By Allison Campbell-Jensen
It seems so long ago — or was it just the other day? In the depth of the pandemic, before vaccines were developed, and many in Minnesota were in lockdown or going out of their houses only infrequently, Marie Wu was hard at work on a book.
With, it should be noted, the help of University of Minnesota Libraries staff and, at times, the U.S. Postal Service.
“Minneapolis Murder & Mayhem” by Ron de Beaulieu (History Press) may not equal in historic importance the invention of calculus (remember that COVID meme about Sir Issac Newton keeping busy in an earlier pandemic?).
But for the few Libraries staff who were working onsite, Wu/de Beaulieu added meaningful searches, emailing materials, and the occasional mailing of a book to their duties. Wu was by no means the only person they helped during the pandemic but she is the only one to write about murder and mayhem (whom we know about, anyway).
Still the publication of this book by a U of M sociology doctoral student, Marie Wu, writing under a pseudonym, still ranks high in achievement. For one person, the effort kept away any low-productivity blues and, it is hoped, added to the bank account.
At one point, Wu was talking with a librarian on the phone and learned the borrowing of books would change. Her immediate reaction was panic. Then she found out that the Libraries would now mail her the books she wanted to borrow from the U of M or associated libraries. Whew!
Although there are obviously murder cases in this book, it also covers a variety of other chaotic events, from fires to a labor strike to industrial disasters.
One of the intriguing passages concerns settlers fighting against the force of the mighty Mississippi River, as they attempted to establish water-power mills at St. Anthony Falls. The local limestone crumbled and a sinkhole opened up in the falls.
It turns out that men deciding to dump trees, rafts, and other large objects into the “hole” in the falls was not a useful approach. Read page 57ff for the details. The ancillary result, according to Wu, was the disempowerment of the pioneer village of St. Anthony.
After publication, Wu wrote to a Libraries staff asking about offering a reading at the U. In her email, she added: “I am also writing to thank the librarians. Without the digital collections, ILLiad, and home delivery during the pandemic, then I would not have been able to write this book.”
Responding was Ai Miller, now of the Health Sciences Library staff, who wrote: “Thank you so much for the kind words, Marie. We’re so glad to be able to offer research and other support, and that you found it all useful in writing this work — congratulations on its upcoming publication!”
All in a day’s work — a fruitful work of many days — for our Librarians and Wu.
The author’s next reading is scheduled for Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. It is free, but registration is required.
Wu can be followed under her pen name: Twitter handle is @Ron_deBeaulieu; Reddit username is r/Ron_deBeaulieu, and she also is on Facebook and Goodreads as “Ron de Beaulieu.”