Last Union Civil War vet dies in Duluth, 1956

A few hours ago, the Associated Press reported that Frank Buckles, the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I, died at age 110. You can find more information here.

That sparked memories of Duluth’s own “last veteran” – in our case, it was Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, who died in Duluth on August 2, 1956, at age 109.

There are a lot of stories and photos of Woolson in the News Tribune archives; some of those items are included below. Unfortunately, many of the photos are lacking specific dates and caption information, but most are from the 1950s.

Duluth resident Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, circa early 1950s. (News Tribune file photo)


Last survivor of Union army succumbs at 109

Duluth News-Tribune, Aug. 3, 1956

Albert Woolson died quietly in his sleep yesterday, and an era died with him.

As a final salute to the last man of the Civil War’s Union army, national figures will meet in Duluth Monday at his funeral.

His passing brought a flood of regrets, from the President of the United States to the nurse who tended him at St. Luke’s hospital.

Funeral services for the 109-year-old veteran will be held at 2 p.m. Monday in the Duluth National Guard armory. …

Mr. Woolson died at 9:45 a.m. after lying in a semi-coma since last Saturday. Members of his family were at the bedside when death came.

In Washington, D.C., President Eisenhower, who always sent greetings to Mr. Woolson on his birthday, said the old soldier’s death “brings sorrow to the hearts” of Americans.

In a statement, the President said:

“The American people have lost the last personal link with the union army.

“His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.” …

Mr. Woolson’s funeral procession will consist of 109 Army National Guardsmen, one for each of his years of life. … Burial will be in Park Hill cemetery.

Albert Woolson (center) at a ceremony in front of the St. Louis County Courthouse, circa early 1950s. (News Tribune file photo)


Schoolchildren gather to greet Albert Woolson of Duluth, the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, circa early 1950s. (News-Tribune file photo)

Woolson was a celebrity of sorts during his final years. A special News-Tribune history issue published in 1970 contained this retrospective of Woolson’s life:


Nine years before Duluth was platted as a village, a boy was born in Watertown, N.Y., who later became the most famous war veteran of the future city at the Head of the Lakes.

When he died Aug. 2, 1956, Duluth and the nation lost a symbol of more than a century of Americans.

Albert Woolson, born Feb. 11, 1847, was the last of more than 2.6 million Boys in Blue who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Thousands mourned his passing, and his funeral was attended by high government and military officials. More than 1,500 attended last rites in the Duluth Armory, thousands lined the route of the four-mile procession to Park Hill Cemetery, and 2,000 bowed their heads at the sound of the bugle’s final “Taps.”

Woolson’s father was a cabinet maker, painter, builder of fine furniture and a musician. A soldier in the Union Army, he was injured in the battle of Shiloh in 1862. He was mustered out of service and sent his family money to come to Janesville, Minn.

When President Lincoln issued an appeal for troops, Albert, then 17, enlisted in October 1864 as a volunteer private in the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment. He started in the drum corps. He served as head drummer boy and later became drum major.

While with the regiment, he saw a “most glorious sight.” It was Sherman’s march to the sea through the heart of the Confederacy.

The drummer boy, who also like to play the cornet, was mustered out in September 1865 and returned to Minnesota. In later years, talking about the Civil War, he said, “We were fighting our brothers. In that there was no glory.”

For 16 years in St. Peter, Minn., he was a wood turner in a furniture factory. He also played cello and guitar with a 20-member band and was general manager and treasurer of a minstrel group.

Woolson came to Duluth in 1905 from Ontonagon, Mich., where he had worked in mills and logging camps. In Duluth, he worked at various jobs. He was a stationary engineer and also did pattern work.

Albert Woolson in his 80s, circa early 1930s

He retired at 85 to “take life easy” and after the death of his second wife in 1949, he made his home with his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. John Kobus, 215 E. 5th St. Of his 14 children, four daughters survive: Mrs. Kobus, Mrs. Robert H. Campbell, 628 N. 40th Ave. E., Mrs. Arthur E. Johnson, 132 E. Arrowhead Road; and Mrs. Josephine Burtt, in California.

Duluth became increasingly fond of Albert Woolson as the years went by, and he looked forward to interviews with newspaper, radio and television reporters.

On his birthday each year he was deluged with greetings from throughout the nation and foreign countries. He tried to answer all personally. On his 106th birthday he received more than 8,000 cards.

In later years, Mrs. Kobus took on the mammoth task of answering greetings and inquiries, and in about the last three years of the old soldier’s life, she was helped by Dr. J.F. Robinson through the David Wisted-Zenith City post of the American Legion.

Mrs. Kobus, who used to write at least 200 letters a month when her father was alive, says many persons have continued to send Christmas cards.

Inquiries are still received, mainly from older persons and young children interested in history. Mrs. Kobus appreciates notes from the younger, because “my father just loved children.”

Albert Woolson shoveling snow outside his home at age 106, circa 1953. (Duluth Herald file photo)

Even after his 100th birthday, Woolson took walks along Fifth Street or shoveled snow from the walk of his home. And one of his proudest moments came in 1952 when he was elected to Duluth’s Hall of Fame.

The death of Woolson also meant the end of the Grand Army of the Republic and the last existing post which, fittingly enough, was named after Col. Joshua B. Culver, one of Duluth’s prominent early citizens. Culver was among the first to enlist in the Union Army and later became active in many political and business enterprises in the city.

Woolson was among early supporters of Gen. Eisenhower in the White House. Only a few hours after learning of Woolson’s death, President Eisenhower said:

“By the death of Albert Woolson, the American people have lost the last personal link with the union army. His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.”

Albert Woolson of Duluth with one of his ubiquitous cigars, circa early 1950s. (News-Tribune file photo)

One last excerpt, from the News-Tribune’s coverage of Woolson’s 109th birthday on Feb. 11, 1956:

Albert Woolson is 109 today and his eyes are set on a horizon of peace for all men.

The eyes may be dimming, but his thoughts and his voice are not.

In booming tones that belie his recent illness, the sole survivor of the Union Army of the Civil War trumpeted:

“The business about war is all nonsense.” …

Never one to let an opinion go by, Woolson likes to talk about the future.

“I see a peaceful life ahead of us, if the Lord lets us live,” said the old veteran who today starts on his 110th year. …

Woolson makes no bones about his favorite president – Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. He’s an expert on Grant’s life and times.

“Now there was a great man,” Woolson declared. “No palaver about that fellow. No nonsense, either.” …

Albert Woolson at a ceremony in Duluth with granddaughter Frances Kobus, circa early 1950s. (News-Tribune file photo)

Woolson still loves to recite poetry. Last week he rattled off “Just Before the Battle, Mother” and “Minnehaha, Laughing Water” with no prompting.

He loves to talk of old times and remembers his service at Chattanooga, Tenn., with surprising vividness.

“Those nine-inch cannon on high ground there were nothing to fool with,” he recalled. Woolson, then a drummer boy, once was given the opportunity to pull the lanyard and has never forgotten the thrill.

From Fort Blackmore, Va., the hand of friendship was extended yesterday by John B. Salling, 109, a Confederate veteran.

In a statement to the United Press, Salling said “that old scutter is one of my best personal friends.” Scutter is defined by Webster as “one who runs, scurries.”

Salling sent birthday greetings and expressed the hope “that we can meet before we get passed to the Great Beyond.” …

(Woolson) says he remembers seeing Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., in 1859 on a trip there with his father. (Woolson also said he cast a vote for Lincoln in 1864 at age 17, under special rules that allowed Union soldiers to vote even if underage).


Funeral procession for Albert Woolson, August 1956. (News-Tribune file photo)


A rifle team fires a volley over the grave of Albert Woolson during burial services in August 1956. (News-Tribune file photo)


Here is a short YouTube video clip of Woolson from the 1950s:


A statue of Woolson stands outside the Depot in downtown Duluth.

Share your memories or stories by posting a comment.

Greased pig prank at East, 1981

October 23, 1981


Duluth Herald

A greased piglet was released into the East High School gymnasium today but, rather than causing the excitement expected, the frightened animal collapsed.

“The little fellow was so small he could barely walk,” Principal Nick Srdar said today.

The piglet was cleaned and taken to a Lakewood farm to be cared for, Srdar said.

Srdar said the prank probably was related to East’s football game against Central High School this afternoon at Public Schools Stadium. Central is celebrating its homecoming today.

At least two Central students were identified in the prank. A police juvenile officer said they will be questioned. The officer said charges are pending against them and possibly others for violating a city order against greased pig contests.

A misdemeanor violation carries a penalty of a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

“The ordinance was passed because, long ago, the city used to have a problem with greased pig games. People would grease up a pig and a group of half-drunk men would chase it and eventually kill it by squeezing too tightly,” Assistant City Attorney Bryan Brown said. “Then they’d cook it and eat it.”

In another incident at East, vandals broke 33 panes of glass in a double door and in windows to the orchestra room Thursday night, Srdar said.

The juvenile officer said the vandalism, too, is probably related to the homecoming game. “There’s been Central students all morning around the school (East) throwing eggs,” the officer said.


I wish I had a photo of the pig, but, alas, there are none in the News Tribune archives.

High school homecoming pranks in Duluth were discussed a few months back on Perfect Duluth Day.

Share your memories of noteworthy high school pranks in Duluth by posting a comment. If you can provide specific dates / years, I’ll try to dig up articles and photos from the archives for a future post.

A look inside UMD’s Old Main, 1980

April 3, 1980

Old Main on the University of Minnesota Duluth’s lower campus, April 1980. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Weathered Old Main silent, almost empty

By Doug Smith, News-Tribune

The long, dark halls of UMD’s Old Main are mostly silent these days.

Footsteps echo down the high-ceilinged hallways only occasionally. Most of the classrooms are empty.

The four-story brick and stone building, built in 1901, sits solemnly in disrepair, a victim of old age. The building, the oldest at UMD, is one of four on the lower campus on Fifth Street.

Outside, its once-handsome brick face and stonework are crumbling. Wooden snow fences keep students back a safe distance in case something falls off the building.

Inside, plaster from crumbling ceilings lies on classroom floors.

“It’s going to pieces,” said Ernie Anderson, UMD maintenance and operations supervisor.

Few Old Main classrooms are in use. This is one that has fallen victim to the ravages of time. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


Anderson, 60, has coddled the building for 33 years – since it became part of the university system.

“It’s where I started,” he said Wednesday, peering down an empty hall.

Old Main and the other buildings of UMD’s lower campus once housed Duluth State College, Duluth State Teachers College and the Duluth Normal School. Ernie remembers the exact day the campus became UMD: July 1, 1947.

Now Old Main contains some federal and county offices as well as overflow university offices. Some slightly remodeled classrooms also are used, Ernie said.

Although in disrepair, Old Main retains some of its pride. Oak wainscoting, as shiny and solid as when students traipsed by decades ago, still graces hallway walls. There is an aura of dignity about it all.

Halls in UMD’s Old Main no longer see the traffic they did during most of the building’s history. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


But there is major work to be done if Old Main is to live again.

“The windows are all in bad shape,” Ernie said, unlocking a door to one room. “The wind blow right through. The roof is leaking and the brick needs repair.”

Washrooms and radiators might need replacing. Said Ernie, “The money involved to fix it up would be fierce.”

Because of a pollution problem with the existing heating plant, the university must first decide if it will continue to use the lower campus. The other three lower campus buildings, the Research Laboratory building, Torrance Hall and Washburn Hall, are used more extensively than Old Main.

“What are you going to do with (Old Main)?” Ernie asked, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s a big decision.”

Ernie said he isn’t sentimentally attached to Old Main, although hundreds of former students may be. “I’ve got a lot of other buildings to worry about,” he said.

But strolling around the building Wednesday, Ernie couldn’t help but admire it.

“It’s a pretty building,” he said.

Sunlight reflects off an upper window at UMD’s Old Main in April 1980. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


UMD maintenance and operations supervisor Ernie Anderson in front of the coal-fired furnaces at Old Main in April 1980. (Photos by Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


UMD closed and boarded up Old Main in September 1985, and officials announced their intent to tear it down. Within a few months, however, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the next few years various deals and discussions about the building made the news, interspersed with timelines for its demolition.

Old Main in January 1989. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

In 1989 there were talks about swapping Old Main with the Duluth school district for the Chester Park Elementary School building adjacent to the upper campus; the school district intended to raze Old Main and build a new elementary school on the site.

Other ideas called for keeping the building, and converting it into senior housing or a community college.

In November 1992, Duluth’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved a plan to develop Old Main into a 49-unit apartment building, with a 100-car, two-level parking ramp built into the hillside behind Old Main. Developer George Hoene had an option to purchase Old Main and adjacent Torrance Hall from UMD for $1.

Then, three months later, on Feb. 23, 1993, Old Main went up in flames….

Developer George Hoene looks in a rear window of the gutted shell of Old Main on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1993. He had planned to convert the building into apartments. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Redevelopment plan goes up in smoke

By Anne Bretts, News-Tribune

A friend with a police scanner called developer George Hoene minutes after the first fire alarm came in at 12:32 a.m. Tuesday.

Hoene could see the flames as he dashed the few blocks from his home to the scene. He stayed most of the night, one of more than 100 onlookers who watched helplessly as fire raged through Old Main, the landmark that formed the heart of the former University of Minnesota Duluth campus.

As the others saw the past go up in smoke, the 31-year-old developer saw the future disappear in the flames.

“God, we were so close,” he said later Tuesday, returning to the site to see what was left of the massive brick building at 23rd Avenue East and Fifth Street.

As he walked around the charred brick skeleton, Hoene explained how he was about a week away from a formal ceremony launching a $3 million effort to turn the abandoned college classrooms into 45 apartments.

Concentrating on the massive walls that were still standing and ignoring the twisted wreckage inside them, he talked about the detail in the stonework, now blackened by smoke and dripping with ice. …

Tuesday’s fire left the interior of Old Main gutted, and the exterior walls charred. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


Hoene said he first talked with university officials about renovating Old Main in 1988, but the idea was put on hold while UMD unsuccessfully tried to sell the building for a public elementary school and later a community college.

By the time the university was ready to move ahead, the financing had been stalled by the recession, Hoene said. Three months ago Tuesday, Hoene toured Old Main once again and decided the timing was right.

“Interest rates were down,” he said. “This was the year to do it.”

On Tuesday, Hoene called the prospects for continuing the renovation very unlikely. …

Hoene agrees with fire department officials in suspecting arson as the cause of the fire, which they believe started in the west end of the building at least an hour before it was reported.

“It was seriously burning when we got here,” assistant Fire Chief Donald Kivisto said Tuesday.

“It was frightening,” said Paul Osterlund, a neighbor who watched as the inferno spewed ashes and burning debris over rooftops and cars for several blocks. Osterlund credited the snow cover with keeping the airborne debris from touching off any more fires.

The 31 firefighters, five pumper trucks, two ladder trucks and two rescue units did save three other university buildings on the 7.5-acre campus, including one just 30 feet from the west end of Old Main. Two of the buildings are used for research facilities, while Torrance Hall, a former dormitory, is closed. …


Trying to decide the fate of fire-ravaged Old Main on Feb. 26, 1993, are Duluth Mayor Gary Doty (far right) and UMD Vice Chairman for Finance and Operations Greg Fox (facing camera). They were part of a group that toured the exterior of the building to decide if anything was salvageable or worth saving. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

After a few days’ delay, during which city officials tried to find a developer who would make use of Old Main’s still-standing walls, the structure was razed with the exception of several arches, which were preserved and reinforced – and which still stand on the site, which was turned over to the city to become a park.

Three men were arrested and pleaded guilty to setting the fire.

Demolition crews started at the rear of Old Main on March 1, 1993. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


A bulldozer operator removes debris from the front of three main arches that remain standing at the site of Old Main on March 3, 1993.

For more about Old Main, the University of Minnesota Duluth has information about the building here. Also, there was a discussion about Old Main’s later years – and some unauthorized expeditions inside the then-abandoned building – a few months back on Perfect Duluth Day.

Share your memories of Old Main by posting a comment.

Mystery picketers in Superior

I’m hoping you can provide some more information about a couple of photos I found in the News Tribune files of picket lines in Superior.

Both of these photos had dates written on the back – usually a sure-fire way of tracking down caption information. But I came up empty in my first try at searching the microfilm.

I’ll try to go back and take a closer look. But in the meantime, maybe one of you knows more about these photos.

Here’s the first, dated May 1967:

It’s clear from the signs that we’re on Hammond Avenue in Superior. I did some aerial photo and street view searching on Google, and by comparing houses I’m 99 percent sure this photo was taken at 11th and Hammond.

My guess is that Hammond was being converted into a much more major thoroughfare related to traffic coming off the Blatnik (or High) Bridge from Duluth, resulting in the loss of trees. Can anyone confirm that?


Here’s the second photo, dated June 1967:

I should note that I’m making an assumption that this was taken in Superior, because I’m assuming the signs the kids are carrying – which refer to “Blaine” – are about the former Blaine Elementary School on Belknap Avenue. That building is now home to the Blaine Business and Technology Center.

The signs refer to the County Board, to prisoners, and to the kids’ playground being taken away. Blaine School was sort of close to the Douglas County Courthouse and jail – are they protesting some jail expansion project that was going to take away a playground?  Can you identify the building they’re standing in front of? If you have any info, please post a comment.

On the subject of Blaine School, here are a couple bonus photos from the News Tribune archives:

Blaine School in Superior, December 2001. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)


The new Blaine Business and Technology Center, formerly Blaine School in Superior, receives a striking front wall of reflective glass windows in August 2004. (Derek Neas / News Tribune)

DFL convention in Duluth, 1970

June 1970

Here are a couple of photos from the 1970 Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party convention at the Duluth Arena:

State Sen. Nicholas Coleman raises Wendell Anderson’s hand in a victory gesture after Anderson was endorsed for governor by acclamation at the Minnesota DFL convention on June 27, 1970. Looking on at left is senatorial candidate Hubert H. Humphrey, and at right are Sen. Walter F. Mondale and Rep. John A. Blatnik. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


Minnesota gubernatorial candidate State Sen. Wendell Anderson and his wife (center) stand on the rostrum of the DFL state convention at the Duluth Arena on June 28, 1970, flanked by candidates on the party’s endorse ticket. They are (from left) attorney general candidate Warren Spannaus; lieutenant governor candidate State Sen. and Mrs. R.G. Perpich with their son, Rudy, and daughter, Mary Sue; the Andersons; secretary of state candidate Elmer Childress; state auditor candidate Jon Wefald; and state treasurer candidate H. Leonard Boche. (Earl Johnson / News-Tribune)

Here’s a rundown of how these candidates fared, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State website:

  • Anderson won the Minnesota governor’s race
  • Perpich won the lieutenant governor’s race
  • Spannaus won the attorney general race
  • Childress lost the secretary of state race to Arlen Erdahl
  • Wefald lost the state auditor race to Rolland Hatfield
  • Boche lost the state treasurer race to Val Bjornson. The office no longer exists.
  • Humphrey won election back to the U.S. Senate (he had served there previously from 1949-1964, before becoming vice president from 1965-1969)

Freimuth’s Department Store

There was a small News Tribune Attic feature in Sunday’s Scrapbook section about Freimuth’s Department Store in downtown Duluth.

That information was taken from a post on this site from a while back – a post with additional photos and information about Friemuth’s, that you can view here.

If you’re a first-time visitor to the News Tribune Attic site, welcome. There are hundreds of pictures and articles from the News Tribune’s archives posted here; use the search box to the right if you’re looking for something specific, or just browse around.

If you have a suggestion for something you’d like me to look for in the DNT files, post a comment.