The Sad Death of Selfie

The St. Paul (MN) Appeal, August 8, 1891
The St. Paul (MN) Appeal, August 8, 1891

With this history post I stray for a moment from stuff that happened (or was reported, at least) “100 years ago today.”

Sometimes I search the Library of Congress’s archived historic newspapers for current buzzwords. This morning, with no expectation of finding an accurate result, I searched “selfie“–one of the most irritating, ubiquitous terms related to internet-based phenomena pretty much ever.

Look, I’ll even use the word because it’s in common use and can sometimes be useful shorthand (I accidentally wrote “sharthand” and almost left it). The moment newscasters and media personalities began using, making and talking about selfies (self-portraits usually made with smart phones, but you didn’t really need me to tell you that) the word became exquisitely irritating. In its current form “selfie” is a buzzword worthy of a terrible and brutal demise. I used to think if the word “selfie” was a person, I would want to punch him or her repeatedly. (/rant).

Anyway, damned if this morning’s search didn’t turn up a result. The poem in the screengrab above is about the death of a “Selfie.”

Selfie was a person. Selfie Harris, who died very young in August, in the year of our Lord, 1891. From the St. Paul, MN Appeal, published August 8, 1891:

On Saturday, July 25th, while Selfie Harris, a lad of 16 years, was out bathing with several companions, he got too far out into the current and was drowned. Selfie was a bright boy and in him had his parents centered high hopes for his future; but death would not spare him; but with his unerring sythe (sic) cut this bud just before it burst into a lovely flower. Mr. Harris is proprietor of the Hevalow Cottage and now the usually pleasureful Cottage is enrapt in a fog of sorrow.

The poem at the beginning of the post followed the brief article. Online historical records of this Harris family are few, if any, after this notice.

A search for “Selfie” as a first name on, however, yielded 32 results in censuses taken between 1910 and 1940. Many are actually names like “Sophie,” difficult to read because the census was handwritten, but a few people were clearly named “Selfie,” after all. There was Selfie W. Carpenter in the 1910 Census, wife to A.M. Carpenter of Anderson, SC. In the 1940 Census for Phillips County, Arkansas, I found one Selfie Matthew Moore, married to Alice. And on June 5, 1917, a man named Selfie Summers registered for the draft in Independence, Kansas.

All of which is to say–before it become such an irritating term, moment, movement–whatever–“Selfie” was a legitimate proper name. Not all that archaic, either–I found an obituary for pastor Selfie Borom, who passed away in October, 2011.

Young Selfie Harris’s death in 1891 was a tragedy. So was Pastor Borom’s. I wouldn’t want to punch anyone with that name.

No, my research on the word has led to a new cause: wanting to punch people in the media droning on about the term “selfie,” how it’s a trend, about what it says about Who We Are Now.

I don’t want to do it for me. I want to do it for all the real Selfies, the people who bore that name, who have gone before.