July 31, 2015 Lexington-Hamline, Downtown, Swede Hollow 17 miles
“History” is an interesting word. Sure, it refers to the past, but history ranges from a moment ago, to as far back as you want to go. I bumped into history nearly everywhere I went on this ride, beginning with a trip back to 1975. This Pontiac LeMans came off the assembly line 41 years ago. Today, both the model and manufacturer are extinct.
On Hague Avenue, I found this house doing a good impression of the ivy-covered outfield wall at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Regular readers know I have a crush on Painted Ladies. The three third floor windows of this beauty at 415 Laurel Avenue are especially attractive.
The scaffold and plastic sheeting surrounding the Minnesota State Capitol is part of a three-plus year, nearly $310 million renovation. The project has several major goals, according to the official Capitol restoration website, http://mn.gov/admin/capitol-restoration/about/. The first is to fix the exterior stone and marble, which is crumbling from years of exposure to the weather. Updates to old, inefficient electrical, plumbing and mechanicals and improving public spaces are other goals.
The main part of the Capitol, hidden behind material that keeps falling debris from injuring anyone, has taken on an air of mystery.
The buzz on Facebook and other social media, in the newspaper and on radio and television, about an archaeological dig at Swede Hollow, motivated me to see it for myself.
Two University of Minnesota archaeology students, Stefanie Kowalczyk and Kelly Wolf, conceived of the project for their master’s degree theses.
Stefanie explained their involvement. “Kelly and I are working on this project together and she is running the archeology side of the project and I am looking at the public side.
“Coordinating how to handle the public – just determining what they were going to be working with; how to explain things to them; when to invite them and then being able to accomplish some kind of actual archeology and find enough things to be able to say something concrete definitely required a lot of work, so it was good that there were two of us.”
“A lot of what we find is trash. It’s stuff they left behind. It’s been lost or broken and they don’t have a use for it anymore. They can’t change it into something else, so they leave it behind. We do that the same today.” Kelly Wolf on the artifacts usually found at archaeological digs.
July 31st was the official start of the dig, but Stefanie and Kelly began preparing in spring 2015. First, Kelly reviewed old maps of the Hollow. “Historic Sandborn maps were created for this area. I have four different years from the 1880s, early 1900s, 1930s, and 1950s, and it shows every structure that was down here. I was able to put that into our GIS and overlay with aerial photos and line it up fairly closely so then I can take coordinates from those historic maps and placed them where we are today.”
Then they looked over the area with “Ground Penetrating Radar”, or GPR. Essentially, GPR is a small box that you push along the ground while it shoots electromagnetic waves into the ground. The time it takes to hit a buried object and bounce back varies based on its depth and what it’s made of.
One of the areas of excavation this day was on an open patch of green between a paved path and some tall weeds. The other, said Stefanie, was the woods, where they had some early success. “We based the one in the woods off a shovel test that we dug yesterday. That was positive for a lot of artifacts. A shovel test is about a 45 centimeter round hole and you dig straight down until you can’t go any further.
“We found the bottom of a salt-glazed crock, some pieces of porcelain, bits of ceramic that had maker’s marks on the bottom, a bit of a tin pail, so there’s a lot of stuff down there which made us really happy.”
According to Kelly, she and Stefanie hope they’ll get a more accurate picture of what life was like in the Hollow as a result of this project. “The history in the archives and the books is so intense – there’s so much history about this area that’s been written down. But there hasn’t been any archaeology and some of that history is conflicting. The City records talk about bad sanitation and poor living conditions. The first person accounts talk about what a great childhood I had living here and what a perfect place to be when I was a kid. We’re trying to mesh those two together by putting together a daily picture. What was life like when they were living here; what kind of things did they leave behind.
“There’s so many people who think doing archeology is cool, but it’s more difficult to convince people that it’s also important.” Stefanie Kowalczyk on the relevance of archaeology
An unusual aspect of this dig is the public involvement, which Stefanie managed. “Just determining what they were going to be working with; how to explain things to them; when to invite them and then being able to accomplish some kind of actual archeology and find enough things to be able to say something concrete definitely required a lot of work, so it was good that there were two of us.
Kelly told me, “It is so hard to decide what would be the quote-unquote coolest thing. It’s all about the big picture, putting the pieces together like a puzzle and figuring out what the story is. So it’s not necessarily about finding that intact bottle, even though it’s really cool to see because it never happens. It’s always broken.”
Stefanie told me about two volunteers, a woman and her daughter, who came because the girl wants to be an archaeologist. “She was super bright. She knew you could date bricks based on the kinds of material they used to temper them, and she was really into it. The mother was like, ‘She can get a job doing archaeology, right?’ and I assured her, ‘Yes, yes. You can.’”
Added Stefanie, “There’s a lot more (jobs) than you’d expect ever since Section 106 was passed. It’s a piece of legislation that says anytime you use federal money, you dig on federal land or you need a federal grant, you HAVE TO do an archaeological survey beforehand.”
So highway construction, Army Corps of Engineers projects and even building cell phone towers all need to have an architectural survey beforehand.
Many have misconceptions about archaeology. For example, Kelly told me the digs are slow, painstaking endeavors. “We need to constantly be recording, like depth – how deep are we going? What is the soil looking like? What is its texture and its color? What kinds of things are in the soil? As we dig down we’re destroying it, so it’s really important to keep an accurate record of what we’re seeing because we can’t put it back in there.
“We dig in one-meter by one-meter squares. That allows us to keep it controlled as a sample. Everything is in metric, so we dig in 10-centimeter levels and each level is recorded on paperwork and with photographs and sketch maps. It’s very precise. We screen through quarter-inch mesh so that anything that’s larger than that will get caught and we’ll be able to see it and save it.”
I wanted to know what Stefanie and Kelly discovered and learned from the discoveries, so I met with them in March. They learned conclusively that the artifacts they found fit within the historic time frame of 1850 to 1956, when Swede Hollow was inhabited by settlers from Europe and later, Mexico. While pleased with their work, both agreed they could have done better. According to Kelly, she wished there was more time to dig, “It’s such an interesting site and the history is so strong. Being able to start making connections between archaeology and history is really exciting but I’m only just touching the surface.”
Stefanie interviewed many adults about reasons for their presence at the dig. But she wishes she would have made the significant extra effort necessary to question children. “I think it would have been really interesting because so many parents came specifically to show their kids that the immigrants that lived in the Hollow were not that different from grandma or grandpa, or not that different from people today.”
And Stefanie added, “I expected people to come to the project because it was free and was something to do, not because they had any interest in it. It turns out that a lot of people came because they really wanted to learn something and they really wanted to try something new, and that just blew me away.”
The question the women were most frequently asked is about their favorite artifact. For Kelly, it is a difficult question to answer. “There’s any number of answers and depending on my mood, it could change. It’s like trying to figure out what your favorite song is or what your favorite movie is.”
Kelly went on to say the pieces of glassware uncovered are interesting. “A lot of it dates to the Depression era, which is a really distinctive type of glass. It’s an almost crude glass; it’s cheaply made. It’s really pretty, really colorful, so it offers a really strong visual. And it’s really easy to date.”
Stefanie enjoyed talking to the volunteers who came to help. “Some people talked for 20, 30 minutes and it was great because it was so interesting to see how something as simple as coming down to a park and being introduced to that environment, combined with actually being able to touch the artifacts and look at things for yourself, really changed how people thought about the park and thought about the value of the park’s history. It made them feel like they had an investment in the park and what happened to it. I was so surprised and so happy to see that you can bring about that change and interest in people just by doing something so simple.”
The bulk of what was uncovered at the Hollow was glass, metal, coal and clinker, (a by-product of burning coal; consisting of ash, glass and other impurities, which bind together.) Kelly and Stefanie had mixed emotions about the project. Both said they would like to continue digging and studying because of the potential for more discoveries. On the other hand, both were glad to be close to defending their theses, earning their master’s degrees and landing full time jobs as archaeologists.
The James S. Griffin Building, home of the Saint Paul Police Department headquarters, is about a mile due east of Swede Hollow. Just to be clear, I was here by choice, for a guided tour of the police department’s museum, officially called the Saint Paul Police Memorial Museum.
Sergeant Craig Nelson, my very knowledgeable tour guide, is primarily a juvenile division investigator. Since 2005, his other job has been SPPD historian, which suits him perfectly. “I grew up in the city so I like the city history in general. It just intrigues me, with over 150 years of history that we have as a police department, to see pictures or artifacts of things our cops wore or handled, or just the photographs of the things that they did. It’s just very interesting to me. History in general is.”
Much of the museum’s remarkable collection is displayed in a non-public space on the second floor. However, several interesting displays and significant mementos are on view in the police department lobby, the first of which you’ll see as you walk through the front door. (Note: many of the photos are of lesser quality than usual because of the difficulty of shooting through glass display cases in which artifacts are displayed.)
The display on the left side of the vestibule honors Sergeant Hans Aamold. Aamold was shot by a robbery suspect outside a University Avenue saloon on the evening of September 26, 1914. Aamold died from his injuries the next afternoon. The uniform, hat, baton and whistle belonged to Sergeant Aamold and were donated by his family.
Nearby, just inside the front doors, is the Wall of Honor, a memorial to Sergeant Aamold and every other Saint Paul police officer who gave his or her life on the job.
Back inside the vestibule, an exhibit commemorates the first-ever school patrol, started in Saint Paul in 1921 by Lieutenant Frank Hetznecker and Sister M. Carmella Hanggi.
As the story is told, by 1920, the popularity of cars surged, but with no formal driver training program, accidents involving students walking to and from school also soared. Sister Carmella approached the police department traffic unit and she and Sergeant Frank Hetznecker came up with the idea to have the older kids help the younger ones safely cross streets.
The school patrol is special to Sergeant Nelson, who served at Chelsea Heights Elementary School. “It used to be a really big deal to be a school patrol here, back in the day. I wish I had my badge still. I have a picture of me – my school patrol picture but that’s about all I have.”
The museum’s main exhibit space is on the second floor. I learned that Sergeant Nelson did me a favor by taking me through the museum. “It’s not generally open to the public. I have given specific tours like I did for you today. We’ve had senior citizens groups set up to come over here and get a tour and a talk about history. We’ve had girl scout troops here; generally, it’s been groups of people but occasionally there’s been a family member of someone who used to work here or some of the media folk.”
The museum collection includes photos, badges, signs, books, technology and much more. Sergeant Nelson explained the significance of items as we slowly worked our way around the room.
The uniform, being the most recognizable symbol of a police officer, is well represented at the Saint Paul Police Memorial Museum. Early uniforms here and elsewhere around the country resembled the Union Army’s regalia during the Civil War. In some cities they were surplus Civil War uniforms.
In 1891 Saint Paul officers donned new attire, similar to the style popular in Great Britain. “One thing you’ll notice with that uniform that’s up there with the bobby top,” Sergeant Nelson told me, “is you see a billy club on the one side but you don’t see a gun anywhere. It would be under the uniform somewhere.” At that time, publicly displaying a gun might have offended some folks.
Saint Paul officers haven’t always worn blue uniforms. Olive drab was the uni color for 34 years, until another thorough redesign was done. Out went the olive, replaced by the blues that, aside from some slight modifications here and there, are worn to this day.
Badges, like the uniforms, have not changed very often – five times since the first, a six point star, was introduced in 1856. Apparently, badges were the only official item officers wore until 1872, when uniforms were first issued.
The next badge change, according to Sergeant Nelson, came about because women officers were joining the police force in larger numbers. “There’s the one badge that we have that says ‘patrolman’ at the top. That was prior to 1985. We had female officers working here prior to that who actually wore the badge that said ‘Patrolman’ on it for a little while until we got the new one in 1985 that said ‘Police Officer’”.
The Saint Paul Police Historical Society website has a great deal more about badges and uniforms at Saint Paul Police Badge History
The museum is much more than uniforms and badges.
No doubt you’re familiar with the strobe lights that sit atop emergency vehicles in Saint Paul. Known as Opticoms, the devices take control of traffic lights so that police, fire and other emergency vehicle have priority at signaled intersections. Opticoms might seem like unusual museum pieces until you learn they were given to the SPPD by 3M, which invented the system when the company had a large East Side presence. In the late ’70s, according to Sergeant Nelson, 3M officials came to the city and said, “‘How would you like to have your public safety vehicles try this system out to see how it works, and we’ll provide the stuff to you free.’ Of course, the city said, ‘Sure, we’ll do that,’ and we’ve used them ever since the early 80s. You’ll see those bulbs light up on the traffic lights and that will give the emergency vehicle the right of way.” And so, the Saint Paul Police Department became the first agency in the country to have the Opticom system. Like most electronics, Opticoms have shrunk and today, they’re a very small part of the light bar on vehicles.
I questioned Sergeant Nelson about the artifact that means the most to him. He told me the hat that notorious gangster, and Al Capone compatriot, Homer van Meter wore when killed by police is it, “For a couple different reasons. On the inside of the hat it is noted what officers including the chief of police himself were up there and fired guns on this guy. It was passed around here as kind of a trophy back then. It has a bullet hole right through and through, one side to the other.
And Nelson added, “It’s one of the direct connections to the gangster era. It’s an example of the things that we had go on here and the people that came through here.”
That’s not the end of the story as Sergeant Nelson explained. “(The hat) was missing for a time period. The last time somebody saw it was back in about 1959 here at the police department and they had what they called a ‘Police-Orama’ at the public safety building, and they showed it off at that. Then nobody seemed to know what happened to the hat after that.
“In about 2009 a retired captain brought this hat into a meeting and had had it sitting in his basement, I think since the 60s sometime, when he retired. It got passed around to whoever the homicide lieutenant or captain was to the next one to the next one and at some point, somebody took it home with them and it disappeared for about 30 or 40 years.”
Unfortunately I was not able to see the hat during my tour, but I’m still hoping to.
The public displays in the foyer and lobby, and those in the Museum, are the work of retired Saint Paul officer Fred Kaphingst, the collection specialist, who decides what will be exhibited and how. Then he and other department retires set up the displays.
The Saint Paul Police Historical Museum owns a voluminous number of artifacts collected over more than 170 years of the police department’s existence. Sergeant Nelson said Museum members are working with the Minnesota Historical Society to improve the techniques museum members categorize, preserve and display pieces. “We have a hodgepodge of things that are up in the museum right now and we want to get away from doing that and put things in perspective.”
Sergeant Nelson emphasized that the museum is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt charitable organization and does not get funding from the police department. The museum is always happy to accept donations of artifacts and money, both of which are tax deductible. More details are available here.
There is much more fascinating information about the history of Saint Paul’s police department, the museum, and the Saint Paul Police Historical Society on the Society’s website at http://www.spphs.com/index.php It’s worth as much time as you can spare.
To see the entire route of this ride, click here.
Wow, what a great collection of police memorabilia. It’s time to get that stuff out for public display and not hidden behind closed doors.