When they weren’t robbing Twin Cities banks more than 80 years ago, gangsters would kick back at Keller Golf Course in Maplewood.
They could be spotted not only by the expensive clothing they wore but the fact each man had two golf bags: one stuffed with golf clubs and the other filled with firearms.
As one would expect, they tipped their caddies well.
At least that’s how Paul Maccabee describes their vacations in “John Dillinger Slept Here,” a recounting of crime and corruption in St. Paul from the 1920s to the mid-1930s. The book is just one of the sources looked at by organizers of a three-part program on Prohibition this month at the Ramsey County Libraries.
The series, which accompanies the Minnesota History Center’s current exhibit “American Spirits: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” kicked off at Maplewood Library with “Beer and Brewing in the Land of Sky Blue Waters” on March 4, touching on Minnesota’s past and present in the brewski-making scene.
There are two more opportunities for the public to take part:
“Boozy Ballads and Temperance Tunes” will feature singer Lee Engele and friends at 7 p.m. on March 12 at Maplewood Library, 3025 Southlawn Ave. The group will illustrate the divide between the rollicking songs traditionally sung at pubs and bars and the songs written for the temperance movement, which were often sung as temperance boosters marched and appealed to patriotism and family feeling.
Sara Markoe Hanson, executive director of the White Bear Historical Society, will present a program called “Gangsters of Ramsey County: a Hair-Raising History,” in partnership with the Maplewood Historical Society, at 7 p.m. on March 18 at Maplewood Library. Markoe Hanson will explain how Ramsey County became a vacation getaway for the likes of Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis.
That’s where Maplewood comes in.
Maplewood would have actually been New Canada Township in the 1930s, according to Maplewood Historical Society president Bob Jensen.
Crooks vacationed there as well as at the ritzy resorts on White Bear Lake, while the area’s illegal stills pumped out prohibited spirits.
Guns in golf bags and stills in back yards might sound shocking today, but neighbors at the time tended to turn a blind eye to gangsters’ activities, Jensen said.
“In those days, having gangsters next door was sort of accepted. Part of it was that people were poor and just thought of the gangsters as Robin Hoods. But they robbed from the rich and kept (the money).”
According to Jensen, Markoe Hanson has already presented in White Bear Lake on the vacationing criminals. This time, Jensen said it will likely integrate more Maplewood-centric information.
“It was so popular at White Bear Lake, they had to turn people away,” Jensen said. “For some reason, gangsters are of interest to people. Prohibition is of interest to people.
“People like the gory side of life sometimes.”
-- Kaitlyn Roby