Sunday, October 26, 2014

Musician Addicted to a Beastly Crime

Was it really that beastly?
This is one of those stories where I just want to find out more, but the documentary record just isn’t in a giving mood. This isn’t to say that I found nothing, but that it wasn’t enough to dig out anything other than his (likely) street address. Nor were the newspapers forthcoming with much other information.

The sentence in this case was certainly light: ninety days, suspended on condition of leaving town. Yesterday, I wrote that Elmer and Ellen Shaw were convicted to a year in prison for sodomy in 1917, but maybe North Dakota was tougher on sex in 1917 than Minnesota was in 1887.

If I’ve found my right William Wall, this is not the only thing the St. Paul Daily Globe had to say about him, but this is what they said on October 28, 1887:
He Must Leave the City.
William Wall was arraigned before Judge Cory yesterday charged with sodomy by Officer John Kelly. Wall admitted that he was addicted to a beastly crime against nature, and Judge Cory suspended a sentence of ninety days, ordering him to leave the city at once. Wall is a music teacher by profession and has taught several classes at St. Paul.
So, was it this guy? On March 1, 1886, the Daily Globe reported on a meeting of those in support of Irish independence. The Daily Globe reported that “The program was opened by a piano solo by William Wall.”

Mr. Wall seems to have been a bit of an itinerant, since the 1887 Saint Paul city directory lists a William J Wall, musician, rooming at 443 Jackson, and this is probably the same William J. Wall living at 50 E. 7th St, and working at 94 E. 7th in 1888 (I’m assuming that after a few months out of the city, he quietly moved back in).

Given that no one else is named, and that the accusation came from a police officer, I’m going to assume that Officer Kelly entrapped our musical friend, posing as a potential partner in sodomy, and when Wall proposed an assignation, took him into custody (given as such events have happened in the recent past, it’s not much of a stretch).

I also suspect that William Wall did not utter the exact words that he was “addicted to a beastly crime against nature,” but instead admitted the charges and said he was addicted to it, without the histrionic phrase “a beastly crime against nature.” The word homosexual wouldn’t appear in print in English for another five years, although the term “sexual inversion” was current from 1883.[1] Yet Mr. Wall is seeing his desire to have sex with other men as something intrinsic to his nature. Are we seeing with Mr. Wall’s statement that he was addicted to sodomy the beginning of gay identity?

If so, Saint Paul, Minnesota would seem to be a surprising locus for this burgeoning identity. Back in June, I wrote about Joseph Carp who said that “his excessive passions were unlike those of other men.” Mr. Carp was arrested in 1883 (four years before Mr. Wall) in Saint Paul, Minnesota. What was up with these Minnesota men? Was the city a hotbed of late-nineteenth century sodomy? Carp was described as making “indecent proposals” in “various places,” which I wondered if it might have been a reference to a clandestine cruising network at the time.

This is, in part, why I would like to know more about William Wall. Who was he, where did he come from, how old was he when Officer Kelly nabbed him? And for that matter, how old was Officer Kelly? I couldn’t find anything definite on him either. What happened to William Wall after a sodomy charge force him to leave Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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