In the 1930s, Saint Paul served as a safe house for gangsters and criminals. The only conditions for them staying there were that they didn’t commit any crimes in Saint Paul, and contributed to the women and orphan fund of the police department.
In exchange for not committing crimes, Saint Paul police agreed to notify criminals whenever the Feds would come to go after them.
This agreement between gangsters and the city took place when Prohibition started. A the time, when William O’Conner was police chief of Saint Paul and this deal came to be known as the “O’Conner system.”
One of the best places to visit in Saint Paul to learn about its gangster history is the Landmark Center, a historic landmark and cultural center. It was completed in 1902 and through the 1960s served as the US Post Office, Custom House and Courthouse for the state of Minnesota.
I took the tour of the building prior to attending a travel conference, which sponsored the activity. There are a number of tours offered at the center, including a free one that requires no reservations, as well as others that focus on specific areas (such as a gangster tour and an interactive history tour). The one my group took was the Nooks, Crooks and Crannies tour, which typically costs $20.
This particular tour involved a lot of climbing stairs, but included some fun parts where we got to “meet” some people who were alive during the earlier years of the Landmark Center.
One of them was a court clerk who sat in the courtroom where the trial of one of the most notorious gangsters in history, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, took place.
The Nooks, Crooks and Crannies was a specialty tour that allowed us to visit places in the building that aren’t open to the general public. My favorite part of the center was the top floor where we were able to see the clock on the front tower of the building. We were also able to see the dome of the Cathedral of Saint Paul from there. There was also an interesting small Elvis Presley shrine that people don’t typically get to see.
The Landmark Center was almost demolished, but was saved in the 1970s by a group of citizens and public officials. Now, it’s home to multiple nonprofit organizations and it’s an intriguing building to tour if you’re interested in learning about Saint Paul’s history.