The Capitol/immigration connection

  • Blog Post by: $author
  • January 14, 2014 - 4:28 PM

Minnesota Capitol lovers: There's a double treat available for you on Wednesday. Two public showings are planned of a fine new documentary about the people who built Minnesota's "People's Palace." Its name: "Who Built Our Capitol?"

The showings are at noon at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, Room 2-207, and at 7 p.m. at the CSPS (Czech-Slovak) Hall, 383 Michigan St., St. Paul.

If you'd rather soak up this new telling of the Capitol's story online, you can do that, too. The video is available for viewing at It's the handiwork of the Labor Education Service of the University of Minnesota and project director Randy Croce. They deserve praise for making their work so widely available.

I'm an unabashed Capitol buff, having worked in its bowels intermittently for 35 years and having written "Elmer's Tour," a booklet about the place featuring the late Gov. Elmer L. Andersen. I thought I knew a lot about the building's origin. This documentary showed me that I still have much to learn.

Before watching it, I would have answered the question its title poses with one name, "Cass Gilbert." Until now, the famous architect has been getting the lion's share of the credit for every last Capitol detail.

He shouldn't, this documentary project argues. Gilbert's overall design was much embellished by the decisions of skilled craftsmen employed on the project -- some of them coming to Minnesota for the express purpose of working on the Capitol. Many of them were immigrants from Europe -- Italy, Bohemia, Sweden. Some were African-Americans escaping Jim Crow discrimination elsewhere in the United States, searching for a place where their talent would matter more than their color.

Their stories, including the testimony of the descendants of several of them, remind me of two important facts about Minnesota. One is that much good has come from this state's willingness to welcome immigrants and quickly turn strangers into Minnesotans. The other is this is still a very young state. We aren't far removed from its builders -- and we have more building to do.

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