‘I Am King of the Streets Because I Am Only a Pedestrian’

Feb. 6, 1916 Minneapolis Sunday Tribune


“I am king of the streets because I am only a pedestrian.” That was the philosophy of a self-described lowly municipal employee during his 15 minutes of fame in an article on an inside page of the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune in 1916.

Horace E. Johnson sauntered city streets as he wished, the newspaper reported, and did so right into the age of the automobile, claiming “the right of way over everything else but other American citizens afoot.”

Johnson seems to have arrived in Minneapolis from Maine in 1876 and worked for the city for decades. He was in his later 50s when the article was published on February 6, 1916, and died some 12 years later of natural causes — not as a result of his habits in traffic.

Here is the text of the article in which Horace E. Johnson proclaimed his “King Pedestrian” manifesto. And uh … don’t try this at home.


King Pedestrian has Right of Streets, Says City Official

Assistant City Comptroller Shakes Off Friend Who Attempts to Save Him From Automobile

Horace E. Johnson, assistant city comptroller, was crossing Nicollet avenue at Fourth street.

“Look out there, Horace,” exclaimed a friend who, as he uttered the words, gripped Mr. Johnson by the arm and dragged him half way across the street.

“What are you trying to do to me?” demanded Mr. Johnson, as he squirmed away from the grip of his friend.

“I dragged you out of the way of that automobile,” returned the friend.

“You look out for yourself and permit me to attend to my own welfare,” demanded Mr. Johnson.

“Why, man, I saved your life and now you start in to abuse me,” declared the friend. “If it hadn’t been for me that automobile would have –.”

But he never got any farther.

“My well meaning friend,” said Mr. Johnson, “that automobile would not have done what you think it would at all. You think it would have run me down and ground me to pieces under its wheels and that the driver would have given three rousing cheers and gone sailing on. You are wrong.

“On the contrary if you had not gripped me by the arm and dragged me through the street in unseemly and undignified manner the driver of that automobile would have applied the brakes, brought his car down to low speed or to a halt and permitted me to pass in safety.

“I want you to know that for forty years, I, Horace E. Johnson, lowly municipal employee, have been king of the streets of Minneapolis, and during those forty years no vehicle has so much as scratched my hide.

“I am king of the streets because I am only a pedestrian. I own no automobile. I am an American citizen afoot and as such have the right of way over everything else but other American citizens afoot. They are my equals in rights. We know no superiors.”

Thereupon Mr. Johnson proceeded to declare that his safety first system, which has stood by him these forty years, has been to take no safeguards at all, to look neither to the right nor to the left, to proceed as the whim might move him.

“It is these people who always are dodging automobiles who are getting hit,” declared Mr. Johnson. “When they start to cross the street they look to the right and to the left, behind and in front and then, if things look safe, they make the venture.

“Then there bobs up an automobile from nowhere at all and they go dancing all over the street to avoid it. Result is a call for the ambulance.

“In all my forty years on Minneapolis streets I have relied absolutely on my rights as King Pedestrian. I walk right in front of automobiles. Do they hit me? They have not as yet, but sometimes I hear the brakes going on hard and sudden like.

“I have passed safely through the days of the horse-drawn vehicle, through the days of the bicycle craze and through many years of the vogue of the automobile. I am still intact. I expect to remain so.

“I do not resent the automobile. It is a great institution but the chap who owns a machine must watch over my welfare. It is not up to me to dodge his old car.”


7 thoughts on “‘I Am King of the Streets Because I Am Only a Pedestrian’

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      YES. Or perhaps he needs a statue in the middle of the road at the Lyndale / Hennepin bottleneck?

  1. Jeff

    After reading this, I am tempted to dress up in period clothing and repeat some of these lines as a pedestrian afoot in Minneapolis. Great piece!

  2. Andrew Evans

    My goodness.

    We have rules now, and as well as people can follow those rules things can be safe. This man, was in more of a time with no rules and faster traffic, and didn’t really care to follow any of his own other than to endanger himself and other drivers. As long as pedestrians use crosswalks or otherwise be safe (looking and making sure they are seen) it’s fine for them to cross nearly anywhere. If the road is too busy to cut across where a pedestrian wants, there are usually crosswalks nearby that will allow them a safe space to walk. Likewise, since I don’t believe anyone driving a vehicle actually wants to hit a pedestrian, if vehicles and others using the road follow the traffic signals then there should be enough space to allow for pedestrians to cross streets safely.

    This fellow who wrote that article 100 years ago didn’t have all that, and either way it seems that they believed they were somehow above all of it anyway. They are no hero nor someone to be hailed and glorified.

    Note that he also mentions bicycles. I’m not sure of any bike rider who would enjoy pedestrians walking or running out from anywhere, or in that respect if we focus on not paying attention, any vehicle occupants who just open doors without looking for bikes. This man was one of those people, he seemed to only care about himself and what he wanted to do rather than those who shared the roads and sidewalks with him.

    1. Janne

      I wish this were the case, Andrew.

      Unfortunately, it’s not true that “people can follow those rules things can be safe.” Data show that crosswalks are the most dangerous place for people walking on our streets. All too often, people walking are killed and maimed while following the rules. And the idea that there are crosswalks nearby to allow safe crossing doesn’t miss only that crosswalks are remarkably unsafe, it misses that crosswalks are missing throughout Minneapolis, the Twin Cities, and Minnesota.

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