John Berryman Leapt Here

Mapping the literary landmarks of the Twin Cities

During the university's literary glory days of the 1940s, cartoonist CHARLES SCHULZ was studying art at the FEDERAL SCHOOL (later the ART INSTRUCTION SCHOOL) at 500 S. FOURTH ST. in Minneapolis. Schulz grew up in St. Paul, where he attended CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL (AT LEXINGTON AND MARSHALL) and started building the chip on his shoulder that would later fuel the psychodynamics of his Peanuts comic strip. Rejection drove the young cartoonist, and he had plenty; his illustrations were rejected for the Celisean, the school annual and, later, his comic strip was turned down by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

It was while he was an instructor at the Art Instruction School, in 1948, that he met Donna Wold, a secretary in the accounting department who would provide the inspiration for "The Little Red-Haired Girl" of Charlie Brown's dreams. Schulz wooed Wold for a time, but was crushed when she broke off their relationship to marry another man. Schulz would long recall, down to the last detail, a June 24, 1950 date in which he accompanied Wold to the HIGHLAND THEATER (760 CLEVELAND AVE., ST. PAUL) to see My Foolish Heart, starring Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward. "I think about it now, or hear the score, and it just about breaks my heart," he would tell an interviewer decades later.

No writer ever cut so wide a swath of self-destruction across the landscape of the Twin Cities as Pulitzer Prize-winning poet JOHN BERRYMAN. From Berryman's first night in town, October 3, 1954, when he had dinner with fellow poet and university professor ALLEN TATE at the RAINBOW CAFÉ (LAKE AND HENNEPIN), his sad orbit took him through a series of apartments, houses, classrooms, bars, hospitals, and treatment centers until that fateful day--January 7, 1972--when he jumped to his death from the WASHINGTON AVENUE BRIDGE. Berryman's first Minneapolis apartment was at 2509 HUMBOLDT AVE. S., near Lake of the Isles. He would live in nearly a dozen different apartments and houses around Minneapolis, but perhaps the most significant among the locations associated with Berryman are the bars and hospitals where he sought refuge on a regular basis. THE BRASS RAIL (422 HENNEPIN AVE.) was a favorite haunt, as was the now gone WAIKIKI ROOM (235 HENNEPIN AVE.). Between binges he endured frequent hospitalizations--which would provide the glum inspiration for his novel, Recovery--at ABBOTT (110 E. 18TH ST.), ST. MARY'S (2417 S. SEVENTH ST.), GLENWOOD HILLS, and HAZELDEN. The most beleaguered man in the Twin Cities during Berryman's time here was undoubtedly his personal physician, DR. BOYD THOMES, who is credited with saving the poet's life on innumerable occasions. Thomes's office was number 411 IN THE DOCTOR'S BUILDING at 90 S. NINTH ST..

John Vogt

"In hospitals he found his society," Berryman's peer Saul Bellow wrote in the introduction to Recovery. "University colleagues were often more philistine, less tolerant of poets than were alcoholics or suicidal girls."

Berryman's funeral services were held at ST. FRANCES CABRINI (1500 FRANKLIN AVE. SE), and he is buried in RESURRECTION CEMETERY in Mendota Heights (2101 LEXINGTON AVE. S.).

In the 1929 St. Paul city directory, author, filmmaker, composer, and photographer GORDON PARKS is listed as a porter living at 702 OLD RONDO. During his formative years in the Twin Cities, Parks worked as a busboy at the LOWRY HOTEL ("St. Paul's Largest") at FOURTH AND WABASHA, and also at the MINNESOTA CLUB (WASHINGTON AND FOURTH). He also hung out and played piano at JIM WILLIAMS'S POOL HALL (560 ST. ANTHONY AVE.), and at CARVER'S PLACE, a juke joint/ whorehouse in a farmhouse on the outskirts of the city. Parks got his first big break as a fashion photographer for FRANK MURPHY'S women's clothing store (FIFTH AND ST. PETER) in downtown St. Paul.

When SIR TYRONE GUTHRIE first visited the Twin Cities in search of a site for his repertory theater, he was wined and dined by the local gentry, including publisher JOHN COWLES and lawyer PIERCE BUTLER. In his 1964 book A New Theatre, Guthrie recalls a gathering "in an upper chamber at the newspaper office, where Cowles had invited a distinguished and influential group to meet us. We made our pitch. The group expressed polite but guarded interest."

What sealed the deal, apparently, was a later gathering at a local watering hole, which Guthrie describes with great relish: "We assembled in one of those slightly sinful-looking bars which are prevalent in the upper Midwest, with very dim emerald green lighting like the Tunnel of Fear at a fun fair, a décor which flits uneasily between Tahiti (rattan chair and plastic orchids) and France (naughty murals in primary colors) and a staff of talkative, crew-cut teenagers earning money for 'further education.'" No one in the Twin Cities--including a few of the parties allegedly in attendance--seems to recall this particular klatch, but it's possible Guthrie was recalling Berryman's old haunt, THE WAIKIKI ROOM, or the NANKIN.

For a man making his first visit to Minneapolis, Guthrie proved remarkably prescient in another of his observations. It seems that more than 40 years ago the old sage had his eye on a future site for the theater of his dreams. "The river itself was what most charmed and amazed us," Guthrie wrote. "It had not yet frozen over and was flowing with a lively sparkle through winding gorges which are still beautiful, although here, as everywhere else, the convenience of the waterway has been exploited in the interests of trade. The banks are the usual mess of factories, coal dumps, freight yards, gas works, and power stations. Of course, it will not always be so. Eventually the Twin Cities will realize that their river can be, and ought to be, a wonderful and life-giving amenity without losing any of its utility."

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