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“Yellow Journalism” adds insult to injury of family

Nasty little printer’s devils spew forth from the Hoe press in this Puck cartoon of November 21, 1888. Yellow journalism, or the yellow press, is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.Yellow journalism happens in local and national main stream media all too often; yes, even in Minneapolis.

Nasty little printer’s devils spew forth from the Hoe press in this Puck cartoon of November 21, 1888.
Yellow journalism, or the yellow press, is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.Yellow journalism happens in local and national main stream media all too often; yes, even in Minneapolis.

By Sue Hunter Weir

It’s not unheard of for a reporter to get carried away with a story and exaggerate a little for dramatic effect.

The story about David Fisher’s death was one of those stories. It ran in the Minneapolis Tribune on September 4, 1903, under the headline, “Killed on Way to See His Dying Wife, David C. Fisher, Old and Feeble, Struck by a Street Car As He was Tottering from Poor Farm to City Hospital—Was Going to Make Perhaps Last Visit to His Aged Partner In Life, Separated by Illness and Misfortune.” This lengthy headline more or less tells the whole story and a little more.

When Annie Fisher got sick in the spring of 1903, her husband, who was old and somewhat frail himself, could no longer take care of her at home. She was taken to the City Hospital where, according to newspapers accounts, she was expected to die any day. She was over 90 years old and in poor health.

Annie and David Fisher had been together a long time. According to the 1895 Territorial Census for Minnesota, David Fisher had moved to the United States from Canada in 1857, one year before Minnesota became a state. Annie was born in Indiana.

They were married in St. Anthony on January 1, 1860. They married relatively late in life; although records give varying birth years for each, they were both approximately forty years old. In the 1860s they adopted two children: a daughter named May and a son named James.

David held a number of jobs over the years. He started out as a cooper. In 1879 he got a job as one of the city’s poundmasters, the equivalent of working for Animal Control today, except that in addition to dealing with dogs and cats, he would have had to contend with the horses, cows and sheep residing within the city limits. He earned a reasonable, though not lavish salary, about $10 a week. When that job ended about six years later he worked as a watchman and a barnman, most likely for the animal pound. Not long before he died, he was reported to have been running a laundry out of his home.

Old age, poverty and illness finally caused the couple to be separated. When Annie got sick, David went to live at the County Poor Farm. He was taking the streetcar from the Poor Farm to City Hospital to visit Annie when he was run down and killed. Newspaper reporters made much of the fact that he was on his way to visit his dying wife. According to the story he had collected some “dainties” for her and told the staff that he might not be back for several days which led a reporter to conclude that she was within days of dying.

David was crossing the street at Sixth Street and Sixth Avenue South apparently paying little attention to what was going on around him. The motorman on a passing streetcar rang the bell and Fisher stopped and waited for the car to pass. He started walking again but was struck by the “trailer,” a second car on the streetcar. He died before he could be taken to the hospital.

At first, staff at the hospital withheld the news of her husband’s death from Annie because, according to the papers, her doctors were afraid that the shock might kill her. When they did tell her, “ [s]he took the news philosophically, although it was a great shock to her feeble, nervous system.” She was unable to attend her husband’s funeral but she was visited and comforted by friends.

Apparently the Tribune reporter who covered the story thought that it wasn’t sad or dramatic enough. Although there is little question that Fishers had experienced hardship during the last several months of David Fishers’s life, there is nothing in the story to support the Tribune’s claim that theirs was “a life of sorrow.” And it wasn’t true, as the Tribune claimed, that there was “no one to care for his dead body—his [David’s] life truly had become a barren one.” While it’s unclear where their adult children were living at the time of his death, David Fisher had made arrangements some years earlier with B. R. Bain, a friend and neighbor, to take care of his and Annie’s funeral arrangements. Mr. Bain kept his promise to David Fisher. Four years later he had occasion to keep it again. Annie Fisher, who was described in 1903 as “old, decrepit and fast failing,” lived for another four years. She died on December 13, 1907, at the age of 96. Three days later she was buried next to her husband in Lot 44, Block P.

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