The land of 10,000 stories

Preserve MinneapolisÂ’ annual tour series uncovers the cityÂ’s notorious, unknown and unique tales

Nye's Polonaise Room on East Hennepin is one of the many featured sites on Preserve Minneapolis' summer walking tours. Credit: Photo by Eric Best

Preserve Minneapolis will kick off its annual summer walking and biking tours in June. From a walk through the city’s oldest cemetery to a stroll along the trendy riverfront, this year’s 27 tours explore the area’s rich history and unique stories.

Preserve Minneapolis Tour Coordinator Katy Epler said the stories come from a network of about 30 tour guides, many of which are authors, professionals and amateur historians. Each guide reveals a bit of his or her own interests, stories and research along each tour.

A walk among murderers

Susan Hunter-Weir is one such amateur historian. Her “Murder and Mayhem” tour through the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in September is based on years of profiling dead people buried in the Phillips neighborhood.

In her years of doing tours of the cemetery, Hunter-Weir tells the stories of criminals, early cases of social and racial justice and immigrant tales. The cemetery is home to the remains of many important — or infamous — people, she said.

“We have a famous murderer, Harry Hayward,” Hunter-Weir said. “We talk about the context of crime because we have some perpetrators and some victims.”

But famous “murder and mayhem” stories aside, she said the tour is also about teaching the power of history.

“The question is who get’s remembered and why,” she said.

Hunter-Weir said she will focus on the north section of the cemetery this year, which includes the remains of Charles Collins, a black man murdered in 1902 by a white man, during the “heyday of lynching,” she said. The jury found Collins’ killer guilty of second-degree murder.

Though Hunter-Weir doesn’t shy away from the city’s dark times, she said there’s a lot to learn and to enjoy.

“[Tours] are a blast,” she said. “People don’t realize how much history is embodied in this place.” 

Behind the scenes of trendy neighborhood 

Scott Parkin, owner of Verve Realty, is one of two guides putting on the “East Hennepin: Behind the Scenes.” During the 10- to 12-block tour in June and September, Parkin and fellow guide Michael Rainville will cover hundreds of years of history near the riverfront. Parkin said there’s a lot people may not know about the trendy East Hennepin area because there are so many new residents, but businesses have stood the test of time.

“There’s a lot of hidden stuff,” Parkin said. “People might be shopping around but they may not dig deeper.”

Using Parkin’s background in real estate and Rainville’s lineage in the community, the two trace back the area’s history through famous business and other landmarks, including Surdyk’s, Nye’s Polonaise Room and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Minneapolis’ oldest church in continuous use. Through the lens of local businesses, Parkin hopes to enlighten participants on less “high-profile” history.

“I lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years and I know a lot of business owners,” Parkin said. “Residents have come and gone, but business owners have been there for so many years.” 

A tour on Minneapolis’ LGBT history

Stewart Van Cleve’s tour, “Queer History: A Tour of Gender and Sexuality in Minneapolis,” is new to Preserve Minneapolis this year. Van Cleve, a former historian with the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT studies and author of “Land of 10,000 Loves,” will bring participants through some of the city’s queer historical sites, many of which are now gone.

“Queer history was effectively a history that was bulldozed, both figuratively and literally,” Van Cleve said.

Van Cleve said his tour combines the history of queer people, women and people of color. One of the sites is where the Metropolitan Theater once stood, though it’s now a parking lot, he said. In the early part of the 20th century, Van Cleve said Josephine Baker, a black, bisexual actress, performed at the theater and would later become famous in Paris. The site is just one example of how queer history has “vanished,” Van Cleve said.

“People haven’t thought about this history, and certainly not walked around and experienced it,” he said.

For Hunter-Weir, the tours are about getting outside of your normal routine and diving into local history that residents live around.

“I’ve head it a thousands times: ‘I’ve driven by all the time and this is the first time I’ve been here,’” Hunter-Weir said. “[People] make a mental note to stop here, but they don’t until there’s an organized activity.”


If you go … 

Tour tickets cost $8 unless otherwise noted and must be purchased before the tour on the Preserve Minneapolis website. Preserve Minneapolis recommends buying tickets early because many tours sell out. Tours run June 7–Sept. 21.

Tours may involve walking, biking or other transportation and last between 90 minutes and two hours. Preserve Minneapolis has information on the length, accessibility, meeting locations and other details of each tour on its website. Kids are welcome on most tours, but pets are not allowed.             



Lowry & Walker Legacies (biking tour): Saturday, June 7 at noon

Fort Snelling Upper Post: Tuesday, June 10 at 6:30 p.m.

Old Highland neighborhood, North Minneapolis: Saturday, June 14 at 10 a.m.

East Hennepin–Behind the Scenes: Sunday, June 15 at 10 a.m.

Lakewood Cemetery–A Memorial Landscape: Wednesday, June 18 at 6:30 p.m.

Milwaukee Avenue Historic District Walking Tour: Saturday, June 21 at 10 a.m.

Queer History­­–A Tour of Gender and Sexuality in Minneapolis: Sunday, June 22 at 10 a.m.

An Architect’s Stories from the Mill City Museum Construction: Saturday, June 28 at 10 a.m.



University of Minnesota Old Campus: Tuesday, July 8 at 6 p.m.

The Lost Gateway District of Minneapolis: Saturday, July 12 at 10 a.m.

North Side Synagogues and Neighborhood Walking Tour: Sunday, July 13 at 10 a.m.

Southeast Lake Harriet Parks and Residences: Tuesday, July 15 at 6:30 p.m.

Warehouse District: Wednesday, July 16 at 7 p.m.

Como-Harriet Streetcar Line Walking Tour: Sunday, July 27 at 1 p.m.

Camden Neighborhood: Wednesday, July 30 at 6:30 p.m.



Bryant and Pleasant Avenues Biking Tour: Monday, Aug. 4 at 6:30 p.m.

Tangletown and Minnehaha Creek Walking Tour: Wednesday, Aug. 13 at 6:30 p.m.

Red Cedar Lane: Saturday, Aug. 16 at 10 a.m.

Hennepin Avenue Theater District Walking Tour: Saturday, Aug. 16 at 1 p.m.

Architect Avenue: Tuesday, Aug. 19 at 6:30 p.m.

West 49th Street–Geography and Architecture: Sunday, Aug. 24 at 1 p.m.



Murder & Mayhem–Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery: Saturday, Sept. 6 at 10 a.m.

Downtown Minneapolis Riverfront: Sunday, Sept. 7 at 1 p.m.

Nicollet Island: Sunday, Sept. 7 at 1 p.m.

East Hennepin–Behind the Scenes: Sunday, Sept. 14 at 10 a.m.

Southeast Lake Harriet Parks and Residences: Sunday, Sept. 21 at 1 p.m.