By Nancy Hilber,  Guest Contributor 

Oh my poor Rose Bray they have murdered you today

And again on earth we’ll meet no more.

They have taken her to Maine, buried her on her brother’s claim

Where she rests, free from care and woe.

* * * * * * * *

Performer and storyteller Garrison Keillor with Father Jeff Ethen, St. Leonard’s church in Pelican Rapids and St. Elizabeth’s, after Keillor’s Feb. 23 performance in Fergus Falls. Father Jeff collaborated with Garrison when Keillor’s popular radio show, “Prairie Home Companion” was performed and aired in Henning, when Father Jeff was pastor at Parkers Prairie and Urbank.

Well it had been a quiet day in Fergus Falls as our little party of 5 descended on A Center for the Arts in Fergus Falls. 

Joe and I had last laid eyes on (and met) Garrison Keillor a couple of years ago in Duluth. Much water had gone under the bridge since then (no pun intended.)

 There had been accusations and allegations and a sudden and final departure from Minnesota Public Radio for Keillor. The name Prairie Home Companion disappeared from the air waves and so did Garrison. Now here he was in Fergus Falls with two alums from Prairie Home Companion in a show called, appropriately enough, “Old Friends.” 

He played to a sold out house and the wildly enthusiastic audience made it clear that we weren’t the only ones who had missed his down home sense of humor, his unique sonorous vocal delivery, and his love for singing all the old songs, and then singing more. And when he announced that it had been a quiet day in Lake Wobegon, the whistles and cheers from the crowd were deafening.

With us were our son and daughter in law, Dave and Natalie, who were experiencing their first time with this type of show. Also with us was St. Leonard pastor Fr. Jeff Ethen, who had more of a history with Keillor. 

Back years ago, when Fr. Jeff was pastor at Parkers Prairie and Urbank, a friend asked Keillor to do a show in Henning, a fundraiser for the Otter Tail County Historical Society. The price for doing this was a hand knitted pair of Keillor’s trademark red socks. The show was entitled “Otter Tales and Otter Places.” 

All writers, musicians and actors were from Otter Tail County and all sketches featured stories both past and present from and about the county. Preparation for the show took a good year . Many writers submitted sketches, with seventeen finally chosen from around one hundred fifty. Three of those were written by Fr. Jeff.

The sketch presented by Fr. Jeff himself involved the sad story and fate of a hapless 21 year old named Adelbert Goheen – seriously – who was jailed and then hanged for the murder of a woman of murky repute named Rosa Bray. When he was in jail he wrote the poetry quoted at the end of this article, which had several verses, all bad. He maintained his innocence right up to the hanging. It was not unusual for hangings to be botched and Goheen, who should have had a quick and easy end, instead dangled for twenty five minutes as he strangled to death. His innocence was proved years later when his brother made a deathbed confession identifying himself as the killer. This sketch intrigued Keillor who asked Fr. Jeff at the end why he thought it was that Goheen’s lawyers couldn’t save him. Needing a quick answer NOW, Fr. Jeff said “they were from Henning!” This of course brought down the house.

So we waited around after the show and eventually the Great Man Himself appeared. He seemed much more relaxed than I remembered him from Duluth two + years ago and looked good in his suit, red tie and red socks. He remembered the Henning show and had a nice conversation with Father Jeff and was happy to have his picture taken with him. As you can see from the picture he is pretty darn tall.

For anyone interested in further details of the Goheen story it is available at the Ottertail County Historical Society, and if you haven’t been there and seen the museum you really should go; it’s an incredible place. 

In the meantime I will end with his last written words:

* * * * * * * *

Oh my poor Rose Bray they have murdered you today

and again on earth we’ll meet no more.

They have taken her to Maine, buried her on her brother’s claim Where she rests, free from cause and woe.

And as she sleeps beneath the sod her murderer goes free Probably haunted by his bloody act

And suspected not by weak humanity.

An innocent man is doomed to suffer for this villain’s bloody work Oh God, how long will it be, I wonder

Before the truth comes out?

Until the assassin who fired the bullet that sent her to her untimely grave Confesses of his awful guilt

And the doomed one – the lost- is saved.

And that’s it from Otter mTail County, where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and thee children are way above average.