going behind the Falls and getting hurt

It’s rare that Minnehaha Falls truly freezes completely. Even in the coldest winters, when you climb up behind the waterfall you can hear the trickling of moving water. Sometimes you can see the water moving through the ice.

The lip of the waterfall is more narrow than it used to be, and indeed has been getting narrower in the last 10 years with erosion. But every winter we see a wide curtain of icicles all across the western side of the Minnehaha Gorge. They are created by groundwater moving through the limestone layer that creates the lip of the falls. Starting in 1889, the Park Board has done a lot of work to de-water springs and redirect that groundwater, and much of that work has been successful. But the icicles still form.

On January 9, 2017, the Star Tribune newspaper reported that a woman had been hurt behind the falls. She was struck by a falling icicle and was not seriously hurt, but was taken to the hospital. This is the most recent story of someone being hurt by an icicle coming lose behind Minnehaha Falls. The first report was an incident from November 26, 1869.

The winter of 2016-2017 has come after an unseasonably wet year, and the temperatures have not been severely cold. In the second week of January, 2017, the falls are still flowing freely. The early winter of 1869-1870 was also after a very wet growing season, and had surprisingly warm temperatures. Torrential rains were reported in September of 1869. The Mississippi River was so high that the Fort Snelling rope ferry was declared unsafe. Temperatures in late November 1869 were often about 30F, after some colder days in October.

And this combination of plenty of ground water and near-freezing temperatures makes the icicles behind the Falls a terrible danger. On that Friday afternoon in 1869, the well-known photographer Charles A. Zimmerman had come over from St. Paul to see (and probably photograph) Minnehaha Falls. He made his way back behind the waterfall. And then quite suddenly, an icicle reported to weigh between 200 and 300 lbs. came loose from the overhang and fell on him. He was knocked unconscious and laid there alone for more than 30 minutes.

 

A man is melodramatically showered by falling icicles.
This widely-reprinted image shows Charles Zimmerman being knocked out by falling icicles. The size of the icicle that is hitting him on the head is about as big as a 200-300 lb. icicle ought to be.

Happily for him, a visitor from Chicago named Haines also went exploring behind the waterfall that day and discovered Zimmerman. He got some help, got Zimmerman conscious, and helped him back up the southside bluff to Captain Palmer’s roadhouse next to the Falls where Zimmerman “was soon revived by the application of proper restoratives.” (This refers to liberal shots of whiskey and a chair by the fire.) Zimmerman was badly bruised but managed to hobble home on the evening train. There were no broken bones.


The historical weather information here was recorded at Fort Snelling, and is presented on-line at climatestations.com.

The “Hermits” of Minnehaha Park, part 4

a man rides away from hot pursuit, looking over his shoulder at the two men chasing him on horseback
This dime-novel-esque illustration of William Herrick fleeing hot pursuit perfectly conveys the breathless excitement of Herrick’s stories. And it was drawn by Art. M. Johnson, who was a lecturer at the University of Minnesota, and who went on to become a distinguished illustrator and botanist. –from the Library of Congress collection, preserved by the Internet Archive on hathitrust.org

Since we don’t know exactly where William Herrick’s sod house was, we don’t know whose permission he secured to build it.

Continue reading “The “Hermits” of Minnehaha Park, part 4″

The “Hermits” of Minnehaha Park, Part 3.

Storyteller or liar?  William Herrick–the Hermit of Minnehaha Park–was some of each.  And Herrick told such convincing, engaging tales that it’s hard to believe that his stories are not true, even 100 years after his death.

His artful storytelling included details that both impressed his audience and added verisimilitude. When he told the story of his Civil War career, he left out the part about never seeing combat. He was stationed in Kansas, there to build bridges and protect the mail trains. Instead he said (truthfully) that he was stationed “near the Blue Cut country where the famous Younger and James brothers held forth.” Except that he’d been mustered out and sent home before the first James gang robbery. Surely that detail is unimportant in the higher calling of telling a good story.

a picture of an older man wearing a hat. And a mustache
William W. Herrick in the early 1900s, when he was renowned as the Hermit of Minnehaha Falls. Stories painted him as a kindly if eccentric man who had lived a life of glorious adventure but now just wanted to quietly cultivate his garden.–from “Hermit of Minnehaha Falls” edited by Samuel A. Hatch

Continue reading “The “Hermits” of Minnehaha Park, Part 3.”

The “Hermits” of Minnehaha Park. Part 2.

During the later part of the 19th century, photography was in the midst of a major transition as an art form.  Since its invention, photographers had concentrated on likenesses and “fidelity to nature.”  But as the 19th century wound down, they began producing images in the style of paintings, moody and atmospheric works of art.

A group of women on the sore, staring out to the sea that is just out of frame on the left.
“Watching for the Return” by Alfred Steiglitz.

Evocative photographs like this one helped define photography as an art form. This image was exhibited by the Minneapolis Camera Club and the Fine Arts Society at their first joint photographic salon in February 1903. Steiglitz was a nationally prominent artistic photographer in the Photo Secession movement.

Continue reading “The “Hermits” of Minnehaha Park. Part 2.”

Samuel Atherton Hatch

Samuel Atherton Hatch was (after Longfellow) the most important story-teller in the history of Minnehaha Falls, and pretty much no one has heard of him. He died in 1904, just a few months after the publication of his obscure little tract.

Even in the years before antibiotics and vaccinations, when most people had been to funerals for small children, being “cut down in the prime of life” was a cause for shocked remorse and sadness. Death was more prevalent, but it did not matter less.

Possibly Samuel A. Hatch, who died at age 25, was just as great a guy as his obituaries suggested.

a young man with a full jawline and sort of goofy hair.
Pictured here in 1903, Samuel A. Hatch was a senior at the University of Minnesota. –from ancestry.com on-line yearbooks.

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WPA in 1935: soup line to “alphabet soup”

The Great Depression. Something like 25% of the work force had no jobs. Soup kitchens provided a hot meal, maybe the only one these people would get. Work relief programs were started by the presidents of the day, Hoover and then Roosevelt. These job-creation agencies worked on America’s infrastructure. And someone named Walter B. Dahlberg, possibly an employee of the parks, compiled some terrific reports on the works accomplished in the Minneapolis park system. These are available on-line for 1936-1942. (Perhaps any earlier reports were lost, or haven’t been put on-line yet.)

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Multiple images

In taking the first images of Minnehaha Falls, Alexander Hesler and Joel E. Whitney made 25 or 30 daguerrotypes in a single session on August 15, 1852.  It was an unusual beginning to the photographic record. Mostly, professional photographers took one-off tourist pictures or scenic shots of the Falls. And some of these were, in fact, reprinted endlessly. But it actually was quite rare, in those early years, for a photographer to go down to Minnehaha and take several pictures in a sequence.

Here’s an exception to that.

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The WPA, 1936. Part 7 & The Tourist Camp, Part 3: Cabins

One of the handiest and most visible results of the W.P.A. works in the park was the construction of more cabins for the tourists to camp in.

Campers paid a modest amount to rent the cabin, and could possibly include bedding if they needed it.

Continue reading “The WPA, 1936. Part 7 & The Tourist Camp, Part 3: Cabins”

Oddities, Part 1

Some pictures of Minnehaha Falls and the area around it add more mystery than they solve.

This picture shows the 1880s fence on the north side of the falls. It shows that the ground was trampled bare on the south side, which was a problem the Park Board worked to solve as soon as they took ownership.

There are nearly no other pictures of Minnehaha taken from this spot. This is a unique image.

Two young women had their picture taken with their horse and buggy at Minnehaha Falls. Samuel P. Cox had the photography concession at the Falls before during and after the change of ownership in 1889. He was there from at least 1887 to 1891.
Two young women had their picture taken with their horse and buggy at Minnehaha Falls. Samuel P. Cox had the photography concession at the Falls before, during, and after the change of ownership in 1889. He was there from at least 1887 to 1891. From the urban creek.com archives.

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Historical Markers, Pt. 1: The George Washington Bicentennial Tree

In 1752, it was decided that George Washington was born on January 22, 1732. Before that, he was born on January 11, 1731. It is not known how he felt about the change.

Two hundred years later, much was made of the bicentenary anniversary of Washington’s birth. A national commission was formed in late 1924, chaired by President Coolidge. The group needed seven years to plan sufficient honors for the occasion. And, indeed, states formed their own commissions, histories were written or rewritten, music was composed, and a seemingly vast amount of celebration occurred. And one of these celebrations was orchestrated by the (now defunct) American Tree Association.

The Washington Bicentennial Tree is located near the north end of the pergola on the south bank of the creek.
The Washington Bicentennial Tree is located near the north end of the pergola on the south bank of the creek. Picture from the urbancreek.com archive.

Their idea was to plant trees, of course. The American Tree Association put out a booklet describing the idea, and yes: It’s about as sappy as possible.

Continue reading “Historical Markers, Pt. 1: The George Washington Bicentennial Tree”