Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Marda Liggett Woodbury 1925-2008

This is a post I've had sitting on my computer's desktop for months.

This blog started out documenting the the shady deals of former Minneapolis Councilman Dean Zimmermann who was indicted and convicted for corruption in 2006. It would be nice to think that the City of Lakes has rarely seen corruption of the sort that Zimmernann practiced, but that isn't the case... far from it. Minneapolis has a long history of corruption.

Most Minnesotans are not aware that corruption was so common here. A good introduction to the seamy side of Minneapolis history is a City Pages article from 1995 titled Minneapolis Confidential (no, it's a coincidence that this blog has the same name).

Linclon Steffens in his book Shame of the Cities wrote about corrupt Minneapolis Mayor Doc Ames.

Another excellent book about that period in Minneapolis history is Fred Friendly's Minnesota Rag, a book about the landmark Supreme Court case, Near vs Minnesota.

In Minnesota Rag, Friendly briefly mentions Walter Liggett, a reporter who dared to expose the rackets and graft in the Mill City and was machine-gunned to death in front of his wife and daughter.

Walter Liggett's daughter, Marda Ligettt Woodbury died in July of this year. The Star Tribune's James Shiffer wrote the following in the Strib's Whistleblower blog:

On the eighth of July, Marda Liggett Woodbury, a retired library director, died in California. She was 83. News of her death didn’t reach our newsroom until some time later, and I only heard about it this week.
I didn’t know Ms. Woodbury. I spoke to her only once, last year, when I called her after reading her book. But I found myself saddened, because she had been a living link, perhaps the last witness, to a terrible chapter in the history of Minneapolis.

Between 1934 and 1945, three journalists were murdered in Minneapolis. All of them were gunned down on the street in gangland-style slayings. No one was ever punished in their deaths of Howard Guilford, Walter Liggett and Arthur Kasherman. Over the years, the city salved its conscience by remembering these newspapermen as so scurrilous in their methods and reckless with their associations that they deserved what they got. In fact, each of them, with varying degrees of credibility, self-interest and skill, was attempting to expose the rampant corruption and gangster rule virtually ignored by the dailies, the predecessors of the newspaper I work for now. Guilford, Liggett and Kasherman were the bloggers of their day, attacked by the mainstream politicians and media alike.

In 1935, Marda Liggett Woodbury was 10 years old when she saw her father, Walter Liggett, shot to death behind the family’s apartment in Stevens Square. Liggett, editor of the Midwest American, was a vocal critic of Gov. Floyd B. Olson, whom he accused of tolerating corruption and betraying his radical principles. His daughter testified at the February 1936 trial of the notorious Minneapolis gangster charged in his death, Isadore “Kid Cann” Blumenfeld. That’s when her picture shown above was taken, her eyes glaring into the news photographer’s lens with a startling ferocity.

Blumenfeld was acquitted and went on to a long and mostly uninterrupted career in organized crime. Walter Liggett’s family moved away from Minnesota. Sixty years later, in 1998, the University of Minnesota Press published Marda Liggett Woodbury’s book, “Stopping the Presses: the Murder of Walter W. Liggett”. It makes a persuasive case that her father was assassinated because of his political beliefs and his willingness to speak out about them. It was the first step, and not the last, of historians re-evaluating the meaning of the three murders.

... it's a nice column and well worth reading.

Here is a video I made about Walter Liggett.

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