Michael Portillo begins a journey from Minnesota's Twin Cities to the Deep South. In this leg, he visits Minneapolis-St Paul, built around the Mississippi.
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I have crossed the Atlantic to ride the railroads of North America
with my reliable Appleton's Guide.
Published in the late 19th century,
Appleton's General Guide To North America will direct me to all that's
novel, beautiful, memorable - and striking -
in the United States.
THEY SPEAK OWN LANGUAGE
As I journey across this vast continent,
I'll discover how pioneers and cowboys conquered the West
and how the railroads tied this nation together,
helping to create the global superstate of today.
I'm embarking on a new American rail journey that begins and finishes on
the Mississippi River.
It'll take me 1,000 miles from Minnesota's Twin Cities in the north
to Memphis, Tennessee, in the south.
-I enjoyed the ride, thank you so much.
Along the way, I'll step up to the plate with the Slammers...
..wade into the cranberry harvest
and become an easy rider on a Harley.
I'll herd ducks in Memphis...
-Don't let them get away!
-Oh. ..serve burgers in Chicago...
2.58, your train's never late.
..and watch bald eagles on the mighty Mississippi.
At the time of my Appleton's Guide,
that father of the water spurred a rapid Industrial Revolution that
attracted migrants from back east and from Europe.
But the paddle steamers were giving way to the locomotives as the
railroads entered a golden age with their unrivalled hub at Chicago.
I want to discover who were the winners and losers in that period of
seismic change and how their struggles gave birth
to the modern Midwest.
My journey begins in Minnesota's Twin Cities
and follows the Mississippi River
south before crossing into Wisconsin at La Crosse.
I'll head east towards the shore of Lake Michigan at Milwaukee,
then turn south to the Windy City.
I'll travel the length of Illinois, through Centralia, to rejoin the
Mississippi and end in Memphis, Tennessee.
Today, I'll explore Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
I'm making my first visit to the so-called Twin Cities of Minneapolis
and Saint Paul and, in my ignorance,
I learnt from Appleton's that they both sit on the Mississippi River
even though it still has 1,800 miles
to meander down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes
and the Mississippi threads between them.
Flowing south, the river passes through Minneapolis,
which is the most populous city in Minnesota.
And 14 miles downstream, it reaches the state capital, Saint Paul.
I'm taking the Metro to Saint Paul,
which Appleton's tells me is the capital of Minnesota.
"A beautiful city, situated on both banks of the Mississippi.
"It has the State Capitol, an opera house,
"40 churches of various denominations,
"four libraries, three free hospitals."
-Union Depot station.
Once the main station for the Twin Cities,
Union Depot closed in 1971 when the newly formed national rail carrier
Amtrak based its services in Minneapolis.
But following a restoration project,
Union Depot has opened its doors once more.
There's been a Union Depot station since 1881
but this one is less than a century old.
Like many American railroad stations,
it has a somewhat ghostly feel,
but what ghosts!
At one time, 280 trains a day left here from 21 tracks,
and at the height of steam technology,
monstrous locomotives screeched between here and Chicago
in seven hours flat.
The station is built on flat land by the river,
where Saint Paul ranges over several hills
and its cathedral stands on top of the highest.
The city bears the name of Saint Paul,
named after a log chapel first consecrated in 1851,
but this is something completely different -
this is early 20th century,
modelled supposedly on French cathedrals,
but with modern technology so that this enormous dome
floats above us over a great, open space.
'This cathedral, one of the finest in the United States,
'provides an idea of Saint Paul's wealth and importance
'before it was rivalled by Minneapolis.'
Well, I must say,
that is one of the most challenging church climbs I've done
but I'm rewarded with a wonderful view over the city of Saint Paul
and it strikes me straight away that this wonderful domed building
is built on a hill high above another wonderful domed building,
that is the State Capitol.
You don't need to be a genius to work out the code -
the church lords it above the state.
The Roman Catholic cathedral was paid for by donations from the great
and the good of Saint Paul, who located it on their doorstep.
Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, is remarkable for the scale
and quantity of its 19th-century mansions.
The fragrant street trees and gardens
cannot mask the smell of money,
which, in the United States,
was often borne on clouds of smoke and steam from the railroads.
One of the most imposing residences belonged to James J Hill,
the child of Irish immigrants, who became one of the mightiest railroad
tycoons in America - the man they called the Empire Builder.
Hello, Craig. I'm Michael.
Welcome to the Hill House.
Thank you very much indeed - what an amazing mansion it is.
Craig Johnson is an expert on JJ Hill.
Was there already railroad development in this area before Hill
-Yes, there certainly was.
In fact, Hill purchased a bankrupt railway in 1878 with a number of
other investors, so he had seen rail lines come and go and rise
and fall in this area.
I think one of his great geniuses was his expansive vision that
he had and his great ambition to understand every minute detail
of the operation of the railway.
As Hill's empire grew so did his reputation for ruthlessness.
He earned his moniker the Empire Builder through hard work and the
Talking of metaphors, Hill's house is built on a mount.
Yes, it is. It's one of the many bluffs surrounding downtown
Saint Paul and it was chosen specifically by Hill - that way,
everyone who was in the downtown area could look up
and see who was living on top of the hill.
May we continue the tour?
'Hill renamed his company the Great Northern Railway
'and embarked on what he regarded as the great adventure of his life -
'a rail line that would reach across the continent and serve as the
artery for American settlement in the West.
The railway empire started here in St Paul and Minneapolis,
then went across Minnesota, northward up to Canada...
and then westward, across the United States
and eventually connecting with Seattle,
which opened up the possibility of trade with Asia across the Pacific
-Now, most railroads were financed with the aid of the federal
government, who allowed a strip of land to be sold off for the benefit
of the railway. Is that how Hill progressed?
The first stretch did have land grants,
but Hill was someone who liked control,
so he didn't want to do that any longer -
he wanted to purchase that land outright and then he could make full
decisions on that whole area and that's exactly what he did.
Hill's agents advertised in northern Europe for settler families to buy
and develop land along his route.
He offered farming opportunities in the Midwest,
copper mining in the Rockies and logging in the Pacific states.
There were many railway tycoons - what's special about Hill?
Well, I think it's his ability to take a look not only at the area,
to build something that would work for that particular region
and then to get people to populate that area right alongside it.
As he said at the end of his life,
"I've made my mark on the surface of the earth
"and they can't wipe it out."
The streets of Saint Paul retain their genteel Victorian character,
but in the early 20th century,
the age of the Empire Builder gave way to something
altogether more louche.
One of the United States' most popular novelists gave a name
to that era in the 1920s
of prohibition, gangsters, flappers and tycoons -
the Jazz Age.
Some of his works are narrated by an outsider looking in to a coveted
world and that feeling of being from the wrong side of the tracks
may have begun when F Scott Fitzgerald
was born here in Saint Paul.
The son of an unsuccessful aristocrat
and an Irish Catholic mother,
Fitzgerald wrote about a generation of rich,
disenchanted youth and its pursuit of an American dream.
The decadence and disappointed ideals of the Roaring Twenties
inhabit his novel The Great Gatsby.
Hi, Michael. Welcome!
'I'm meeting Dr Joel Pace, English professor and Jazz Age aficionado.'
-Good to see you.
-Good to see you, too.
And I'm very thrilled to be at the birthplace of F Scott Fitzgerald.
Looks like an enormous house.
Yes, and in fact Fitzgerald was in only one sixth of this house.
His family was in dire straits. His father's wicker furniture
business was soon to go out of business, forcing them to move.
What sort of a neighbourhood is this, that he was born in to?
This neighbourhood is really occupying the space in between
the beauty and the grand mansions of Summit Avenue and also Rondo,
the historical African-American neighbourhoods.
Fitzgerald is poised right between Summit and Selby Avenue.
And what do you think was the effect on him of being in such a position,
-A lot of his friends were of the set who had their own
family mansions on Summit Avenue
but Fitzgerald was never quite accepted as one of them.
He maintained the smouldering contempt of the peasant for the rich
throughout his life.
And what was the influence of the African-American
-The influence of jazz.
The jazz that characterised the age flourished in the Rondo,
a few blocks from the favourite haunt of Saint Paul's social elite.
What kind of a place then was the Commodore Hotel?
The Commodore Hotel, when it opened in 1920, was the talk of the town.
Underneath the Commodore was a speakeasy. With the right knock on
the door, you would be ushered into the basement
where there was live jazz,
bathtub gin and, perhaps, if you were just lucky enough,
a little bit of moonshine.
Now, speakeasies, they were the sort of places that attracted gangsters -
-were there gangsters here?
The gangsters were on the second floor.
Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda lived in the luxurious Commodore.
The ill-gotten gains of the gangsters who feature
in Fitzgerald's novel
almost certainly funded the glamorous lifestyle
of the stylish hero Jay Gatsby.
-Hello, ladies - may we join you?
-My name's Michael.
The bar of the Commodore has been
renovated and is once again the place to be and to be seen
in Saint Paul. APPLAUSE
Well, ladies - what a pleasure. Cheers.
-The pleasure is ours.
May I compliment you on your dress? That is wonderful.
-Tell me about that.
This was my grandmother's dress.
Do you think she was what we would call a flapper?
Was she one of these, you know, It-girls in the 1920s?
I would have guessed so, yes.
She was definitely someone who liked a good time!
She liked to have fun.
Do you mind if I pop between you for a moment with my martini?
-Not at all.
-Tell me, are you...
You're very young, but are you Fitzgerald fans?
-Big-time Fitzgerald fans.
-What's that? What is that?
-What is it?
The state of Minnesota with The Great Gatsby cover inside of it.
-That is a pretty extreme way to show your appreciation...
..of Scott Fitzgerald.
-Hi, how are you?
-May I join you a second?
Can I ask you, are you a Gatsby fan?
Or a Fitzgerald fan?
Well, yeah...I don't know if fan's the word.
We live in the neighbourhood and so he's a local boy, right?
I mean, he...he's one of us.
Do you think Fitzgerald gets the American relationship
-I absolutely do.
The thing about Fitzgerald is that he understands that we'll never...
We're so puritan, we'll never
quite be comfortable with the extent to which we are motivated by money.
I feel like in a lot of ways he's the quintessential American writer,
we will never be quite comfortable in our skin.
Alcohol and depression took their toll on Fitzgerald
and in 1940, at the age of 44, he died in Hollywood of a heart attack.
He believed himself a failure, yet today,
his work features on school reading lists the world over.
I think it's time for a little bit of ragtime.
-What are you going to do?
-I think I'm going to go play with the band.
-May as well.
The Jazz Age came to an abrupt end
with the great depression of the 1930s.
But here in the Commodore,
something of the spirit of Scott Fitzgerald lives on.
Wow, that was great!
Another day, another cultural experience.
-What's your name?
-Mary, what's yours?
Michael is mine. So, Mary - I'm an adventurous kind of guy...
-..and there's something here I've never heard of.
It's a root-beer float.
Oh, it sounds good to me.
-You want it?
-Yeah, all right.
-OK, we'll get it.
I've no idea what I've ordered.
-Here you go, Michael.
Thank you. What have I let myself in for?
Don't get it on that pretty white shirt!
In my experience, dining in the United States requires you to summon
up all your culinary courage - let's see what this is.
Mmm. This is a root beer. Broadly speaking,
it tastes like thinned-out cough mixture
and then it's got some vanilla ice cream with it and the two
just kind of blend together.
-Do you ever drink this stuff?
-Not really, no.
I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised!
I think you've made a good life choice!
I'm leaving Saint Paul, taking the Metro to Minneapolis.
-..from Blue-Line train to downtown Minneapolis is arriving
on track number one.
This modern metropolis takes its name
from the Dakota Sioux word minne,
meaning water, of which there's a great abundance in lakes,
lagoons and the mighty Mississippi.
Minnesota experiences an extreme continental climate, which has led
the cities' inhabitants to devise an ingenious solution.
The weather in Minneapolis can be inclement.
In summer, it can be 40 degrees.
In winter, -18 is not unusual, but never fear,
they have invented this system of glass bridges,
heated and air-conditioned.
Known as the Skyway, the network extends seven miles around the city,
so you can go from your office to a restaurant to the shops without ever
experiencing either heat or cold.
While Saint Paul developed as a trading and commercial hub,
Minneapolis grew as an industrial centre,
due directly to its location.
Appleton's tells me that, "A large part of the city's business
"prosperity is owing to the Falls of Saint Anthony.
"which afford abundant water power for manufacturing.
"The best view is from the centre of the suspension bridge which spans
"the river." Actually,
this one used to carry the railroad and I can see here the immense power
of the river hemmed in by civil engineering and it's given rise to
this highly attractive cityscape of semi-derelict factories and mills.
A young entrepreneur named Franklin Steele dammed the east side of the
river and built the first sawmill in 1848.
For the second half of the 19th century,
Sawdust Town led the world in sawmilling,
and from 1880 until 1930,
Minneapolis, the Mill City, also led the nation in flour production.
John Anfinson is a National Park Service superintendent.
-Hi, Michael. Great to meet you.
The falls really are in full spate.
They are spectacular, they've been spectacular all year.
What does it mean to Minneapolis to have had the Saint Anthony Falls?
There wouldn't be a Minneapolis without this falls.
It allowed the industry to build here that
you couldn't do anywhere else.
And what was that first industry?
The first industry was lumber.
It was this ancient crop,
just waiting to be harvested by the millers.
They didn't need to go grow it,
they didn't need people to come and plant it,
it was there already for the taking.
Flour milling gradually supplanted the sawmills,
but such intensive use coupled with poor engineering
caused the falls severe damage.
What was this magnificent river like before Europeans came here?
It's hard to imagine, looking at it today, what it was really like.
It was a series of jagged edges of limestone.
If you look over here, you can see some limestone slabs that have
fallen off on that island,
and the falls retreated up the Mississippi because
this limestone cap kept dropping off,
as the sandstone under it was undermined by the falls itself.
How bad did the damage to the river become?
It became so bad that the falls almost went away.
They almost eroded away completely in 1869.
A huge hole formed underneath the limestone riverbed
and collapsed into the river.
So Minneapolis has depended on Saint Anthony's Falls
and it's had to be saved?
It did, and so the Corps of Engineers looked at the falls,
they found out where the edge ended,
and so they said the only way to save it
is to build a wall under the river, about 36-feet high,
four-feet wide, the entire width of the river.
A dam under the Mississippi was what was needed.
And does that survive to this day?
It does. It holds back the last tick of the geologic clock
for Saint Anthony Falls.
In the heyday of flour milling,
20 mills stood along a covered canal
through which flowed water drawn from the river above the falls.
Enough flour was ground in one mill
to bake 12 million loaves of bread a day.
Industrial success came at a price, however.
The number of accidents grew rapidly
and that provided Minneapolis with another title -
the artificial limb capital of the world.
I've come to a suburb of the city to visit
a family-owned prosthetics company to hear how that began.
-Hello, Michael. Welcome to Winkley.
'Greg S Gruman is president of the company
'founded by AA Winkley in 1888.'
Who was Mr Winkley?
Mr Winkley was a farmer from about 50 miles south of the Twin Cities
and was injured in an accident on his farm,
we believe by getting kicked by a horse,
broke a bone in his leg that never healed
and suffered an amputation as a result of that.
He received a prosthesis from a company where the representative
would travel up from Chicago, and he was never happy with that.
And there were no full-time prosthetists here in Minneapolis,
so he ended up tinkering and modifying
the prosthesis that he got,
made it more comfortable for himself
and basically got the idea,
"If it works for me, it'll work for other amputees as well."
In the mills and rail yards of Minneapolis,
due to poor working conditions and the rapid introduction of new machinery,
it wasn't uncommon for workers to lose limbs in industrial accidents.
We have some shots of amputees
in an old catalogue.
This photo shows a railroad conductor doing his job
with his pants leg rolled up, showing his prosthesis.
A foreman on a line crew, he was an engineer,
and they're all posing on-the-job,
and every one of them has a comment underneath.
He says, "I am now able to make my regular run just the same as before I lost my leg".
The priority for this man and for all these in the book
was keeping his job, performing his job,
being able to support himself and his family.
It's a remarkable publication.
And maybe just as remarkable, this thing here.
What kind of vintage is that?
This particular one is from the 1930s,
but it was the same as the original patent that Mr Winkley patented.
This one is for an amputation below the knee.
This was loaded with a spring mechanism
through these elastics so that the inner socket
would function independently and go up and down and absorb the shock
of you hitting the floor or the ground,
especially walking over furrowed fields
or an unpaved factory floor or a rail yard
where you're stepping on gravel.
But the technology, even though we view it as an antique,
was revolutionary for its time.
'Mike Hodges lost his leg in an electrical accident.
'He decided to retrain as an engineer specialising in prostheses.'
What are these items that you have here?
These look pretty advanced to me.
These are some of the microprocessor hands.
Go ahead and stick your hand in there and you can feel the contacts in there.
-And really just the very lightest touch on that contact.
Quite a minor impulse for the...
Right, so the movement in your arm from where your fingers move
is what is making the contact there.
That is brilliant. And is this leg similar to the one that you wear?
Mine has a few more bells and whistles.
The prosthetic I wear now has four microprocessors,
an accelerometer and a gyroscope,
so it's adjusting 100 times a second to if I want to
walk fast, walk slow, go uphill, go downhill -
it's constantly making adjustments,
almost before I can actually make the move.
And living in Minnesota, the big part of it is it's 100% waterproof.
So with a little over 10,000 lakes, you're around water quite a bit,
so it's nice to have that.
25 years ago, you'd have to take your leg off to be able to go in a lake or do something.
You are an inventive guy who, having lost your leg,
has come into the prosthetics business.
Your story is awfully like Mr Winkley's.
You know, I guess it is, when you think about it.
I knew I was going to have to have a prosthetic.
I wasn't going to go in a wheelchair or crutches,
I wanted to get up, get moving,
and I was one of those guys who, even in physical therapy, I was,
"Just give me my stuff, I'll figure it out",
which isn't always the best thing to do, but we do it anyway.
JJ Hill in railroads,
and other tycoons in sawing and milling,
created thousands of jobs for Americans and immigrants
moving to the Midwest and the upper Mississippi.
Some of those employees lost limbs to the massive machinery
of America's late Industrial Revolution.
F Scott Fitzgerald summarised the ambivalence of the nation
towards great wealth.
Americans were hypnotised by its glamour and its power to create
great cities like Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
But they were repelled by its excesses.
'Next time, I'll use my diplomatic skills
'at a Swedish-American lunch...'
What a very interesting texture!
'..feel the rhythm of a great American epic poem...'
So you get what sounds to us like a tom-tom beat -
boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom...
By the shores of Gitche Gumee...
'..and experience life as a turn-of-the-century tycoon.'
Let's bounce on the bed.
Ah! These people knew how to live.
Michael Portillo begins a new journey from Minnesota's Twin Cities in the north of the US to Memphis, Tennessee, in the Deep South.
In this leg, Michael discovers how Minneapolis, part of one metropolitan area with its immediate neighbour, St Paul, harnessed the power of the mighty Mississippi to become a great industrial centre. It is also the artifical limb capital of the world.
In St Paul, meanwhile, Michael visits the birthplace of F Scott Fitzgerald and meets a jazz age trumpeter and Fitzgerald fan who introduces him to the Jay Gatsby lifestyle.