- Associated Press - Saturday, May 13, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - In the building where hundreds of St. Paul police employees pass through each day, connections to their past hang in most every hallway.

In photographs placed on the walls, there are officers helping lost children and officers responding to disasters, the Pioneer Press (https://bit.ly/2pUUhQ4 ) reported. There are policemen with old squad cars and others with submachine guns from the old gangster era.

Jeff Neuberger, who tends to the city’s police buildings as a custodian engineer, spent his own time going through hundreds of historical photos for the collection. He selected about 300 to be put on display.

He hopes it helps St. Paul’s current police force “feel that connection to officers in the past,” Neuberger said.

Most of police headquarters is a secure building, limiting public access to the historical photos. So Neuberger gathered a collection this week for the building’s community room, giving visitors for community meetings and other functions a glimpse of the images.

Neuberger’s love of the past dates to his childhood. He even majored in history at the University of Minnesota.

But he didn’t turn his attention to St. Paul’s past until he started working at the police department in 2000. Neuberger grew up in Minneapolis and “before getting hired at the police department, I’d been in St. Paul three times in my life,” he said. His brother, Joe, was a St. Paul police senior commander before retiring in 2014.

Jeff Neuberger became fascinated with the gangster period after reading Paul Maccabee’s book “John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul.” He took a special interest in finding photos involving St. Paul police and the gangsters, and he hangs them together. He has researched the stories behind the photos and can easily rattle off the tales.

Neuberger began his photo project after the police department moved its headquarters in 2003 from downtown to 367 Grove St. He noticed all the empty walls in the six-story building.

Having joined the St. Paul Police Historical Society, he started sifting through old photographs.

The photos that Neuberger selected for the building come from various decades. The oldest is from 1874 and shows the department’s 26 officers and the mayor. He doesn’t put up many recent ones, though there are some from when St. Paul hosted the Republican National Convention in 2008.

What does he look for when selecting an image?

“Photos that had something of interest or were cute,” Neuberger said. “There’s one of an officer with a Labrador pup that somebody threw out of a car, so obviously the dog is cute. There’s also lost kids with officers.”

Additionally, Neuberger was also looking for photos that told a story or preserved an important part of history. One shows St. Paul officers on the scene of a 1951 gas explosion at the 3M buildings on the East Side. Fifteen people died and another 49 people were injured.

Two of the photos are Neuberger’s favorites. One is an officer with a Thompson submachine gun in 1932, which he said “epitomizes the gangster era for me.”

The other is a head shot of St. Paul police officer Joseph Sontag from 1936. “To me, this guy’s face said, ‘Old-school policeman,’ ” Neuberger said. “It looks like his nose may have been broken at one time and he looks tough.”

Ed Steenberg, president of the St. Paul Police Historical Society, said he thinks no one at the police department knows more about what’s in the photo archives than Neuberger.

“He’s quite the historian, and once he starts a project, he just won’t give up,” he said.

Neuberger rotates the photos’ locations in the building every two years or so, and he just moved them again about three weeks ago.

“I don’t want people to get tired and say, ‘I’ve been walking past that guy (in the photo) for four years,’ ” he said.

On Friday, as St. Paul police Cmdr. Jim Falkowski walked down a sixth floor hallway, he paused at a newly relocated photo with special meaning to him. It showed his grandfather, Joseph Falkey, when he was a St. Paul police officer in 1925.

“The story that was passed down to me was that, when he came from Poland, he shortened his name to Falkey,” Falkowski said. “After he got out of the Marine Corps, after World War I, he got hired as Falkey at the police department and then changed his name back to Falkowski.”

Falkowski said his grandfather was shot in the head while on patrol and survived. But the man died of a heart attack within six months of his retirement in 1946.

“I just love the history in all of these photos - seeing the evolution and how many things have changed, but how much stays the same,” Falkowski said.

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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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