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Ames, Albert Alonzo “Doc” (1842–1911)

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Black and white photograph of Dr. Albert Alonzo Ames, ca. 1890.

Dr. Albert Alonzo Ames, ca. 1890.

Albert Alonzo Ames, called “Doc,” was mayor of Minneapolis four times, between 1876 and 1903.Though he earned notoriety as “the shame of Minneapolis” for his involvement in extortion and fraud during his last term in office, Ames also won praise for his work as a doctor and an advocate for veterans.

Ames was just ten years old when he arrived in the township of St. Anthony in 1852. His father, Dr. Alfred Elisha Ames, was the area’s first civilian doctor. Young Albert followed in his father’s footsteps, graduating from Rush Medical School in Chicago at the age of twenty. He returned home shortly to join the Ninth Minnesota Volunteer Regiment. After enlisting, he served as a doctor—first in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and then on the front lines of the Civil War. By the time he was twenty-two, he was promoted to surgeon major.

Upon his return to Minneapolis, Ames developed a reputation as not only one of the best but also the most compassionate doctors in the city. Promising that “richer men than you will pay your bill,” he attracted patients to his office day and night. He also entered politics, winning a spot in the state legislature by promoting the rights of the Civil War veterans he had tended on the field. Still, his travels during the war left him restless, so in 1868 he moved his family to San Francisco, where he became editor of the famous Alta California newspaper. Ames loved life in California but felt obligated to return to Minneapolis to help his ailing father with his busy medical practice.

Ames ran for mayor for the first time in 1876. Entering the race as a Republican, he jumped parties when he lost the nomination. The next night, Ames spoke as the “tin-pail candidate,”—a man for the working man—at the Democratic convention. He won the nomination and the election.

Although his first term as mayor passed without dispute, Ames proved to be a more controversial mayor with each term. He believed in a “hands-off” approach to the regulation of saloons and gambling halls and gained many supporters during his frequent nights at these establishments. Until his final term as mayor, he maintained a general reputation as a charismatic and generous man, albeit one who freely imbibed.

While citizens felt the need to elect a conservative mayor after each of his terms, they continually voted him back into office. But years of drinking and excess finally began to take their toll on him, both physically and mentally. During his final term as mayor, his habits and clouded judgment brought about corruption on a level never before seen in the city.

Ames began his 1901 administration with a bold plan to profit off the saloons, gambling halls, and brothels that thrived in the city. Inserting his brother, Fred W. Ames, as chief of police, and replacing half of the police force with men of his choosing, Ames began a year of payoffs and corruption that shattered the public’s perception of its city as a moral and respectable home.

When Ames was indicted for extortion, conspiracy, and bribe-taking in the summer of 1902, he quickly left town for West Baden, Indiana, where he remained for several months. Claiming he was too ill to travel and near death, he was able to elude capture.

In 1903, Ames became one of the most famous men to hail from the state of Minnesota. Lincoln Steffens, the acclaimed “muckraker” journalist, published an article in the January issue of McClure’s Magazine titled “The Shame of Minneapolis.” In it, he recounted the Minneapolis mayor’s fourth and final term in office.

In Ames’s absence, his brother Fred, “Coffee John” Fichette, and Irwin Gardner were among the men sent to prison for their parts in organized gambling, fraud, and prostitution schemes. Ames was caught and eventually convicted of bribery in May 1903. The Minnesota Supreme Court later overturned his conviction.

In the end, Ames’ good deeds outlasted his crimes. He maintained his medical practice until the day he died: November 16, 1911. Mourners of all classes—many of whom remembered his generosity as a doctor, veteran, and volunteer fire fighter—lined up to pay their respects at his funeral.

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“All Friends of Dr. Ames Welcome at His Funeral: Poor He Had Befriended in Life Are Especially Invited By Family.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 19, 1911.

Browne, Gordon. “Hovey C. Clarke: Crusade against Civic Corruption.” Hennepin History 56, no. 4 (Fall 1997): 22–34.

Lodden, Pat. “Betrayed City.” Hennepin History 35, no. 4 (Fall 1976): 3–10.

Orth, Samuel P. The Boss and the Machine: A Chronicle of the Politicians and Party Organization. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1912.

Steffens, Lincoln. “The Shame of Minneapolis.” McClure’s 20, no. 3 (January 1903): 227–239.

—— . The Shame of the Cities. New York: Hill and Wang, 1969, c. 1904.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Dr. Albert Alonzo Ames, ca. 1890.
Black and white photograph of Dr. Albert Alonzo Ames, ca. 1890.
Black and white photograph of Albert Alonzo Ames, ca. 1862.
Black and white photograph of Albert Alonzo Ames, ca. 1862.
Black and white photograph of Dr. Albert Alonzo Ames, ca. 1905.
Black and white photograph of Dr. Albert Alonzo Ames, ca. 1905.

Turning Point

In his fourth term as mayor of Minneapolis, Doc Ames is dubbed the “shame of Minneapolis” for the widespread corruption that runs through the city while he is in office.

Chronology

1842

Albert Alonzo Ames is born on January 18, in Garden Prairie, Illinois.

1851

Ames arrives on the outskirts of Fort Snelling with his parents and six brothers.

1862

Twenty-year-old Ames graduates from Rush Medical College in Chicago. Upon his return, he marries Sara Strout and enlists as a private in the Ninth Minnesota Volunteer Regiment. He serves as a medical doctor in the Civil War and U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

1867

Ames wins a spot on the Minnesota House of Representatives on the “soldier’s ticket.”

1868

Ames and his family move to San Francisco. He leaves his medical practice and becomes editor of the Alta California newspaper.

1874

Ames leaves San Francisco to help his ailing father with his medical practice. Dr. Alfred Elisha Ames dies on September 24.

1876

Ames takes office as “centennial mayor” of Minneapolis, an honorific given on the nation’s one hundredth anniversary. He begins the race as a Republican nominee; when the party fails to select him, he runs as the Democratic nominee instead.

1882

Ames is elected for his second term as mayor of Minneapolis.

1886

Ames is voted into office in April for his third term as mayor of Minneapolis.

1901

Ames makes his fourth inaugural address and is sworn in as mayor. He secures the Republican nomination under a new rule that allows voting in the convention regardless of party affiliation.

1902

Ames and his administration fall under investigation for corruption. As a result, Ames announces his resignation as mayor of Minneapolis in August.

1903

On February 16, Ames is arrested in New Hampshire and returns to Minneapolis. Two weeks later In May he is convicted of bribery and sentenced to six years hard labor.” The conviction is dropped by the Minnesota Supreme Court upon appeal.

1911

Ames dies on November 16 at his home at 3104 James Avenue South in Minneapolis.