Albert Alonzo "Doc" Ames (January 18, 1842 – November 16, 1911) held several terms as mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the late 19th century and very early 20th century. He was known for his geniality and assistance of the poor, sometimes giving medical treatment to those who could not afford it. However, he became much more famous for leading the most corrupt government in the city's history. The story became known across the United States when muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote an article in 1903 about the corruption and the efforts of a local grand jury to stop it. The article was later included in a collection of similar exposes in the book The Shame of the Cities, published in 1906.
Ames was born in Garden Prairie in Boone County, Illinois, but left the area at age ten when his father, Dr. Alfred Elisha Ames, moved his family to Fort Snelling in Minnesota Territory. Minnesota was young too — much of the land that would later become Minneapolis was still under control of the fort. Ames attended local public schools, which were partially run by the federal government, and eventually began working for a local newspaper before moving on to study medicine. He was largely taught by his father, but finished up his education at Rush Medical College in Chicago and received his M.D. on February 5, 1862. Soon after, he married Sarah Strout, daughter of Captain Richard Strout of Minneapolis, on April 21.
The new doctor wasn't able to settle down for long, however, as he soon enlisted in the 9th Minnesota Infantry Regiment and became involved in the Dakota War of 1862, a small war that erupted between the white settlers of Minnesota and the local Dakota population. After witnessing combat at the Battle of Acton, in 1863 Ames was shipped south to provide medical service during the American Civil War. He attained the rank of Surgeon Major in 1864.
Following the war, he returned to Minnesota for a few years. He was elected to the Minnesota State Legislature in 1866 and served the next year, but soon headed out west to California, where he worked as an editor for the Daily Times and the Alta California. He stayed out west from 1868 until 1874 when his father became terminally ill. After his father's death, he was persuaded by relatives to take over his father's medical practice. For the next 25 years, "Doc" Ames continued to live in Minneapolis.
"The Genial Doctor"
In 1876, Ames was first elected mayor, but he only served a single term for one year at that time. He ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor the next year, then returned to the mayor's office in 1882 for two years. He again became the city's mayor in 1886, this time serving for two and a half years because the city elections were moved from spring to autumn. For each of those mayoral terms, he served as a Democrat, but changed parties in the late 1890s and ended up being elected as a Republican in 1900, taking office in January 1901. Ames had been implicated in some scandalous behavior of others in his early terms as mayor, but his actions in 1901 and 1902—supposedly as part of a "reform" administration—would prove beyond doubt that Ames was a very dastardly figure himself.
The Godfather of Minneapolis
Planning for the new administration began soon after election results were known from the 1900 election. Doc Ames organized his advisers and announced he would install his brother Fred W. Ames as the city's chief of police. Once in office, the Ames brothers flushed out the police force, replacing experienced officers with known crooks. New openings were even offered up to the highest bidder. The new police force became a supporter and purveyor of organized crime, extorting money from illegal businesses of various kinds. They also released many criminals from the city's jail, and promoted Minneapolis to robbers across the country.
The wages of sin
Illegal businesses multiplied. There were more saloons, opium joints, gambling parlors, and houses of prostitution blossoming throughout the city. It was even recommended that women set up candy stores to run a legitimate business to children and workers out front, but provide sexual services to any man who would pay in the back. The head of a major gambling syndicate in the city became a detective in the Minneapolis Police Department. The police would go and collect "fines" from these businesses in a way that would more closely resemble the intake of Mafia protection money today. Prostitutes were said to have made monthly trips to the city court's clerk to pay $100 and to have been strong armed into buying tickets to the police baseball games. Vast amounts of money were taken in at all levels. However, the rampant criminal activity soon began to swirl out of control as the cops and politicians began to swindle each other.
The grand jury
In April 1902, a new grand jury came together. The jury handled many normal activities, but under the leadership of foreman Hovey C. Clarke began an investigation into the city government. Through the summer, the grand jurors paid private detectives from their own pockets, both locally known men and others from out of town, to document everything that was going on. They handed down numerous indictments, and when the county prosecutor proved unwilling to do his duty, Clarke excused him and took over the role. The grand jurors even succeeded in tracking down a few crooks and witnesses who had left the state. In one trial, a man thought to have been a thousand miles away in Idaho or Mexico suddenly appeared, leading the defendant to jump to his feet in the courtroom and then, later in the evening, flee the city.
Ames faces the system
Ames was finally cornered, so he fired his brother as chief of police before resigning and then left for the resort town of West Baden, Indiana. He was arrested in Hancock, New Hampshire, in February 1903, and was returned to Minnesota a few months later. He ended up standing trial and was convicted of receiving a bribe. He was then sentenced to six years in State prison. The sentence was overturned on appeal and, after two mistrials, all legal action against him was ceased. He had served no time in jail. His brother Fred was sentenced to several years in the state prison, and many others were also put behind bars. City council member D. Percy Jones took over as acting mayor until the term was complete, and succeeded in cleaning up much of the mess in just about four months of work. The next elected mayor, J. C. Haynes, continued the cleanup process.
After the end of the final trial, the doctor returned to his practice of medicine in Minneapolis. He died quite suddenly on November 16, 1911. After a service inside his home by the Unitarian Church, his body was cremated in Minneapolis's Lakewood Cemetery. He left his widow the sum of $1,410.94. To his surviving children he bequeathed the sum of $1 each.
Addressing an assembly of Ministers and Laymen who demanded that he enforce the Sunday closing law for saloons.
"The trouble with you people is that you are trying to improve on the plan of the Creator and the Christianity of Christ. If you had been running things when our first parents were setting up housekeeping, you would not have removed Adam and Eve from the garden - you would have uprooted the Tree of Knowledge and let Adam and his wife live along without temptation."
- New York Tribune, February 16, 1903.
- Minneapolis Tribune, May 17, 1903, page 1.
- "Life of Doctor A. A. Ames a Political Tragedy," Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 18, 1911, pages 7-8.
- Dixie Hansen. Hubbard/Holmen Families - Person Page 4 (Collected biographies). Accessed December 8, 2004.
- Lincoln Steffens (January 1903). The Shame of Minneapolis. McClure's Magazine. Accessed December 8, 2004.
- (1881). Albert Alonzo Ames. History of Hennepin County and The City of Minneapolis. North Star Publishing. Archived at the Hennepin County Biographies Project. Accessed December 8, 2004.
|- style="text-align: center;"
|width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Orlando C. Merriman |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Mayor of Minneapolis
1876 – 1877 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
John De Laittre |- |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
A. C. Rand |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Mayor of Minneapolis
1878 – 1882 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
George A. Pillsbury |- |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
George A. Pillsbury |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Mayor of Minneapolis
1886 – 1889 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
E. C. Babb |- |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
James Gray |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Mayor of Minneapolis
1901 – 1902 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
David P. Jones |- |}