High Jinks and History

What do you think about when you see the stoic faces of the people in early photographs? For me, with many of my ancestors becoming immigrant farmers in Minnesota, I think of hardship, tenacity, and determination. For the personalities of these people, I would assume a seriousness that goes along with those attributes and that lifestyle. What I never thought to see, even hiding under the surface, was perhaps goofiness, trouble making, or even ill will. But it appears that at least one of these characteristics occurred in the second announcement below.

Recently, my ancestry attention has been focused on my Clasen/Classen clan. My third great-grandparents, Friedrich and Charlotte Classen, immigrated to the United States with their family in 1858 and soon after settled in Waconia, Minnesota, which is just west of where I sit now in Minneapolis. In pursuit of finding out more about Friedrich and Charlotte’s family, I looked to the above marriage announcement in The Weekly Valley Herald of their son, August, my three times great-uncle.

With the first publication, I learned that August married Agnes on Thursday, April 1, 1886. I thought it a little strange to get married on a Thursday, especially with 150 people in attendance, but I am absolutely no expert on 19th century norms.

Then, four weeks later, came the marriage proclamation revocation with the message that such a marriage was not even a happy option to Agnes. It went on to state that the original announcement was meant to injure her character, and that her brother, Adolph, meant to offer a reward and threaten to “hot box” the perpetrator. So this seemed serious.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find any follow-up information to this story. So we are now left to speculate on the whos and the whys. However, the timing of the non-existent marriage, occurring on April 1, suggests that this was an April Fools Day prank with an unknowing co-conspirator, The Weekly Valley Herald. But was this done all in good fun or was this a serious offense, as Adolph’s threats seem to suggest.

What these early photographs miss out on are the twinkle in the eye, a slight smile of anticipation, and the nervous body language of someone trying to get away with something. The photos tell us what these people looked like but stop short at telling us who these people were. They were people with opinions, humor, feelings, and even deviousness. The solemn faces in the black and white photos hid the trolls and the pranksters from the innocents and the cordials. While I have little idea how serious this prank was, it sure is funny to read today, exactly 133 years later.

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