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THE AMAZING CAREER OF DOC AMES

Albert Alonzo Ames was born in 1842 in Illinois, and moved to Minnesota Territory when he was ten years old. His father, A.E. Ames, was a respected doctor, and young Ames pursued his father's career. He received his degree in medicine in 1862, and enlisted in the Union Army. He served 3 years as surgeon in the 7th Minnesota Infantry.

When the war ended, Ames set up a practice. The next year he found his other calling, when he was recruited to run for the Legislature. He served one term. In 1875 Ames ran for 9th alderman on the Republican ticket and won. The next year he won his first term as Mayor of Minneapolis, also as a Republican. Defeated for re-election, he won another term as mayor by running as a Democrat in 1882. He lost to George Pillsbury in 1884, then beat Pillsbury in 1886. Ames nearly won the governorship as an Independent the same year, failed to win a seat on the Park Board as a Democrat in 1888 and lost again in a race for Congress against W.D. Washburn. Ames declared himself a Populist in 1898, but since that party nominated another man, he offered himself as an Independent and lost. In the 1900 race for mayor, he professed to have never wavered from his early Republican principles. Ames won a 4th term that year as a Republican.

He opened his 4th term as mayor with a reorganisation of the police force. He retired over half of the city's policeman, and put his brother in charge. The papers reported that horse dealers and bartenders were being screened for detective. Soon rumors of ill-doing began to spread around town. Before long the unusual goings-on in the police department attracted the attention of the grand jury.

While the grand jury investigated him, Ames reputation for corruption spread across the country. Thorstein Veblen wrote an article on Ames that was included in his book, The Shame of the Cities.

Ames was indicted for bribery on June 23, 1902. He pleaded not guilty, and a trial was set for June 30. In August he wrote the City Council from the gambling haven of West Baden, Indiana. Financial matters had called him away from City Hall, he said. He would be unable to devote his attention to the city's affairs, and so he tendered his resignation. The Minneapolis Journal reported that Ames had been hired by a new hotel in the town as its surgeon-in-chief. The Council ignored the letter, and a deputy sheriff took off in pursuit of the fugitive Mayor of Minneapolis.

The deputy and a reporter arrived in West Baden. Ames had left town. They followed his trail to Louisville, Kentucky. When they reached Louisville, Ames moved on. After many weeks a reporter from the Journal found Ames in Hancock, NH. The formerly debonair Ames looked sick and confused, and wanted to return to Minneapolis. Sheriff Dreger arrived in Hancock to bring Ames back to justice; he arrested the mayor at the home of Mrs. Ames's brother. The sheriff agreed with the Journal reporter that Ames was a physical and mental wreck. The party arrived back in Minneapolis on March 17. A huge crowd waited at the railway station.

Indictments against Ames numbered 7, including 5 counts of receiving bribes, 1 count of conspiracy and 1 count of extortion. Among his alleged crimes, Ames was charged with accepting $1000 from John C. Sodini, who owned the Columbia Theater on Washington Avenue. In exchange for his bribe, Sodini was to have enjoyed freedom from scrutiny from City inspectors. Sodini intended the bribe to protect 3 establishments: the Park Theater (Peter Blair, owner), the Standard Theater (Wm. Brown, owner) and Sodini's own. However, after the bribe was paid, City inspectors closed the theaters owned by Brown and Blair.

In the event, the peripatetic Ames was tried for taking $600 from prostitutes, in exchange for protecting them from enforcement of the laws against their profession.

His trial began on April 27, and on May 8 the jury returned a verdict of Guilty. Ames was sentenced to 6 years at hard labor. Newspapers around the nation agreed that Ames's conviction set a fine precedent. On May 16, the former mayor was sentenced to 6 years at hard labor in Stillwater State Prison.

On appeal, Ames was granted a second trial that lasted from May 3 to 14, 1904. The jury reached no verdict this time. A third trial in October, and a fourth, also resulted in hung juries, and after a 5th trial, the former mayor went free. He died on Nov. 16, 1911, at his home at 3104 James South.

— Neal Baxter

Highwood Press — Minneapolis, MN — (612) 872-9156

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