The mystery of the “mummified” Minneapolis monkey, as it’s being called, began when a construction crew found it in the seventh-floor air duct of the city’s most famous department store, Dayton’s.
Its bones were yellowed, translucent and almost glowing; its tail long was and spindly, its legs scrunched up. The body was in a nearly fetal position, with the head tilted backward as though on a pillow.
Old Minneapolis, a Facebook page devoted to artifacts of the city’s history, was the first to share the monkey’s discovery. A construction worker, Adam Peterson, was working on renovating the former Dayton’s when a construction crew happened upon the monkey. He sent a photo of it, taken by one of the crew members, to Old Minneapolis’s administrator, Alan Freed.
“Does anyone know how a monkey would have ended up in the rafters of an urban department store and remained there undisturbed for decades?” Freed asked in the post. “We’d love to solve The Mystery of the Mummified Minneapolis Monkey.”
Within days, theories abounded — but two caught fire faster than others. They came from the mayor of a Minneapolis suburb and, on Thursday, from the governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, whose family founded Dayton’s department store in 1902.
The theories involved a stolen monkey and an escaped one.
George Draper Dayton, the governor’s great-grandfather and a prominent Minnesota real estate man, built his department-store empire from the ground up.
For nearly 100 years, his name — Dayton’s — was on the city’s beloved department store, which eventually spread as a chain owned by Dayton-Hudson across the Midwest and in 1962 spawned Target, the discount version of the store. Dayton’s changed names and ownership over the years, becoming Marshall Fields in 2001 and Macy’s in 2006, after being sold.
Finally, in 2017, the original 116-year-old Dayton’s building shut its doors. That’s when the renovation project began.
The key era for this monkey’s story, however, is the late 1950s and the 1960s. That’s when monkeys roamed the eighth floor.
“See the Monkeys in Dayton’s ‘Pet-O-Rama,” read one 1958 newspaper ad for Dayton’s Pet Shop. “Ah, there’s great fun at Dayton’s Downtown this week!” it said. “We’re invaded by monkeys!”
“Exotic pet sale!” read another in 1963, advertising squirrel monkeys for the price of $18.88 and spider monkeys for $48.88, back when that was legal. “Huge menagerie of rare buys from all around the world.”
Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) remembers these exhibits well. He worked in the store in 1968 as a summer job during his college years. The exhibit was on the eighth floor, a “rain forest” with monkeys and chirping exotic birds behind a big netted facade. At first, Dayton said at a Thursday news conference, the monkeys were not separated from the birds, and “somebody didn’t figure out that the monkeys were carnivores.” Then workers tried to separate the monkeys from the birds with new netting.
“They said one monkey got out and went into the air duct,” Dayton said.
His theory seemed to be shared by some Facebook commenters on the Old Minneapolis page. As one man wrote: “I used to work for Target on the 9th floor of the Dayton’s building back in 2000-2. There was a guy who worked for Daytons for over 50 years. He told me about the monkey that had escaped from the 8th floor pet store.
“The guy told me that this took place sometime back in the 60s, over the weekend, because when they found the cage empty on Monday they knew something was up,” he said. “They finally determined that the monkey had escaped in the air conditioning duct work.”
But two other families in Minneapolis had their own legend, passed down through the generations, about the time two friends stole a monkey from the Dayton’s pet shop in the early 1960s.
Regan Murphy, the mayor of Robbinsdale, a Twin Cities suburb, first revealed the story on Twitter in response to a Minneapolis Business Journal reporter, who had confirmed the discovery of the monkey with the renovation project’s communications team.
“My dad once stole a monkey from a Dayton’s display back in the 60s,” he told the reporter. “They decided to bring it back,” he said, because it defecated all over his dad’s friend Tom Netka’s room while they were at school. “They returned it by letting it loose in the store,” Murphy said. “This is probably that monkey.”
Tom Netka’s family, it turns out, had heard the story so many times from their dad that they asked him to tell it on video before he died in 2017. To confirm Murphy’s theory as it floated around in the news, they shared the video with the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
He told the family how he and Larry Murphy put the monkey in one of their jackets — “we blame each other,” he said — and sneaked it back to Netka’s room.
“Grandpa, did you really steal a monkey?” Netka’s grandson asks him. “That’s not nice.”
“That was against the law,” Netka tells him. “My mom made me bring it back.”
“You’ve got to tell that part of the story,” someone says in the background.
“The monkey got loose. It got loose in my bedroom. … Running around, it wouldn’t stop poopin’. It just kept on going. … I think we just walked into the store, on the first floor from outside. We just opened the door and let the monkey in.”
Mayor Murphy told Minnesota’s CBS affiliate that news of the discovery of the monkey made the family think that perhaps Larry Murphy was still pulling his usual tricks. He died in 2001.
“He’s probably laughing right now,” Murphy said.
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