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Guarding Slot Machines

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Guarding Slot Machines

Deputy James Virlingham guarding a truckload of seized slot machines in Crow Wing County, 1939.

For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this photograph in our collections database.

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Blackjack

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Blackjack

A leather-covered club or blackjack used by Ralph Hempel (1911-1992), a supervisor at the Minnesota State Reformatory for Men in Moose Lake, Minnesota.

For details, view the blackjack in our online collections database.

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Manual Traffic Signal

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Manual traffic signal, early 20th centuryThis 8 ½ foot tall traffic signal was used in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota and is manually operated. The signal was made circa 1900 and used until approximately 1930. A movable rod handle on the side of the pole operates the rotation of the signal. The signal has two arms painted green and marked “GO” and two arms painted red and marked “STOP”. A black cloth collapsible umbrella is mounted beneath the sign for use by the traffic controller in inclement weather. The metal pole is bolted to a slatted base platform where the controller would stand. The platform has two iron wheels at one end to facilitate moving the signal from one location to the next.

Traffic signals like this one were used across the United States beginning around 1909, when the first United States Patent was issued for a traffic control device. Police officers were in charge of traffic control until signals became fully automated in the late 1920s-1930s. A variety of illuminated traffic signals were first implemented in the late 1910s, but were not commonly used until the 1920s and the signals were not standardized until the 1940s.

On this day (April 12th) in 1923, St. Paul’s first automatic traffic signal, on a pedestal about ten feet high, began operating at Fifth and St. Peter Streets.

Sondra Reierson, Collections Assistant

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Fragment of Execution Rope

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Fragment of Execution Rope

This short length of rope is a fragment of the execution rope used on February 13, 1906 in the hanging death of William Williams at the Ramsey County Jail in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Williams had been convicted of murdering John Keller and his mother in Saint Paul in April of 1905. The grisly slowness of Williams’ death led to the abolishment of capital punishment in Minnesota. Williams’ was the last execution to take place in Minnesota and the death penalty was removed from state criminal law in 1911.

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Minnesota State Training School for Boys Inmate Case Files and Commitment Papers

Friday, February 18th, 2011

St. Paul was once well known as safe haven for thugs, hooligans, and ne’er-do-wells like the Barker Gang and John Dillinger.  But it also held to its bosom one of Chicago’s gangland luminaries—and Al Capone’s chief rival—George “Bugs” Moran.  Moran was born as Adelard Cunin on August 21, 1891, in St. Paul.

Investigation report documenting Cunin’s initial attempt to escape from the schoolIn her 2005 biography, The Man Who Got Away: The Bugs Moran Story, Rose Keefe notes that “Records pertaining to [Moran’s initial lawlessness] are meager, so the details are incomplete” but that he was pinched for a robbery in downtown St. Paul in 1909.  Many of these missing details can be found in Cunin’s inmate case file 3067 from the Minnesota State Training School for Girls and Boys.

On July 11, 1907, fifteen-year-old Cunin was called into court to address the matter of his own delinquency.  Already on probation, he explained that he got into a couple scrapes one night when “a lot of fellows” were chasing down horses below State Street, down by the boats.  Having spoken of one scrape already, Cunin continued: “Then I walked a little ways and I met another boy, and I stood there and watched him, and then he made a rush at me and I started to run and he tripped me and throwed [sic] me down.”  “And you cut him pretty bad, didn’t you, you stuck the knife right into him?” asked the judge, to which Cunin’s probation officer answered for him: “He had eight stitches taken in it.”

Because Cunin was a minor, he was sent to the State Training School on September 3, 1907, for “incorrigibility.”  The bulk of his case file consists of correspondence and so-called investigation reports.  The former includes letters from friends and family to him, pleas from his mother and clergy to the school superintendent for Cunin’s reinstated parole, and responses to same.

Postcard from friend of Cunin's

The investigation reports chronicle Cunin’s ongoing misconduct that delayed any parole reinstatement.  For example, Cunin was written up on November 9, 1907, for “talking and planning escape” and had acquired a chisel and auger from the school’s carpenter shop to execute the plan.  Yet six months later, when a reverend from St. Paul Cathedral inquired on Cunin’s status, Superintendent F. A. Whittier responded, “He is by no means the best boy we have nor is he the worst.”  His conduct may have improved (albeit temporarily): He was released to his mother on parole on February 27, 1909, but returned on July 22 after being arrested for “petit larceny.”

Letter discussing Cunin’s escape on September 1, 1909Cunin settled the matter himself by escaping on September 1, 1909.  Though the school offered a $10 reward (approximately $236 in 2009 dollars), Cunin soon made his way to Chicago.  Keefe notes in her biography, “Adelard Cunin disappeared from the public record for good.  The name and persona that replaced him became bigger than he had ever been.”

There are thousands of other Minnesota State Training School for Boys inmate case files.  Although Superintendent Whittier didn’t consider Adelard Cunin the worst boy, one wonders whether Carl Panzram was.

Carl Panzram was twelve years old when he was admitted to the School in 1903, and unfortunately, it was only the first of many institutions in which he was incarcerated.  In later years, Panzram was a confessed serial killer and was executed at the Leavenworth Federal Prison in 1930.  There are twenty-seven punishment slips in Panzram’s case file, along with letters from his mother, Lizzie.  She inquired when Carl would be released from the School, since she needed his help on the family farm in Polk County, Minnesota.  Filmmaker John Borowski is making a documentary about Panzram; more information about the Panzram story can be found on the website for the film.

Christopher Welter, Collections Assistant

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

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Zip gun made in Hopkins

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Zip gun made in Hopkins

Single shot pistol or ‘zip gun,’ an improvised firearm. Made by a student at Hopkins High School in 1945. The iron gun with cross-hatched wood grips looks like a semiautomatic pistol. The barrel tips up for loading. The pistol was purchased at Berntsen’s Gun Shop circa 1990.

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Jail made “escape” knife

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Jail made “escape” knife

A knife allegedly made for escaping from the Minnesota State Prison in Stillwater in 1922.

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Stillwater prison key

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Stillwater prison key

This key was used in the original territorial prison established in Stillwater, Minnesota in 1853. The nine-acre walled facility included 582 cells, a chapel, dining hall, kitchen, and administrative offices. A hospital building was added in 1889. In 1914 a new, far larger prison was built two miles south of the old prison. The key has the word “HOSPITAL” stamped into its head and it opened the outer door to the prison hospital.

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St. Paul’s Trailblazing Policewoman

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Carolen Bailey was a pioneer for women in law enforcement across the country and especially in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she spent her career proving a woman’s ability to perform the same duties as her male counterparts. Working her way up from the Juvenile Division, Bailey became the first female homicide investigator in Saint Paul in 1969. Collections Assistant Sondra Reierson shares the story of Mrs. Bailey and highlights some of the objects and papers she donated to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1991.

 
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Bertillon Measuring Device

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Bertillon Measuring Device
This brass measuring device was used for identifying criminals by measuring skull size. The measurements were part of a method called the Bertillon System, which had been implemented in France in 1882 as a means to identify repeat criminal offenders. This device was collected by a police officer from Saint Paul, Minnesota, circa 1885.

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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs