Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Different Kind of Ghost

This blog has always been more about what these old signs can tell us about local history.  My favorite signs tell us about how the city used to work and what came before the modern skyscrapers and townhouses.

But by their nature, ghost signs come in limited supply.  I've got more in my files, but I'm at the stage where interesting ones (or at least interesting ones that are still sufficiently legible to provide some clues) are running thin. I recently picked up Neal Karlen's Auggie's Secrets, which gave me a new idea for avenues into local history.  I'm going to try to re-visit the places where Minnesota history happened.  If I get lucky, there will be something of the past to see.  More likely, you'll just have to be satisfied with my feeble re-telling of a tale from local history.

To start, let's look at a with a story relayed in Karlen's book, about this guy:

The gentleman in the middle (of this photo from the Minnesota Historical Society) is notorious Minneapolis organized crime figure Isadore Blumenfeld, aka Kid Cann.  But this photo seems to be from the end of our story, apparently having been taken after he was acquitted.

On December 9, 1935, crusading journalist Walter Liggett was was gunned down in the alley behind his apartment at 1825 S. 2nd. Avenue.  Here's an exciting photo of that alley today:

(Yes, that "exciting" was meant to be sarcastic).

Mrs. Liggett, who was present during the shooting, identified Cann as the man wielding the machine gun that day, and he was arrested, tried and acquitted of the slaying.  But what's more interesting than one of several instances of Cann beating a charge is what led up to Mr. Liggett's killing.  What's undisputed is that Liggett had recently written about potential ties between Cann's criminal organization and the administration of DFL Governor Floyd B. Olson.  It's not hard to imagine how any number of individuals of shady repute might have been unhappy with airing this particular laundry, so the official line seems to be that dissatisfaction with being exposed was the motive.

But Karlen adds another interesting wrinkle.  According to his book, Liggett wasn't exactly a crusader for good government.  Instead, he allegedly made a living by selling hoods like Cann the opportunity not have their stories published in his paper.  Cann had apparently declined the opportunity, perhaps in disbelief that anyone would publish such allegations against the sitting governor and the local crime boss, no matter how true.  It seems that Liggett may have found out why Cann was so incredulous.

I'll leave you one last Cann-related image.  This time the excitement is the former location of Cann's headquarters, a club called Flame:

Yup, it's gone now. UPDATE: Okay, it looks like I got the address wrong. The building is apparently still there, and that empty lot is not where it once was. Dang.

Here's the marquee from an undated Historical Society photo:

And here' the exterior of the building in a later incarnation in 1949 (also from the Historical Society):