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Posts about Newspapers

May 2, 1877: Our filthy, squalid and 'unsewered’ metropolis

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: October 18, 2012 - 7:22 PM
There’s a day devoted to just about everything, worthy or not, from World Braille Day (Jan. 4) to Pi Day (March 14), from National Cancer Survivors Day (the first Sunday in June) to National Cat Day (Oct. 29). But as far as I can tell, there’s no Sewage Treatment Awareness Day. A pity. Technological advances in the handling of human waste have saved millions of lives worldwide and made urban life far more pleasant than it was 140 years ago. 
As noted in the Tribune editorial below, nearly every dwelling in Minneapolis had its own cesspool in the 1870s. Thanks to sandy soil, the decaying contents of these containers commonly commingled and formed “a substratum of liquid poison” underneath the rapidly growing city. The Tribune urged the City Council to address the resulting filth and squalor.
Officials took heed, and by the end of the century, more than 120 miles of sewer lines were carrying wastewater from homes and businesses directly to the Mississippi River. You can imagine the impact: According to the Minneapolis Department of Public Works, “floating islands of sewage solids, scum on the water surface, and an abundance of dead fish” marred the river. The stench was noticeable more than two blocks away, and typhoid outbreaks were frequent. Minneapolis continued to dump untreated wastewater into the Mississippi until 1938, when the sewage treatment plant at Pig’s Eye Lake, downriver from St. Paul, began cleaning up the mess.


We desire to call the attention of the proper authorities to a concern of the most vital importance to the health and future well-being of the citizens of Minneapolis. It is a lamentable fact that there are so few sewers in the city that we can almost say with truth that Minneapolis is an undrained and unsewered metropolis. It is a well settled fact among scientists that all other provisions for the health and comfort of a city are subordinate to the one vital desideratum of adequate sewerage. It should be as much a matter of concern to afford the body politic the means of cleanliness and sweetness, as the individual body. The city should no more squat down in the midst of its accumulating filth and squalor, than an individual, imitating the habits and nature of a pig, should do so. There should be conduits threading every thoroughfare, to serve as cleansing and renewing purifiers, and insuring the atmosphere against the fetid and poisonous miasmas arising from ten thousand separate and individual stenches.
It is the misfortune of Minneapolis that a perfect system of drainage is of more consequence to her than to almost any other city of our acquaintance. Its soil is sandy and porous to an unusual degree, and the liquids percolate through it with the utmost facility. When we add to this condition the fact that almost every dwelling in the city containing a sink, a bath-room, or a water closet, is drained into a cess-pool on the premises; that these cess-pools mingle their fetid and decaying contents with each other, and form a substratum of liquid poison under the residence portion of the whole city, and that their deadly exhalations, taking the form of gases, pour up through the loose and porous soil, mingle with the atmosphere, and are taken into the lungs of the people, the wonder is no longer that this is one of the unhealthiest cities for children in summer in the country, but that even adults are able to survive the noxious poisons which they are continually inhaling. In several residence blocks with which we are familiar there are as many as a dozen of these murderous cess-pools. Distributed between them are often as many wells, in which these cess-pools hasten to mingle their contents, and that portion of them which the people do not take into their lungs from the pipes conducting to them, they draw up from the wells and drink. The picture is not a pleasant one to contemplate, and it is all the more revolting because it is true. The hot season is again upon us, and we speak as one with experience when we say that unless something is done by the council to obviate this distressing condition of affairs by the adoption of some adequate system of drainage, parents having children will be confronted with the unpleasant necessity of taking them during the season of exposure to some more hospitable and congenial clime.
Construction of a sewer line in the new Minneapolis-St. Paul Sanitary District in December 1934. Can anyone identify the location? (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)  


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

Posted by: Ben Welter 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:


Sparta Official Says Parents Came and Took the Greek Goddess Away
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


Nov. 3, 1911: Suicide in the funnies

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: November 2, 2011 - 3:34 PM


This suicide-themed "Mutt and Jeff" strip appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune. Funny? Appalling? Both? And who was this "Somone" character?

Captions for the squint-averse reader: "There ain't nothin' in this world for me -- I don't see no hope -- Guess I'll take the gas route." ... "Farewell crue-ll woild." ... "Don't do that! We're in luck again. I just saw a fortune teller, and she said you were gonna get a letter today with money in it." ... "Huh?" ... "Ah. I'll bet this is it now. At last we eat again." ... "What does it say?" ... "It's a gas bill for $9.80."

April 6, 1891: Liquored up and stabbed by a switchman

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: April 5, 2011 - 10:09 PM

A Minneapolis Tribune reporter wrote this brief with authority in the days before “police said” and “allegedly” and “according to witnesses” began to gum up crime coverage.


Oscar C. Bjork Gets Badly “Done Up” by Charles York.
The saloons were not closed so tightly yesterday that one Oscar C. Bjork could not get liquor enough to make him crazy drunk and be the means of nearly sending him on a quick trip to the great hereafter. About 8 o’clock last evening Oscar was on Washington avenue, near Ninth avenue south, and being in the above mentioned condition he sought to pick a fight with Charles York, a Milwaukee switchman, and a perfect stranger to him. He came up behind York and without warning struck him with his fist. York instantly wheeled, drawing a large clasp knife as he did so, and dealt Bjork a blow on the chest. The blade of the knife was full four inches long and it was driven in with great force.
Bjork, realizing that he was badly cut, staggered back, calling for help, while his assailant ran across the street and, dropping into a walk, tried to lose himself in the crowd. He was pointed out by a boy who had seen the stabbing, and Capt. Ness, of the Third precinct station, arrested him. The wounded man was taken to the south station, where Police Surgeon Gibson examined and dressed the wound. It is not thought that it will prove fatal, though the though the knife blade entered between the fourth and fifth ribs and penetrated the right lung.
After having the cut dressed Bjork, who had bled profusely and was very weak from loss of blood, was taken to his home, 528 Sixteenth avenue south.

A Minneapolis cop on the beat at First Street North and Hennepin Avenue in 1890. (Photo courtesy

Feb. 3, 1876: Funny typographical errors

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: February 1, 2011 - 7:31 PM
Seen any funny typos in the paper lately? Sure, sloppy spelling and fractured syntax occasionally elude the overworked copy editors of 2011. But the real howlers, the kind that can land a hapless editor in the boss's office, are rare. After poring over thousands of old newspaper pages dating back to the 1860s, I've concluded that amusing typos were more common in the days of handset type and a minimalist approach to proofreading.
From the New York Graphic, via the Minneapolis Tribune:
  I doubt the Albert Lea Enterprise published any amusing typos in the late 1800s under the sober leadership of Clint L. Luce, who also served as the Freeborn County coroner. (Photo courtesy

Funny Typographical Errors.

Some typographical errors are very funny. In a New York paper recently the words “This Port Said is” was rendered “This,” Pat said, “is,” and “Put out the flag” appeared as “Pat cut the hog.”
When B.F. Taylor’s poem on Burns’ Centennial was telegraphed from Chicago a few years ago, the first line, “Heart of leal! Can this be dying?” appeared in the papers coupled with the operator’s warning, “Robert Burns is passing by heart of lead can this be lying?”
Horace Greeley wrote at the head of an editorial, “William H. Seward,” and it came out “Richard the Third!” A New Haven editor wrote, “Is there balm in Gilead?” and was surprised at table next morning to read, “Is there a barn in Guilford?” The sentence, “Americans are generous and forgiving,” was recently transformed into “Americans are Germans and foreigners.”
But the worst, perhaps, is that quotation made by a distinguished literary review, 'Tis true, 'tis pity, pity, 'tis, 'tis true,” which came out in proof, “ 'Tis two, 'tis fifty, 'tis fifty, 'tis fifty-two.”



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