St. Paul, Gangsters, and the Hotel Flood of ’12

Yes, it’s a real Thompson submachine gun. I borrowed it from Edna “the Kissing Bandit” Murray of the St. Paul Gangster Tour.

My mom and I headed up to the Cities for the weekend. We started out by visiting StevenBe’s knitting shop and the Minnesota Historical Society, then grabbed some dinner at DeGidio’s and turned in at our hotel. We planned on sleeping in before the St. Paul Gangster Tour at noon, but then . . .

In the room two doors from us, the fire suppression system was triggered. That is: a firehose-sized stream of water started spraying all over the possessions of one of the families who’d come to attend a graduation that morning. The first we knew of it was someone yelling in the hall around 7 am. Then the fire alarm started honking. We got dressed, got to the door, and saw this:

That would be water, pouring out of the room two doors down from us and seeping under our door. We tried putting up a towel barricade, but the water wasn’t stopping. So, because I am a savvy traveler  and came prepared with a pair of flipflops, I lent them to my mother so her only pair of shoes wouldn’t get wet and we squish-squashed our way through about an inch of standing water down to the lobby.

Roseville’s Bravest arrived to try to turn off the sprinkler system, which was only on in the one room, but wouldn’t shut off. They tried turning off the building’s water, but the fire suppression system must have been fed through a separate system.

Did I mention it was graduation weekend? And the hotel was completely booked? And almost all of the guests were supposed to be at graduation ceremonies at 9?

Yes. There were a lot of people hanging out in the breakfast area. I eavesdropped, and picked up on two theories: the guests in the sprinkler-ed room were smoking as they got ready; or someone had hung something (maybe a graduation gown) from the sprinkler head with the little symbol next to it that says “no hanging stuff from this!” After a cup of yogurt (and with the news that the water was still off, so Mom and I would have to wait for our showers), I decided to go snooping.

Water dripping from the third floor (where we were staying) down to the second floor.

Second floor. Water has seeped through the floor and is coming through the light fixtures.

Water dripping down the stairway (the flooded room was opposite the stairwell).

Firefighters with squeegee tools “rake” water out of guest rooms and the hall.

Before the firefighters got the water turned off, the water had seeped about halfway down the length of the hotel and dripped down through all three floors. I stopped back in the breakfast area to hear guests on the first and second floors telling each other to take belongings out of their bathrooms, where the water was coming down through the ceilings.

Water came through the light fixtures and tiles and down the stairwell, where firefighters had briefly run a hose to try to redirect the sprinkler flow out of the hotel. I stopped by the third floor as firefighters used tools that looked like rake-sized gas-station squeegees to herd water from guest rooms into the hall, then away. It was plain that, while the firefighters were happy that they weren’t being called to a scene where lives were in danger, they weren’t particularly excited to spend their Saturday morning playing plumbers/janitors either.

Later, I talked to a contractor in town for graduation who shook his head and told me that the damage to the hotel drywall, paint, carpeting, and fixtures would probably cost several hundred thousand dollars to repair.

Water redirected from the hotel into the parking lot near the stairwell.

The water eventually got turned back on. With the firefighters cleared out of the third floor, my mom picked up new towels to replace the ones we’d tried to use to dam the floodwaters, and we went upstairs to grab showers. I took the opportunity to pop my head into the now-abandoned scene of the disaster, since the door had been propped open.

Damage near the sprinkler head.

Toilet unbolted to provide an egress for the rogue sprinkler’s discharge.

We grabbed squicky showers, trading off use of the flipflops to cross the marshy carpet between our hastily moved clothes and the bathroom, and temporarily moved our belongings to the car. (We were supposed to stay a second night in that room. Needless to say, we didn’t. We ended up at the opposite (dry) end of the hallway the next night.)

Then it was off to the gangster tour! Edna Murray (AKA Cynthia Smith) led us through the gangster sights of St. Paul in full-on Twenties Gun Moll. It was especially interesting  to get a sense of the geographic proximity of certain sites–for example, the Green Lantern tavern (St. Paul’s underworld employment office/social club/check-in point), the old St. Paul police station, and the St. Paul Hotel, where the unofficial mayor of St. Paul resided and the police chief maintained a nearby room to make payoffs more convenient.

After the tour, we poked around the Landmark center a little

then got pedicures, had dinner, and settled into our (new, dry) hotel room. We finished off the weekend with a stop at Shepherd’s Harvest (a fiber festival) and a visit to IKEA before getting on the road back to Mankato.

My mom pointed out along the way that Saturday morning, while we were reacting to the Great Hotel Flood of ’12, was the first time she’d seen me stop worrying about writing, moving, or any of the other things I’d been obsessing over for the previous month or so. “It took a fire alarm and a giant flood, but I got you to relax!” she said in triumph.

The hot firefighters didn’t hurt, either.


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