Introduction by Justice David Lillehaug
Years ago I practiced at the Minneapolis law firm that is now Stinson Leonard Street, where a colleague shared with me a short essay by founding partner George B. Leonard. In the essay, which I have edited for length and clarity, Leonard describes his driving trip to the 1927 state bar convention with Hennepin County Attorney Floyd B. Olson.
Olson became one of Minnesota’s greatest governors. You can see his statue on Highway 55. His first name lives on in the “Floyd of Rosedale” football trophy that Olson won in a bet with Iowa’s governor.
Undoubtedly Leonard and Olson became prominent lawyers by hard work. But, as you will learn from the essay, they had no trouble relaxing. The legal world was different back then.
On the road to the bar convention: Floyd B. Olson, Sinclair Lewis, and George Leonard
On the Tuesday morning of a bright June day in 1927, I dropped in to chin with Floyd at his office in the Courthouse. He was then county attorney. As I looked at my watch, I suddenly got up and was about to leave, when Floyd spoke up: “What’s the hurry?” I told him that I was going to be gone the balance of the week to attend the bar convention in Duluth as I was one of the governors. I advised him that it opened the following day, Wednesday, and lasted three days.
“How are you going?” he asked. I said I was going to take the Soo Line at 1:30 p.m. “Well,” he said, “I will take you there in my Chrysler coupe. You go back to your office, have your lunch, and meet me at the garage.” I did so.
Before we got to Nicollet Avenue, he turned to me: “Have you ever been to Breezy Point?” I said, “No.” “How would you like to go by way of Breezy Point? You don’t have to be in Duluth before the opening and I can get you there by that time tomorrow and you ought to see Breezy Point. We could have a nice swim tonight and tomorrow morning and a wonderful dinner.” I immediately felt that I became a prisoner, as I was a guest in his car which he was driving. I consented after mild protests.
We did not get to Breezy Point until after 7 p.m. We went out for a swim and by 9 made our way to the big dining room and found a place in the extreme rear. We passed to our right a boisterous crowd of some six to eight people at a table. We had a good meal and started toward the front, when I heard the voice of Sinclair Lewis calling me by name.
Floyd, not having met Sinclair Lewis, said he would like to meet him. So we went over to that table. Lewis insisted that we sit down. I knew that this might make us late, so I remained standing. So here were two redheads, one a bit taller than the other, each matching their wits. Floyd seemed to have been enjoying it.
By midnight I nudged Floyd that it was time that we retired to bed. But Lewis, waving his hands, said: “No. You have to see my cabin. It is only a few minutes from here.” Floyd stood up and said that he would like to see the cabin.
It was five miles from Breezy Point, had a spacious living room, and the walls were covered with Scandinavian posters advertising “Main Street” and “Babbitt.” That was the summer that Lewis was writing “Elmer Gantry.”
Being already highly spirited, Lewis started singing hymns in English, Swedish, and Norwegian. At 2 a.m., when I insisted on Olson driving us back to our cabin, he insisted that he would get me to Duluth in the morning. “There is not much to a convention on the first day. Registration and what not.” But that was the time I ought to be there, I said.
We did not wake up until after 9, had our swim, and went in for breakfast. As he lit his cigar, he turned to me and said, “George, have you ever been at Almquist’s place on Gull Lake?” “Never heard of it,” I said. “What, you never heard of Almquist’s place! That is where I generally go in the summer. He is only about 12 to 15 minutes from here. And he serves the most wonderful chicken dinner.” I looked at him, thinking for a moment what he was up to. Suddenly it dawned on me that what he was looking for was to kill that day by spending it on Gull Lake.
The morning was fresh and invigorating. We had a good rest, a satisfying breakfast. And what a beach Almquist has. There is nothing like it around. That was a challenge to me, as I have been loyal to Ten Mile Lake, about 40 miles north of Breezy Point, for more than twenty years.
“You talk of Almquist beach – you have never seen the Ten Mile Lake beach, have you?” I queried. “I’ll match you Ten Mile versus Gull Lake. We have time to make it and be back at Almquist’s tonight.” Floyd said that he was on. Instead of going to Duluth, we were going away from it.
We stopped at Pine River for lunch. Then we had a fine afternoon on the Ten Mile beach and in the sparkling waters. “I’ll get you to the convention, George, tomorrow morning,” Floyd repeated. “The first day in the convention is not much.”
We arrived back at Almquist’s early Wednesday evening. We had a good swim and the famous Almquist chicken for dinner. I had to admit that both the beach and dinner were as excellent as he pictured.
We got up at 6 a.m. [Thursday], went in for a swim. After bacon and scrambled eggs, by 8:30 we were ready to start for Duluth directly east of us about 120 miles.
Floyd seemed to have been around that portion of the country full of summer resorts. So he asked me if I had been to Ruttger’s. I said, “No.” Again he was surprised. “You have never been to Ruttger’s?” “Where is it,” I interjected. “Oh, it is only a few miles from this road to the south. They have a lawn on the side of the lake just as fine as any golf course, good swimming and good meals.”
I had no choice but to stop at Ruttger’s. “After all, it is the last day of the convention which is most interesting,” he continued to say. So we stopped at Ruttger’s. We had a good dinner, a wonderful night’s rest, and were ready to start for Duluth, only about 100 miles or so away.
After breakfast, Floyd picked up the newspaper and stretched out on the bank on that luscious grass. While he was taking his after-breakfast repose, I got busy looking around. When I got back to the lake, he was fast asleep. It was a pity to wake him. After all, he was driving the day before. So I let him sleep. That doomed us to stay on until lunch.
We had our lunch, and at 1:45 began our trek to Duluth. This was Friday afternoon. I had to show up at least at the Friday night banquet.
As we got within 50-60 miles from Cloquet, threatening clouds from Lake Superior gave us notice that we were headed into a storm. It turned cool and by the time we got to Carleton it was cold, really cold.
At Carleton we stopped at a hotel to get warm. They had the steam going. I rushed toward the radiators while Floyd was at the cigar counter chinning with the clerk. As I sat in front of the radiator with my feet against it, he brought me a bill of fare.
“George, which would you rather have? A T-bone steak with American fried potatoes, or a bum chicken at the banquet?” I protested, “What about the speeches?” “You can deliver a better speech than any of them,” he said. “I’ll take you there, if you prefer. It is all up to you.” So I cut the Gordian knot. I said I preferred the steak.
That ended our trip to Duluth, which we never reached. Saturday, we two stragglers showed up in Minneapolis, ready to report of the great events which took place at the bar convention.