Gamblers, Tramps & Thieves

Architect Oliver Traphagen’s sketch of the Hoppman Block, c. 1890. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Living it Up

In 1908 Mrs. Delia Klein told everyone she was moving to Philadelphia, and then moved to Buffalo. After her departure, Mrs. Hilda Baker took over operations. In 1912 the hotel closed down, probably because Edward J. Hoppmann was too ill to attend to business affairs. Finally in 1915, as her father lay dying, Theresa Hoppmann found a new lady to run the hotel—Jeanette Palmer.

There is no question whatsoever that Jeanette Palmer was a brothel owner and madam. She first appeared in Duluth in 1902 as a young woman of 22, living on St. Croix Avenue in Duluth’s red light district (part of today’s Canal Park). She moved several times in the early part of the century, renting at least once from the notorious Madam Gain. Several years later, in 1917, Madam Palmer testified to her profession during the trial of a crooked Superior politician and businessman named Robert J. Shields, who was charged with violating the Mann Act, which “made it a felony to engage in interstate or foreign commerce transport of ‘any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose’.” She testified that she met Shields in Minneapolis in 1913, where he persuaded her to open a “disorderly house” in Superior, offering her funding and promising her police protection.

Palmer’s 1915 stint at the Hotel Brunswick was very short-lived, however, because her professional profile made her a target for law enforcement. Police Commissioner William A. Hicken and Police Chief Chauncy Troyer ordered detectives to “shadow” her as she prepared to reopen the hotel, spending thousands of dollars on furniture. In February of that year Hicken and Troyer announced in the Duluth News Tribune that she “bought more furniture than the division of public safety thought wise” and should not be allowed to manage a hotel because her large outlay could not be offset with solely legal operations.

However, the police had no legal means by which to prevent her reopening the hotel. So instead, Hicken threatened to revoke the liquor license of the saloon on the premises, which would force the saloon’s owner, F.W. Hartlage, to move. Hartlage was greatly displeased at this development, since he’d recently completed an expensive renovation of his space. This strong-arm tactic worked: Jeanette Palmer never operated the hotel, and soon left Duluth forever.

A year later, Mrs. Julia Wallace opened the Hotel Brunswick for business once again. Madam Wallace was older, and carried an even more sordid reputation in Duluth than did Madam Palmer. Wallace’s first appearance in Duluth’s public record was in 1903, when she was charged with grand larceny. A “friend” lost a watch and chain and a diamond pin in the boarding house they shared. After the woman reported the matter to the police, Wallace “took an active part in the search and was free with suggestions as to where they might have disappeared.” After the friend left for Illinois, Wallace was seen wearing the jewelry, claiming to have “found” the items.

Wallace can be found in the Census of 1905 at age 44, living on St. Croix Alley. Later descriptions by the Rip-saw’s John Morrison asserted she was a descendant of William Wallace—the Scottish patriot portrayed by Mel Gibson in Braveheart—but it seems likely a fabrication, since she admitted to government officials that both her parents were Irish. False names were commonly used by prostitutes and their madams, and it is likely that both “Jeanette Palmer” and “Julia Wallace” were aliases. Madams were also prone to creating vivid personas as a form of marketing, and Wallace would certainly have recognized Duluth’s strong and wealthy Scottish contingent as potential clients. In 1905 she listed herself as a “housekeeper” for four female boarders. They were all between the ages of 21 and 23 and declared they worked in legal professions—likely lies—including “telephone operator,” “domestic,” and “washer-woman.”

Four years later Wallace was among seven women arrested for “conducting or residing in disorderly houses,” and was fined $180 for the brothel charge and selling liquor without a license. A scant month later she was arrested again for “conducting an immoral house” along with two women boarders who were charged with “leading immoral lives.” Two weeks before Christmas in 1911 police raided the red-light district again in what some termed a “moral crusade.” Wallace, who had been listed in the newspapers that year as a significant Children’s Home donor, was arrested with four other madams. This time she was surprised to find herself jailed for 30 days as a violator of state liquor laws.

In 1913 Julia Wallace moved to Hibbing, though she visited frequently. In 1914 she joined Madam Gain in testifying before the Grand Jury investigation into corruption in Duluth’s police department.

A few months before Jeanette Palmer’s abortive attempt to take over the Hotel Brunswick in 1915, Julia Wallace had been caught up in a controversial regional raid by federal Indian agents who were seeking to enforce the ban on liquor in treaty-ceded territories. In this raid, “hundreds of gallons of liquor [were] unearthed and destroyed.” Wallace’s new place, located two miles outside of Hibbing, had a “root house built of ornamental bark in the rear of the establishment” where she had hidden four kegs and nine cases of beer. She, along with the other Iron Range saloonkeepers, had felt certain they were operating within the law.

The Hoppman Block photographed in 1963. It was demolished by 1966. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

Plenty of Room

By New Year’s Day 1916 Wallace had returned to Duluth and was listed as the proprietor of the Hotel Brunswick. This is when she captured John Morrison’s attention in the Rip-saw. He began with dripping sarcasm on March 24, 1917:

“In the historic old hotel Brunswick, adjoining the Lyceum, Madam Julia now conducts a private rest resort for ladies of high moral endeavor or gentlemen pilgrims who seek a shade in the wilderness, as it were. Some Sabbath mornings all the way from a dozen to a score of these good women, refreshed with cheering cups of tea, issue forth from the rear of Madam Julia’s rest resort and proceed to church or on errands of mercy. To prevent the entrance of suspicious characters, such as a chief of police or a commissioner of public safety, who might put a stain on the immaculate reputation of the place, there are numerous doors, electrical signals, peepholes and even passwords. When it comes to protecting the characters of noble women, too much care cannot be taken in these flippant and careless times.”

Two months later Morrison tried direct castigation as he eagerly anticipated the advent of Duluth’s dry ordinance. In a front-page article complaining about Wallace and another madam, he described Wallace as running a “Satanic Salon” at the Hotel Brunswick, where she “stands a pinch by the police now and then but never appears for trial” and objected to “the large number of drunken women shot out the back way into the alley.”

By August Morrison went jubilantly Biblical in style, declaring in a bold font that, “Madam Julia Wallace Removeth to St. Paul: The Gentle Guardian of Little Alice in Wonderland Faileth to Get Hotel License Therefore Shaketh Dust of Duluth from Her Feet.” In his eulogy to the Hotel Brunswick, he described the hotel’s history from his perspective, took his typical swipes at public officials he believed corrupt, and told of Wallace’s foiled efforts to buy a hotel license through female proxies. According to Morrison, she skipped bail on her latest charge and never looked back, leaving the Hotel Brunswick closed for good.

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Story by Heidi Bakk-Hansen. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Heidi Bakk-Hansen.