On June 8, 1896 Richard Omand was digging a culvert on his rented land near Bloomer, Minnesota. A few feet below the surface, he struck something hard. Supposing the barrier to be a large rock, he began removing the tough clay from around it. Lo and behold, it was no rock, but a fossilized human being! News of the find spread quickly, and curious onlookers soon arrived to witness the exhumation of the ancient body. Locals believed the five-foot-nine specimen to be the petrified body of a 17 century French voyageur. The petrified man was preserved so well that the Minneapolis Journal wrote on June 13, that “…teeth, finger nails, moustache and even the color and texture of the skin show plainly.” The man became a sensation, and tourists began arriving to view him.
Omand sold the man to William Lee, who sold it to D. M. Williams. Williams then sold it to Peter Bergo for $175. Bergo took the man to nearby Crookston, where he placed him in a rented building and charged admission to the throngs of tourists. Eventually, Bergo sold the man for $1000, but soon found himself in the middle of a lawsuit. The Petrified Man had become so profitable and popular that George McPherin of Minot, North Dakota, sued for ownership of the curiosity. McPherin owned the land on which the man was found, although it was being leased to Mr. Omand at the time. In addition, two claimants from Grand Forks came forward and launched their own lawsuit, while two brothers from Red Lake Falls filed a petition claiming that the man was in fact their father.
The controversy led to increased security for the relic. While it was on display in Grand Forks, an armed guard was stationed to protect it twenty-four hours a day. The Grand Forks sheriff, spooked by the threats and claims, placed the petrified man in the city’s jail. Police protection was not needed for long, however, as the petrified man’s true origins soon came to light when molds were discovered in a plasterer’s workshop in Crookston, and the artists soon confessed to the forgery. No longer valuable, lawsuits and claims were quickly dropped, and the plaster man soon forgotten.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Pearson, Ethelyn. 2000 It Really Happened Here: Amazing Tales of Minnesota and the Dakotas: pp. 107-8. McCleery & Sons Publishing: Gwinner, ND.
Dregni, Eric. 2006 Weird Minnesota: Your Travel Guide to Minnesota’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets: p. 43. Sterling Publishing Company: New York.