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TALES FROM 1897

Political morality had sunk pretty low in Minneapolis by the late 1890s. The City Treasurer was expected to speculate with the City's money (see Haugan). As for the City Council, Aldermen made headlines throughout 1896 and into 1897. The city was building a reservoir in Columbia Heights. A number of aldermen turned this project to advantage.

John Gilman, City Building Inspector and former 3rd Ward Alderman, was arrested on January 26, 1897, on a bribery charge. He was said to have taken money from one Hohn Engstrom, who wanted to ensure that a contract for work at the Minnesota Soldiers Home went to himself. Gilman served on the Board of Trustees of the Home.

Next day Albert Currier, 13th Ward Alderman, came under suspicion. In the 3-way race for 13th Ward Alderman in 1896, Currier may have offered candidate Ole Anderson a monetary incentive to drop out of the race (which Anderson did).

Frank Drew, 12th Ward Alderman, went on trial in March. Drew implicated Alderman O'Brien (2nd Ward) among his confederates. Interesting details about the work on the Reservoir came out in testimony. A foreman on the project, J.F. O'Neill, testified that, by his reckoning, at least half the workers on the site were superfluous. Everyone was paid handsomely; everyone owed his job to an alderman. Lars Rand (6th Ward) known as Five-Dollar Rand by the men, had hired most of the crew. Discipline was impossible, as the men appealed to Rand if told to work hard. In addition, outlandish sums were paid for supplies and useless equipment. An anonymous foreman testified that "I never did work in such a queer way".

In mid-March, petitions began to circulate, calling for Drew's impeachment. Meanwhile, his testimony in the trial of City Clerk Haney earned Drew another trial for perjury and larceny.

In May, Alderman Durnham went on trial. Witnesses revealed Durnham's claim that 15 of his colleagues on the Council were in on the Reservoir scam. Charles Roberts, of the firm Halvorson & Roberts, testified that Durnham told him: "We want $8000. Leave it with Haney. We have $24,000 there already." When Roberts allowed that the contract wouldn't repay the bribe, Durnham replied that he'd "make it up in extras". Roberts objected that the City Clerk had to OK all the bills. Durnham explained that Haney, too, was in the clique, and would get the can if he blew the whistle on his fellows.

Roberts' partner, Havor Halvorson took the stand. Halvorson testified that he met Alderman Nelson (11th Ward) on Nicollet Avenue. They walked into a saloon with Durnham, who said the contract for the Reservoir was worth $10,000. Halvorson: "We'll never make that much!" Durnham: "You'll get it back." Durnham pledged to get the contract for Halvorson & Roberts; in return, Halvorson promised to buy all his feed from Durnham's company (but only if Durnham's company undersold everyone else).

While Drew awaited trial for perjury, Alderman Charles Dickinson (12th Ward) was charged with 2 counts of grand larceny: embezzling $10,136 and $70,500. He allegedly took a bribe from one H.F. Brown for his vote on the City's printing contract. Brown sought the contract for his firm, Penny Press.

To summarize: 8 aldermen were suspected of, charged with or on trial for misdeeds, during the spring of 1897. How many spent time in prison? Keep looking for the answer on this website!

— Neal Baxter

  • MINNEAPOLIS JOURNAL Jan. 6 & 27, March 5-13, 18-20, April 22-28, May 3, 10-20, June 16-19, 1897

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

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