'Mysteries' author uncovers part of state's strange past
For close to a decade, Star Tribune news copy chief Ben Welter has been digging up unusual stories from the newspaper’s 140-year-old archive and bringing them to his blog, “Yesterday’s News.”
Welter has posted more than 500 stories and 1,000 images to the blog so far, with more added weekly.
In his new book, “Minnesota Mysteries” (The History Press, $19.99), Welter collects 31 of the strangest and most amusing tales he has uncovered. It features reprints of the original historical accounts as well as additional research gleaned from newspaper and library archives.
One chapter tells of an illusionist who impressed Minneapolis residents with a mind-reading stunt in January 1909. The story goes that “psychic wonder” John Neuman told the Minneapolis Morning Tribune that he would find an object hidden somewhere in the city by reading the thoughts of a group of community leaders.
“It caught my eye because of the audacity of the claim,” Welter said.
As if that wasn’t enough, Neuman kicked the illusion up a notch by adding a blindfolded carriage ride down Nicollet Avenue before a crowd of 5,000 onlookers.
Like most of the stories in the book, Welter said he found Neuman’s stunt by “complete serendipity” while randomly searching Star Tribune microfilm. What’s more, after a chance discovery in the Library of Congress database, he found that Neuman — a self-proclaimed Russian psychic — was in fact a showman with local origins.
Connecting the dots
Looking for art to accompany another story, he came across a poster of a “Newmann the Great” performing a similar blindfolded drive. With that alternate spelling of the name, Welter further discovered that Neuman was not from Russia, but rather a mentalist from Kenyon who made a name touring the Midwest.
“I had fun connecting the dots,” Welter said, adding that he spent hours combing through places like the Hennepin County Library and Minnesota Historical Society to piece stories together.
Although many of the articles date back to the early 1900s, Welter said he was still able to track people down for updated interviews, including the subject of his favorite story in the book, “Baby On (Running) Board.”
In 1926, Vernon Solem, then a 17-month-old baby, crawled away from his Northeast Minneapolis home only to be found 45 minutes later sleeping on the running board of a car a few miles away.
In 2005, Welter found Solem, 88, living in a group home in Woodbury, Minn.
“He was such a fun guy to talk to,” Welter said. “It’s an amazing story.”
More unusual stories can be found on Welter’s blog, www.startribune.com/yesterday.