October 18 , 1920: Veteran postal worker charged with dumping mail in the bay

On this day in Duluth in 1920, Robert S. Burke, an 18-year veteran of Duluth’s post office, was arraigned in federal court, accused of throwing over 1,000 pieces of mail into the Sixth Avenue West slip along the St. Louis Bay—where the Great Lakes Aquarium stands today. He was suspended from his job and charged with “detaining, embezzling, and destroying letters; a January court appearance was scheduled. Burke’s shenanigan’s were discovered when 15-year-old Albert Stewart, who lived at 2513 Minnesota Avenue on Park Point, was returning to his home in a rowboat. He had noticed a “large package of mail” floating in the water, retrieved it, and notified the post office. Burke admitted he tossed the mail in the bay on October 13 because “he had been unable to deliver it on time.” He went on to tell authorities that he had “accumulated this mail since last December and stored it in his room till recently when it began to take up too much space and he decided to throw it in the bay.” The post office promised to deliver them mail, which included the previous year’s Christmas cards, “as soon as the mail has been sufficiently dried.” In January Burke plead not guilty, but the newspaper did not follow up with a story about whether or not he was convicted.

Duluth postal workers pose in front of the 1892 Duluth Federal Building and Post Office. We do not know which one of these men was Robert S. Burke, who had a lot of trouble delivering mail in late 1919 and 1920.
(Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)