Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 7; The Twin Cities: A Fortress of Reality
Sinclair you have a major role in motor branding. He's me no never gone missing. Who's your hero. You live in Minnesota. Tonight I can be your home as Minnesota or know you. You look a little bit young I would go. To St. Cloud State College broadcasting service under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Present Sinclair Lewis is Minnesota a state of mind. You can't escape your roots and I know you can't escape your time was Europe and so the person with my.
This series was written by Dr. James Lundquist native Minnesotan and author of several articles and a book on the Sinclair Lois. Sinclair Lois the boy from soft center almost invariably return to one place whenever he came back to Minnesota and that place is not block center. It is the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. He lived in the Twin Cities only two winters. St. Paul in the winter of 1917 18 at 5:16 Summit Avenue and Minneapolis in the winter of 1919 at 81 James Avenue South. But he visited Minneapolis St. Paul many times thereafter retained acquaintances in both cities and most importantly use Minnesota's only major metropolitan area as raw material for his fictional city Zina. Thus affording us an
amazing picture of Minnesota urban life in the 1020 life has changed since then. But here with some observations on Minneapolis St. Paul today is our narrator. Lesley David is topic in our series devoted to Sinclair Lewis Minnesota is the twin city of reality. Sinclair that was once referred to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul as a fortress of reality having in mind much the same thing. W.H. Auden did in writing about the rock towns we live and die in. That is in such cities as Minneapolis and St. Paul. The natural blessings of good transportation fertile land and proximity to mineral resources are just a balanced enough like climate and geographical distance from either seaboard so that potential is neatly opposed by challenge. Louis
sense that the possibilities for a good life for the realisation of the American ideal of hard work and volunteers reward were or are perhaps greater in the Twin Cities than anywhere else in the country. Lewis also saw the challenge to American idealism more clearly stated in the two largest cities of his home state than anywhere else. So clearly stated in fact that he used to those cities as the primary model for his representative American metropolis. The city of Zenith. That figures in Babbitt are all Smith Elmer Gantry dogs Wirth and other of his novels and short stories. Do Minneapolis and St. Paul merit such a place in the analysis of American culture. Or more properly. Are they still fortresses of reality. A little grim oppressed by winter and beset by the kind of urban problems brought on by missed chances and poor planning an army of interviewers could not hope to provide conclusive answers to such questions. But we
visited Minneapolis St. Paul with the hope of gaining some significant impressions a sound enough approach it seemed to us since Lewis himself placed great stock in the sort of knowledge one gains by walking down a street with eyes indeed ears open. We had not gone very far down Hennepin Avenue Minneapolis is Main Street when we ran into a familiar personage. His steel rimmed glasses and double breasted suit seemed oddly fashionable and his recognition of awe still myopic was sudden and warm. Thank God I thought I'd write it again. You remember me don't you. George F. Babbitt. Yes I'll say Mr. Babbitt but I thought you were living in the zenith. Well you know as well as I do. It's just name Mr. Sinclair Lewis dreamed up for these twin cities you're hoping through right now. Some more investigation. Well what do you want to know about Minneapolis St. Paul you ask me I didn't
know that realtors got to be in the know these days if he expects to get a lot more of this real estate business than he is to be a lot more of this metropolitan area than there used to be. Say you're thirsty are you. I wouldn't have to twist your arm to get you to stop on the little place I don't know what I want and I'll just so we won't be breaking the law. Say we won't be prohibitions long gone Mississippi River was a help for the Scots and bootleggers as always kept it a sort of weapon that brought it up to stand on these high pavements. Step right this way be my guest as we used to say. If you try to get some impressions of our fair bird you. Have the right man. Sinclair Lewis himself consulted with me any number of times on the same subject. And I gave the insights Levy course he always wanted to see things his way and I didn't think he was a hundred per cent real live free enterprise. Never could get my point about the country did the business administration last we've got
now. Never cared much for what Lewis had to say his book about my town here about that man wasn't afraid to take a drink and that made him alright in my book. Now I've got on here and gassed long enough. He set me on the right track. Let me know what you want to find out. Well how would you describe your city if a stranger they from Seattle asked you what it's like. Well I'm not much good at that sort of thing. I could describe real estate well enough you know. CORKER artistic to family house all prim parquet floors fireplace big porch colonial heated all weather garage a bargain at twenty thousand two hundred fifty dollars. Yeah that's an ad that will call. To describe a city that something it takes a real writing talent. I can remember old Sinclair Lewis Well read read call them read something he had written.
An enormous gray stone church with a rigid spire. Dim light in the parlors and cheerful droning of choir practice. Then the storming lights of downtown park cars with tail lights white hard entrances to movie theaters like Frosty miles of winter caves electric sign serpents and little dancing men of fire. Thank shaded Globes and scarlet jazz music in a cheap up stairs dance hall lights of Chinese restaurants lanterns painted with cherry blossoms and with pagodas hung against lattice is a lustrous golden black small dirty lamps and small stinking lunchroom. A smart shopping district rich in quiet light and Crystal pendants and furs. And suave surfaces of polished wood fell behind Radisson window. High above the street and unexpected square hanging in the darkness the window of an office where someone was working late for reason unknown and stimulating. A man meshed in bankruptcy.
Or an ambitious why. Maybe an oil man suddenly become rich. The air is shrewd. The snow is deep and I inquired Alys and way out beyond the city where hillsides of snow gripped. And the curving icy river. Pretty. Exact do I that's just what many episodes like St Paul's not much different of course. Lot of rivalry between you two. What kind of mostly friendly most amusing incidents that used to be with Adam back in 1922 and Minneapolis celebrated a bad week if not her of the book Bury my name. Also because you have a sort of self model for Xena. Well now that the celebrations set off a feud with Saint Paul witchery guarded
itself as a model for how some harsh things were said but all the sport you know you know how it is so you need another drink like I have one myself a bartender. It'll be Georgie marquees here straight up dry here as you say maybe we should be asking you some questions about these twin cities that you know the history pretty well don't you Jake. Well I ought to now know Jake there used to be a history teacher and I got retired for making a little history on his own with one of his female students. Yeah you're welcome. Oh don't don't worry about it. That makes the Marquis could pass any test I asked for you see if I was stupid but I guess there was a history of Minneapolis St. Paul in a nutshell we had our Jake. It's a big order Georgie but for you a nutshell out of you know the history simple enough to the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls the river provided the transportation and the Falls provide the power for the flour mills. Those two factors are what caused the city to develop where they did from the start in the 1820s when the first flour
mill was built the history has been one of milling and manufacturing and in a nutshell Georgie that's it and it's a kind of history like business history and of course you overlook mentioning the first kind of businessman around here. I did what's really just a business call that was made here before there were bills right. And the first deal was when some real estate. OK realtor made a deal with the Indians for the land that was some deal for one and a quarter cents an acre is what that explores a mule and I paid cheap little crow for most of the present day side of Minneapolis. What do you expect of the code of ethics in American border realtors had been drawn up that if I was that fellow that my peacoat piker what it why whatever his name was to know any better. Besides enough of this history as I say the only real history is what you read in the newspapers. A lot must be going on around here. There is that much history in a well-lighted let me lay it to you right. These twin towns are booming. Yes why we've had ribbon renewal here
since the word was invented rolled slummed down long Washington Avenue with a river and but mostly torn down and a big new public library went to one of the best anywhere has been put up. Let us be a tough area believe me. Y knows vagrant street walkers off the worst kind of dives ever went down there much myself except once in a while a bunch of us get a little stuck it up after a poker kick butt and then we'd make what we called a. Civic inspection tour. But if I had a watch of so much good business to be seen out there that's all been cleaned up now. What happened to all the y nos and they grinned and streetwalkers that's a good question. Maybe they decided the jig was up and took off for Chicago were outside up our correspondence course qualified themselves for jobs. I think we've got a lot of jobs around here that we got industry here of all kinds of nationally known like out pretty well in the electronics. Minneapolis Moline and tractors industry like that take it over for the mills and Mills aren't as big all by themselves as they
used to be. And we've got the retail outlets of all kinds. Downtown Minneapolis is redesigned entire area to make shopping easier to haul and Nicolette mall as blocks and blocks of stores no cars allowed in the streets. Hope things beautified for Splash showplace. You should see it. This was all lit up. Why about a tenth of December you can hear the cash registers ringing for miles around. Silver Bells so happy Christmas Day. Christmas is a low point in the real estate business isn't it. So it is but I can rejoice the good fortune my fellow businessman. Well the battle together you know that a shock troops of Congress might force us to cry out. We Serve over a million people if you count the two cities suburbs together they have over 200 million people I'm not the only one you should talk to as usual you're right George.
You're not the only one you see. Not chance I hope. Is a real estate agency in my part of town but he just doesn't know the area like I do. He's been hauled into court for misrepresenting property two times to buy one valid place three times to buy two. No we and we didn't talk to Mr. Mott but we did get to talk here Mayor. You don't pull a rug. You start right at the top. What did that chart have to say well I can't tell you exactly because he refused to let us interview him with a tape recorder. That's damn smart. Politicians can't be too careful these days. You know haven't had a chance to be extended myself and I can say I voted for him either. I didn't think he'd make much of a business candidate but he sure surprised everybody running as a renegade upsetting the apple cart. Why do you hold all the apples. I mean most of the mayors sooner or later is just a dollars and cents socializing if you can get seen with the mayor a little tougher to do it these days it used to be. That's a change of times I guess. About said to be
that much of what mayors like. Is more impressive personally and and you'd think he gives that appearance of great honesty. He's reluctant to speak on the record but he should be. No he's not always grammatical but it's expressive enough. He seems confident and almost nonpolitical claiming that he doesn't care if he gets re-elected or not. Long as he does the right thing. Sounds like a well the last innocent man left alive in America if you ask me. But I've got to tell you about Minneapolis. He said that Minneapolis is his whole life and that he likes it because of the Independence essential honesty of its people and because it's a good place to raise children. No problems at all is it. Hundreds of thousands of people living together and independents amount of snow. He didn't skip over the problem. Matter of fact he said that Minneapolis was in worse shape than he had thought. Too much money is being carted out to the suburbs by commuting workers who earn in Minneapolis but spend in Bloomington or Mina Tonka and the state is partly responsible to collecting a huge amount of sales tax in Minneapolis but
not returning enough of it to the city. Besides a financial difficulty standing attacked the political climate in the city itself. What Minneapolis has to do according to him is to overcome party politics and money politics and elect on principle. These latter day politicians misses the point entirely. Well how do you mean. Well what we need is a good sound business government. Well why do you think a man in private business could get away for one day with running things like the city officials do point out in your life are stand big as an everybody you talk to. Well we talk to gov love Vandar you really don't. It will be next to the Pope or the president. Anyway what the governor had to say got the tape recorder right here wanted to take his ear like attachment no listen to what the governor had to say. You talked about the Twin Cities in terms of the good life. I think we have the good life and I look at the Twin Cities for the changes we are wanting.
We want the restoration of Fort Snelling for tourist attraction. We want as a logical garden when we have that. Just look at what will have in the Twin Cities. We have the major baseball teams and football teams. We have the Guthrie Theater. We have the Walker Art Center. We have a capital as a tourist attraction. We have rebuilt the downtown of Minneapolis and the downtown of St. Paul and now there'd be hardly an area that we can't bring our children into the metropolitan area to an educational experience or a recreational experience that's second to none in the country. Is that all you want to hear more. It's not like what I heard it's because that man was I don't know if he's a real first class business. President. Not at all. A good life it is something I like to hear a lot of. The time we've got the right or you don't I don't know how much a part of the good life that is.
Thinking about going to Florida. And why I like like. Florida is good my sport on the waiter's must not be all that talk to an 87 year old man who swears by the Minneapolis Kleinman. Oh that's over names. Joes a loose curator of the Hennepin County Historical Society Museum. You seven years old and working in a Historical Society Museum. Is logical enough. What do you have to say about THE POINT blog in the year plan much. Well I've always said that this state that Minneapolis is a good healthy place to live because a lot of people go to California when they don't feel well and that's where they die. But this is a real good place. I like the climate here. It's pretty hot today around 85 or 90 degrees and the winters are well take it as it comes. You got heavy underwear to wear in the winter is so you're warm. You don't freeze to death like in California just as soon as the
sun goes down and it gets cold. Interesting though maybe this is a healthy climate all the time. Good health myself for side. Right take baths every day get rid of a lot of germs that way with some of the stuff that you realize that. That long hair and beards never washing up. They rub you the wrong way on first. Now we have our share of demonstrators here more moratoriums welfare strikes ego dissatisfaction out east when towns have an escape. But I'll say we've been fair than most. Back in the 20s we had almost continuous strikes of one kind or another and one day I saw my friend's son he got told a lawyer used to be our number one liberal around here marching with striking workers. Said to myself. Why go to all sonny don't may be a fool to get mixed up with that bunch of toughs. He's a partner self-select He's nice but he's got no or nothing in it either for not a cent.
But I I think I was typical of much like what Sonny was doing but I don't let him do it and I'm in my 40s. I may not be perfect at least when cities and towns but I think we're better than most parties are straight out that said you know find work. That was our encounter with George F. Babbitt in Minneapolis. We didn't find out anything radically new about the twin cities but we did conclude that among the many things that have changed since Sinclair Lewis looked at the city that most certainly no longer seems like a fortress of reality. If the good life as governor of Vandar termed it has triumphed anywhere it is in Minneapolis which despite the lingering evidence of poverty and bad housing is to paraphrase Babbitt a better city than most. But is it as good a place as it should be. That is the question Lewis always return to in his novels is Zenith really the city is the good life
promised by Minneapolis St. Paul all that good. As a matter of fact at one point in our conversation with him he got tired of the pointed questions we were asking him about what sets the Twin Cities apart from other urban areas and he pulled a clipping out of his pocket. Now I tell you one of the great things about this land of ours is its sameness. There is a lot to be said for that. I don't know if I'd want my good old home city here to be all that different from other places. Better yes different. Not so sure. But don't get me wrong of course I'm not saying that Minneapolis St. Paul ought to take a back seat to any burg even know these other towns are partners in the great game of vital live and let's not have any mistake about this. I claim that the Twin Cities are the fastest growing partners in the whole caboodle and I trust that I may be pardoned if I give a few statistics to back up my claims. Now if they are though the old stuff
to any of you. Well get the tidings of prosperity like the good news of the Bible never becomes tedious to the ears of the real hustler no matter how off the sweet story is told. Every intelligent person knows that we manufacture more condensed milk any better rated creme than most any other city in the United States if not in the world. But. It's not so universally known that we also stand second in the manufacture of packaged butter. Sixth in the realm of motors and automobiles and somewhere about a third or so in cheese leather and breakfast foods. Our greatness however lies not alone in Punchbowl prosperity but equally in the public spirit that forward looking idealism in brotherhood which is marked Minneapolis-St. Paul ever since its foundation by our fathers. We have a right and indeed. We have a duty towards our fair city to broadcast the facts about our high schools characterized by their complete plants and fine ventilated ventilation systems bar none
and I magnificent new motels and banks and the paintings in the carved marble in their lobbies. When I when I add that we have an unparalleled number of miles of paved streets bathrooms vacuum cleaners and in all the other signs of civilization that are well there are libraries and museums are well-equipped and housed in convenient and roomy buildings that our park system is more than up to par with its handsome driveways adorned with grass and shrubs and statuary. Well then then. Then I give you here but I hint of the all around unlimited greatness of the Twin Cities. Of course I could. I could go on and on but as I was saying you know. What this country needs is not less but what more cities just like the two sisters on the banks of the old Mississippi that I that I like to call home here Babbitts rather fulsome praise of his own urban area may seem insensitive and out of date in a time when the American city is commonly portrayed is hovering on the brink of
decay and disaster. But at least one very contemporary writer would say that this dismal picture of the city is overdrawn. Edward Benfield a professor of urban government argues in his 1970 book entitled The heavenly city that many urban problems are largely imaginary. In fact says BANFIELD The cities are performing better than ever. Benfield believes that American cities are turning out a relatively humane citizenry and it is just such an argument that we heard on behalf of Minneapolis St. Paul urban problems what urban problems seems to be a typical response. A most Twin City ins from Babbitt on down have no intention of taking a back seat to the Florentines but to the reader of Lewis. There must be doubts implicit in any ringing defense of the urban environment whether it be the defense put forth by Babbitt or by Professor Banfield. However shining in gold in this city may seem to other eyes and Lewis's vision. There are always the blighted
apartment buildings and the backroom business deals and cetera et cetera. One thing you may be wondering is how we manage to pry ourselves away from Babbitt in the bar. Well as you know he's an engaging talker and the more he drank the more he talked and the more he talked the larger his audience became so we didn't feel the impulse light in leaving. And we realized that he had everybody in the place listening to him anyway. Besides he didn't even see us go you know with the sound of his voice is with us still in the bank. That's right here I was thinking was that the WRONG WITH THE Was the was the last and there was sadness and sorrow. That's why Eastwood was will be remembered in history. Set the pace for civilization
for ever. And business efficiency and business. Rome was a male who was there. For some time as are some say I think it is. You're. What a headache he must've had. His city with its rush hour traffic must have made him long as Lois often did for a quieter place. And next time we shall consider such a place as we continue our tour of Sinclair Lewis is Minnesota. The prairie
country to the way. You have been listening to Sinclair Lewis is Minnesota my state of mind this 12 program series has been produced by the St. Cloud State College broadcasting service under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Told her he still exposing you. Not the one that's with you and you cannot hide. Sinclair. And what. I saw.
- Episode Number
- Producing Organization
- St. Cloud State College
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- In 1920, Minnesotan Sinclair Lewis published his novel "Main Street," an inciteful analysis of the American small town. This radio series, produced five decades after the novel was published, explores whether "Main Street" still holds true of small towns.
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Producing Organization: St. Cloud State College
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 71-9-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 7; The Twin Cities: A Fortress of Reality,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 23, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-m9023m3g.
- MLA: “Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 7; The Twin Cities: A Fortress of Reality.” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 23, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-m9023m3g>.
- APA: Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 7; The Twin Cities: A Fortress of Reality. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-m9023m3g