Thursday, May 26, 2016

"A Pernicious Habit"

St. Paul Globe, 14 May 1882, p. 10; Chronicling America image
If you read last week's post, you know the tragic ending of the teenage romance of Jennie Fawkner and Albert Drake. More than 130 years later, a reader of the article in the St. Paul Daily Globe can not know how faithfully the facts were reported, but the essential fact is clear -- a 16 year-old boy died on the streets of St. Paul as result of a romance gone sour.

The boy was far too young to die. Both families must have been devastated. This is real family history that can never be totally swept under the carpet.

The incident occurred on a downtown street, in broad public view. The front page coverage surely made the incident the talk of the town. A gun was involved. This was not the wild west; this was St. Paul, the capital of Minnesota, nearly 25 years after statehood. In the next issue of the Globe (14 May 1882, p. 10), a stirring letter to the editor spoke to an issue that is with us yet today.

 Apropos to the untimely end of young Drake by suicide... is it not about time for the proper authorities to initiate more stringent measures to prohibit the carrying of concealed weapon[?] It is true that the law forbidding it exists, but it is equally true that it is, with rare exception, a dead letter upon our statutes... or city laws.

The anonymous letter writer asserted that as many as two-thirds of all boys 14 and older carried weapons, and urged the police to make "sudden and unannounced" searches for the weapons.

St. Paul Globe, 14 May 1882, p. 10; Chronicling America image

He (or she) added:

There seems to be a morbid desire in our youth to be the owner of such an implement of death; he seems to attach a certain greatness to it; it makes him feel like a man! Ah, there's the rub! Men set the example and youth is bound to imitate. The question naturally arises, "Why do so many men carry concealed weapons?"

 The writer acknowledged that "the law-abiding and orderly class of citizens" feel the need to carry guns for self-defense, but went on to lambast lawyers for using the law to protect criminals.

The story and the letter are eerily similar to stories and commentaries we read today -- although today drugs or gang grievances might be involved. This is a nonpolitical blog -- or nearly so. Opinions varied then and opinions vary now. I draw two lessons from the newspaper story and the letter to the editor. First, newspapers are a wonderful source for getting a feel for the places and times our ancestors lived. Second, today is not as different from the past as we like to think.

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