March 2, 1916: Potential Russian axe murderer overpowered at St. Louis County Work Farm

This grainy image of the original St. Louis County Poor House appeared in the Duluth News Tribune in December, 1904. (Image: Zenith City)

On this day in Duluth in 1916, Russian immigrant and County Work Farm prisoner Nick Oreskovich was jailed after assaulting Herman Waldemar, the institute’s foreman, attempting to “cleave his head with a double-bitted ax.” Fortunately, he was overpowered before he struck a blow. It is not clear what Oreskovich did to put him in the work farm in the first place. When Oreskovich stood before Judge Cant, his attorney—future Duluth mayor and municipal court judge C.R. Magney—explained that Oreskovich was insane and that he was “pursued by a hundred devil phantoms that are trying to pierce his heart with knives.” Oreskovich had recently arrived in Duluth from Michigan, which he had fled “to escape certain enemies that [were] pursuing him.” The News Tribune further explained that “These enemies…are phantoms armed with knives and flashlights, They are constantly flashing the light on his body over his heart…and are after him with knives. These creatures of his distorted mind have nails, too, and are trying to drive them into Oreskovich’s heart.” Magney described his client as a “monomaniac,” a common term at the time for someone suffering from mental illness “especially when limited in expression to one idea or area of thought.” Magney filed a petition for Oreskovich to be examined, and on March 19 he was declared insane and sent to the state hospital for the criminally insane in St. Peter, Minnesota. Read a history of the county work farm here.

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