thanks to the Rock County Star Herald for granting permission to post this D-Day column by Al McIntosh, the Luverne, Minn., newspaper editor whose work is featured in Ken Burns’ WWII documentary, “The War”. The column was published on June 8, 1944, two days after the Normandy invasion. [Originally posted here on Sept. 7, 2007; reposting to fix outdated links and coding.]

 

More Or Less Personal Chaff

When we sleepily stumbled down the hall to answer the clamorously ringing telephone we made a mental note that it was shortly before 3 a.m. We picked up the receiver, thinking it was Sheriff Roberts calling to say that there had been an accident. Instead it was Mrs. Lloyd Long, playing the feminine counterpart role of Paul Revere, saying “Get up, Al, and listen to the radio, the invasion has started.”

  Al McIntosh

Altho we had written in this column several weeks ago that the news would break between midnight and 5 a.m. we still couldn’t believe that the long awaited “D” Day had arrived. We sat by the radio for over an hour listening to the breathtaking announcements of eyewitness observers of the assault.

And then we went back to bed — to lie there for a long time, wide eyed in the darkness — thinking, “What Rock County boys are landing on French soil tonight?”

Please Lord, may this not be another Dieppe.

And so the invasion news came to Luverne, quietly. There were no whistles, no sirens. People got up and automatically turned on their radios to get the biggest news in all the world’s military history. There were no demonstrations — not much was said. The coffee shops were filled almost to standing room as the 10 o’clock news approached, Argus Leader “extras” were grabbed up like hotcakes and eagerly scanned. There were sober faces on the men as they listened to the news but there was a smile of exultation when they heard that the Allied forces had penetrated ten miles inland. One mother dropped in the coffee shop. She shook her head and pushed the cup of coffee, which had been placed in front of her, aside.

“I just want to listen to the radio,” she said. Her boy, by all the odds, was “there.” One didn’t have to be psychic to know what was in her mind – or her heart. The prayer that she was uttering right then as she listened to the announcer was multiplied a thousand times and more in Rock County countless times during the day.

This is no time for any premature rejoicing or cockiness because the coming weeks are going to bring grim news. This struggle is far from over — it has only started — and if anyone thinks that a gain of ten miles means that the next three hundred are going to go as fast or easy he is only an ostrich.


There’s a War Bond Drive starting next Tuesday. Rock County has a big job cut out for it. But Ned Brown, county chairman, is gambling on the patriotism of you Rock Countians. Ned is starting the campaign where the last one left off — without a single meeting of any of the workers.

“I don’t feel like calling a county meeting of the workers,” he said, “that’s asking an awful lot right now when most everybody is busy with their farm work, asking them to take off four hours to come to a meeting.”

Here is the way Ned looks at it — the workers have been thru four previous campaigns — they know their job and what has to be done. There is nothing new he can tell them that they don’t already know. Why should he impose further on these volunteer bond salesmen by taking their time for an organization meeting when they will have to give so much time during the drive?

With a man having so much faith in the people of Rock County we can’t afford to let them down. Just remember this — some of those boys who are battling ahead in France will never “get back” but you’ll get every dollar you invest
“back” and with interest too. It’s “better to buy bonds than to wear them.”

And another thing — the Red Cross has received a terrific quota for surgical dressings. These are needed — and will be needed. Let not any woman in Rock County think that she isn’t needed in this effort. Your help may save a
boy’s life. Need we say more.

Luverne’s Main Street, 1947: “The War” premiered at the restored Palace Theater in September 2007. (mnhs.org photo)

July 21, 1907: The Tribune Girl and the fire chief

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: January 11, 2013 - 3:30 PM
 
 
  Nan Russell Dunnigan in 1914.

Nan Russell Dunnigan, whose work appeared under the byline “The Tribune Girl,” wrote hundreds of first-person feature stories for the Tribune between 1907 and 1914. She interviewed Sarah Bernhardt, Ethel Barrymore, John Philip Sousa, Booker T. Washington and Sir Robert Baden-Powell. She had a frosty encounter with Isadora Duncan. She attempted to interview Maude Adams, but found the popular “Peter Pan” actress to be “interview proof.”

Dunnigan took on a variety of other assignments. She made police and fire checks. She interviewed politicians and businessmen. She worked as a “Salvation Army lassie” for a day. She led Minneapolis orphans on an outing to Lake Minnetonka. In her final months with the Tribune, she traveled to Europe and filed reports from London (where she got lost), the Vatican (where she enjoyed an audience with Pope Pius X) and Belgium (which she didn’t enjoy one bit).

Her last piece appeared in September 1914. Three months later, on Christmas Day, she married George F. Authier, private secretary to Minnesota’s governor, Joseph Burnquist. Authier had just secured a new job as the Tribune’s Washington correspondent, and the newlyweds soon headed east. The Tribune Girl apparently hung up her notebook and pen. No further stories by Nan Russell Dunnigan or Nan Authier turn up in a Google search.

 

Tribune Girl Talks With Fire Chief
on Freak Calls of the Unsung Heroes

 
Canterbury and His Merry Men Relate Tales, Amusing and Pathetic, of Occasions When Alarms Meant Unusual Work for Fire Laddies When They Arrived on Scene – Settle Family Difficulties and Answer Call of Small Frightened Lass.
 
By The Tribune Girl.
 
It was a sizzling morning.
 
The Tribune Girl emerged from the last of the offices that she is obliged to visit daily at the court house, and in the argot of newspaperdom “had covered her run, found nothing doing, and was all in.”
 
Feeling thus limp and wilted (literally as well as figuratively) she sauntered into fire headquarters to cool off.
 
Now if there is one place in the court house that the feminine scribe feels perfectly at ease in it is the office over which Chief [James] Canterbury presides.
 
Everybody is so good natured and easy going around fire department headquarters, and the ladies have so many little stories that they reserve for the reporter girl that it is little wonder that she enjoys visiting this haunt of “unsung heroes.”
 
In the sanctum sanctorum of Chief Canterbury this scorching morning the girl found the genial chief and his first assistant, Michael Hanley. It was plain that the business that the two were transacting was not of the most minute importance, for they were lolling back in their chairs, wearing expressions of as great contentment as did Nero at the burning of Rome.
 
“Am I intruding?” asked the girl, knowing full well that she would receive the welcome that was accorded the prodigal of old.
 
She sniffed surreptitiously for the savory smell of cooking veal.
 
“Indeed not. Here is the easiest chair awaiting you,” spoke up the chief, who was playing host to this impromptu little gathering. “This is the only office in the place,” he continued, “where there is a breath of air and we are enjoying it by spinning yarns.”
 
“Here is copy, rip snortingly good copy,” thought the reporter, “if they will only talk shop,” so to prod gently she remarked: “”Do tell me about some of your unusual fire calls. I have always heard that you are called out for everything from fishing cats out of wells to assisting kites to part company with friendly telegraph poles.”
 
The Tribune Girl chatted with the chief, left, and his first assistant, Michael Hanley.

 

 
Fire Laddies Settle a Family Row.
 
“And right you are,” said the chief, “but these freak calls that give you people stories are not the ones that give us any pleasure. Get Hanley here to tell you about the family row that he was called out to settle not long ago.”
 
“Say that was a funny thing,” spoke up the good-natured first assistant, the man who is said to be the most popular in the service. “But it did not seem so funny then.”
 
As he shifted to a more comfortable position, The Tribune Girl summarily forgot whether she was in Minneapolis or Alaska, for this meant that the ball was rolling and there was no end of good material in sight.
 
“Well, it was about 5 o’clock one nasty rainy morning that the alarm came in,” commenced the dean of the department. “It was from a box down south not a great distance from the falls, and through the mud we tore to it. When we arrived we found it was a small chimney fire that we had little trouble extinguishing. Well, all the way back the boys cussed in all the languages they knew, for the afternoon before they had cleaned up their apparatuses and this made another job for them. Well, sir, we had been back in our respective houses about an hour and the boys had the engines just about clean again when in came an alarm from the same box. This time, I can tell you, we did not lose a minute, for all the way down we pictured the house enveloped in flames because of our negligence in not properly attending to the first blaze. When we arrived at the house we did not see as much as a whiff of smoke, and there did not seem to be trouble anywhere, but in this we were mistaken. Before we got through we found more trouble than we were looking for.
 
“Well, to make the long story short, after we left the first time the master and mistress of the house got into an argument over the cause of the chimney fire. He said that it was her fault and she said that “he was a ‘mean old thing, now, there,’ and, woman-like, would not be downed, so up she goes to the corner and turns in an alarm. (She would let the firemen decide.) Well, the firemen did decide, but their decision was that this was the limit of anything that they had thus far encountered. One of the fellows suggested that we form a 12-foot ring and let them settle it according to Queensbury rules, as we deserved something for playing the part of a miniature Hague tribunal, while another voiced the opinion that Chief Corriston would not be a bad one to act as referee, but the majority of the boys were too mad to speak.”
 
Little Lass to Blame.
 
At this juncture the chief lighted a fat black cigar and the girl thanked her lucky stars accordingly, not that she is overly fond of smoke, but, like most girls who are endowed with numerous brothers, real and acquired, she realized that it promised to add much to the reminiscent mood of the occasion. She was not disappointed for the chief commenced:
 
“That was another rather amusing call we had from the open box in front of St. Barnabas hospital one afternoon this spring. We hurried to respond and found that it was a false alarm. Now I investigate false alarms, particularly from those keyless boxes, because it is a thing that is apt to give us no end of trouble. Well, this time I thought that it was some schoolboys who were to blame, and I was not far wrong in my guess. It turned out to be about the prettiest little lass of 7 that I ever saw. It appears that the children were trooping home from school and the littlest girl in the party was ‘dared’ to turn in an alarm.
 
“The poor little thing was taunted until she could not stand it any longer, and in desperation turned the key. Not until the wee maid saw us coming did she realize what she had done, but when she did the poor little thing scampered home and was on the verge of convulsions when I arrived. I suppose I should have been very severe with the child, for turning in a false alarm is a serious matter with us, but when I saw her and how frightened she was all I did was to assist her mother in quieting her.”
 
“Isn’t he getting soft-hearted in his old days?” asked Mr. Hanley in a bantering tone, and while the girl agreed she privately voted this gallant fire fighter a perfect dear.
 
Many “Freak” Calls Mean Tragedy.
 
“While we are fortunate in having many little things happen that serve to amuse us,” continued the chief, “in the main it is the darkest side of life that we see. Most of our freak alarms as you call them mean a tragedy to some heart. We have more than once been called to remove a man who has been electrocuted at the top of a telegraph pole and whose lifeless body hung suspended from the wires. We have also taken a man off a roof who met a similar fate, as well as rescued men from sewers, cesspools and ditches. A rather pathetic thing happened last fall. We were called to extinguish a fire down on the finest part of Park avenue. On our arrival we found that the fire was out, for it was a load of hay belonging to a poor old farmer out near Osseo that had been burned. When we arrived at the scene of the recent conflagration we found the unfortunate man sitting at the door of the barn, where he came to deliver the load, completely discouraged. It appears that this was the last load of hay that he had to sell, and the wolf was knocking with vigor at the door of the home where his wife was lying ill. It was altogether as sad a case as I ever run across, and the worst part of it was that the fire was started by the mischievous ten-year-old boy of the house where the man was delivering the hay. I have often wondered if the poor old fellow was ever paid.”
 
A Heartrending Affair.
 
Seeing that a hush fell on the little group. “I remember that,” spoke up Mr. Hanley, “but speaking of sad experiences, I think that fire that occurred out on Seventeenth street southeast and Sixth street about seven years ago was the most heartrending affair that I ever witnessed. It was in the fall of the year and a woman was cleaning up the dead leaves in her yard and burning them. Somehow her clothing caught fire and it was but a moment until she was a mass of flames. Her little 10-year-old daughter ran out to her assistance and with rare presence of mind threw a rug that was on the clothes line over the woman, hoping to smother the fire. If it had been large enough it might have served its purpose but the rug was too small to be of any benefit and before the child knew it in her excitement her own garments were in flames. There, side by side, the mother and her brave little child were fatally burned and they both died on the way to the hospital.”
 
Just then the immaculate young fellow who attends to the business office of the department, came in to confer with the chief. At the same time Michael Hanley was wanted at the telephone, and The Tribune Girl, feeling strangely depressed, wearily left the office, wondering how the city editor would vent his wrath when she announced that “There was nothing doing at the court house today.”
 
Fire Chief Canterbury in his courthouse office in about 1900. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)

 

 
A Minneapolis fire engine and crew paused for a photo at 3rd Street and 6th Avenue S. in about 1905. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)

 

 

Dec. 9, 1899: The fall and rise of a prima donna

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: December 12, 2011 - 11:16 AM
 
A century before Google and YouTube and Facebook, it was much easier for a person to erase the memory of a public humiliation and emerge years later as a respected professional in the city in which the humiliation was widely reported and discussed. The Minneapolis Tribune provides Exhibit A, recounting the fall and rise of one Lillian M. Knott without connecting the dots:
 

HER STORY
PATHETIC

 
Lillian Knott, Once a Prominent
and Talented Singer, Now at
a Wash Tub in the Min-
eapolis Workhouse.
 
She Recites the Sorrowful
Causes and Conditions Which
Led to Her Disgrace
and Downfall.
 
As she toiled at a washtub in the convicts’ department at the work house yesterday, with tears running down her face and her attitude that of a person who has lost her last friend, it was hard to see in Lillian Murray Knott, serving sentence of 40 days imprisonment for the theft of a cloak from a colored woman, a once popular singer, who in her prime drew a salary of perhaps $300 per week.
 
 
  The Tribune's sad account portrays Miss Knott as a singer of considerable talent who was once understudy to Camille D'Arville, above. D'Arville was a noted figure in American comic opera in the late 19th century. Her name turns up dozens of times in a Google search. Knott? Not so much.
The story of Miss Knott, or rather Mrs. Joseph Barnett, to call her by her legal name, is a pathetic one, and shows what sickness, misfortune and general ill-luck can do for a person when it tries, and when the victim fails to make a hard fight against the conditions which confront her. If Miss Knott were not a singer of national reputation, and if she had not a father of the highest respectability in Terre Haute, Ind., her case would be but one of hundreds of others, but as it is, it is decidedly out of the common.
 
Miss Knott was arrested several days ago on complaint of Minnie Steele, a colored woman, who accused her of having stolen from her a cloak. As the Knott woman was wearing the garment at the time of her arrest, and as her explanation of how it came into her possession did not accord with the strict notions of honesty entertained by the judge of the police court, Lillian was sent to the work house to serve out a sentence.
 
There are but few women on the stage today who are superior in singing ability to Miss Knott, yet in spite of this she has been working in a variety theater in this city, a pitifully small salary, in order to get money enough to take her to the home of her parents, where she was assured of a welcome. She claims she was on her way to the ticket office to get a ticket her father sent her when she was arrested, wearing the cloak which has caused all the trouble, and she insists the garment had been loaned to her by the colored woman.
 
STORY OF HER CAREER.
 
Miss Knott was born in Marietta, Ohio, and when a child developed such a taste for singing that she was given every advantage that money could purchase. She was a student for six years in the Cincinnati college of music, and completed her education in Boston, after her parents had removed to Terre Haute, where her father is the manager of the Wabash Iron works. After completing her studies in Boston Miss Knott began her professional career which has terminated in the Minneapolis work house.
 
She appeared first with the Duff Opera company, singing in the role of prima donna. Then for two years she was understudy for Camille D’Arville, and later sang leads for Corinne. Afterwards, when leading lady with the company of Joe Flynn, in “McGinty, the Sport,” she was married to Mr. Barnett, who was musical director of the company. When in St. Paul, she says, her husband deserted her, and since then she has been making her own living.
 
For a long time she sang in the cheap variety theaters of the Twin Cities, trying to save enough money to take her home, and just when she had saved the desired sum she was taken ill and forced to give up her position. Then she had to go to the hospital, where she remained long enough to spend all of her money, and when she emerged she was weak and penniless, and without a friend in the city to whom she could turn for aid.
 
Several days ago Miss Knott wrote to her father, asking him to send her a ticket, and, according to her story, he did so, and the ticket is now at the office of the company awaiting her order. Speaking of her case Miss Knott says:
 
A BORN SINGER.
 
“I was born in Marietta. I loved singing from a little thing in short dresses. When I was old enough, my parents gave me the best vocal instruction the place afforded and afterwards sent me to the Cincinnati College of Music where I was a student for six years. Then I received final instruction of a Boston vocal school and made my first professional debut with the Duff Opera company, singing prima donna roles. After that I was understudy with Camille D’Arville for two years and then I sang leads with Corinne.
 
“Then I was induced by the promise of a good salary to go out with Joe Flynn as leading lady in a play called ‘McGinty, the Sport.’ It was while with that company that I married Mr. Barnett. He was the musical director of the company. We came to St. Paul together and I sang in music halls to get money enough to go East and try for another engagement. Mr. Barnett left me.
 
“I persisted in my music hall singing amid the most degrading surroundings, so that I could redeem myself and go home presenting a respectable appearance. Then came the typhoid fever and what little I had was dissipated in a week. After I got out of the hospital, I sang at the Palm Garden in St. Paul, but my strength was gone and I feared to go on the stage, because I thought I should fall over the footlights.
 
“It was in this extremity that I wrote to my father and told him I was in trouble. He promptly replied that he had sent me a ticket and money. I cannot do the work to which I have been assigned in this prison. I have but just recovered from typhoid fever and – and I have never done any washing before.
 
“I realize that this ends my career. Nothing can be done for me now. I am the consort of common criminals, and, according to the verdict of the court, a criminal myself, but the court erred. I am quite innocent. I didn’t steal the coat. I didn’t know the colored woman at all – never saw her in all my life before.
 
TROUBLE OVER NAMES.
 
“I had been to the Milwaukee ticket office to see about my ticket from papa. They said the ticket had been ordered for me, but that it had been issued in the name of Lillian Knott, and, of course, my true name is Mrs. Barnett. Mr. Rogers, the ticket agent, told me the rules of the company would compel him to wire the head office and find out if he could issue the ticket to me as Mrs. Barnett.
 
“I was ill and disheartened and it was a very cold day. I had no cloak or winter garment of any sort. After coming out of the hospital I had nothing, positively nothing that a woman ought to have. I suppose it was because I was so broken-hearted that I went down to the Milwaukee depot and saw the train go out. I don’t know what made me do it, except that I knew the train was homeward bound, and I just wanted to look at it – that was all.
 
“When I was coming out of the depot I met a colored man whom I had known as an attaché of a local variety theater. He always seemed to me a respectable man. He spoke to me and remarked that I was shivering. It was fearfully cold, and you see I hardly had any clothes on. He said his wife lived near by, and they had a fire, and he invited me to go there and get warm. I had to go somewhere. I was freezing.
 
“So I went to the place – where it was I do not know. When we entered it seemed to me the woman had been drinking. I had never seen her before. The colored people were very kind to me, and when I told them that I was going to the Milwaukee office to get my ticket for home, the woman offered to lend me her cloak to wear on the way.
 
WANTED A KIND WORD.
 
“A short time after I borrowed the cloak I was arrested on the street for stealing it. Perhaps the woman really thought that I would get my ticket and leave for home with the cloak. It was a cloak upon which I would not have allowed my little dog to sleep three years ago, but I do not say that in a spirit of unthankfulness.
 
“I have found by bitter experience that white skins do not make kind hearts. The colored man seemed disposed to be kind to me. At the moment that I met him, had a dog licked my hand I would have fallen on my knees and embraced him. Do you know what it is to be ill and lonely and hungry and a stranger, to crave a civil word or a kindly smile where neither are to be had? I might have sold my soul for them – I had sold everything else – why not?
 
“At this place the officials are kind, but I really am not strong enough for such work, and, besides, my ticket to take me home is in Minneapolis, and I am sure there is money there for me, too. Why will they not let me go? I have done nothing to be sent here for. I am innocent of any offense except being ill and in want.”
 
The Minneapolis workhouse at 50th and Lyndale Avenues N. in about 1902. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)
 
 
THE NEXT DAY, the Tribune reported that Knott had been released from prison and was on her way home to Terra Haute. A number of sympathetic Elks had raised $40 and paid her fine. Before her release, she met with the grand jury and repeated the story she had told the Tribune, describing with “graphic emphasis the details of the alleged theft” and denying “as firmly as ever” that she had stolen the garment.

 
  Music educator Lillian M. Knott in 1915.
Several supporters materialized and appealed to the judge to drop the charge, but he was unmoved: “If the accusation were a true one, as I believe it was, this young woman has received no more than her just deserts. The testimony of the police is that she has been leading a dissolute life and been consorting with disreputable characters for some time.”

SIXTEEN YEARS LATER, on Sept. 19, 1915, the Minneapolis Tribune trumpeted the appointment of Lillian M. Knott as director of the public school music department of the Northwestern Conservatory. This Knott had spent the past five years at Tulane University in New Orleans, leading the school’s “public school music department,” and the past 10 years leading a summer program for Louisiana teachers.

It’s unclear if it’s the same Miss Knott. The story doesn’t mention a background in opera, let alone an arrest in Minneapolis so many years before. But it does note that she “received her musical education in the New England Conservatory,” which matches the claim of the penniless prima donna. Seems unlikely that two women named Lillian M. Knott earned a music degree in the same city about the same time and later found work in Minneapolis. What do you think? Perhaps someone with full access to Ancestry.com can settle this.
 

 

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