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The St Paul Hotel (St Paul MN) and the Orpheum Theater (Omaha NE)

The St Paul Hotel (St Paul MN) and the Orpheum Theater (Omaha NE)
By Barek Halfhand

The summer of 2012 has thus far been the hottest in the Midwest in recorded history and lowest levels rainfall precipitation measured since the mid 30’s, the likes of which were so bad that it prolonged and exacerbated and already deeply depressed economy…the relentless heat and lack of moisture has decimated crops and vegetation in such a large geographic region that the lack of food production is expected to drastically raise prices in the later months of 2012 and well into 2013. Traveling north to Minnesota, the stifling heat transformed what would normally have been a lush and florid ride this time of year, into a bleak and blighted landscape …the yellowing and stunted cornstalks along the brown grass lined highway stood in silent testament to the Sun’s latest scorched earth policy and this frightening sight extended far into northwest Wisconsin and into further into Minnesota… a little more than a week later; a westward journey through western Illinois, mid-Iowa, Nebraska and ultimately KC MO would prove by personal witness that this agricultural emergency was not limited to the upper Midwest/Great Lakes region ….
The St Paul Hotel and The Orpheus Theater have both weathered the drought and Great Depression of the 30’s and both appear to stand stoically indifferent to the most recent of extreme temperatures and economic tribulations…the first stop; St Paul provided little in the way of relief from hot, arid heat but somehow just being so far north seemed to lessen the severity by suggestion alone …The hotel is located just a short stroll from an elevated boulevard overlooking the Mississippi River and nestled in the center of downtown St Paul where newer, taller buildings now overshadow it but fail to diminish it’s intrigue…
The property where the St. Paul hotel now stands is rife with history itself … from 1871– 1878 stood “The German House” until it was claimed by a fire, from 1871 an new luxury hotel named “The Winsor” occupied the property until time, community growth, ownership changes and inevitable obsolescence paved the way for one of The Winsor’s new proprietors: Lucius P. Ordway to embark upon the most daring, opulent and luxurious hotels to sit on that plot of land and in the City Of St. Paul yet …
Inspired by his own ambitious visions, construction began in 1908 and opened with much fanfare in 1910 …with the intention of mimicking the finer hotels of New York and Chicago, The St. Paul certainly lived up to the challenge … with the décor and European interior designs and the cut stone trim, terra-cotta ornamentation and massive cornice of the exterior it certainly lived up to that expectation …the hotel hosted a variety of notable guests in its illustrious past including:
-1927: A dinner in Charles Lindberg’s honor after he completed his historic trans-Atlantic flight and returning home to St Paul.
-1920’s through 1930’s: St Paul’s top gangster; Leon Gleckman sets up his headquarters in a suite much the way Al Capone did at The Congress in Chicago.
-1937: A young Lawrence Welk begins leading the house band on Saturday nights.

1947: Gene Autry (and horse) stays for eight days while featured at the “World Championship Rodeo” in town that year.

1960: John F. Kennedy visits the hotel preparing for the elections.
The merciless mid-day temperatures created a heat-wave distortion radiating off of the pavement as I fought my way to downtown St. Paul amid endless construction barricades and the resultant traffic jams … I picked a side street that looked to provide a reprieve from the gridlocked expressway and grant me access to the inner city and the ultimately the old hotel …My gamble paid off and I found a parking spot along the river where the elevated street created a parallax view of the opposite river banks…a short walk down a city street brought the unmistakable stone blocks and planter box bottomed windows into view …the pictures linked to the Photobucket album ( below) will provide a good impression of the inside as I feel that in this particular instance words wouldn’t do it justice despite my at times excessive verbosity but needless to say I was awe struck by its grandiose yet subtle and tasteful décor ..
The rumor is that the specter of young girl likes to loiter in the lobby and is known to be spotted peeking out from behind the furnishings from time to time… while I didn’t spot this elusive phantasm (or even get the notion of one) something interesting did show up in one of the photos (see photo enhancements below) but I make no claims …
The midland plains of Iowa were also in dire straits with little hope of crop revival as of late July/early August… crossing the border into Nebraska I witnessed more of the same.
Omaha is an old city steeped in history and legend …being a lifelong Chicagoan I sometimes have to chuckle at the comparative sizes of these cities but they each have their own distinct energy signature and feel…the predominately red bricked cobblestone streets are oddly un-annoying thumping beneath the tires but I doubt the inhabitants of this town ever become completely desensitized to them once the nostalgia wears off …
The Orpheum Theater has undergone a few transformations over the years and despite the internecine squabbling in the past within the theater/music community concerning its viability and it’s need for renovation, the old landmark stands proudly downtown with placards posted in its storefront windows advertising upcoming engagements ranging from opera, symphony, Shrek the Musical, Jackson Browne and Jane’s Addiction …getting inside for photos was simply a matter of walking up and asking ...Once inside I was flabbergasted by the beauty I beheld, I was especially appreciative of the huge auditorium; “Slossburg Hall with its massive stage, opulent arched ceiling and inset box seats; the likes of which would have been a favorite of John Wilkes Boothe … from its humble beginning in 1892 as a vaudevillian house, this building has seen much in the way of change both socially and structurally…
The alleged sightings here seem to revolve around the appearance of a 40s era musician that sort of sulks around the side of the stage…the theater management is supposedly tight-lipped about this so I didn’t inquire after I was granted extemporal access for the expressed purpose of photos but the hapless minstrel flashed into corporeal existence as soon as I entered the hall…
As I made way down the center isle (pausing intermittently for photos) I noticed the man was clasping a violin to his chest and staring at the empty stage with an unmistakably sour expression…moving his direction in a side stepping fashion while taking my snapshots along the length of the parquet, he neither changed expression or seemed to notice my cautious approach …as I sort of sidled up next to him, with all the magnanimity I could muster, I inquired: “Why so gloomy Maestro?”…after a few eternal seconds he responded without turning my direction and with very little in the way of inflection: “I was demoted to second seat violinist, I don’t deserve to be a second seater” …Not being much of a classical music aficionado I simply assumed this was sort of a less coveted or an understudy designation in the orchestra pit …the dour duffer continued: “relegated to the ranks of a back row fiddler “…
“Did your replacement deserve his promotion and can you honestly assert that the choice to reassign you was unwarranted?” I chided in an effort to evoke a more interrogative dialog …unfortunately his laconically brief response proved the efficacy of my tactic to be lacking…
“I don’t deserve this” …and as I gestured towards the stage to remind him that as a (novice) musician myself; I would feel privileged to perform on such an immaculate stage in ANY capacity, I noticed him vanish from my periphery and he could not be located anywhere on the main floor now…Shrugging in my disappointment that he wasn’t amenable to a conversation and heading back up the center isle (hoping nobody observed me talking to myself down by the stage) I heard a loud crack and muffled grunt overhead …knowing what had occurred, I elected not to look upward as I ducked under his dangling, twitching legs below the balcony railing …

Here are the (compressed to 1MB) photos...some have been slightly sharpened or color enhanced (08-2012)
Orpheuous Theater, & downtown Omaha NE:
http://s790.photobucket.com/albums/yy188/TheNotoriousMrhalfhand/Oma...

The Paul Hotel/downtown St Paul MN/St Katherine College/ and an old Lutheran cemetery:
http://s790.photobucket.com/albums/yy188/TheNotoriousMrhalfhand/Oma...

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