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Mysterious Man in Red

Today's tabloids are no more flamboyant and sensational in tone than much of the nineteenth century press. For example, the Omaha Daily Bee, edited by Edward Rosewater, on January 31, 1876, included an attention-grabbing account of "A Man in Red, Looking Like the Devil," the "Leader of a Party of Imps," who had recently frightened an Omaha man and his wife living at Seventeenth and Capitol. "Were They Bank Robbers or Kidnappers?" asked the Bee.

"When a man is awakened in the dead hour of night by a dark lantern light penetrating his bed-room, and when he goes to his window and sees half a dozen men standing around a hack in the street, one of the men being dressed in brilliant blood-red from head to foot, it is not strange that he should at first believe that he was looking at the very devil himself and his staff officers. That is the impression at least that the writer would have upon gazing at such a mysterious sight under such circumstances, and we would further think that his Satanic Majesty and his imps had called for us. Mr. Penkun, who is employed by the Singer Company, knows how it is himself, having just passed through exactly such an experience."

Awakened during the night by a light shining through his bedroom window, Penkun saw in the street outside his home, "an old dilapidated hack, attached to which was a team of gray horses, [and] there stood four or five men closely muffled up, erect, silent and immovable as statues, with the exception of one man, who was handling a dark lantern, the light of which he was throwing in different directions, . . . . Once, while Mr. Penkun was watching, he flashed the light into their bedroom, squarely into the face of Mrs. Penkun, who was sitting up in bed, half frightened to death, with a shawl thrown over her. It was at this point that the man intended to shut off the light, and in so doing he turned it upon himself. It showed him to be dressed from the neck to his feet in a suit of blood-red clothes. . . .

"Mr. Penkun is unable to account for the mysterious affair, and so are all his friends to whom he has since related the circumstances." The Bee speculated that the men might be bank robbers or kidnappers but admitted that this was a "mere guess." The paper conceded that even the red clothing might be logically explained: "The man probably wore a coat lined with red flannel, and had turned it inside out and Mr. Penkun, in the excitement of the moment, may have thought that he had on a full suit of this color."

Whatever the explanation for this midnight occurrence, the Bee devoted a column and a half to the strange "Man in Red" and his party of imps - who may have been nothing more than lost travelers looking for an address.


Edward Rosewater, longtime editor of the Omaha Bee.
NSHS RG2411-4772

(May 2009)



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