Fortune and the Fate of the Twin Cities

In an old house in St. Paul all covered with snow lived twelve little girls in two straight rows…

In April, 1936, Fortune magazine hired Austria-Hungary-born American writer and illustrator, Ludwig Bemelmans for an exhaustive article profiling the rather bleak fortunes of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I can almost hear our local boosters howling across the years. Fortune painted thoroughly unflattering, gloomy picture of the metropolis at the center of the most radical state in the U.S., Minnesota. Here are some highlights!

Climate: Tough on strangers. Summers are burning hot, winters stinging cold. Last summer the temperature hit 104°, last winter it dropped to -33.5° below zero. Psychologist have observed that such extremes make for emotional instability.

What to remember: the Twin Cities hate each other”

In May 1934, during a truck drivers, strike in Minneapolis, bigwigs of the labor-hating Citizens Alliance organized some 800 businessman and socialites and had them sworn in as special deputies. On May 22 a band of them marched into the wholesale market district to see what non-union trucks kept running. There they met a force of strikers and strike sympathizers gathered to see that the trucks did not run. When the riot was over one of the special deputy’s lay dead another dying.

Homes of all great men remind us… Some men’s homes outlast her time. Below at the head of Summit Avenue stand the monuments of great men of Saint Paul. On the left the Cathedral built by the late great Archbishop Ireland reminds us also that St. Paul is one of the great catholic cities of the US (nearly 80,000 Catholics outnumbering the Lutherans next largest domination by over 50,00000) The Archbishop built a great diocese with Jim Hill’s money.

There are a few external signs the Minneapolis realizes it is overgrown. On the surface it is still lusty and confident. Its streets are broad clean and crowded, its stores are filled, its hotel lobbies noisy. It calls its it’s business district “the Loop” and its Nicollet Avenue the “Fifth Avenue of the Northwest”. Downtown a few big businesses buildings stand out: the Rand Tower, the Northwestern Bank Building the Telephone building and above all the Foshay Tower with Foshay ineradicably embedded in its outer walls on all four sides. (First sour note: Mr. Foshay is in Leavenworth.) Smoke hangs heavy over the city and on both banks of the river, the grain elevators tower over the flour mills.

Miss Antoinnette Fischer Fawcett born at 39 years ago in Beaufort, South Carolina where her mother runs a general store. Married to Captain Billy (Whiz Bang) Fawcett she moved with him to Minneapolis and helped him edit his magazines and smart sheets. After he divorced her, she became a publisher in her own right and now owns a rowdy something called Calgary Eye Opener. Her room in the Radisson hotel was in its way something of a salon. There one might meet politicians, lawyers, businessman, newspaperman, labor leaders gangsters, but never George Draper Dayton. She introduced Walter Liggett to the man who was acquitted of murdering him just trying to do Liggett a favor. Her famed henna hair fading a little, she still loves to know people and always does her best. Men like her; women do not.

Saint Paul is cramped hilly and stagnant. Its streets are narrow and it’s buildings small with the conspicuous exceptions of its $4,000,000 modern City Hall (in which is a revolving statue of an Indian in Mexican onyx) and the tall First National Bank building crowned by a red neon sign.It’s slums are among the worst in the land. There are a few parks. The river which ones gave it being means nothing in its life anymore.

Saint Paul seems as old as Boston except for the architecture Summit Avenue might pass for the Beacon Hill. The insides of the houses are the same.Society is quiet, exclusive, dignified. It compares itself with Boston and the south and is still trying to understand why Mrs. Louis W. Hill entertained Queen Marie of Rumania at dinner with gold service in one room and silver in another. The queen leaving, thanked her for a “delightful, informal evening.”Business too is exclusive. Few new industries go to St. Paul.; an old one fails now and then. Politics are machine made and crime is profitable.

The article continues on is the same vein for several unillustrated pages. It really is amazing how much the authors got right and wrong about the so called Twin Cities. These Fortune magazine is a shadow of what it once was and the Twin Cities are thriving. Times change, fortunes flip and here we are looking back and wondering about it. How about a nice Chesterfield with your sweetie by the fire?

The End