Marshfield, February 1915: A flock finds its shepherd
With help from his hometown friends, reverend J.G. Sibson escapes a dubious situation
By Kris Leonhardt
In February of 1915, Marshfield reverend J.G. Sibson awoke in the confines of a strange hospital. The respected pastor of the Marshfield Methodist Church had come to the Twin Cities months earlier to find help to ease his troubled mind.
Early in the winter, he had received word from England that his only surviving relative had been killed. His nephew had been an Oxford University student when he felt the call to serve, and after enlisting with the British Army, he was sent immediately to the front lines.
Notification of his nephew’s passing had come in the form of a torn and bloodied Army coat sent to Sibson by mail. The sight of the jacket had sent Sibson into an anguish that would consume his mind and distract him from his position at the church.
Upon the church elders’ request, Sibson agreed to treatment at the Asbury Hospital in Minneapolis. After a successful stay at Asbury, Sibson was eager to return to his Marshfield congregation.
Now he lay in a strange place, surrounded by familiar faces, with no idea of how he got there.
As the days passed, Sibson would learn of the troubling circumstances that had occurred in the previous two weeks.
As Sibson made his way from the Asbury Hospital to the depot to make his return to Marshfield, he slipped on the icy sidewalk and fell. The fall knocked him unconscious.
He was taken to a local institution, where he was drugged and held as a virtual prisoner. The staff, masquerading as qualified medical practitioners, kept Sibson comatose until enough of a bill had been accrued, after which the pastor made prompt restitution.
Now unheard from for two weeks, the Marshfield congregation alerted the church’s presiding elder, J.W. Irish, who then made contact with associates in the Twin Cities. Irish was told of a shifty doctor who was known for extorting money from the city’s helpless.
Located by “runners” who combed the streets for those left alone and needy, these “patients” were then kept under the influence of drugs until their funds had been siphoned and then allowed to reach out to family and friends.
As Sibson’s Marshfield friends arrived at the shady institution, all inquiries on the pastor’s whereabouts were denied. Not willing to give up on their loyal leader, the group called in a detective, and Sibson was located.
Sibson returned to the Asbury Hospital to continue his recovery. During his convalescence, Irish advised the Marshfield congregation to find another pastor. However, Sibson’s faithful followers held the pulpit open until their recovering shepherd could return.
Kris Leonhardt may be reached at email@example.com.