My dad, William LaMont Kaufman, was superintendent of Saint Paul Parks for thirty-four years. He dearly loved his job, and because he did, approximately one-third of our childhood was spent in his beloved parks. Como, our favorite, offered so much to children as well as to adults. Our dad taught us the name of each plant in the conservatory and the outside gardens, not only in English but also in Latin. Many Sunday nights were Como Nights, when we sometimes brought a picnic and raced to find Dad’s name on plaques in the zoo and conservatory. But his love for Como extended to other parks: Harriet Island, Phalen, Highland, and his smaller treasures—Hidden Falls, Rice, Irvine, Kellogg, Lilydale, Indian Mounds, Mears, and Newell, among others.
Growing up in the West Seventh Street area of Saint Paul in the 1950s and 60s, in a family with no car, could have limited my adventure horizons, except that tucked away just out of sight, near its west end, lay Crosby Lake—and I was lucky enough to discover it in my teens, when any wildness oasis in the heart of Saint Paul seemed as rich in natural wonders as any of the great national parks out west!
It was Tuesday in Mears Park, the second day of the Republican National Convention (RNC). We had already marched on Monday as part of the crowd of 10,000 protesting everything from the war in Iraq to the presence of Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu. Being part of a large group like that, you tend to only see and hear those things in your immediate area. But someone mentioned that they heard a cop say there had already been tear gas used farther downtown.
The Selby-Dale Freedom Brigade, which emerged out of this melange of ideologies, objected to using Kittson’s name for the park on the grounds that this nineteenth-and early twentieth-century entrepreneur was not a fit man to memorialize. Not only had he had at least two and as many as four Native American “wives” before marrying European Mary Kittson, he sold liquor to the Indians and bought their fur pelts for a pittance and sold them for exorbitant amounts. One brigade member said Kittson “personifies the destructive, imperialistic aspect of American history,” and he urged that parks and public buildings be named “for people who have contributed to the struggles faced by those exploited.”