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Voices From the Past


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When I think about voices from the past, what tends to pop into my head are inspirational quotes, famous stories or those of loved ones. However, when I went on the Voices From the Past walk in Winona, the voices spoke of underhandedness, murder, and impropriety. The Winona County Historical Society puts on the event in Woodlawn Cemetery each year, taking you past the graves of famous figures from the city’s past while costumed actors recount the tales of those who occupy them. While the themes of walks in the past have been tamer, this year’s theme of scoundrels, scandals, and skullduggery will be no less eerie then the walk I went on years ago. Check out the thieves, troublemakers, and envelope pushers that you’ll meet this year:

Photo courtesy of Winona County Historical Society

Site 1: Verrazano Simpson (1832-1905)
In 1873, Simpson was seen in the street horsewhipping his wife. After reading about the event in the newspaper, the city was outraged, but that didn’t stop Simpson from gaining custody of their children when the couple divorced a month later. Not long after, Simpson married Mary Dwyer, who was 15 years his junior. That marriage ended in 1876 when Dwyer was found dead from consumption. Three years later, Simpson wed again, this time to Josephine Harb. Aside from his romantic entanglements, Simpson was involved in another scandal with his 91-year-old mother, who he tried to convince to deed her estate to him for $150,000.

Site 2: Lena Weinburg (1834-1889)
When Weinburg arrived in Winona in 1856, she began work at the Huff Hotel. Years later, when Frank Cockrell decided to sell the hotel, Weinburg appeared to go insane and packed her bags to flee. She later committed suicide, which led her family to find money she had been hiding in secret areas of her trunk and in a piano stool. A court case resulted, raising the question that she stole the money from Cockrell and the hotel.

Site 3: Mayor Robert J. Tearse (1885-1969), Fire Chief Wise Norton (1868-1931) and Mayor-elect Mat Wagner (1895-1945)
These men were involved in the bitter mayoral campaign of 1929 and the lawsuits that followed. During the race, Wagner campaigned that Tearse was too incompetent for office, resulting in libel suits from two different parties. More followed, as the community learned of suits filed by Norton, Tearse, and Wagner that involved bribes for votes, causing the election to be declared invalid.

Site 4: Prostitution: The Malone Murder (July 1879), Closing of the Brothels (December 1942) and other sorted issues
At the hands of Charles Richman and Edward Lawler, James Malone was shot and killed at the Herman Parrhysius saloon. Also involved in the shooting was “French Lou” Reynolds and some of his “girls.” Later, Governor Harold Stassen moved to clean up the state and on Dec. 27, 1942, police arrived in Winona to raid and lock up the brothels, arresting ten women in five houses. In further clean-up efforts, all gambling devices, such as pinball and slot machines, were hauled away by city officials.

Site 5: Prohibition (1920-1933) with Mayor J.B. Rice (1878-1945)
In 1930, William Lang was sentenced to two years at Leavenworth Federal Prison for dry violations at his café and soft drink parlor. Also imprisoned there were Nicolas and John Myers, who were caught illegally distilling and selling alcohol. In 1932, Rice voiced his objections by leading a parade against prohibition.

Site 6: James (1830-1907) and Harriet (1829-1907) Hardwick, Robert Culley (1910-1870) and William Mitchell (1832-1900)
Culley, the Hardwick’s neighbor, forced himself on Harriet in an adulterous affair, before threatening to kill both Harriet and James. Culley struck James with a hammer and James defended himself by shooting Culley twice. Defended by Mitchell, James was found not guilty. 

Site 7: Scandals on Wapasha’s Prairie, told by Martin Wheeler Sargeant (1822-1866)
During the settlement of Winona in 1853, Elijah Silsbee shot at Henry Huff when he attempted to change the original line of his claim. Huff proposed to mark his boundary with a plow furrow, something Silsbee had already done. When Huff’s team approached, Silsbee drove them off before later shooting Huff, who recovered from the incident. Around the same time, Erwin Johnson settled on a prairie that Willard Bunnell attempted to drive him off of, later prompting Bunnell to attack Johnson.

Photo courtesy of
Winona County Historical Society

Site 7A: The 1862 Surrender of Colonel Henry C. Lester (1831-1902) at Murfressboro, Tenn. with Charles E. Goddard (1845-1868), Matthew Marvin (1838-1903) and John Ball (1855-1875)
In 1861, Lester was put in charge of Third Minnesota, of which three enlisted soldiers were from Winona. In 1862, Lester was heading the troops at Murfressboro when the confederate troops convinced him that their troop was larger than it actually was. Lester surrendered to the rebel forces, later causing him to be dismissed from the army.

After the walk, head to the historic Masonic Theater to see Friends, Schemes and Broken Dreams, a musical tale that will continue to reveal actual stories from the 19th century about swindles, schemes, and scandals. Performances are Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 14 at 3:30 p.m.

Voice from the Past
Oct. 13 & 14: noon-3 p.m.
Woodlawn Cemetery, 506 W. Lake Boulevard, Winona
$7 adults, $5 students ages 13 and older, $3 ages 12 and younger

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