As thousands of delegates, journalists and other visitors converge on the Twin Cities for the Republican National Convention, a short guide may come in handy. Numerous references to the site of the convention as Minneapolis suggest that many outsiders fail even to differentiate between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Though separated only by the Mississippi River, which winds its way between them, they are in fact quite different cities. (The site of the convention is the Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul.) Given the relative shortage of hotel space in St. Paul, however, visitors will be spread throughout the Twin Cities. Welcome to the greater Twin Cities metropolitan area!
Minnesota entered the Union just in time to make its historic contribution to the Civil War. Visiting President Lincoln in Washington when Fort Sumter was fired on, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey committed to field a force of 1,000 soldiers for the Union cause. The soldiers became the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment, participating in virtually every significant battle fought by the Army of the Potomac until the unit was mustered out of service in 1864.
The First Minnesota is a storied regiment whose great moment came when General Hancock ordered it to make a suicide charge down Cemetery Ridge at a crucial moment on the second day of Gettysburg. (Indeed, survivors of the charge returned for more the next day with two companies that had been detailed elsewhere and helped fight off Pickett’s Charge.) All present heeded General Hancock’s “charge” command under the battle flag that survives as a sacred relic kept on display in the rotunda of the state capitol (with other regimental flags), within walking distance of the Xcel Center.
The state capitol in St. Paul was built at a time (1905) when Republicans dominated Minnesota politics. With the exception of former governor (1939-1943) and perennial presidential candidate Harold Stassen, Minnesota’s most famous politicians have been Democrats. Outside the Minneapolis city hall, for example, stands the statue of former Minneapolis mayor (and senator and vice president) Hubert Humphrey.
The only other statute in downtown Minneapolis is that of Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore), who can be seen throwing her hat skyward on the Nicollet Mall between Sixth and Seventh just as she did in the opening credits of the 1970’s television show. That the city fathers pay this tribute to a fictitious comedic heroine is at the least suggestive of Minnesota’s inferiority complex. We’re gonna make it after all! Usually by being nice to others, like Mary.
From downtown Minneapolis visitors can catch Minnesota’s Hiawatha light rail line to the airport and to the Mall of America. The Mall of America is one of the largest indoor shopping centers in the world. There visitors can take advantage of Minnesota’s sales tax exemption on clothes, one of the unlikeliest tax breaks in the country. By contrast, the Hiawatha light rail line is a tribute to the era of big government in which we still live. Coming in at a total price tag north of $700 million, the short Hiawatha light rail line transports several thousand Minnesotans a day (more than expected, but not nearly enough to justify the expense) while disrupting the traffic flow of the well traveled avenue to which it runs parallel through south Minneapolis.
The University of Minnesota straddles the east and west banks of the Mississippi just before the river enters St. Paul. There visitors can take in the alma mater of many prominent alumni such as Humphrey (’39), humorist Max Shulman (’42, the creator of Dobie Gillis), and the Nobel laureate agronomist Norman Borlaug (’37, Ph.D. ’42). They can also view the balcony of Northrop Auditorium, from which students hung a large swastika in 1983 as they tried to shout down then-United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. Protesters put in a repeat performance on the occasion of Vice President George Bush’s speech at Northrop in 1987. Visitors will no doubt be exposed to the contemporary soulmates of these broad minded citizens as they enter and exit the Xcel Center during the convention.
From the University of Minnesota, visitors may wish to take a walk along East Mississippi River Boulevard back toward St. Paul. In St. Paul, turn left from Mississippi River Boulevard onto Summit Avenue and keep walking. Summit is the magnificent heart of old St. Paul. A few miles up Summit Avenue from the river is the Governor’s Mansion (1006 Summit Avenue), donated to the state in 1965 by Clotilde Irvine Moles and Olivia Irvine Dodge. Now occupied by Governor Tim Pawlenty, professional grappler Jesse “The Body” Ventura was its previous occupant for four long years, with one interruption. In May 2002 Governor Ventura briefly shut down the mansion in retaliation for the legislature slashing his budget for security.
A little further down Summit Avenue are the family homes of literary lion Scott Fitzgerald (593/599 Summit) and railroad magnate James J. Hill (240 Summit Avenue, open to the public for limited hours during the convention). A great Minnesotan, Hill regularly opened his home for reunions of the First Minnesota Volunteers.
Male visitors heading back home via the Lindbergh Terminal at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport have the chance to catch one last sight. What is now known as the Larry Craig Solicitation Bathroom has become a tourist attraction. Head to the men’s room near the Restaurants Concourse, next to the Royal Zeno Shoeshine shop. It’s the second stall from the right.
— Scott W. Johnson is a Minneapolis attorney and contributor to Power Line.