My Childhood on Skidrow
“I, myself, was on the way to becoming ‘a real tough baby,’ as they used to say & hobnobbed at least one time with ‘Kid Cann,’ himself….” [BW]
by Bodwyn Wook
[Isadore “Kid Cann” Blumenfeld, a boyhood hero of historian Bodwyn Wook]
This is the link to an interesting documentary of home movies of Minneapolis’s skidrow in the “Kid Cann” 1950s, before Urban Renewal; the Mankato, MN, equivalent is probably the block-and-a-half to either side of the South Street Saloon, a similar swinepit in at least as old & grubby a building as any of those pulled down in Minneapolis fifty years ago, and itself dating to the 1880s or so — and still standing…:
I, myself, was well on the way to becoming “a real tough baby,” as they used to say & hobnobbed at least one time with “Kid Cann,” himself; or, anyway, the other patrons of the oldtime Stockholm Café on Washington Avenue, one of The Kid’s favorite venues!
Later, in the Summer of 1960 in June for two weeks after school got out for the Summer & before going to our mother’s family’s farm, I had art lessons at the Minneapolis Art Institute. This involved taking the number 7 bus from down in the Minnehaha Falls Swedish ghetto all the way up to Washington Av & transferring for the rest of the trip through downtown to the Art Institute.
Our mother cautioned me not to “let those old men down there see you holding your money in your hand or anything like that, they are all winos and they will all take it away from you!”
Accordingly, I kept my cash in my pocket & studied the skidrow scene with great interest; I still recognize fifty-some years later many of the figures in Johnny Rex’s films & remember especially the two men fighting & grabbing each other’s noses, as well as the self-styled “Original Santa Claus”! It held my interest all the more as we already knew that the city — with a draft of “free” money from the federal government — had plans to tear down the blocks & blocks of old 1880s to 1900-era mainly brick buildings, for something called “Urban Renewal”.
Pop said it was ‘a bloody swindle’ and Mom said it was all “just to pick on those poor old drunks and make them move!” Later, in Minnehaha Elementary School in South Minneapolis, when I said this during Social Studies, and that I thought “the winos” were interesting, in my 6th grade class taught by Miss Shirley Simon, she worried to our mother at the parent-teacher conference later in the year about “Emmett’s precocious interests in the seamier things”.
“Oh, Christ,” said Mom, “I just tell little bastard that if he doesn’t do his homework, HE’LL wind up down there, too!”
[all rights revert to holders
[26 October 2013]