Doc Bozeman tried to concentrate on that bullet—black and glistening with blood—and not on the fact that it was lodged in John Dillinger’s shoulder. Muscle and tissue gripped it like the gangster didn’t want to give it up, and Bozeman maneuvered to get a grip with his forceps.
Dorothy Day and I go way back.
Granted, I never met her, but I can’t help but feel a connection after volunteering every third Saturday for the past twenty years at the Dorothy Day Center in downtown Saint Paul.
Billy Peterson has left his impression on Saint Paul baseball for more than five decades.
The “sizzling sixties” stands out as one of the most dramatic seachanging decades in the annals of American political and social history.
Pig’s Eye Island owes its name to a nineteenth-century trader, Pig’s Eye Parrant, who sold liquor and guns along the Mississippi’s watery highway.
My name is Debbie Gilbreath Montgomery.
I grew up at 978 Saint Anthony, which
is on the corner of Saint Anthony and
I grew up in the Dale-Selby neighborhood of Saint Paul. To be more
exact, we lived in the upstairs of a duplex just off the corner of Dayton
and St. Albans, one block from Dale and one block from Selby.
Driving back from the reservation, I cross a small bridge into Saint Paul. I feel the troubled waters. I think of my grandfather’s people,the Dakota. I think of how they lived by the water, how they made fire by the water.
For the past few summers, I have led geology tours around the Twin Cities for community education courses. The tours usually involve features such as caves, springs, and waterfalls.
On Saturdays when I was a kid, my friends and I took the streetcar—later the bus—to downtown Saint Paul. Sometimes we went to the library, where the wise librarians knew how to help active boys find books that would hold their interest and keep them coming back for more.
We were moving to Saint Paul after a year in Ireland, all ten of us packed into a tiny Fiat station wagon for the drive from New York to a big house on an even bigger hill set on Osceola Avenue.
It was a little before seven on the morning of June 1, 1966, when I entered the stately building at 55 East Fourth Street and hurried up the stairs.
One day in June 2011, my wife, Mary Beth Faimon, and I took a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River from Harriet Island in Saint Paul. On the cruise, I saw, for the first time, Imniza Ska, the white cliffs that line the Mississippi River.
As the Black poet J. Saunders Redding said: The relationship between a people and their history is the same as the relationship between a child and its mother; history not only tells a people where they are and what they are—history also informs us what we still must be and what we still must do.
The Irish Fair’s site along the pewter-gray, spreading Mississippi beneath downtown Saint Paul on the ample greensward of Harriet Island is majestic and invites celebration. The bustling and music-crammed Irish Fair with its snowy canvas tents, its black-tinted signposts, and plentiful green turf offers an Ireland of the mind to its visitors.
It will leave nothing. Nothing. The future comes, ripping the asphalt up—black, jagged slabs.
Dylan, Spider John, and the Purple Onion by Bob Scroggins I got to know Saint Paul and I got to know Bob Dylan because I got to know Bill Danielson. Bill owned the Pink Pizza Shack at Hiawatha and Lake in Minneapolis. In 1957 it was a hangout for me and my friends....
In 1952 I became an O.L.P. girl by default. On the day I was to get measured for my Derham Hall uniform, Mother and Dad told me that I couldn’t go there after all and they immediately took me, in tears, down to Our Lady of Peace High School to register. It was a financial decision. Grudgingly, I joined the 190 girls who made up the second graduating class at O.L.P., which quickly had been dubbed the “Old Ladies Prison” by the boys at Cretin.
Dorothy Day and I go way back. Granted, I never met her, but I can’t help but feel a connection after volunteering every third Saturday for the past twenty years at the Dorothy Day Center in downtown Saint Paul. I first went there on a lark, something to try once because I had just moved to the Twin Cities and wanted to meet new people. I never got around to stopping.
During an 1883 visit to Saint Paul, the great Mark Twain observed: “How solemn and beautiful is the thought, that the earliest pioneer of civilization, the van-leader of civilization, is never the steamboat, never the railroad, never the newspaper, never the Sabbath-school, never the missionary—but always whiskey! Such is the case.”
Harriet E. Bishop is a name familiar to anyone interested in the history of Saint Paul. Born in Vermont, Bishop came to Minnesota in 1847 and here achieved many firsts—Saint Paul’s first teacher, founder of the first Sunday school in Minnesota, first leader of the women’s suffrage movement, and a driving force behind several social movements. She was well known in the city’s literary circles and wrote about Minnesota and Saint Paul, though her writings often include language that today would be considered racist, revealing attitudes toward Native Americans common to the era but whose effects are still felt to this day.
Booker Taliaferro Washington, born in approximately 1856, was enslaved in Virginia on a plantation. The young Booker yearned to learn to read and to serve. After slavery was abolished, Washington went to school and became an educator. In 1881, as the principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, he transformed the campus from a rundown building to an educational institution offering thirty-eight trades. His first book, Up From Slavery, tells his story and is highly acknowledged today. Washington also authored thirteen other books.
Growing up as young Black men in Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, we learned a lot from the generation of Black men who preceded us. We, like they before us, were simply known as “the Rondo boys.” Rondo was where we learned to survive, to grow and develop—it was where we learned the value of our extended family membership, where we fell in love and got our hearts broken. It was also where we learned what’s in a name.
Did you know that in early 1934 there was a small potato chip manufacturing plant in Saint Paul? My family owned and ran it. I was about four or five years old at the time. We lived at 1276 North Snelling Avenue, across from the main gate of the fairgrounds.
To me, the rusty fifty-gallon steel barrel near the alley in the northeastern corner of our back yard had been there forever. It was where the wrapped-in-newspaper food scraps and other assorted discards were deposited. When I got tall enough to reach over the top, I was allowed to carry the matches and light the scary fire that daily burned the ragtag contents. Once the barrel got about half-full of ashes, Dad took it to the dump to empty it, and I got to go with him…
I took my first breath in St. John’s Hospital at Seventh and Maria. That makes me a native Saint Paulite, even though I grew up in the suburbs. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, many suburban parents-to-be chose Saint Paul hospitals to welcome their babies into the world. As a suburban child, it was a big deal to go shopping at the downtown department stores, and each trip we took, my mom never failed to point out St. John’s at the top of the bluff. “That’s where you two were born,” Mom would remind my brother and me. Anytime my brother and I were fighting in the backseat, Mom would remind us that we’d all wind up back at St. John’s if she crashed the car because we had distracted her.
I remember Rondo . . . the streets were cobbled stone.
I remember Rondo . . . 450 was our home.
I remember Rondo—the intersection Arundel Hill,
On one corner the cab station; across the street,
Joe’s Grocery Store . . .
I remember Rondo, and we never locked our door.
I remember Rondo—smiling faces still in my mind
I never saw the Schmidt Brewery that Patricia Hampl presents here, alive with its reverie-enhancing, rhythmic, red neon sign. But the first time I discovered the hulk of the brewery’s abandoned buildings sprawled out along West Seventh Street in the fall of 2004, I recognized immediately what I was looking at; its vacant structures flooded me with the memory of reading about that flashing sign in Hampl’s acclaimed 1981 memoir, A Romantic Education. Soon the Schmidt site will take on a different look as “developers” trick it out to new purposes—a welcome change.
I wanted a class photo, your name on a staff list.
From old city directories I have pieced together
a list of the schools where you taught—
Cleveland, Lafayette, Edison, Ericsson, Drew—
not a one of them standing in the next century.
Old photos at the History Center show their stern facades.
And what of the faces looking at you every morning?
Private Ivy Hagan and Josephine Hicks Hagan became the twenty-something ensemble known as “Aunt Jo and Uncle Ivy.” They mentored children of all ages and needs throughout Saint Paul between 1933 and 1994. They were gifted storytellers, speaking in parables of their African American memories between Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Saint Paul, Minnesota. I listened, observed, and learned.
I have been a public employee for nearly a quarter century, in several local and state agencies, doing important yet mundane work that the public never sees. In cynical moments, I have often wondered if anything I do has enduring significance. Then in the autumn of 2009 my wife and I attended a special “open house” at the Minnesota History Center.
Driving through the intersection of Dale Street and Minnehaha Avenue, in the Frogtown district, you couldn’t help being impressed by the massive yellow-ochre brick building with the exceptionally tall glass block windows.
There’s no time in traffic on 35E to honor
a place such as this—my old neighborhood in ruins. In one second my car wheels cover what was once
my brothers’ bedroom with the nursery rhyme floor.
Among our family stories is one with a lesson: Don’t try swimming with the sharks.
Laurence “Larry Ho” Hodgson (1874–1937) was a unique combination of poet and politician, a prolific writer who produced thousands of poetic and prose works.
My dad James Melvin Young Sr. became a second generation “Red Cap Porter” when his uncle William A. Young retired circa 1949. Melvin was 23 years old when the Saint Paul Union Depot at 214 Fourth Street in Lowertown was the gateway to the world. Working there was the spark that ignited a love for world travel for my dad. There were approximately thirty-six Red Cap Porters employed at the Depot, all African American. Their red caps became synonymous with integrity and reliability. Their work was demanding.
During the Civil Rights movement, most youth felt that the leadership of their community was inadequate and didn’t speak to their concerns, and therefore they would “take matters into their own hands.” Little did they realize that their methods and tactics were causing more problems than they were solving, that they had the effect of polarizing the community; as a result, there were constant disputes and conflicts, stemming from those who thought they knew the most about what to do, how to do it, and who would do what about the problems that were plaguing the community.
When I was growing up near Mounds Park during the fifties and sixties, fresh milk was delivered to our stoop like clockwork; however, no one came to haul away the refuse. A big, rusty metal drum in our back yard received the trash instead. When it got full, my father lit it on fire. Items you couldn’t burn—bottles, cans, old plastic toys—were driven to the Pig’s Eye Island City Dump. My brother almost always got to go with Dad to the dump, a fact that he lorded over his little sisters. But sometimes we got to go too.
Max Shulman (1919–1988) grew up in a Jewish community in Saint Paul’s Selby-Dale neighborhood. After graduating from Central High School, he earned a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota. His writings were invariably humorous and were published in novels and magazines. He eventually became a successful writer for theater and television. His novel Potatoes are Cheaper was a portrayal of life in the city in the late 1930s. Extract from Max Shulman, Potatoes Are Cheaper (Doubleday and Company, 1971): 1–4, 23.
Patrick Coleman writes: “LeSueur was perhaps Minnesota’s most famous proletarian writer, so it is not surprising that she wrote about the humble people of Saint Paul’s Swede Hollow. The following selection was written during Prohibition, ushered in by passage of the Volstead Act in 1919.” Extract from Meridel LeSueur, “Beer Town,” Life in the United States: A Collection of Narratives of Contemporary American Life from First-Hand Experience or Observation (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933); pages 31–33, 40.
I’ve lived in Dayton’s Bluff just a few blocks from the Mounds Theatre all my life, but not for the whole life of the Mounds Theatre. It was built in 1922, and I was born twenty-nine years later. The Mounds started out as a silent movie house. It was billed as “The Pride of Dayton’s Bluff.” It had a small stage for vaudeville acts. Local musicians played in an orchestra pit. The first “talkie” was shown at the Mounds in late March 1929—on what would eventually become my birthday. The movie was My Man, starring Fannie Brice. The Mounds was remodeled in the 1930s, receiving air conditioning, an exterior ticket booth, and a fancy marquee.
It is difficult to choose from Bill Hoffman’s writings because they are all so compelling. Street by street and door by door and character by character he documented an important piece of Saint Paul—Jewish life on the West Side flats—that no longer exists. Hoffman should be required reading for recent immigrants and for those who have forgotten that their families were once immigrants.
Gordon Parks was an acclaimed artist who confronted poverty and racism with such creative grace that he became an internationally admired cultural icon long before his death in 2006 at age ninety-three. An accomplished photographer, writer, composer, musician, and film producer and director, Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912, and later moved to Saint Paul, where he spent his formative years. His memoir, A Choice of Weapons, which describes his experiences from 1928 through 1944, was first published in 1966 and reissued in 1986 and 2010 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, I was three years old. Two years later, my silver-haired father, Verne Cummings, was drafted into the Army. He was thirty-five and the father of two. After basic training, Dad was assigned to Special Troops, Headquarters Company, 8th Infantry Division, and spent the next two years in Europe. Dad always said he was assigned to Special Troops because he knew how to run a movie projector. Even though he had never finished high school, Dad was quickly promoted. After the German surrender, Sergeant Cummings led his squad to liberate one of the concentration camps.
The year was 1933: FDR had just succeeded Herbert Hoover in the White House, the first episode of The Lone Ranger aired on the radio, Fay Wray co-starred with a giant mechanical gorilla in King Kong, and the chocolate chip cookie had just been invented. The young boy hurried alone through the freezing darkness on his way to Assumption, the old German church on West Seventh Street, where he served daily Mass. It was still very early, barely five o’clock.
In the drama of my family, the Uptown Theatre played a lead role. Sitting in the middle of the block at 1053 Grand Avenue, the theater began as the Oxford in 1921. In 1929, the Uptown was reborn as an “atmospheric theatre” with an Italian motif, stucco walls, faux balconies, stars and clouds on the ceiling, and a brightly lit marquee. In the 1950s, it was again remodeled in mid-century modern style. In 1976, the Uptown turned its lights out for the last time, to make way for a parking lot.
I have lived in Saint Paul most of my life, and I’d say my favorite place in Saint Paul is the St. Anthony Park Public Library. With its many shelves and millions of stories, each one unique, each one special in its own way, there is no place like it in the world. I love going to the library after school for hours on end, looking at the books. The St. Anthony Park Library is unique because of its architecture. The original library, now the adult-teen section, was part of a Carnegie Library built in 1917. It has been updated, and a children’s section, built in the shape of a large dome, was attached to the old building.
Follow the sounds of childhood laughter up and over the snowbanks and into Margaret Playground on the East Side. It is 1937, and as you near the hockey rink, you can see a small mob of adolescent boys and girls huddled together or sliding on the ice. They are joining the hockey goals into a small cage. Inside, giggling along with the others, are my grandmother and grandfather.
I was fascinated by everything about the mission—I tutored boys there in the 1970s—and I fell in love with that sign. I saw the north side of it whenever I drove into town from my home in Roseville. When I learned in 1981 that the mission had found a new home and the building at Seventh and Wacouta was to be razed, I called the salvage company and asked if I could have the sign. The owner said, “Okay, if you move it.”
Vladimir from the Ukraine had a big heart and would help the girls from the dish room take the garbage out. Eleanor, who worked until she was eighty-five years old, was the baker and backup kitchen supervisor who would treat everyone on the tray line to a dinner roll, dessert bar, or piece of cake. Sandy from Liberia was the comic relief in the kitchen.
Tennessee Williams. Arthur Miller. August Wilson. When you list the playwrights of American theater whose work transcends all others, those three names stand at the top. Much of Wilson’s defining ten-play saga of African American life in the twentieth century, a massive undertaking with a play for every decade, was written right here in Saint Paul. That includes the first to hit Broadway (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and the Pulitzer Prize winners Fences and The Piano Lesson.
Here is a picture signed in 1974 from the very first case I ever worked on. I had just pulled off my blond wig when Sgt. Paul Paulos pointed his camera at me, so I put the wig back on crooked, because I really didn’t think he’d take the photo.
In 1975, a team of blind baseball players in Saint Paul competed against a team from Arizona in the first World Series. Our Minnesota team was called The Saint Paul Gorillas, and they won the game 15–10. Rules of the game changed from year to year, but the game had beeping “kitten balls” and buzzing bases, as it does today.
Groundbreaking urban historian Richard Wade always told his students, me included, that the true feel of cities was more likely to be found in literature than in scholarly works. That holds true for this metropolis and can be demonstrated through the works of three Jewish writers who grew up in Saint Paul. They had somewhat similar early experiences, but told their stories in different manners—humorous, serious, and nostalgic—and eventually traveled different paths. One thing the trio has in common, however, is the fact that they are still well worth reading.
In the early 1940s, we lived on the East Side of Saint Paul near Hazelwood and Seventh streets, where streetcars stopped almost in front of our house. One of my earliest memories is of waiting for the streetcar to bring my grandfather and aunts home from their downtown jobs at the central post office and The Emporium and Schuneman’s, two of the large department stores.
Gilbert did believe in the symbolic Pope Tiffany as well as the flesh-and-blood Tiffany; his artistic aims mirrored those of Tiffany and the leading artists of the day, and he never gave up the faith.
Memories often take on a life of their own and go where they will. This one leads me down memory lane to helping my grandfather, Floyd W. Anger, mayor of Lilydale from 1959 to 1970, move his essentials to higher ground every year that Lilydale’s lowlands flooded where Water Street becomes Lilydale Road.
Anyone who knows the history of Neighborhood House on Saint Paul’s West Side probably knows the name Constance Currie. Born March 18, 1890, in Saskatchewan, Canada, to a family with a long history of social service, she began her career at Unity House in Minneapolis. But it is her many years as director of Neighborhood House (1918-1957) that best mark her legacy.
In the fall after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, hundreds of Dakota women and children were force-marched for seven days to Fort Snelling from their reservation in western Minnesota. That winter, over fifteen hundred Dakota were detained on Pike Island below the fort. Under military patrol and with only thin blankets, the prisoners watched this wooded island fill with snow.
I recently learned that the Saint Paul Hotel will celebrate its one hundredth anniversary in 2010. I wanted to make sure its role in our city’s history was acknowledged in some manner. Perhaps my own personal reflections as a former employee and later a guest can contribute.
If you were to stand here today, on an equally mild summer morning, as the maker of this 1925 photograph did, Union Depot would not look much different. It would be, of course: time changes not only the physical lives of buildings but their meaning and function.
The Selby-Dale Freedom Brigade, which emerged out of this melange of ideologies, objected to using Kittson’s name for the park on the grounds that this nineteenth-and early twentieth-century entrepreneur was not a fit man to memorialize. Not only had he had at least two and as many as four Native American “wives” before marrying European Mary Kittson, he sold liquor to the Indians and bought their fur pelts for a pittance and sold them for exorbitant amounts. One brigade member said Kittson “personifies the destructive, imperialistic aspect of American history,” and he urged that parks and public buildings be named “for people who have contributed to the struggles faced by those exploited.”
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