Foshay Can You See?

Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2008 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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The internet never ceases to amaze me…or get me into trouble with the little woman.
I start out most every morning telling Linda I’m going to my computer to come up with some ideas for my next blog.
Before I realize it, though, I’m engrossed in one thing..which will lead me to check out another thing..then something else and before you know it, I’ve pretty much wasted the entire day sitting here immersed in trivial matters.
Well, on a second thought, it’s not entirely time wasted. In fact, today I’ve learned quite a bit of stuff I didn’t know before..had some serious moments of reflection and a lot of laughs..all while never leaving the comfort of my chair except to visit the bathroom or fill my coffee cup. (Not necessarily in that order)
For example, each morning, I like to click on to James Lileks’ website.  He’s a brilliant writer and humorist who just happens to be the head blogger for the Star Tribune in the Twin Cities.
Lileks is originally from Fargo and loves to post old photographs of various places and things that interest him…and a lot of us.
 He usually adds hysterically funny commentary to go with the pictures.
Anyway, today he posted some photos of downtown Minneapolis..old and new.
Right away I looked for..and found…pictures of the Foshay Tower; the first skyscraper I ever saw.
Well, that got my mind drifting off to memories from my youth, when a trip to the Twin Cities wasn’t complete without a visit to that giant art deco building shaped like the Washington Monument. I remember the elevator ride up to the top, then climbing a few more stairs and out onto the observation deck 450 feet above the sidewalk. Oh, what a sight!
Well, that got me to thinking about where Foshay Tower got its name. So I’m back searching the web and discover (probably what most of you already knew) that there’s quite a story behind this beloved old building..which is now dwarfed by giant colored glass monstrosities all around. A man named Wilber Foshay came to Minneapolis and made a fortune in the roaring twenties creating gas and electric utilities.He eventually needed a building and decided to put up the grandest in the city and the tallest between Chicago and L.A.When it was finished in 1929, there was a celebration that went on for days. He even convinced “March King,” John Philip Sousa (for a fee of $20,000) to come out of semi-retirement and write a special march for the occasion and appear “in person” with his band to perform it. Within a few weeks, though, the stock market crashed and left poor Wilber Foshay broke and probably ready to jump out the window of his new office on the 27th floor.
Even John Philip Sousa’s check bounced.
Instead of taking a high dive to the pavement, though, Foshay spent the next several years trying to finagle his way back to the top.
He came upon the idea of selling new stock and then using that money to pay dividends to holders of old stock.  That’s an illegal pyramid scheme that cost him a three year stretch in Leavenworth Federal Penetentiary.
So Foshay stiffed Sousa for 20 grand eh?
Well, a little more internet surfing reveals that there’s a “lot” more to the story.
Turns out, “The March King” didn’t really have enough time to compose a new song for Foshey’s party so, without telling anyone, he took a tune he’d written for some ladies in Denton, Texas and renamed it “The Foshay Washington Memorial March.”
Six years ago a group of Minnesotans raised enough money to buy the unpublished march back from the Sousa estate. I wonder if they know it wasn’t really an original. You can hear a bit of it here.
Mr. song for the price of two?So that’s about all to the Foshay Building’s history..right?
Wrong. A little more surfing and I find out that the people who now own the building are spending 70 million dollars on renovations and restoration. It’s scheduled to re-open as a luxury hotel later this year. One of the sweet suites in the new Foshay Hotel to open in July. I wonder what a room will cost with my AARP discount.
See what you can find out with a computer, the internet and a little curiosity?
And Linda thinks I sit here doing nothing all day.

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