Buffalo Bill Cody has been buried under the floorboards of a historic Duluth building for 130 years.
Owners of a Lincoln Park business recently discovered a variety of 19th century newspapers inside a building financed by the legendary wild west star and used by his sister to operate a weekly news publication. The treasure trove turned up during major building renovations this winter.
Duluth Grill Family of Restaurants co-owners Tom and Louis Hanson said dozens of newspapers dating from 1893 were uncovered in the floorboards of the former Duluth Press offices, 1915 W. Superior St. The Hansons purchased the building adjacent to their OMC Smokehouse restaurant in 2022 and plan to open an eight-room vacation rental property in the space.
The three-story building was constructed in 1894 and used as the headquarters for the weekly Duluth Press. Helen Cody Wetmore, Buffalo Bill’s sister, published the newspaper which featured a female staff that billed itself as “The Women’s Paper of the Great Northwest.”
Many of the newspaper articles highlight the exploits of Buffalo Bill Cody, one of the biggest celebrities of the late 19th century.
According to research found on Perfect Duluth Day, the publication was established in 1891 as the Union Workman: The People’s Press by Hugh Wetmore, who later married Helen Cody. The paper was also known as the People’s Press before Helen Cody Wetmore took control and changed its name to the Duluth Press in 1893. The newspaper ceased publication in 1896.
Also found under the floorboards were copies of the West Duluth Sun, Duluth Evening Herald, Superior Daily Call, Sibley County Enterprise and Minneapolis Journal among others from greater Minnesota. The collection contains an industry publication called the Iron & Lumber Review out of Grand Rapids, a German language newspaper and other oddities.
The Hansons transferred the find to an office storage space and have invited historians to examine the collection. The newspapers are in brittle condition but most are readable. Some have deteriorated over the years, damaged by dirt and soot.
“We don’t know what to do with them,” said Tom Hanson. “You hate to just throw something like this away, so we’ll save them for now and have someone look at them.”
Louis Hanson said newspapers might have some historical significance but they could also be used as decorations inside the new vacation rental property.
The Duluth Press banner features Buffalo Bill on horseback in the wild west. Display ads feature long lost Duluth businesses and the graphics offer a glimpse into 19th century art and design styles.
“We’d like to get them in the hands of a historical person to see if they can be cleaned up,” he said. “It would be nice to have them framed so that we can display them.”
Minnesota Historical Society Reference Technician Ashley Sierra said the organization already has every newspaper that was printed in the state, so it’s likely a copy of the recently discovered material is already in its collection.
“We’ve been collecting newspapers since before statehood (1858),” she said. “That was one of the top priorities of the historical society because they covered the daily history of the state.”
The Historical Society has subscribed to every Minnesota newspaper and kept bound volumes of each publication. Sierra said the old newspapers have been photographed and transferred to microfiche and later a digital format where they are available for viewing on the Minnesota Historical Society website.
Sierra said the Hansons are welcome to donate any undocumented papers to the historical society.
The Duluth Public Library also has microfilm copies of local newspapers dating back into the 19th century.
University of Minnesota Duluth Research & Learning/Archives & Special Collections Librarian Aimee Brown examined the discovery earlier this month. Brown confirmed that many of the publications are likely be found in the Minnesota Historical Society digital newspaper hub.
“What I would probably be doing is just having a couple samples from these to show to students,” she said. “To me it’s just interesting to say ‘Hey, these are a group of samples that were found in this building in Duluth.’ So you know that even though some of these are from far away and in different languages, this is a sampling of what people might have been reading in Lincoln Park back then.”
Hanson said he was willing to donate the papers to an archive or have them shipped to the Historical Society for documentation.
“I don’t know,” said Hanson. “I don’t think it would change our world with or without them but I think that just saving them and giving them to somebody that can utilize them would be great.”
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West museum in Cody, Wyo. collects material related to Buffalo Bill. A librarian said a donation moratorium is in place while the museum hires a new archivist but the newspapers may be of interest. The printing press from the Duluth Press building was moved to Wyoming to establish the Cody Enterprise and is on display at the museum.
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