Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On This Date in Minnesota History: August 24

August 24, 1912 – “Fisherman John” and his son made good on their promise to recover the body of Elmer Carlson, who drowned in Lake Harriet one week ago this evening when his canoe upset.

Rental canoes piled up on the docks near the pavilion at Lake Harriet
ca. 1912.1

After almost 20 hours of incessant work, they brought the body to shore at 3:30 this afternoon, having found it in 40 feet of water in the southeastern section of the lake.

After park police had dragged the lakes with heavy hooks and irons without success, the victim’s father, Oliver Carlson of Lake City, called on “Fisherman John” and his son, known for their success in finding drown bodies.

The two men went to work. They rowed about the lake a while aimlessly. The next morning they started in earnest, but without success. This morning they were at it bright and early. Continuing with barely a moment’s rest, their search was rewarded at 3:30 p.m.

That the drowning was the result of an accident is the belief of the park police and Superintendent of Boats McLeod. Carlson was an expert at handling canoes and had previously hired one many times for a paddle around the lake, according to McLeod.

Many strange stories have been told of “Fisherman John,” who is often called “Indian John,” and his almost mystifying powers of locating drowned bodies in lakes of any size. It has been said of him that he uses some strange method of divination, something akin to black art in finding the proper spot in which to drag. Park officials were amazed when they heard that the body had been found such a distance from the place where the empty canoe was picked up a week ago.

John is believed to be French-Canadian by descent, but there are some who insist that he has Indian blood in his veins and from that ancestry comes a certain uncanny knowledge that makes the search for drowned bodies nothing more than child’s play.

“Fisherman John”2

“Fisherman John” scoffs at the stories of bringing bodies to the surface of the water by means of a loaf of bread with quicksilver in the middle of it. He admits having tried it once, but says it didn’t work at all.

“I’ve been searching for bodies for 30 years, off and on. How many have I found? Well, I never kept much track, but I could set down and think up more than 160 names right now. Mostly experience and endurance and good muscles in your arms re what you need. There ain’t nothing wonderful about it.”

“Fisherman John’s” last assertion wasn’t generally believed by all those who heard it. One man deliberately winked.

“There’s some black art about it somewhere. He’s just too good,” said the man.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune
; “’Fisherman John’ Recovers a Body in Lake for Week. Stillwater Expert and His Son Find Remains of Elmer Carlson. Canoeist Was Drowned in Harriet Last Saturday Night. Victim’s Father Is Notified at Home in Lake City, Minn. Odd Pair of Fishermen Make Good in their Promise. Deny Resort to Occult Practices in Successful Searching.”; Aug. 25, 1912; pp. 1 & 2.


2The St. Charles Herald.; Hahnville, La.; Nov. 16, 1918; p. 6.

“Fisherman John” recovers drowned body in Lake Calhoun after park police could not; see Aug. 9, 2016 blog.


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