A mysterious newspaper fairy is giving a south Minneapolis neighborhood a trip back in time.
Seven times in the past 10 days, the display issue in a Star Tribune newspaper box has been replaced by a decades-old newspaper chronicling a historic event.
The headline news in the old papers has ranged from Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon to the death of former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey to the victory parade after the Minnesota Twins’ surprising 1987 World Series win.
In each case, the person bought a copy of that day’s Star Tribune and then replaced the display issue under glass with one of the historic papers.
“I assume this person is a newspaper lover,” said Steve Yaeger, the Star Tribune’s chief marketing officer. “In addition to leaving a newspaper, they’re buying a newspaper. I consider that a fair trade.”
The identity of the newspaper swapper isn’t known, nor is the person’s motivation. The appearance of the historic newspapers has been centered in the Longfellow neighborhood of south Minneapolis.
Seven swaps have been spotted, from the first on Nov. 16 to the most recent on Tuesday. Five of the historic papers were issues of the Star Tribune or its predecessor, the Minneapolis Tribune. One was a Duluth News Tribune, another an issue of the Duluth Herald, a paper that merged with the News Tribune in 1982.
Other historic editions that have appeared included Gerald Ford taking office as president after the resignation of Richard Nixon; the assassination of U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy; the presidential inauguration of George H.W. Bush; and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Jessica Erickson, a Star Tribune route driver, found two of the historic papers. Another driver discovered the others.
“Being a route person, I deliver the same stuff every day,” Erickson said. “This gives us something to look forward to. What will we find today? Where will it be? It’s like a scavenger hunt.
“It got me excited about my job, about history, about people,” she added. “I’m excited that somebody’s giving like this. The whole thing’s amazing.”
Erickson has the seven historic papers sitting in her workspace, but said she may put them back in the boxes — just not in the windows. That way, she said, someone else can discover an old paper “and feel the joy I feel.”
Yaeger said the series of swaps shows the enduring power of print media.
“Even in this digital age, everyone is still fascinated by old newspapers,” he said. “If you walk into a room with an old newspaper, everyone wants to look at it.”
The Star Tribune still sells thousands of newspapers every day from coin boxes, Yaeger added.
“This is a really good town for single-copy newspaper sales,” he said. “There are tons of people who get their news every day from a newspaper box, and as long as they want to do that, we’re happy to provide it that way.”
But if Longfellow residents want to keep taking their trip back in time, they’d better hope the newspaper fairy has a good stock of papers saved up.