Did she have to wear a scarlet letter?

There’s nothing like a (one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old) neighborhood scandal.

A young woman named Kate Noonan lived and worked as a domestic servant in various homes in the pioneer town of St. Anthony Falls. One of those homes is a few blocks from where I live in southeast Minneapolis. Here it is:

The Van Cleve home at 603 5th Street SE

A young man from a socially prominent family — a cad by all accounts — met Kate and set out to seduce her. A witness later testified in court that he had seen the man, Will Sidle, slip a drug into Kate’s lemonade one night. The next morning, she woke up in a hotel room with the cad.

The son of a bank president, Will promised his eternal love, but quickly forgot this promise and became engaged to a judge’s daughter. Kate, who was in love with him, understandably felt betrayed. Once again Will promised to deliver happiness, this time in the form of cash to help Kate get out of town (Why did she have to leave town?) and start a new life. But when she came to collect, he reneged again.

Her reputation ruined, Kate found Will, shot him with a gun, and killed him in front of the Nicollet Hotel on Third Street and Nicollet Avenue. The tallest building on the left in the photo below is the hotel:

The story was a sensation. In recognition of the victim’s father, all of the city’s banks closed on the day of Will’s funeral and thousands of people attended. A lengthy court case ended with a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity on Christmas Eve, 1877.

I discovered this story when I read Penny Petersen’s book, “Hiding in Plain Sight,” about St. Anthony Falls.

Hiding in Plain Sight by Penny Petersen

A University of Minnesota art history and humanities graduate, Penny describes her book as a “walking tour plus stories.” Many homes and structures of the old town of St. Anthony Falls still exist and she points those out, but she also perks up her tour with stories.

The book contains an extra treat — a great map. Ted Tucker, an amateur map maker, combined the elements of several maps to create it. The map provides both contemporary and historic names of streets, it shows where islands and dams used to be on the Mississippi River and it identifies the location of many of the buildings featured in the book. The map is a gem.

Here is a slice of it:

Ted Tucker map from Hiding in Plain Sight

There is much more to Kate Noonan’s story and Penny’s well-researched book. Contact Melissa Bean at the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association to buy the book in paperback.

Thanks to the Hennepin County Library for the use of the photo and for their generous assistance.

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4 Responses to Did she have to wear a scarlet letter?

  1. David says:

    What a great story. A lot of the newspaper stories I’ve seen from much earlier periods do some pretty obvious editorializing–there’s no thought of “objectivity.”

  2. Lisa says:

    The research was entirely Penny Petersen’s. She’s an accomplished, tireless researcher. However, I did pull the historic photo from the Hennepin County Library’s collection, and the librarians pointed me to the huge volume of newspaper stories that were written about the court case. I love to read that stuff for two reasons: 1) The colorful prose is always amusing and 2) the stories remind me how grateful I am to be living in this century, not that century.

  3. shirley holm says:

    I love this, Lisa! Great researching!

  4. Vicky says:

    Great story, Lisa! I just might have to buy that book!