August 28, 1885: John Waisensen hanged on St. Louis County Courthouse grounds

On this day in Duluth in 1885, convicted murderer John Waisensen was hanged on the grounds of the 1883 St. Louis County Courthouse. In November, 1884, Waisensen and John Norland—both Finnish immigrants—were accused of the brutal murder of Joseph Farley. Norland hung himself with a blanket in his cell on April 9, 1885. Waisensen was convicted; his was the first hanging in Minnesota in seventeen years. A scaffold was set up outside the courthouse. Seventy-five people were given tickets that allowed them a close view of the hanging; the rest, kept at 100 yards away by the police, craned their necks or climbed telegraph poles to get a better view. Sheriff McQuaid pulled the trap 3:02 in the afternoon; Waisensen dropped and his neck broke. The sheriff left him dangle 20 minutes before several attending doctors confirmed he was dead. The rope was cut into lengths of one-and-a-half inches and distributed as souvenirs; one viewer went home with the hat Waisensen was wearing before the sheriff removed it so he could cover the condemned man’s head with a hood. Two days later, Waisensen’s body was exhumed and used by a Duluth physician for medical research. You can read about that here.

A sketch of John Waisenen made at the time of his trial. (Image: Zenith City Press)

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