Tuesday, August 20, 2013
August 20, 2013: Still Studying: Foshay Tower
[With a new school year on the horizon, it’s important to acknowledge how much I continue to learn about America. So in this series, I’ll highlight—briefly, ‘cause I don’t know much yet!—subjects about which I’ve only recently learned. Add things you’re learning or have recently learned for a weekend post that’ll teach us all, please!]
On the building and enterpreneur that bring an American icon to life.
The Midwest in general, and Minnesota in particular, occupy important places in Jay Gatsby’s story. F. Scott Fitzgerald himself had been born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the state’s capital and the twin city to Minneapolis; while Fitzgerald gives Gatsby an unspecified North Dakota birthplace, he has him attend college (briefly) at Minnesota’s St. Olaf College. And while Gatsby spends the rest of his tragically short life running away from those Midwestern origin points, Nick Carraway argues in the book’s concluding moments that the story has been a profoundly Western (by which, given the locations to which he’s referring, he means what we would call Midwestern) one.
I’ve recently learned about a Minneapolis history that reverses Gatsby’s geographic trajectory but seems in many ways to mirror his identity. Wilbur Foshay, born in upstate New York, moved to Minneapolis in the 1920s to pursue his dreams of wealth and success, and like Gatsby he embodied those dreams in a spectacular, garish edifice. For Foshay that building was not a mansion but a skyscraper, Foshay Tower; modeled after the Washington Monument, an early encounter with which Foshay credited with inspiring his dreams, the Tower was completed in 1929, at a dedication ceremony that included a march written for the occasion and conducted by John Philip Sousa. And Foshay’s dreams crashed as suddenly and nearly as dramatically as Gatsby’s: first with the Great Depression, which began only months after the dedication and left the Tower unoccupied; and then with a famous trial in which Foshay was convicted of mail fraud (for running a pyramid scheme) and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Foshay’s story doesn’t end there—President Roosevelt granted him a partial pardon, commuting 10 years off the sentence—and I’m interested to learn more about what seems to me just as iconic a story of the 1920s and the American Dream as Fitzgerald’s novel. America is full of such complex and compelling identities and stories—enough to spend a career AmericanStudying them! Next subject I’m still studying tomorrow,
PS. So what are you still studying?