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

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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.

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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 on-line yearbooks.

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The “Hermits” of Minnehaha Park. Part 1.

The Park Board was slow to remove some of the people who lived in Minnehaha Park.  Once the land was officially in their control, some people were evicted, but for unclear reasons, not everyone was forced to leave.

In fact, the Park Board had a house in the park for the caretaker (the park policeman) to live in.  It was located close to the west end of today’s bridge to the Soldiers’ Home. In the early years, having a policeman live in the park made some sense, as the board had a particular concern about rowdy behavior at the dance halls and saloons in the area, and they had a zoo that needed daily management.  But two “hermits” are known to have lived in the park.  The St. Paul Globe newspaper claimed, at his death, that one of these men was named Samuel McNott.  That’s probably incorrect.

a color postcard showing a small shack, labeled "The Hermit Below Minnehaha"
This postcard may show the home of the “hermit” who probably was named James McKnight. It was mailed in 1909, during the postcard craze of the early 20th century. It is not known when this picture was taken.

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The WPA Works in Minnehaha Park, 1936. Part 6: Sand

The WPA workers in Minnehaha Park accomplished lots of small tasks. They repaired playground equipment, trimmed trees and painted and repaired “stationary settees,” traffic signs, and fences.  One of their efforts was to erect a ten-foot fence across the faces of the sand caves in the glen as a safety measure.

The existence of caves in the park might come as a surprise to today’s urban explorers.  Stories exist of actually room-like caves, but no photographs have been found.  This picture of a “cave” is no more than a shallow indent in the sandstone cliff.

Three people from the late 19th or early 20th century, standing in a shallow cave.
“Sugar Cave Minnehaha Glen,” in an undated photograph (a Real Photo Postcard)  from the early 20th century. This cave  does not seem deep enough to keep the rain off.

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