Sample Minnesota newspaper articles, photos and ads dating back more than 140 years. Fresh items are posted weekly. Go here for tips on how to track down old newspaper articles on your own. Follow the blog on Twitter. Or check out "Minnesota Mysteries," a new book based on the blog.
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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.
|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)
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?
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.|
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:
|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 mnhs.org)
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."
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.
A Minneapolis cop on the beat at First Street North and Hennepin Avenue in 1890. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)
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 mnhs.org)|