Friday February 22nd 2019

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Troubled in life and at death, Russell Sawyer chose City’s tallest, grandest place to die

Russel Sawyer said “I have no money and no place to sleep tonight and nothing in sight, so will take a rest.”  “There is not use wasting money with a funeral—cremation is rest.  No preacher is wanted or needed.  They are a curse.” And his “rest” was to end his life at the tallest building in Mpls., the Guaranty Loan Company building (subsequently renamed The Metropolitan Building until it was demolished in 1961.

by Sue Hunter Weir

Russell Sawyer committed suicide on December 26, 1902.  Sawyer was 55 years old and divorced.  He was estranged from his ex-wife and daughters and there was no mention in the papers of anyone else who might have been a blood relative.   In his suicide note, he named four people who the coroner might notify of his death but none of them were family.

Sawyer had only been in town a short time when he shot himself.  He was born in Massachusetts in 1847 but had lived in Indiana most of his life.  His ex-wife’s name was Eliza and they had two daughters. Eliza was seven years younger than her husband and they must have married when she was very young since Annie, their oldest daughter, was eight years old by the time that her mother turned 25.  Lucy, their younger daughter, was six at the time.  His daughters wrote to him for some time but not long before he died, they stopped, and that weighed heavily on him.

It is not clear how he was connected to the four people mentioned in his suicide note but they were probably people that he had met while working as a traveling salesman.  He seems to have enjoyed some success in his work since he had reportedly accumulated several thousand dollars which he invested and lost.

After losing his money Sawyer headed west and found work in Minneapolis.  Samuel L. Baker, a lawyer Sawyer had known in Indiana, hired him to collect bad debts, and he connected Sawyer with others who needed the same kind of help.

It was probably not work for which Sawyer was well suited.  Those who knew him described him as “quiet and unassuming, and…regarded him as a man of some learning and culture.”  But his drinking “occasionally got the better of him,” and some believed that was the cause of his financial problems.

By late December Sawyer’s world had collapsed around him. He was not able to make enough to live on and he had been evicted.  He had nowhere to go.  As he explained in his suicide note: “I have no money and no place to sleep tonight and nothing in sight, so will take a rest.”

Although quiet and unassuming, there was one subject about which he held very strong views.  In his suicide note he railed against religion writing that: “There is not use wasting money with a funeral—cremation is rest.  No preacher is wanted or needed.  They are a curse.”

Sawyer’s death was front-page news in the Minneapolis Tribune on December 27, 1902.

Although it must have been an otherwise slow news day, the reason that it was front-page news most likely had less to do with who he was and what he had done and more to do with where he had done it.  Sawyer killed himself in Suite 419 of the Guaranty Loan Building, in the law office of his friend Samuel Baker.

The Guaranty Loan Office Building must have seemed an ideal place for a man seeking rest to die. It was the city’s most famous building, an architectural marvel and was considered Minneapolis’ first skyscraper.  It was a fortress built out of red Lake Superior sandstone and green granite from Vermont. It was famed for its roof-top garden and for its skylight which let light through to all of the building’s twelve floors.  It was later renamed the Metropolitan and its demolition in 1961 is widely regarded as the worst preservation catastrophe in Minnesota’s history.

It was there that Russell Sawyer sought rest.  After having shuttled from one boardinghouse to another and with nowhere to go, the Guaranty Loan Building must have felt like the very picture of serenity and peace.

When his body was discovered he was lying on his back with his legs crossed looking “as if done deliberately and with the intention of assuming rest.”  But suicide is hardly peaceful.  Sawyer had shot himself in the right temple with a 38-caliber revolver and was lying in a large pool of blood.

The building’s night watchman notified the authorities. The coroner arrived, quickly ruled Sawyer’s death a suicide, and had him removed to the morgue so family or friends could claim him.

No family members came forward but as it turned out Sawyer was not without friends.  Two of them claimed Sawyer’s body and arranged for a small burial service at Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery where he is at rest in an unmarked grave.

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