I recently discovered a rather strange item while editing a collection description on our website. The finding aid for our Charles E. Wood collection lists an item entitled, Stinkfinger’s Popular Illustrated Monthly Magazine. Intrigued by the title, I decided to take a look (click to enlarge).
The more I read, the stranger it seemed.
As it turned out, another item in the Charles Wood collection was able to shed some light on the origins and meaning of this publication. In a reminiscence, Mr. Wood describes his family moving to Nebraska and settling in the town of Helena in Johnson County. The town no longer exists, but Helena was located about four miles west of present-day Cook, Nebraska. Mr. Wood describes going to the Helena Presbyterian Church one Sunday morning (where his father was the minister) and discovering that the church had been broken into and defiled.
According to the reminiscence (with its original spelling): “…when at a visit at father’s we went to church on Sunday morning and found the church had been broken into during the week and the walls besmeared with filth taken from some privy vault, not even the pulpit bible was spared. The only thing spared was the chandelier. A certain family was thought guilty largely because they had raised the money to buy it. Other things had happened that suspicion always laid at the door of that family.”
Mr. Wood goes on to say, “Away at Peru, a paper was printed called the Stinkfinger. That by inuendo laid all this mischief at the home of this family which could not stand the ochium [odium], false or true, so they sold out and left…Who did the dirty deed, and who got out the “Stinkfinger” paper were never absolutely known. But it is quite certain that the family who were first thought guilty were innocent.”
I feel bad for the wrongly accused family. The actual family name is never used in the publication or the reminiscence, but the 1880 census shows a “John E. Brown” and his wife, Mary, living at Helena. Was it the Brown family that was wrongly suspected and then lampooned as “John E. and Mary Stinkfinger?” We don’t know for sure, but it’s still quite an interesting story. Research into the early newspapers of the area didn’t provide any information about the incident. It may remain a mystery, but here is the rest of the Stinkfinger for your reading pleasure.
One other interesting note to add is the fact that the Charles Wood collection also contains the original Bible from the Helena Presbyterian Church. It looks to be in pretty good shape, considering! To learn more about the Charles Wood collection or Helena, Nebraska, contact the Library/Archives Division.
-Tom Mooney, Curator of Manuscripts