John Carter of Minnesota: The “Convict Poet” Who Won His Freedom

“Only the first ten years matter,” a Minnesota State Prison inmate told John Carter, and "[w]hether or not the first ten years are all that matter, there is no doubt that the first six months are by no means six little drops of time.” It was 1905 and as the 19-year-old Carter listened, he settled … Continue reading John Carter of Minnesota: The “Convict Poet” Who Won His Freedom

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“Made while under fire”: Elijah E. Edwards’ Civil War sketches

Before there were cameras to document warfare, there were sketchbooks. So imagine then sketching a battlefield and, as smoke filled the air and bullets zipped past, trying to keep your pencil straight. This, though, was the experience of many artists, including Elijah Evan Edwards (1831-1915), who served as chaplain of the 7th Minnesota Infantry during the Civil War (1864-1865). The Minnesota Historical Society has three volumes of Edwards' journals, including a 1910 typescript he wrote synthesizing his pocket diaries from the war. In it he discusses daily camp life, the people he met, different battles, and so on. Besides being an invaluable, firsthand account of the Civil War, what makes the text rich is its being accompanied by several dozen sketches made from "hasty outlines finished from memory when I had leisure." "This is especially true of the battle scenes," he added, "since I had during the critical moments of the conflict neither leisure nor opportunity to make sketches." (p.1). It's these that distinguish Edwards' written account from others.

Once again we are reminded that not every brain develops the same

In the fall 2012, I briefly left the University of Minnesota Morris to do a series of directed studies in Houston, TX. One of these included attending Dr. David Eagleman's "Neuroscience and Law" course at Rice University, which required that we write for the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law's blog. This was originally published September 26, … Continue reading Once again we are reminded that not every brain develops the same

“Words were powerless”: A Minnesota newspaper’s response to the Lincoln assassination

On April 15, 1865, lying in a boarding house across the street from Ford's Theater, President Abraham Lincoln died, the victim of an assassin's bullet. What was a week celebrating an end to four years of bloodshed was capstoned by one last tragedy. Though not everyone felt the same way, tens of millions mourned their fallen hero, and in Minnesota as well as elsewhere, this sorrow turned into disbelief, into anger.

The Funeral of President Lincoln

This month marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's assassination. Given the historical distance, though, it's hard for us to really appreciate how traumatic this event was -- especially when, in the days preceding it, there was so much to celebrate. On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, effectively ending the Civil War. But ten days later, the colors of victory faded black as the president's hearse moved solemnly through the streets of Washington. The St. Cloud Democrat (Minnesota: April 27, 1865) ran an account of the three-mile-long procession, which I've reprinted below. As you read it, imagine for a moment what it must have been like watching the carriages move past. Though the war was over, tremulous times lied ahead. The reconstruction of a nation began with a tomb for its moral compass.

This is why I don’t take arguments about “moral and cultural decay” seriously.

There's a common trope among conservatives that we're living in an era of moral and cultural decay, which is reflected in art and performance -- Elvis Presley! Marilyn Manson! Miley Cyrus! With a nervous sweat on their brow, these moral crusaders call for censorship, suggesting it's the American thing to do. (And, I suppose in some ways it is). But, alas, this kind of outrage is nothing new -- the following comic was printed in Illinois' Rock Island Argus in 1915. Replace the statue with Beyonce and the old white aristocrat with ... the old, white, aristocratic Gov. Mike Huckabee and it's just as relevant a century later. ...

A Letter from Charles Bukowski to Robert Bly

Back in November, I wrote about two letters from Garrison Keillor and Bill Holm I found in the University of Minnesota's Robert Bly Papers. What I didn't note is that I also found one from writer Charles Bukowski. Pulling it out of the stack was a surprise -- though it shouldn't have been given Bly's stature in the literary world at the time -- and so I made a copy of it thinking Buk's may be interested. It's not as big of a literary event as the discovery of Neal Cassady's "Joan Anderson letter," but it does include an unpublished poem. ...