Mr. Matheson’s Clever Dodge

From The Appeal, St. Paul, Minn., published 3/28/1914
From The Appeal, St. Paul, Minn., published 3/28/1914

Easily one of my favorite things about scanning old newspapers is happening on odd items like this, which was published in St. Paul, Minnesota’s The Appeal on March 28, 1914. Often it’s something mysterious or weird, but this is just funny. I could probably search further than this item to find out more about Mr. Matheson’s unique approach to boldly destroying evidence in court, but I kind of like just leaving this as is.

Curious Quiet in the Parker Case

Richard Parker (mugshot)
Richard Parker (mugshot)

Last month police in Tennessee arrested Richard Parker, age 49, for allegedly killing his in-laws, Jon and Marion Setzer. As I wrote then, this was a shocking twist in the case from my perspective because I knew Richard when we were kids. My family had already been friends with the Parkers for years when I was born. We knew them through church and other social ties. I thought they were relatives until I was 7 or 8.

Since the first flurry of news about the case (I’d already been following it when Richard was arrested, unaware the Setzers were his in-laws) there has been very little additional coverage. Beyond recaps of the case, there was an article on a Wilson County, TN news site noting that Richard had been mysteriously moved from one holding facility to another, then nothing of significance.

Today, another mystery. This report in the Tennessean states that the Parker case has been completely sealed. That’s unusual:

It’s the first time Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk Linda Neal remembers a case completely sealed in her 16 years in the position and 32 years in the office.

“Sometimes some of the pleadings, but not an entire file,” the clerk said.

While the basic facts available in the case are strange–death by bombing is still pretty rare in personal cause homicide–they don’t on the surface hint at why police would lock the case against Richard Parker completely from public view.

Wikipedia has an entry on record sealing. It lists these reasons for sealing a record:

* Sealed birth records (usually for so-called closed adoption, in which the birthparents’ identity is usually anonymous)
* Juvenile criminal records may be sealed
* Other types of cases involving juveniles may be sealed, anonymized, or pseudonymized (“impounded”); e.g., child sex offense or custody cases
* Cases using witness protection information may be partly sealed
* Cases involving trade secrets
* Cases involving state secrets

The first bullet point doesn’t apply in the Parker case. It is unlikely the second applies, as far as I can tell. The final pair of points don’t make much sense based on what’s known about the crime for which Richard stands accused. That leaves two possibilities to which I added emphasis above: juveniles are somehow involved (Richard has four children), or there may be some need for witness protection.

In the Tennessean’s report, attorney David Raybin told reporter Andy Humbles that he’d want the files sealed to ensure protection of witnesses or informants. Raybin said sealing cases is “becoming more and more common because courts and prosecutors are becoming increasingly sensitive to the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

“Discovery material,” Raybin said, “is not intended to be public record.”

Jon and Marion Setzer’s pastor, Mike Ripski, wrote the following in a sermon he gave on February 16, 2014, after Richard Parker’s arrest:

Last Sunday morning at the 11:00am service, Marion Setzer sat in a pew over to my right.

After worship we talked briefly about getting together for a conversation she wanted to have with me.

Ripski mentioned that Mrs. Setzer wanted to have that conversation an interview after Richard’s arrest (I was unable to find it online this morning) and also noted that Marion Setzer seemed concerned about something, but he didn’t seem to know what it was. I’m not sure why this feels like it may be relevant to the case against Richard Parker being sealed, but intuition says it could be.

Ripski wrote something else in his sermon that applies here, too:

I have learned that there are questions that don’t have answers, there are human experiences that can’t be explained or understood. We will ask the question Why? We will try to answer it. But none of our answers will ever satisfy our soul. Not really.

I’m not the most spiritual person, sometimes, too much of a doubter, but Reverend Ripski has a good point. Sometimes we have to accept unanswered questions. Where this case–and a lot of other things–is/are concerned, I hope I can do that, one day.

100 Years Ago Today: How to Live 100 Years

Published in the Washington Herald, 3/10/1914
Published in the Washington Herald, 3/10/1914

In keeping with switching longer history posts to Medium, here’s a short hit–mainly because I found it quaint and in some ways so of the time it was written. Prohibition was 4 years away, but the temperance movement was already in full swing, so naturally readers were advised to avoid “intoxicants.” What’s also interesting is how true a few of these things are, still. Since I lost a good deal of weight and invested in living healthier than I used to, I’ve learned a lot about general fitness. Eight or more hours of sleep is still well-advised, as is exercise (though I could quibble with whether it should be in the morning or not), going light on the meat (I eat red meat once or twice a week at most, stick to chicken and fish), and eating fat. It’s the sugar/starch that gets you in the end–fat isn’t nearly the dietary villain it was said to be for much of the late 20th century. Also well-advised–the change of occupation, where possible, and keeping your temper. I have a terrible, terrible temper and always have. I honestly think I’ve only done myself a favor by making a huge effort once I was older to channel and control it. That “Limit your ambitions” point is a load of crap. The advisement against drinking water was logical at the time–potability would be an issue in some places for years to come–but the thing about pets was pure 19th century nonsense. Kitties do not steal the baby’s breath, we know that now.

Programming Note

I’ve decided to do more in-depth history posts on my Medium account. I’ll still post short pieces and quick hits here. I decided to do this because:

A. I really like Medium’s interface. Just from a writer’s point of view, it’s nice to work with.
B. There might be more visibility on Medium, better search engine placement. History done even halfway right takes time and thought. This is a fun subject for me and I don’t need prompting to pursue it, but I also, like any writer, want people to read my work.
C. Also an aesthetic judgment–I love the way Medium incorporates images.
D. I want to post a variety of content on HuffWire; I don’t want to turn it into a history blog, even if history is the main thing I’m into now.

So this space remains open for a variety of subjects, which is what I wanted when I created it. A “wire” delivers news, ephemera, whatever. This is my peculiar, personal version of one, and I like it that way.

The Sad Death of Selfie

The St. Paul (MN) Appeal, August 8, 1891
The St. Paul (MN) Appeal, August 8, 1891

With this history post I stray for a moment from stuff that happened (or was reported, at least) “100 years ago today.”

Sometimes I search the Library of Congress’s archived historic newspapers for current buzzwords. This morning, with no expectation of finding an accurate result, I searched “selfie“–one of the most irritating, ubiquitous terms related to internet-based phenomena pretty much ever.

Look, I’ll even use the word because it’s in common use and can sometimes be useful shorthand (I accidentally wrote “sharthand” and almost left it). The moment newscasters and media personalities began using, making and talking about selfies (self-portraits usually made with smart phones, but you didn’t really need me to tell you that) the word became exquisitely irritating. In its current form “selfie” is a buzzword worthy of a terrible and brutal demise. I used to think if the word “selfie” was a person, I would want to punch him or her repeatedly. (/rant).

Anyway, damned if this morning’s search didn’t turn up a result. The poem in the screengrab above is about the death of a “Selfie.”

Selfie was a person. Selfie Harris, who died very young in August, in the year of our Lord, 1891. From the St. Paul, MN Appeal, published August 8, 1891:

On Saturday, July 25th, while Selfie Harris, a lad of 16 years, was out bathing with several companions, he got too far out into the current and was drowned. Selfie was a bright boy and in him had his parents centered high hopes for his future; but death would not spare him; but with his unerring sythe (sic) cut this bud just before it burst into a lovely flower. Mr. Harris is proprietor of the Hevalow Cottage and now the usually pleasureful Cottage is enrapt in a fog of sorrow.

The poem at the beginning of the post followed the brief article. Online historical records of this Harris family are few, if any, after this notice.

A search for “Selfie” as a first name on, however, yielded 32 results in censuses taken between 1910 and 1940. Many are actually names like “Sophie,” difficult to read because the census was handwritten, but a few people were clearly named “Selfie,” after all. There was Selfie W. Carpenter in the 1910 Census, wife to A.M. Carpenter of Anderson, SC. In the 1940 Census for Phillips County, Arkansas, I found one Selfie Matthew Moore, married to Alice. And on June 5, 1917, a man named Selfie Summers registered for the draft in Independence, Kansas.

All of which is to say–before it become such an irritating term, moment, movement–whatever–“Selfie” was a legitimate proper name. Not all that archaic, either–I found an obituary for pastor Selfie Borom, who passed away in October, 2011.

Young Selfie Harris’s death in 1891 was a tragedy. So was Pastor Borom’s. I wouldn’t want to punch anyone with that name.

No, my research on the word has led to a new cause: wanting to punch people in the media droning on about the term “selfie,” how it’s a trend, about what it says about Who We Are Now.

I don’t want to do it for me. I want to do it for all the real Selfies, the people who bore that name, who have gone before.

Hearstian Hyperbole and The Redureau Case

Marcel Redureau, via Pays de la Loire.
Marcel Redureau, via Pays de la Loire.

I know a lot of crime history–not just American crime, either–but I’d never heard of Marcel Redureau until today. Redureau, 15, hacked 7 people to death on or about Sept. 30, 1913. His trial commenced in Nantes, France on March 3, 1914. Here’s how it was reported by the New York Times 100 years ago today, March 4:

From the NYT, 3/4/1914
From the NYT, 3/4/1914

The final line–“he was apparently not normal”–must have seemed ironic the day the item was published.

Hearst’s International, in an article about “Terrible Children,” wrote that the Redureau case led French papers to actively discuss what it termed with characteristic Hearstian reserve as a “red wave of child criminality.” Reasons for this horrific juvenile zombie horde apparently laying waste to European principalities before the Great War were thought to include “alcohol, inherited tendencies, non-moral education, the absence of religion and the anarchy of the times.” So killer emo/goth kids are nothing new, I guess.

Marcel Redureau’s crime was the subject of a book by author André Gide, The Ridereau Case (L’Affaire Redureau). Gide analyzed the course of justice in this case, and you can read some of his writing on it in English here.

It appears that Redureau, who reportedly had a normal childhood, was probably clinically and quite possibly legally insane. As noted here, the boy was sentenced to 20 years in prison, only to die after 4 months from tuberculosis.

Winter Was a Bitch 100 Years Ago Today, Too

Winter Was a Bitch 100 Years Ago Today, Too
The Abbeville (SC) Press and Banner, published 3/4/1914

The Winter of 2013/2014 has been pretty tough, hitting the south and mid-Atlantic a little harder than usual. (About the same here in New England, perhaps a little colder.) Apparently it was a bear 100 years ago today, too. And that storm a century ago didn’t even have some lame-ass name assigned as a marketing ploy by a weather forecasting service.

The Day Book, Chicago, 1911-1917: A Publication For The 95 Percent

Detail from front page of The Day Book for 3/2/1914
Detail from front page of The Day Book for 3/2/1914

One of the more interesting newspapers in the Library of Congress’s archives is The Day Book. It was published in Chicago between 1911 and 1917. The first paragraph of the Library’s information page about the publication is worth quoting in full:

Conceived by newspaper mogul Edward Willis Scripps as an experiment in advertisement-free newspaper publishing, the Chicago Day Book was published for a working-class readership Monday through Saturday from September 28, 1911 to July 6, 1917. Scripps chose Chicago, with its large working-class population, as the venue for the first of what he hoped would become a chain of ad-free newspapers. Free from commercial influence, the Day Book would report on issues of concern to what Scripps called the “95 percent” of the population. Priced at one cent, like the other Chicago dailies of the period, the Day Book was published in a small tabloid format of nine by six inches, with 32 pages per issue. The small format was one of many strategies Scripps used to hold down publishing costs, along with bulk purchase of newsprint for all of his newspapers and the use of features created by Scripps’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

I bolded the bit about the “95 percent” for its obvious parallel to rhetoric about the 99% versus the 1% since the advent of the Occupy Movement on September 17, 2011. Occupy’s slogan, “We are the 99%,” has different shades of meaning depending upon who is explaining it, but Scripps was essentially speaking of the same segment of society. As the description of the paper goes on to say, “the Day Book championed the interests of workers, with extensive coverage of working conditions, wages, union organizing, and labor unrest.”

Carl Sandburg, via the National Park Service.
Carl Sandburg, via the National Park Service.

When I began researching the Library of Congress papers (one of 4 different sources I use for my history posts and in some ways my favorite, as more obscure, lesser-known papers–that is, not the New York Times, etc–often have quirkier, more interesting content) I was struck by both the Day Book’s look and its unique voice. The latter made more sense on reading this in the paper’s description: “The Day Book’s most celebrated reporter was Carl Sandburg, who wrote for the paper from early 1913 until its cessation in the summer of 1917. Although for the most part Cochran eschewed the use of bylines in the Day Book, more than 135 articles have been attributed to Sandburg, and this body of work vividly reflects his views on the social and political issues of the day.”

Sandburg has long been one of my favorite poets. Not always for his poems, which sometimes carried a ripe note of sentimentality, but for his broad reach and influence.

As I was writing this post I realized another reason I liked The Day Book: it was a lot like some blogs I’ve read. Plenty of blogs have advertising and can’t function without it. Others, especially those with some kind of cause, are often resolutely against advertisement and subsist on donations from supportive readers. Just as with the Day Book, this model doesn’t always work out, and in the end, the blog folds.

Here is a link to The Day Book for March 2, 1914. If you flip through it as if you were a working man or woman in the Chicago area on that long ago winter’s day, you get a more intimate look at the time and place–in my opinion–than some of the larger, more storied publications could ever provide.

[Chronicling America « Library of Congress]