Who Built Our Capitol? Documentary Script
by Randy Croce
(NOTE: N: shows Narration. Interview bites are prefaced by the person’s name. Text in italics indicates sections that were edited out of the first version of the video. This 47-minute program is linked to this website.)
N: July 27, 1898. Marching bands lead thousands of people to the highest point in downtown St Paul, Minnesota. Columns of veterans, stonecutters and other workers march to the ribbon-draped speakers stand. Here, the new capitol is rising from the ground. Onlookers lean over the partially finished first floor walls. Among the throng of dignitaries is Minnesota's first territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, to officially lay the cornerstone for the people's house - the grandest building in the state and one of the finest capitol buildings in the country. The cornerstone is five feet long with a hollow core to hold a copper box. Into the box are placed more than 45 books, newspapers, photos and documents - including histories of legislators and soldiers since the founding of the state. The names of the Capitol Commissioners and architect Cass Gilbert, as well as his associates, are etched on a bronze plate. But the box contains not a single name of a worker or contractor who erected the structure. Since construction began in 1896, hundreds of workers have already been drawn to this spot. They dug and laid the foundation and built the lower walls. Hundreds more will come to work here through the building's completion in 1907. For some, it is the spark for long, successful careers and the beginning of generations in Minnesota; for others, it's one stop of many in a wandering artisan's life; for others it will mark the end of their lives. These people all came together to create this Minnesota icon, but they have remained nameless - until now.
This is their story.
TITLE ON SCREEN: WHO BUILT OUR CAPITOL?
N: Workers left their own time capsules to mark their work on the Capitol. At the base of the gold-leafed finial and ball atop the dome ‚ 223 feet from the ground, three people gathered, exactly 110 years after the day that a mysterious and tantalizing message was left there.
Kelley Casey, formally with HGA, currently with Preservation Design Works: I was involved in the restoration of the State Capitol's Finial and Copper Roof, and during the demolition, selective demolition, of the original copper, we were fortunate enough that the sheet metal workers that we were working with took it upon themselves to save this small cleat that supports one of the original copper shingles that was up on the roof.
N: O.C. Manke August 10, 1902. The etched clue sent historian Dave Riehle on a search through city directories, payroll accounts, death certificates and cemetery records to discover that O.C. was Otto Manke.
Dave Riehle, Historical Researcher, Project Team Member: I looked for a death record on him and he lived a long time, into the 1940s. And from there, went to the newspapers and finally get to an obituary where some living people are listed as survivors, including Michelle. So, this is your grandfather's signature. He sent a message to you.
Michelle Manke, Great-Granddaughter of Otto Manke: Having my great- grandfather be so involved in this project, it's very emotional, actually seeing the handwriting, ‚because it was something I would never have seen before. And just to put myself in that same position, you know, standing here. I'm sure that he would have never guessed 110 years later that I'd be standing here. Maybe it was a call for us to k now the history of this building, both the past and its current, and what the future can mean for this building. What I have pieced together: he was about 34 years old when he was up here. And then, of course, a couple years, maybe, what, ten years older when he actually worked on the cathedral. So, I just, I can't imagine.
N: The vast majority of those who worked on the new capitol, came from outside the state, and like Otto, most of them were immigrants or children of immigrants.
Michelle: He was born here in St. Paul. His father came over here. My great-great-grandmother, she talks about the four-week journey across the Atlantic.
N: The Mankes fled their homeland of Pomerania, part of Prussia, that suffered frequent wars between Germany and Poland. The Rachec family also left conflict in their country, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic).
Julie Kierstine, great-granddaughter of carpenter John Rachac: When you consider how bad things must have been for them to haul up stakes and everything they owned and come to a completely foreign country in 1863, it must have been pretty terrible. He was 14 years old, and he came with his parents from a very small village in Bohemia. He was a really fine finishing carpenter. We knew that. We knew that he did all the fine finishing work in the James J. Hill mansion here in St. Paul. That was my mother's understanding. She told us that he was the head carpenter at the State Capitol Building during its construction and afterwards as well.
N: Fleeing the wars on one continent, the Rachac family encountered the American Civil War on another. Julie Kierstine: They entered in Philadelphia on a train. They sat in the Philadelphia station for three or four days in the first week of July in 1863. Their travels to this area were delayed because of the Battle of Gettysburg. And there we are in the governor's suite, looking at these panels. We know he worked on some of the finishing work in that governor's suite, and there is this massive painting of the Battle of Gettysburg. And it's the full circle sort of experience here. It's almost beyond comprehension. I wonder if, you know, if he ever knew that there were going to be paintings up there of the Battle of Gettysburg.
N: While many tradespeople had already come to St. Paul when work began on the Capitol, others were recruited to work on the construction.
Marvin Roger Anderson, grandson of stonemason/bricklayer Ernest Jones: The general contractor had been in the South and had observed the work that black artisans were able to do. And so he contacted Casiville Bullard, who was a mason extraordinaire and they made him a general foreman.
Jerry Blakey: My grandfather, Casiville Bullard, was a brick mason, as well as a stonecutter, as well as a carpenter, which was kind of rare. He had ten children in Tennessee, Memphis, TN. And because of that skill and because of housing discrimination at that time, segregation, you know, racism, really couldn't find opportunities to work, or, if he did find work, it was more in the poor neighborhoods and maybe not the best opportunity to feed his large family. So through some different connections, people heard of his skill and they asked him to come here. And so he came here in 1898 and started working on the Capitol. Marvin: The general contractor sent Casivillie out to find African American or black masons, and around 20 of them came here, including my grandfather. And Casiville Bullard said, "Whoever I bring on this job has to perform at a certain level." His house is still standing. That's the kind of quality that he demanded of the people who worked for him. I believe my grandfather had that quality and they formed a friendship that, as far as I know, lasted throughout both of their lives.
N: Hoist operator, Zebulon Olson, was one of many Swedes who left poverty at home in a great wave of migration to American cities.
Elaine Olson Ekstedt, great-granddaughter of Zebulon Olson: Our grandmother was a historian and this is one of her notes, and it says that we have a marble egg made by Grandpa Zebulon Olson when he set all the stones in building the Minnesota State Capitol Building. It's the same marble as in the structure This is the egg and grandma Olson had this on the buffet. He took a chip from the construction process and put it in his pocket and made the egg later
Linda Olson, great-granddaughter of Zebulon Olson: The egg is the thing that...You know, when you have a memento or something...
Elaine: This is the connection...
Linda: That has a story that goes with it and someone keeps telling the story generation after generation. Well..
Elaine: This is shared history.
Linda: There is a connection to the State Capitol. And it is strong and it keeps us here.
Elaine: Yeah, the roots go deep.
N: As an architect supervising the restoration of the Capitol dome, Ginny Lackovic has had a chance to study the construction history, read the original building plans and closely examine the craftsmanship that statehouse trades workers brought to the structure.
Ginny Lackovic, Architect, HGA: The drawing sets at that point had maybe a hundred sheets, maybe not even that many, for this building, compared to what we would issue now to build a building like this would be a four-volume set of a hundred sheets each. So buildings at this time, you relied a lot on the craftsmen, on their knowledge and their sensibilities. There are often comments that take you up to a certain point and then it's, you know, using typical methods...and what are those? You know, they didn't describe them at that point. They just relied on craftsmen and the trades to actually carry that through, carry that forward.
Ginny: The tooling of it and the craftsmanship that went into it is really why the building has held up as well as it has. The detailing is amazing. Every piece sheds water and some very subtly, but still, every single inch of the building was designed with intent. And at the scale of the materials, it's amazing.
N: Craftworkers arrived in St. Paul with this level of skill through rigorous formal and informal apprenticeships in Europe or through American training based on these models. In trades like stonecutting, these traditions still survive in Europe, giving a glimpse into the preparation that builders applied to the construction of the Capitol.
Stefano Follega, Stonemason: My training in Italy was mostly being with my father and uncle, two tradesmen. I believe that is the best training you can get, having hands-on, so that you learn doing things. And that's how I literally learned to do everything that was part of stone and masonry. You know, when I cam here, it was already more than 12 year that I used to work. So I started very young.
N: Stefano worked as a foreman, restoring the steps on the west side of the Capitol in 2012.
Stefano: You know those steps have been there for a hundred years and the workmanship at that time was amazing. They really were proud of what they were doing. You see those people in the picture, you know, with the hats, and that remember me those people I used to work with in Italy. They were always well dressed, well respected workers. Being an immigrant myself, sometime I think, "So this stone was set 100 years ago by a French, by a German, somebody that came to do this job."And sometime you just think, that the story, the history repeat themself. .
N: At age 14, Jan Rachac already had two years of old-world apprenticeship, when he arrived in Belle Plaine, Minnesota. He honed his skills building homes in the growing community. The prospect of regular work and more time to spend with his family and fellow Bohemians, led him to St. Paul, where he built his own house in the Czech neighborhood off West 7th Street.
Julie: He did this fine finishing work. I think that's utterly true because I have beautiful pieces of furniture that he made.
John Danneker, great-grandson of carpenter John Rachac: This is the trunk from my great- grandfather. It's what he used at the job site at the Capitol. They made their own planes, they sharpened them. That's his original, it's got his marks on it.
N: Artisans commonly made their own tools as part of their trade, like David McAllister's great-grandfather, Erik Isaacson and his great uncle, Nils Nelson, Swedish-born stonemasons who served as foremen at the Capitol.
David McAllister, great-grandson of stonemason Erik Isaacson: I took this box out of the garage. It had been attributed to one of my ancestors, it was Erik's or it was Nils'. A lot of times, they would make tools on site from bar steel, and a lot of these look to be that type of thing. Somebody put some energy into that a few times! (laughs, hitting chisel with mallet)
N: Nils Nelson could use these tools to cut a stone building block to size or to carve detailed sculptures.
David: The marble sculpture, it's probably 24 to 30 inches wide.
Janet McAllister, granddaughter of stonemason Erik Isaacson: It's a big clipper ship. Uncle Nils, he made it.
N: Artisans, like Nils, who had also been a Swedish sailor, were so confident in their skills, they could even stand up to architect Cass Gilbert.
Patrick Butler, grandson of Emmett Butler: The foreman of the crew that was setting the stone was having to haul the stone up by rope, and they got stopped by Cass Gilbert and criticized for doing something. And the person, Nils Nelson, said, "Well, we don't respond to you." So the thing was taken to be adjudicated, I guess, by one of the Butler brothers. And Cass Gilbert reasoned that he was captain of the ship and so you should take orders from him. And Nelson said, "I know the protocol. The captain never gives orders to the men. He gives orders to the boatswain and the boatswain tells the men." And so he said, told Mr. Gilbert, ‚"... the boatswain and Mr. Butler is the captain and you, you're nothing!" (laughs)
N: And general contractor, William Butler, decided to keep Nils on the job.
N: Patrick Butler's name was handed down from his great-grandfather, who left famine-stricken Ireland in 1852 with a civil engineering degree from Trinity College in Dublin. The determined immigrant tried his hand at many jobs. As a young man, he was a farm hand in the east and ran a bar in Galena, Illinois, with his wife Mary Ann, where they often served drinks to Ulysses S. Grant. Patrick was a teacher, contractor and farmer near Northfield, Minnesota. One by one, Patrick's sons left the farm for greater opportunities in growing St. Paul. The older brothers, Walter and William, became bricklayers and charter members of Union Local Number One. They struck out on their own and recruited their brothers, John, Cooley, and Emmett to undertake subcontracting brickwork. They soon became contractors for entire jobs, and partnering with Mike Ryan, built Old Main at Macalister College. Winning the bids for general contractor to build the main structure and the dome of the Capitol was the greatest challenge the new Butler-Ryan Company, (and successor Butler Brothers Company) had ever faced. It would test every skill and resource they had.
N: George Grant Company won the bid for the first phase of the new Capitol's construction - excavating and laying the foundation. Basement work was subcontracted to the Lauer Brothers, and the Universal Construction Company. This base was constructed of limestone from a quarry near Winona.
N: Like the workers, the materials for the state Capitol came from all over Minnesota, the nation and the world - but not without controversy. Deciding on the source of the stone for the rest of the Capitol building sparked anger. Architect Cass Gilbert, inspired by the architecture in Europe and impressed by the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, wanted the luminous white of marble, and favored stone from Georgia. Minnesota businesses and labor, in general, argued that the statehouse should be built entirely with Minnesota materials, to boost jobs and the economy of the state. The wounds of the Civil War were still in living memory, and sourcing the stone from a Southern state rankled many.
N: The final compromise called for Minnesota granite to be used for the basement and steps of the structure, and marble to cover the upper portions of the building. The marble was brought from the Amicalola quarry, leased and operated by the Butler-Ryan Company, in Pickens County, Georgia.
N: Most of the granite came from the Baxter quarry in St. Joseph Township, just west of St. Cloud. Columns inside the rotunda were shaped and finished by a huge lathe run by the Rockville Granite Company from granite quarried locally, as well as from Ortonville* in western Minnesota. (*Uncertain. It may have come from Morton, MN on the Minnesota River.)
N: A reddish-colored band of quartzite, circling the third-story level of the rotunda, came from an area also near the South Dakota border. Sandstone, cut from pits in what is now Banning State Park, supported the base of the Capitol dome. Kilns in Chaska, Minnesota supplied more than two million buff-colored bricks for the walls.
N: Most of the walls inside the Capitol were faced with warm-toned dolomitic limestone quarried in Kasota by the Babcock and Wilcox Company.
N: In the Capitol's interior, stone from Minnesota was augmented by more than twenty other varieties that originated from all over the world, including France, Greece, Italy and northern Africa.
N: While the type of stone varied from quarry to quarry, the labor to free it from the earth was much like the work in the marble pits of Pickens County, Georgia.
Gerald Hughes, Quarry Foreman, Polycor, Tate, GA: If you started with a company, you pretty much started at the bottom, unless you were the boss's son, or something like that, you know, and they actually had something they termed as the gang. And basically, their job consisted of hammer and wedges, lifting or breaking the stone. So I guess that was a pretty dirty job, working down in the bottom, in the mud all the time.
Dan Berry, Georgia Marble Co. Retiree: And marble weighs 170 pounds a cubic foot, so it's pretty heavy. But back then, you lifted one if you were told to, you know, and I'm sure there were a lot of sore backs at night in the marble industry. (laughs) But the men became real adept at what they did. They were real craftsmen.
Marvin "Hoss" Edge, Worker for 45-Years in Quarries, Tate, GA: You had to swing them sledge hammers, you know, and them boys would get singing and we'd all hit it ...you'd hit every one of them at the same time.
N: While manual strength and skill dominated quarry work, new machinery was revolutionizing the productivity of the industry at the close of the 19th Century.
Dan Berry: To pull out a block, you have to drill holes along the grid, all along the grid, and there are two bits working at the same time and in the old days, they used steam to drive these bits, the drills.
Hoss Edge: Then to cut the rock, we had channeling machines. You set up here and they had a piece of railroad track and these things had two heads on them. They had five drills, like this. One of them turned one way and the other the other way and they set up here all day long and go like that, (gestures, up and down motions with arms) you know, boom, boom, boom, boom, all day long. And back then, if it got a little bit cloudy or whatnot, it'd be so dusty in the hole, you couldn't see down in there. You'd have to wait till the dust settled.
Dan: In the summer time, it gets over a hundred degrees down there because of all the reflection on the stone.
Gerald Hughes: In most of the quarries, they had ladder rows. The ladders were actually constructed of wood, and I think some of our quarries are 180 feet deep.
Hoss: You went in of a morning and we had a break, but most of us stayed in the hole, then we'd come out at dinner and get 30 minutes, then go back. Even the older fellas, they done that, you know.
Dan: They got old fast, people that worked in the industry got old fast, but they supported the family.
Frank May, Georgia Historical Researcher: The people who ran the saws and wagons lived in the area. A number of them used to be slaves. So the actual quarrying operations and heavy lifting were done by the local people. The carving of the stone, the artisanship of the stone, they had to import cutters from Vermont, from France, from Italy, Belgium, all over the world, actually. And I believe some of them actually ended up in Minnesota at St. Paul to help finish off the State Capitol there.
N: Most of the quarry companies were started by entrepreneurs, who had worked in stone pits or cut stone themselves. Scotch immigrant stonecutter Henry Alexander founded Rockville Granite, which became Cold Spring Granite Company, west of St. Cloud. Albert Steinbauer and the Biesantz family developed quarries near Winona. The Vetter family took over the limestone quarry business started by Joseph Babcock shortly after he helped found the town of Kasota.
Howard Vetter, Chairman, Vetter Stone: My father's main goal in life was to start a stone business with his sons when they grew up. My grandfather, Bernard, had worked in stone in Germany before he immigrated in the 1880s, a, settled at Kasota and he started a monument shop there. The old B & W Management saw that he had some good talent and hired him and he eventually was in charge of the production for the company that furnished the stone for the capital. My father, Paul, worked for the Babcock Company in Kasota. He first started working in the quarry, where he and his horse were hired to run a derrick hoist in the quarry. And then he worked into various jobs until he was in charge of production for the Babcock Company, the job that my grandfather had held before him. Back in the 1930s, during the depression, he bought the original quarry land where our plant is located now. At age 65, in 1954, took his life savings and bought used stone equipment and the family basically worked for a couple of years setting up this machinery, building the buildings, so we operated pretty much on a shoestring, kinda learned to walk before we learned to run. It's like there's stone dust in the blood.
N: The railroads, and the men who built and ran them, made it possible to construct massive stone buildings, like the Minnesota Capitol, that rose across America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Frank May: With the development of the railroads and the development of spur tracks, smaller tracks, it opened up these quarries to easy transportation of these 75- ton blocks of marble.
Gerald Hughes: The rail line came adjacent to the pits and in most cases, I‚Äôm sure they were able to extract the marble with the derrick and place it directly onto the rail line.
N: John Ray began building railroad spurs to the marble pits when most of the work was still done using hand tools. John Ray, Retired Railroad Spur Construction Foreman, Georgia Marble Company: Pick and shovel and hammer. Drive a spike, pull a spike, whatever come to get the job done, we did it. We had to drive a spike with a spike hammer. Hands got to be pretty sore right in there, with calluses on them. Anyhow, it was hard work.
N: Building the rail spurs was indeed hard work, especially through mountainous terrain, but these crews were paid wages.
N: While the Minnesota Capitol was to feature flags and artwork honoring the state's union soldiers, who fought to end slavery, the main railroad lines that carried marble for the statehouse, were built by convict labor. Overwhelmingly African Americans, the prisoners worked under slave-like conditions because of minor, even fabricated offenses, like loitering or speaking too loudly. The state and local governments even rented out these prisoners to do hard labor for private companies, like the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad, which built the line between the marble quarries and Atlanta, on the way to St. Paul.
N: At the turn of the century, steam could power engines that pulled or lifted massive loads on tracks or from stationary hoists. But hauling all the tons of stone from the train depot, through downtown St. Paul, and uphill - 90 vertical feet - to the Capitol construction site, still relied on horse-drawn wagons, guided by teamsters like John Geary.
N: John championed fellow worker's rights, founding Teamsters Local 120 in Minnesota. He rose to vice president of the international union. Safety was a primary issue. Michael McNierney was hauling sand near the capitol site in 1899, was pulled underneath his wagon and crushed to death when his horses spooked.
N: Once the stone arrived at the Capitol site, the workers and contractors had to figure out how to get it cut to size, finished and moved to where it belonged in the massive building. The Butlers were early adopters of the latest innovations, like steam-powered hoists, mounted on rails above the structure, that could move back and forth wherever they were needed.
N: The son of Capitol carpenter, Jan Rachac, John Rachac, Junior, designed other innovative features of the Capitol.
Julie Kierstine: My great uncle John is sort of the star of the family because of his association with Cass Gilbert. Cass Gilbert basically hired him right out of high school and sent him to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. And he was in Paris, studying there. And I have seen letters in which Cass Gilbert directed him to please pay special attention to all the classical architecture, the building facades. There's one letter in which he sort of admonishes him to, you know, to try as much as possible to not have too much fun, but to actually (laughs) you know, study. And so he was in Paris from 1900 to 1902, at which point Cass Gilbert called him back to Saint Paul because he said he needed him. And it was at that point, I think, that Uncle John sort of unofficially became a real primary assistant to Cass Gilbert, because I do know he was an assistant architect for the State Capitol Building.
N: Likely inspired by French architecture, John created the design for the cantilevered staircase in the northeast corner of the Minnesota Capitol building, at the time, a unique feature in America.
N: As part of the deal to use Georgia marble, the stone was to be finished on-site. A shed was built on the northwest corner of the grounds to house the steam-powered cutting and polishing equipment. Here too, stonecutters used recently introduced pneumatic chisels to sculpt the statues that would adorn the statehouse. William Butler invented a lathe to cut flutes in the massive marble columns, saving countless hours of labor. The huge equipment had to be anchored to the concrete floor with iron rods. The continuous din from the stone-finishing machinery could be heard many blocks away. The noise followed the workers at the end of their shifts, as they walked or boarded streetcars to go home. Many immigrant workers headed for neighborhoods where people from their homelands had settled together.
Joe Landsberger, Archivist, CSPS Hall: European immigrants settled in communities and, in a sense, gravitated to the place where they could speak their language, share their culture.
N: A German enclave was closest to downtown along West 7th Street, with another community north of University in what is now Frogtown. More established immigrants helped out newcomers, reinforcing the ethnic character of the neighborhoods.
Michelle Manke: Otto and his wife quite often would rent that home out to other family members or other people who were just coming here and stay with them until they got on their feet and found jobs and found housing for themselves.
N: Germans represented the largest ethnic group in Minnesota. Their influence was reflected in the Capitol basement Rathskeller. Modeled on drinking rooms in Germany's town halls, it featured mottos stenciled in German across the ceiling. (Actor reading some of these sayings in German.)
N: Other immigrant groups occupied distinct St. Paul districts, like the Bohemian neighborhood around West 7th Street. Here carpenter Jan Rachac made his home and helped build the Czech and Slovak Protection Society, the CSPS, Hall.
Julie Kierstine: He and his wife, this was a central part of their cultural life and it was for my grandfather as well. ... Whenever my mother and I came to Minnesota, we would always drive by this building and she would say, "There's the Bohemian Club. That's where your great grandfather and your grandfather went all the time for various things and functions." Clearly this was very important to them in maintaining their ties to their culture.
Joe Landsberger: And this would be the place where they could speak their language, where their children were actually taught their language. There's a famous saying, if Czech then a musician, and hence you can have the notoriety of Anton Dvorak, who also visited our hall in 1893. And so we have every year a Czech play or Slovak play produced in the hall. When they would have their parties or festivals, the children would end up sleeping on the chairs, while the parents danced and had their good times.
N: For the Catholic Bohemians, Saint Stanislaus Church was the hub of community activities, just as churches were for other immigrant groups.
Joe: Their churches, of course, were central to their development and to their socializing, to their cultural preservation. [And the cemeteries, of course, were where you found all of the last names and the families and a, in a sense the history of different immigrant groups.]
N: After working long hours in relative isolation during the week, many African American workers came together at churches on Sundays, for services and socializing. The church was the focus of community activities for Ernest Jones's wife, Cora Lee, their children and the next two generations.
Jennifer Bangoura, great-granddaughter of bricklayer Ernest Jones: My grandmother was a member of St. James AME Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church. My grandmother was on the usher board. She was there every Sunday, I think, until she was maybe about 99. That was a loving church. We'd have May Day and we'd run around the pole with the crepe paper and stuff.
N: Saloons served as the main gathering places for many workers.
N: Unions also brought members and their families together.
Marvin R. Anderson: My mother remembers that every Sunday, all of the masons would go out for a picnic during the summertime and they would play and they would have great fun and they would cook food.
N: But workers needed unions for more than socializing. Members banded together to deal with severe economic disparities and the harsh, sometimes dangerous and violent conditions of turn of the century workplaces.
Patrick Butler: There's a family story of the tradition of having to be a better man than the person you fired, so you were supposed to knock somebody down before you could fire them. And there was a shovel runner that came across one of the Butler brothers, and so, I don't know whether it was Emmett or not, went to fire the shovel runner and went up to knock him down before he fired him and got knocked down instead. So he tried again and got knocked down instead. So the shovel runner never got fired because he couldn't be knocked down. (Laughs)
N: Organized workers in skilled trades, like carpenters and bricklayers, had achieved shorter nine and even eight-hour workdays. At union wages of $3.50 to $5 a day, tradesmen could support their families and even build their own homes.
N: Non-unionized workers, such as laborers, made less than half of trade union wages, often with longer hours and irregular chances to work - and they tended to live in second-class hotels or rooming houses.
N: Women worked almost entirely in non-union settings. Female janitors and cleaners at the Capitol earned $1.50 a day for a nine or ten-hour day, half what males in their positions earned. But they were good wages for women, who were paid 75 cents to a dollar a day for house cleaning or factory work at the time.
N: Most of the women who contributed to the construction and furnishing of the Capitol worked at a distance from the building. In the Butler-Ryan office, Catherine Butler (no relation) worked as a stenographer. A New York company that manufactured furniture for the statehouse was co-owned by a woman. The elegant downtown department store, Shuneman's, supplied Capitol draperies, some sewed on location by seamstresses.
N: Several of the women who did work on the statehouse construction site, like laborers Anna Young, Josie Sheeran and Mary Walker, lived at the House of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic home for impoverished women and girls. The residents had supported the facility with a commercial laundry, but a tornado on August 20,1904, wrecked that workplace - together with the High Bridge, buildings and trees throughout St. Paul. Supporters of the Good Shepherd included relatives and influential friends of the Butlers, such as brother Pierce Butler, former partner Mike Ryan and Mary Hill, wife of railroad magnate James J. Hill. So, the women may well have gotten their jobs at the Capitol site through these connections. It was not genteel work, involving such tasks as cleaning the tobacco juice from the window wells.
N: The statehouse construction site could be a rough place, and a dangerous one. Six workers died in the course of building the State Capitol. The first worker to lose his life was Felix Arthur, who came north with the marble shipped from Georgia. On May 4th, 1898, Felix was working on a stone polishing machine when he got caught in the flywheel. He died in the hospital early the next morning. Felix was only 25 years old. His body was returned to Nelson, Georgia, where his parents were so distraught, they left the area and moved to Texas.
N: John Biersack, 36-year-old son of Bavarian immigrants to Wisconsin, died in October 1898, a few days after he fell from a derrick. These accidents stirred up controversy in the newspapers about safety conditions at the Capitol site and even garnered the public concern of the Labor Commissioner and State Attorney. Yet, four more men fell to their deaths in the following five years, not to mention non-fatal injuries. The state could inspect sites and request accident reports, but had no authority to enforce safety rules or fine employers.
Ginny Lackovic: I think the level of safety when this building was built was based on everybody's sense of their own judgment and their own sense of safety, what they were comfortable with. You know there was no OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Your safety was your own responsibility and if you made a mistake, you paid dearly for it.
N: Albert Swanson, a 20-year-old mold caster from Sweden, was killed in a strange accident. A St. Paul Globe headline summarized. Passing Wagon Drives Over Rope Used to Hoist Material, and Scaffolding, on Which Men Stood, Falls. Swanson and fellow worker Frank Thiery both plunged forty feet. Swanson collided with timbers and died before hitting the ground. But Thiery landed in a pile of sand and miraculously got away with only a broken leg. He checked himself out of the hospital and went home that night. Stonemason Alfred Magnuson, age 23, and 40-year-old German-born laborer Florian Zauner both fell to their deaths in 1900. The last fatal accident happened in 1903, when 18-year-old John Corrigan fell 32 feet near the Senate chamber. The young man, just a week or two on the job, was pushing a heavily-loaded wheel barrow across three narrow planks when it tipped over and he fell with it.
N: The outrage over young Corrigan's death may have had an effect. He was the last worker to die building the Capitol. Ginny: There were no hard hats or any kind of protection for the head. The scaffolding was built on site. Everything was cobbled together using whatever was available. I mean, the handrails and the guardrails that are now part of all of these projects are there for a reason. I think every safety implement you see now, as you look across the roofs and at the scaffolding, is because of some unfortunate accident in the past and there are organizations that monitor that.
N: None of the workers who were killed in Capitol construction accidents had children. Their names were not collected in any one place and they were never publicly acknowledged, not until Workers Memorial Day ceremonies on the Capitol grounds in 2011 and 2012 finally recognized the sacrifice these tradesmen made.
Harry Melander, President MN Building and Construction Trades Council: Today we are here to recognize five individuals that lost their life building the People's House (points) over a hundred years ago.
N: There was little financial or legal responsibility, on the part of the employer or the government, for the consequences of accidents. The costs of workplace injuries and deaths were left mainly to individual workers and their families.
N: Stone mason Erik Isaacson had a disabling accident in 1917.
Janet McAllister: He went to work for Butler Construction until he fell from scaffolding and broke his back. His daughter, Lillian, was must have been 15 or so and she went to Johnson High School. She had to leave Johnson and go to work because he couldn't work anymore with a broken back. I know Butler didn't have any insurance for him, there wasn't any insurance for bricklayers in those days, unfortunately.
N: To ease the impact of illness, accident or death, many workers joined together in unions, fraternal organizations and ethnic mutual benefit societies. Members pooled their money and helped one another when misfortune struck.
Joe Landsberger: The purpose was, back in the 1800s, there wasn't Social Security. And so these families came together, would pay a little bit every month, and if something untoward happened to a family, they had an insurance program.
N: Hundreds of workers came and went throughout construction of the Capitol, many still unrecorded and unknown. Some simply moved on to the next job. But for many, the successful completion of the building was the stepping stone for successful careers.
N: Nils Nelson was elected an officer of the stonemasons union and went on to run for the state legislature. Otto Manke was elected secretary treasurer of the Sheet Metal Workers Union and trustee of the Trinity Lutheran (now Elmhurst) Cemetery board of trustees. He went on to found his own roofing company. Dorothy Manke remembers seeing the business, when she first arrived in St Paul, before she met and married Otto's grandson.
Dorothy Manke: When I came to St. Paul, I'd take the Dale Street streetcar down the Ramsey Hill downtown. And the first thing I noticed was this long building and across the roof was this, Otto C. Manke Roofing. And that's where I heard of Manke.
N: Dorothy's daughter, Michele, admires a large bronze sculpture Otto helped create.
Michelle: He had also worked on an eagle that was on one of the banks downtown. Since that time, that eagle is now, literally only a few blocks away from me in Roseville at the Northwestern College.
N: Marvin's grandfather applied his experience, in his trade and in his union, when he left St. Paul to return to Chicago. Marvin Anderson: He knew what he wanted to do and he did it. He was an extremely strong man. He worked right into his 60s in Chicago, where he had formed the Black Bricklayers Association in Chicago.
N: Marvin's niece, Jennifer, became intrigued about her great-grandfather Ernest [Jones] and dug into his story for an article she wrote.
Jennifer Bangoura: This man was an enigma to me and so the more I found out about him, the more I wanted to know. Here's a picture of my great-grandfather and he's got a headdress on. He's half Cherokee, I believe, and half African American. This is my ancestor and I'm so proud of him. I mean, it's just - it gives me strength.
N: Mary E. Walker, a 65-year-old African American widow, who had done construction cleaning work at the Capitol, was appointed to a job as a matron in the completed building. The position gave her the long-term financial security that eluded other statehouse women laborers.
N: Zebulon Olson operated cranes on locks and other building projects, but his life took a turn for the worse and he came to depend on his son and daughter- in-law.
Elaine Olson Ekstedt reads Grandma's notes: Zebulon Olson was a self-educated man, having no schooling and on his own at age 17. He was a drinker, and although in his later years, he spent a year with Alice and Oscar, he finally left and went downhill as an alcoholic dying of stomach trouble.
N: The Capitol project was the turning point for the fledgling Butler brothers' company. They went on to a myriad of building jobs across the country and established themselves as a prominent St. Paul family. Their brother Pierce became a Supreme Court Justice, where his career would intersect with another Capitol builder, John Rachac, Junior, the son of the Bohemian carpenter.
Julie Kierstine: Uncle John was the assistant architect on the Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC. Cass Gilbert suggested to Uncle John, that the name Rachac was a little too much, like people were not going to know how to pronounce it and he should change it to something much more easily recognized and spoken. So he changed it to Rockart. An the thing that just brought tears to my eyes was in the entrance foyer of the United States Supreme Court Building, where all their names are carved in marble, and there it is with the listing of architects, John Rachac Rockart. And I love the fact that he kept the family name.
N: The architect's father continued as Capitol maintenance carpenter until he retired at the age of 76.
N: The contributions of the builders to creating such an iconic Minnesota landmark have continued to reverberate through generations of their families in very personal ways.
Julie: I have always felt this very special connection to, to my great-grandfather.
John Danneker, great-grandson of John Rachac: You know that somewhere, in amongst all the woodworking that was done at the Capitol, he was there, he was responsible for some of it. So we have this connection with, not only him and the work that he did, but with the Capitol. It's a gift.
N: Marvin Anderson became an attorney and the Minnesota State Law Librarian.
Marvin: We had an office in the state capitol. So I'm walking through this building every day. I'm wondering if I'm hearing the echoes of my grandfather or not. He worked on this building. My mother was very, very proud of it. You know? Papa did this. Papa did that, you know. You're working where Papa...Papa, helped build that building. According to my mother and Aunt Mary, he was probably the only mason on the whole building. (laughs) Nobody, no one else had anything to do with it except Papa.
N: The Capitol building has been at the center of public life for the people of the state since the cornerstone was laid. This is the place where Minnesotans come together to express their opinions and their remembrance.
David McAllister: The very intention for the building to be put up was to be a place, the house for the people. We're celebrating our civilized ability to create a place for everyone to come together and meet.
N: Glen Johnson supervised the lifting of the Quadriga, the golden horse statue, when restoration work was necessary to preserve it.
Glen Johnson, Crane Operator, Business Manager, Local 49: I remember when I was a little kid, I came up here for grade school, and got to touch these things. And, and to get a chance to come up here and work on them, that was fabulous. I think we just kinda take it for granted, the craftsmanship that was put into these buildings. I don't think we could afford to build this today, not like this. So the craftsmanship is here, it's just unbelievable. And you can think of the hours and the, and the years it took to put this thing all together. It's just unbelievable that it's still here and it's in this good of shape still after a hundred years. But things wear out and they break down and the weather in this country is harsh. And you gotta take care of what you own. And, and this is the people's. It belongs to the people.
N: The Minnesota statehouse is admired throughout the state and across the nation. The beauty and significance of this Minnesota jewel is all the more profound when we rediscover and remember the men and women who built our Capitol.