Receive the Historical Messenger in your inbox once every two weeks by signing up for our mailing list!

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Warden’s House Flashlight Tour
  • WCHS News: July Events
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Afton Outbreak
  • Featured Article: The Mysterious Mary Traveler

Editor’s Note

Hello e-newsletter readers! I hope you’ve found a nice cool place to enjoy a bit of Washington County history today!

First off, thank you so much to everyone who made it out to our annual Beer Tasting. This is absolutely one of the best events we have here at the historical society and obviously, it’s only a success if people actually come out! Here’s a few photos of the festivities in case you missed it!

Another huge (but rarely discussed) avenue of support the public provides for WCHS is the donation of physical artifacts to our collection. Our museum would look pretty empty if folks didn’t want to share their own pieces of history with the historical society! Check out these photos recently donated by Tim Janilla. You’ll see a few shots of log jams and “lumbering life”, one of the “Devil’s Chair” that formerly sat along the St. Croix River, and even a pretty unique angle of the Old Stillwater Prison. Thanks Tim!

We’ll start off today’s News section by flicking off the museum lights and inviting you to a eerie flashlight tour of the Warden’s House!

And as busy and exciting as June was this year- we’ve got even more events coming straight down the pipe at you in July! Get the scoop on all five free programs we have scheduled between our three sites next month.

Last week’s “What Is This Thing?!” started off as a total mystery – and not a whole lot changed! We’ll check in on last week’s item before heading over to another challenge.

You’re in store for a little St. Croix Valley medical history in today’s “Old News” section.

Finally, we’ll wrap up this week’s e-newsletter with the story of the most famous mysteries of Stillwater’s past.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager


Warden’s House Flashlight Tour

Fan of History? Lover of all things spooky? Well we’ve got a little opportunity for you we need to talk about…

For all you night owls, we are offering an inaugural Flashlight Tour of the Warden’s House Museum on Saturday, July 9th. For the first time ever, see the Warden’s House in a different light (or lack thereof). Perfect for a unique date night or simply an eerie night for you and your friends, you’ll learn about the history of the Warden’s House, the old Stillwater Prison, and a bit about how our museum has earned a reputation as one of the “Most Haunted Places in Minnesota“.

Tickets are $15.00 per person and must be bought in advance. Tours will last about an hour. Space is limited. You can find more information and reserve your tickets online.

9:00 PM Tour

9:15 PM Tour

Will there be ghosts? You decide. Will it be fun? Definitely!


July Events

As I said up in the Editor’s Note – between the Warden’s House, Hay Lake School, and the Eder School, our July is completely jam-packed with events and programs.

Sunday, July 10th, 2 PM: History of Wrestling in Minnesota @ Eder School, Oakdale – Join George Schire, author of “Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling” to learn about the long relationship between Minnesota and pro-wrestling.

Minnesota’s professional wrestling history can be traced back to the 1950s with the founding of the AWA. Mad Dog Vachon, Verne Gagne, The Crusher, and of course, Jesse Ventura, are just a few of the Minnesotan names to impact the pro-wrestling world.

Whether you are a current wrestling fan or have cherished childhood memories of screaming at your television, this program will be filled with rich history and stories from the “Golden Age” of Minnesota Wrestling.

Saturday, July 16th, 11 AM – 5 PM: Lumberjack Days Vintage Base Ball Exhibition Games @ Old Athletic Field, Stillwater – See how the game was meant to be played – with wool uniforms and no gloves!

Teams from across the Midwest will be making their way to Stillwater to cross bats with one another.

Be sure to come on out to cheer for your St. Croix Base Ball Club!

11:00 am – Afton Red Socks vs. Rum River Rovers / 12:00 pm – La Crescent Applejacks vs. Northfield Silver Stars / 1:00 pm – St. Croixs vs. Quicksteps / 2:00 pm – Rum River Rovers vs. Northfield Silver Stars / 3:00 pm – St. Croixs vs. La Crescent Applejacks / 4:00 pm – Quicksteps vs. Afton Red Socks

Thursday, July 21st, 5 – 7 PM: “Girl from Birch Creek” Screening @ Eder School/Oakdale Discovery Center, Oakdale – Lake Elmo’s Justice Rosalie Wahl, the first woman appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, fights for equal justice regardless of race, gender, or economic status in “Girl from Birch Creek“. The documentary also tells the story of the 1970’s women’s movement that helped make Justice Wahl’s appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court possible.

The afternoon will begin with an open house of the Eder School from 5 – 6 PM. The screening of the documentary will begin at 6:00 PM across the street from the Eder School at the Oakdale Discovery Center.

Sunday, July 24th, 2 PM: “The Perilous St. Croix River Valley Frontier” with Ken Martens @ Hay Lake School, Scandia Local historian Ken Martens visits the Hay Lake School Museum to discuss the exciting and harrowing tales found in his book “The Perilous St. Croix River Valley Frontier“.

Sunday, July 31st, 2 PM: The Story of the Northfield Raid with Hayes Scriven @ Warden’s House Museum, Stillwater – Hayes Scriven, Executive Director of the Northfield Historical Society visits the Warden’s House to discuss the infamous attempted bank robbery perpetrated by the James-Younger Gang.

On September 7th, 1876, the typically quiet town of Northfield, Minnesota erupted into violence as Frank & Jesse James along with Cole, Jim, & Bob Younger and a number of other desperados attempted a bold broad daylight robbery of the town’s bank. Four were left dead in the ensuing gunfight and Northfield had secured its place in history.

During the free and open to the public program Scriven will detail every bullet fired and every dollar swiped during his city’s most well known historic episode.


Whew! And don’t forget to check out our Events page for our August and beyond programs!

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 39)

If you remember last week’s What Is This Thing?! item – even we at the historical society were asking that question! I turned it over to you and I definitely got a few interesting suggestions. A few folks wondered it if may have been a cannon ball. And it certainly is heavy enough to be one, but it would be pretty weird to find a cannon ball where this particular piece hailed from. Another reader suggested it may have been a scale weight – which seems like a pretty believable explanation. Either way, we still aren’t sure exactly what it is!

Thanks for the suggestions everyone!

But onto this week’s challenge! (And this time, we know exactly what this is!) I’ll give a hint that our example is missing some pretty important pieces it would have needed to function properly.

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Parts of it move!

Close Up

Old News

Afton Outbreak

The following bit of news was probably pretty terrifying to read for those living in Stillwater at the time. Small pox may only exist in laboratories today – but in the 19th century, it was a very, very serious and quick spreading disease.

It was actually fairly common practice for local media to hide hints at pandemics in their own cities, but highlight the outbreaks of their neighbors. Potential migrants or business opportunities may be scared off by news of the arrival of a deadly disease in the town. Once it was leaked in one paper, it often spread (much like a disease), to other regional and national publications.

I do think it’s a bit interesting that the “Dr. Millard” mentioned in the following article was apparently uninterested in any sort of doctor/patient confidentiality…just as the Stillwater Messenger was seemingly more than happy to sacrifice the confidentiality of their source.

Stillwater Messenger – Small Pox at Afton – June 28, 1872

They are having the small pox at Afton – on the quiet. We hear of five cases at Gilbert’s mills, two of them “confluent,” if you know what that means – something pretty bad you may rest assured. There are also three cases near the German church “convalescent” – which sounds more cheerful. Dr. Millard, of this city, was sent for by the town authorities of Afton, and it is to him that we are indebted for our information on the subject.

Featured Article

The Mysterious Mary Traveler

by Anita Buck

The gravestone is plain, a small rectangle of granite, set alone near the tool shed in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Bayport. The inscription is a simple one: “Mary Traveler 1852-1888”. The story it tells is brief – that of a young woman who lived a mere 36 years. (Photo by Ken Martens)

The story that is not told is much more complex and in many ways, something of a mystery.

A young woman was on a train passing through Stillwater in the year 1888. She had her son with her, a toddler too young to talk. Because she was ill, the woman and child were taken off the train. In spite of treatment, the unknown traveler died.

The townspeople had no clue as to who she was, where she had come from, nor her destination. If her son knew, he was too young to say. The people of the city gave her a proper burial. Rather than inscribing the headstone with an anonymous “Mary Doe”, they had carved upon it the more fanciful moniker – “Mary Traveler”, for that was all anyone really knew of her.

The little boy was now alone in a strange place. He was taken by the Crotty family of Stillwater and given the name Eddie.

When interviewed in 1977, Dick Kearney, a former resident of Stillwater, said he could remember hearing about Mary Traveler and her son. In fact, A. W. Kearney, Dick’s father, was a playmate of Eddie Traveler. A Stillwater city directory from the mid 1800s shows an A. W. Kearney living at 1004 Fourth Ave. A few doors away, at 934, lived John Crotty, a riverman.

Little is known of what happened to Eddie Traveler. Sue Kearney LeMire of Minneapolis said that she remembered Eddie moving to Canada. A picture of him taken when he was about 30 was done by a photographer in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

When Eddie was about 36, he wrote to Dick and Sue’s mother, then came to Stillwater for a visit. He tried to find out who he was, where he came from, by the simple gravestone offered no trace of his past. He returned to Canada and apparently never returned to his adopted home city.

Dick Kearny said that he had heard Eddie had become a successful agent for a New York Life Insurance Company.

But that is the end of the story – if there can be an end to a story with no real beginning. The origin and history of Eddie Traveler is the secret of the young mother buried in a remote corner of St. Michael’s Cemetery.



More information: WCHS Events >>>


Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.