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 stories 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. Albert 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, Dr. Ames 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 military and became involved in the U.S.-Dakota Conflict, a small war that erupted between the white settlers of Minnesota and the local Native American population. 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 deathly ill. For the next 25 years, "Doc" Ames continued to live in Minneapolis.
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.
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, taking profits from illegal businesses of various kinds. They also released many criminals from the city's jail, and promoted Minneapolis to robbers across the country.
Illegal businesses multiplied. There were more saloons, opium joints, gambling parlors, and houses of prostitution. 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 police department. The police would go and collect "fines" from these businesses in a way that would more closely resemble the intake of license fees or taxes today. Prostitutes were said to have made monthly trips to the city court's clerk to pay $100. Vast amounts of money were taken in at all levels. However, the rampant criminal activity soon began to swirl out of control as the crooks began to swindle each other.
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.
Mayor Ames was finally cornered, so he fired his brother as chief of police before resigning and then left for a resort in Indiana. He returned a few months later and ended up standing trial, but 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.
- Dixie Hansen. Hubbard/Holmen Families - Person Page 4 (http://www.dxhansen.com/SSHubbard-p/p4.htm) (Collected biographies). Accessed December 8, 2004.
- Peg Meier (January 8, 2003). The Shame of Minneapolis – 100 years ago. (http://www.startribune.com/stories/389/3570509.html) Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Accessed December 8, 2004.
- Lincoln Steffens (January 1903). The Shame of Minneapolis. (http://www.people.virginia.edu/~sag8e/Shame%20of%20Minneapolis.html) McClure's Magazine. Accessed December 8, 2004.
- (1881). Albert Alonzo Ames. (http://hennbios.tripod.com/surnamea.htm) History of Hennepin County and The City of Minneapolis. North Star Publishing. Archived at the Hennepin County Biographies Project. (http://hennbios.tripod.com/index.htm) Accessed December 8, 2004.