Raccoon scales 25-story tower in St. Paul and becomes a sensation

Gawkers flooded the streets below UBS Plaza. Some brought binoculars. A girl clutched a raccoon stuffed animal. A marquee on Minnesota Public Radio’s building across the street flashed the breaking news: “St. Paul’s downtown raccoon reaches new heights.”

A raccoon took a break on Tuesday outside a window on the 23rd floor of UBS Tower in St. Paul, Minn., hours after it began its ascent.
A raccoon took a break on Tuesday outside a window on the 23rd floor of UBS Tower in St. Paul, Minnesota, hours after it began its ascent. –Evan Frost / Minnesota Public Radio via AP

At first, it looked so defeated: Its head buried between its front paws and its body curled up on a ledge 20 feet above a street in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.

But this was a raccoon, after all — part of a deceptive and unpredictable family of mammals whose panda-like looks lull humans into forgetting they can carry multiple diseases. Nonetheless, three maintenance workers shortly before noon Tuesday thought they could rouse the raccoon from its stupor and offered it a ladder to climb down from the ledge.

It was the start of a mesmerizing escape — captivating people in Minnesota and then nationwide on Twitter.

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The raccoon, clearly not ready to give up and not a fan of ladders, jolted from the recess of the building, dug its long fingernails into the tan exterior and scurried over to another side. It started to climb and climb and climb.

It scaled the two-story building with ease. But there was a bigger challenge ahead: the UBS Plaza, a 25-story office tower and St. Paul’s 15th-tallest building. Within minutes, the raccoon had ascended five stories.

The raccoon scurried up the side of UBS Plaza, the 15th-tallest building in St. Paul. An audience watched from offices inside and sidewalks below. —Evan Frost / Minnesota Public Radio via AP

“Well, it’s out of the frying pan, into the fire for the #mprraccoon,” Tim Nelson, a reporter at Minnesota Public Radio News who chronicled its adventure, tweeted with a hashtag that became a trending topic on Twitter.

About 10 minutes later, the raccoon was pressed against the 12th floor, now a mere dark spot between two windows more than 100 feet above the street. Then the raccoon reached the 15th floor and then the 20th.

At this point, the raccoon had an audience.

Gawkers flooded the streets below UBS Plaza. Some brought binoculars. A girl clutched a raccoon stuffed animal. A marquee on Minnesota Public Radio’s building across the street flashed the breaking news: “St. Paul’s downtown raccoon reaches new heights.”

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Inside the tower, employees pressed their faces against the windows hoping to catch a glimpse of it. On the 23rd floor of UBS Plaza, Sheila Donnelly-Coyne, a partner at Paige J. Donnelly, a St. Paul law firm, huddled with her co-workers and started to chronicle the raccoon’s journey.

Their thoughts raced. Who will rescue it? Will it fall?

It showed up around 3 p.m. and started pacing on a thin window ledge outside Donnelly-Coyne’s office. It took a nap. “He just seemed sweet and cute and very mellow,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

Breaking out a window or sending down window cleaners would have been too risky, Donnelly-Coyne said, so officials baited live traps with cat food and placed them on the roof. They hoped the smell would lure him up another two floors.

She stayed in the office until 9 p.m., taking breaks from her work to check on it. When she left, she said, he was curled up sleeping. “All they could do was put enough stinky food up there to encourage him to go up the last two floors,” she said. “We were all kind of worried he might be too tired to do so but thankfully the little guy kept going.”

The raccoon awoke around 10:30 p.m. and apparently had a change of heart. It started to descend, down to the 18th floor and then the 17th, before stopping on another ledge.

A photographer at Minnesota Public Radio zoomed in and saw the raccoon peering over the ledge. Maybe it saw the cheering crowd below. Maybe it thought the descent was too far. Either way, around 2 a.m. Wednesday, it began another climb.

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It surpassed the 18th floor and then 19th and kept going and going. Around 2:45 a.m., according to Nelson, it scaled the top and hopped onto the roof. It also found the cat food inside the trap.

Hundreds of feet above the street, the raccoon took a break on a window ledge. —Evan Frost / Minnesota Public Radio via AP

Donnelly-Coyne arrived at work Wednesday to hear the good news. “Everybody was very, very relieved this morning that he was safe and that this story had a happy ending,” she said.

Also relieved was her 14-year-old daughter, a vegetarian and animal rights advocate who would have been heartbroken if anything had happened to the raccoon, she said. “I was very happy I was able to tell her the little guy is fine.”

But not everyone was rooting for a peaceful end. Raccoons are vicious creatures, many people noted online. They attack pets and eat trash. They also carry rabies and a deadly parasite they pass through their feces.