Avatars Are Nothing New

Article written for MCHS newsletter, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2009.
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An avatar is a persona or name that someone adopts for use in an online environment, typically in order to remain anonymous. In the writing world, these adopted names are called pseudonyms. Surprisingly, when I was doing research for the Nathan Richardson book a few years ago, I ran across pseudonyms (a.k.a. avatars) in the Little Falls Transcript. It is highly unusual to find a newspaper that allows the use of pseudonyms because author identification is sometimes key to context in a news story, and is always critical to an opinion piece.

The Transcript had correspondents in various locales throughout Morrison County who wrote about the news in their communities. Many of these correspondents had avatars. There was Momus from Rich Prairie, Delta from Bellevue, Equity from Two Rivers, Sinbad from the west side of Little Falls, Mockingbird from Little Texas, Wanderer from Brainerd, Shot and Shell from North Prairie, Dell from Sauk Centre, Jemima from Ledoux, Q from Gravelville, and, my favorite pseudonym, Senor Gusto from Parker. Royalton had a number of different correspondents, including Omega, Uncle George, Thirty-five, Alpha, Cow Boy II, and Pickwick.

The Transcript also allowed people to use avatars when submitting letters to the editor. Signatories I discovered included A. German, Voter, Democrat, Ticonderoga, Citizen, and Gossip.

It is unknown whether these people remained truly anonymous within their communities. Indeed, I found a couple of articles related to Sinbad, mentioned above, and he was fully identified.

By Mary Warner
Copyright 2009, Morrison County Historical Society

Sinbad Revealed

One of the correspondents for the Little Falls Transcript in the late 1870s went by the name of Sinbad. The newspaper revealed Sinbad’s true identity when it printed the following two news items. The first article is the Transcript’s take on a humorous incident involving Sinbad. The second item was written by Sinbad, whose intent was to set the record straight. – MW

A Conflagration

F.N. Foster (Sinbad) had a thrilling exploit at Fish Lake, in Green Prairie on Tuesday last. He was up there fishing, and by some mishap was plunged into the water and was thoroughly wet. As the weather is still too cold to render such a state of moisture really enjoyable, Mr. Foster went to his camp fire, added to it a large quantity of dry wood, hung up his wet clothing to dry, and after rolling up in a blanket he went to sleep. After a while he awoke, and to his horror he discovered that the clothing he had hung up to dry was entirely burned up. Here he was, nine miles from home, and nothing to wear but a shirt. He finally found a man from whom he borrowed a pair of drawers, and then sent him to a house to borrow such other articles as were necessary to give him a presentable appearance.

Little Falls Transcript, May 8, 1879

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That “Conflagration.”

Little Falls, May 12, 1879
Editor, Little Falls Transcript:

I noticed in your issue of the 8th inst. an account of a “Conflagration” in which I was supposed to be interested. In fact I was interested in a slight fire, but your account and the facts do not quite agree. I was not at Fish Lake, but at Lake Alexander. I did not “fall into the lake,” but – well I will explain. I went up to lake Alexander, which is about 24 miles from “home,” to fish; and happening to get my pants wet by drawing my line across them, I hung them up by the camp fire to dry. In the morning I arose, and on looking where my unmentionables should have been, I found they were “non est cumatibus.” It makes me pant to tell it, but they were, as you say, conflagrated, cremated, burned up. I borrowed a pair of drawers, a paper collar and a rubber coat from my partner, the coat and drawers for comfort and the shirt collar for decency. But I wouldn’t advise anyone to start with that kind of an outfit, as the gentle zephyrs have too much play around a fellow’s person. I sent a blanket and some thread to a (“house”) wigwam, and enlisted the services of a smoked yankee of the feminine gender, and by the middle of the afternoon had a very passable pair of blanket pants, stripes and all. While sailing around in my rubber coat, etc., partner said I bore a strong resemblance to a billiard cue dressed in mourning, and I rather think I did. We caught over 400 nice black bass, and had a good time generally. Loss fully covered by insurance. For further particulars enquire of
Sinbad.

Little Falls Transcript, May 15, 1879

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