Remembering Bruce Bennett

The late Bruce Bennett, a longtime Duluth News Tribune sports reporter, columnist and editor and Northland sports icon, will be honored later this week with induction into the University of Minnesota Duluth Athletic Hall of Fame.

Bennett was the subject of an Attic post back in the spring of 2008, marking the 10th anniversary of his death at age 61, just months after retiring from the News Tribune. For those who missed that missed the original post, here it is again…

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April 14, 1998

Ten years ago, the News-Tribune – and the entire Northland – lost a legend when longtime sports reporter, editor and columnist Bruce Bennett died. Bennett covered sports for the News-Tribune for nearly four decades, receiving countless awards, making countless friends and earning the admiration of many for his work. And he did it all despite being born without hands or forearms – something, as noted in an article below, he faced not as a handicap but as a challenge to be overcome.

Included below are a news story and column that ran after Bennett’s death, as well as the column Bennett wrote when he retired from the News-Tribune. It’s a lot of text, but his is a story worth reading about.

Bruce Bennett, executive sports editor of the News-Tribune, poses at his desk in December 1997 – the month he retired from the paper. (Bob King / News Tribune)

HONORED SPORTSWRITER WAS INSTITUTION, INSPIRATION

NORTHLAND LOSES LEGEND

By Kevin Kotz, News-Tribune

Bruce Bennett spent countless hours watching sporting events.

As an award-winning sportswriter and columnist for the Duluth News-Tribune for 38 years, Bennett’s name became synonymous with sports in the Northland.

On Monday evening, four months into his retirement, Bennett returned to his West Duluth home after a walk with his dog, sat down in his favorite recliner and turned on the television to a ball game.

There, in front of another sporting event, Bennett drifted off to sleep, had an apparent heart attack and died. He was 61.

“Bruce did enjoy the time he had to the fullest,” Bennett’s wife, Eunice, said Tuesday. “He never stopped having a wonderful time.”

Bennett’s contributions to sports, the newspaper and the community also never stopped.

On his walk Monday night, he distributed fliers about a Merritt Community Club meeting to be held in his home on Thursday. He had recently been elected secretary of the club.

Such contributions spanned five decades.

Bennett was named Minnesota’s sportswriter of the year in 1965, and received the honor again last year.

“Bruce was an institution to generations of Duluthians, not only for the daily physical obstacles he overcame to do his job, but for the heart and spirit he brought to every event and person he covered,” said Duluth Mayor Gary Doty in a release Tuesday. “It didn’t matter what sport it was — men’s or women’s, summer or winter, or where it happened on the map — if Bruce was there, the event got the respect it deserved.

“Whether it’s at Wade Stadium watching the Dukes, at any of half a hundred other venues around our area, or even at home reading his column, we have all lost a part of our lives.”

Bennett took a disability leave from the newspaper on Dec. 14, his last birthday. He had undergone two heart bypass operations and was bothered with shoulder problems for several years.

“When you climb out of bed in the morning, stretch, and your shoulder sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies — you know, Snap, Crackle and Pop! — it’s no way to greet the day,” Bennett wrote in his retirement column.

Bennett was born in Marquette, Mich., without hands or forearms. He did not see his limitations as a handicap but as another challenge.

“As a kid, I thought I’d play shortstop for the Detroit Tigers some day,” Bennett said during his October induction into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame. “Obviously, those dreams were never realized. But because I loved sports so much, I wanted to stay close to them and a career with newspapers beckoned.”

Bennett graduated from the University of Michigan, where he was sports editor of the school paper. He joined the News-Tribune and Duluth Herald as a sportswriter in 1959 and was named sports editor of the two newspapers in December 1960.

He served as executive sports editor from 1961 to 1982 — when the two papers merged — and then he became associate sports editor, concentrating on writing columns.

“Bruce was my first boss,” said Patrick Reusse, now a sports columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I came in a 20-year-old punk trying to learn the business. Bruce set me straight right away. He wanted things done right.

“I only worked with Bruce for four months, but I always appreciated that he gave me the opportunity — which is something Bruce reminded me of several times when we would meet again. Bruce made me proud to be in the business.”

And with every inspirational story about Bennett, there was usually one with some humor.

“In golf, he’d spot me five strokes and beat me,” said Minnesota-Duluth men’s basketball coach Dale Race. “Bruce would hit the ball straight down the fairway — and he can chip and putt.

“I’d asked him, ‘How can I chip and putt like you?’ and Bruce would say ‘Don’t bend your wrists.’”

As a retirement gift, Bennett received a specially fitted set of golf clubs.

“Bruce played golf with his new clubs last Friday and came very close to a hole in one,” Eunice Bennett said. “He was still very, very active.’

Bennett was also an accomplished curler.

“Bruce will always be remembered as one of the greatest ambassadors of curling, which was a sport he enjoyed very much himself,” said world champion curler Bud Somerville of Superior. “There is no question we have all suffered a great loss.

“Bruce was an inspiration for me and many others. If I would have an ache or pain, all I would have to do is look at Bruce and realize I had nothing to complain about.”

Bennett was honored by the St. Paul-Minneapolis Minute Men in 1989 with the Courage Award, which is given to those who have overcome hardship to contribute to society.

“I have learned to live within my limitations and learned to do a lot of things that maybe surprises some people,’ Bennett said in December. “I scaled my life to meet those limitations. There are a lot of things I can’t do, and I don’t try to do them.”

Writing was something Bennett could do well. His beat ranged from covering the Minnesota Vikings in four Super Bowls to features about Little League baseball players.

“One of my favorite stories about Bruce was told again last year at his retirement party,’ said Don Olson, a former Superior high school basketball coach and curling partner of Bennett’s. “Dan Peterson was a young pitcher and he threw a wild pitch that cost his team the game. He knew Bruce was at the game and all Dan wanted to do was go home and hide.

“Dan’s mother read him the story Bruce wrote, and there wasn’t a word about the wild pitch. All Bruce wrote was that it was one of the best games he’s ever seen.

“That’s how Bruce approached sports writing. He was never one to embarrass anyone but to tell it like it was.”

Bennett said goodbye to his readers in that Dec. 18 column:

“It has been a great run, 38 years at this stand and 40 overall as a journalist,’ he wrote. “You’ll still see me at the ballpark, the fields, the gyms and the rinks — all my old haunts — tomorrow and the next week and next year, the Good Lord willing.

“However, I won’t be toting my tape recorder and laptop computer, tools of the craft these days and which I’ve hauled around for too long.”

Even retirement couldn’t keep Bennett away from sports, or writing columns for the News-Tribune. He frequently attended UMD basketball and hockey games and wrote “when the spirit moved me,’ he said.

Bennett visited a high school boys basketball game early this year that inspired his final column:

“I took a seat in relative obscurity up in a corner of the stands and just wanted to soak it all in,” Bennett wrote in the Jan. 18 News-Tribune. “. . . Hey, it was good to be part of the crowd again.”

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Bruce Bennett interviews Duluth-Superior Dukes pitcher Wayne Rosenthal at Wade Stadium in 1993. (News-Tribune file photo)

Here is an April 15, 1998, column by longtime News-Tribune sports writer, editor and columnist Irv Mossberger in memory of Bennett:

OF ALL THE STORIES, HIS WAS REALLY SPECIAL

When veteran sportscaster Marsh Nelson died, Bruce Bennett was there to write the story.

When long-time wrestling promoter and sports booster Harvey Solon died, Bruce Bennett was there to write the story.

Somehow, it’s unfair that the man who wrote so glowingly and lovingly about the local sports scene for so long should now be dead himself. Bruce died at his home Monday night, four months after taking disability retirement.

Marsh Nelson and Harvey Solon were among the many friends Bruce made in his nearly 40 years as columnist and sports editor of the News-Tribune and its former sister paper, the evening Duluth Herald. In that time he wrote virtually countless stories about countless people and events.

On my desk are two of the tools of his trade. No, not a typewriter or computer keyboard or even a pen and notebook.

They are two curved bands of steel, encased in molded plastic which in turn are covered with black electrician’s tape. Protruding from the bands are two thin, rubber-tipped steel rods.

These were, in essence, Bruce’s hands, which he was born without. His arms ended at the elbow.

He slipped these attachments over the stubs of his arms so he could type. And he could type. He could punch out a story as fast as anyone.

Other stories, like his column about Marsh Nelson’s death, took a little longer.

When Marsh Nelson died, Bruce wrote:

“What was Marsh like? Most of you knew him. The word genuine comes to mind. A man of character, of compassion. A friendly fellow who seemingly was always smiling.”

Bruce could have been writing about himself.

Sure, he was prone to the same petty faults and foibles that inflict the rest of mankind. And he’d have a beer now and then and at one time he smoked cigars. He quit those when he developed the heart trouble that led to two bypass surgeries and which eventually cost him his life at age 61.

But he wasn’t hard-bitten, cynical, or insolent, which is how reporters are sometimes perceived. That’s probably why several hundred people showed up at his retirement party in early January at the Duluth Curling Club.

Bruce was recognized in his lifetime for his writing achievements and for overcoming his handicap — which he said was not really a handicap because he never knew what it was like to have arms.

He won all kinds of awards and was elected to the Duluth Hall of Fame, and several other halls of fame as well.

Not so well recognized are the time and effort he devoted to writing about sports that might otherwise have gotten very short shrift.

He probably holds the world record among U.S. writers for covering world curling championships. He covered six in all, in Perth, Karlstad (Sweden), Winnipeg, Regina, and two in Duluth.

He helped give women’s sports exposure locally, taking it upon his shoulders to cover basketball and softball games, volleyball matches and other women’s events when they were considered after-thoughts by most media outlets.

Bruce was no prima donna. He would go from the comparatively cushy job of covering the Minnesota Vikings one weekend to getting drenched on the sidelines covering a high school football game in Cloquet the next.

Those were other reasons so many people showed up for his retirement, as a way of saying thanks.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever thanked him for giving me my start in this business. He hired me, an English and history major fresh out of college with absolutely no journalism experience, 26 years ago. A little late now, but thanks, Bruce.

Even though he retired in December, he still came into the office a few times each week to pick up mail and answer phone messages.

His photo and a story on his retirement were on the front page of the paper in December and it was reported on television and radio, but he continued to get calls from those who didn’t hear the news. He still does.

I imagine the calls will continue for some time. Now, though, I don’t look forward to them nor to telling callers that Bruce has died.

On his death bed, author William Saroyan said: “I knew everyone had to die sometime, but I always thought an exception would be made in my case.” That pretty much sums up man’s feelings about mortality.

It’s the fate that awaits us all, and yet, well, it doesn’t make it any easier when it does happen. I was still getting used to the idea that Bruce was retired and wasn’t going to be at the office every day.

He came in Friday to make a few calls for a story he was doing about the Duluth-Superior Dukes, a team he covered in both the old and new versions of the Northern League. He’d covered the latest edition of the Dukes since the team’s inception in 1993.

He said he was going to Voyagers Village the next day with a couple of his golfing pals.

In December and again a few weeks ago he mentioned he didn’t have a lot of energy and tired easily. When he came in Friday he didn’t have the same old bounce in his step.

Bruce was on the phone Friday when I stepped away from my desk. When I returned he was gone, so I never got the chance to say goodbye.

When he left, he forgot his typing attachments.

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Bruce Bennett talks on the telephone while covering a Dukes game at Wade Stadium. (Howie Hanson / submitted photo / News Tribune files)

Here is the column Bennett wrote when he retired. It ran in the News-Tribune on Dec. 18, 1997:

THANKS FOR THE 38 YEARS OF MEMORIES

When you climb out of bed in the morning, stretch, and your shoulder sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies — you know, Snap, Crackle and Pop! — it’s no way to greet the day.

I know now how sore-armed pitchers must feel when they can no longer put the mustard on their fastball. It’s getting tougher every day to pound the computer keyboard and a bottle of Ibuprofen sits close by to ease the pain.

Rotator cuff tendinitis and arthritis, even in its early stages, are no fun. If you’ve ever had a toothache — and who hasn’t? — you know the feeling. But unlike a tooth, you can’t extract a shoulder, which is to say I’m bowing out of this corner of the sports page today.

Because of these and some other health concerns, I feel I owe it to myself and my family to step aside. I am taking disability leave.

It has been a great run, 38 years at this stand and 40 overall as a journalist, counting brief stints at two other places as a cub reporter years ago. I’ve been privileged to work for and with people I’ve respected and to work each day at a job I enjoyed, rather than one I disliked.

You’ll still see me at the ballpark, the fields, the gyms and the rinks — all my old haunts — tomorrow and the next week and next year, the Good Lord willing.

However, I won’t be toting my tape recorder and laptop computer, tools of the craft these days and which I’ve hauled around for too long. They’ve long since replaced the portable typewriters and copy paper we used to carry.

I’ve seen the newspaper industry turn 180 degrees over the years. From hot-metal type to cold type, from paste-pots to computers, from those noisy old teletype printers to the quiet hum of the Internet.

One regret I’m afraid is a degree of the trust we’ve built, as professionals, with the people we cover and the readers we serve has eroded over the years and some look upon us today as “vultures.’ Sadly, the feeling is sometimes deserved.

Happily, from my perspective, I’ve been lucky to make a lot of friends — and I suppose some enemies — along the way. It goes with the territory.

I came in at a time when the Minneapolis Lakers were on their last legs and I leave as the Minnesota Twins are apparently on theirs. The North Stars came and went and I watched the demise of Gopher football.

I’ve seen hockey flourish in the Northland and remember the state boys basketball tournament when it was “The Show.’ And I’ve watched girls and women’s sports explode.

From afar I’ve admired the Packers from Lombardi to Holmgren and up close suffered with Bud Grant through four Super Bowls and seen the Vikings lose their “edge,’ going from outdoors — where football belongs — to indoors under the ‘Dome. And prickly management has infiltrated the Vikings “family.’

Six Silver Brooms, a World Series, the Rose Bowl and all those trips to Kansas City with Dale Race and Minnesota-Duluth basketball teams for NAIA tournaments. And covering countless other games in the Twin Ports, the Iron Range and South Shore.

The return of the Dukes to what my late pal Marsh Nelson would always call “beautiful Wade Stadium.’

Golf at St. Andrews, Cajun food on Bourbon Street, sipping margaritas in Mexico City with Mesabi Community College football coach Pepper Lysaker, frolicking on Waikiki with the Bulldogs softball team, and so many more good times.

It has been fun. Thanks, folks, for the memories.

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Former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant speaks to Duluth Arena Sports Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Bennett and a crowd of more than 200 that honored the sportswriter in November 1986. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

And here is one more item – a column Bennett wrote for the March 17, 1996, News-Tribune that I stumbled across … and found really enjoyable:

CROMWELL SHOULD HAVE PLENTY OF FUN

These Cromwell kids are really something! The Minnesota nine-man champs in football get a shot at a rare double this week when they play in the Class A basketball tournament.

The Cardinals have the perfect blend of an inside-outside game with their Mutt and Jeff combo, 6-foot-11 James Purcell and 5-8 Ryan Olesiak, a mighty mite if there ever was one. Purcell looks like a young Kevin McHale, though surely not as developed athletically as McHale was when he took Hibbing to the state tournament 20 years ago.

Purcell will be a great recruit for a small-college basketball program, even if he redshirted a year to develop physically. Or maybe play at a junior college. He has that same nice, soft touch on his shots. And he can run. And with his size, he’d be worth any college coach’s gamble.

Christmas for Cromwell came in January, at semester break, when Purcell returned to the tiny town along Minnesota Highway 210, 45 miles west of Duluth. Coach Erik Uselman couldn’t have hit a bigger jackpot at the casino!

Purcell had attended school in Cromwell since eighth grade. Last summer he moved to Bloomington with his mother and went to Bloomington Jefferson last fall. It didn’t work out, so at the break he moved back to Cromwell. He lives with his grandparents and is back among his chums and classmates.

What coach wouldn’t cherish a 6-11 shot in the arm at midseason? But Purcell’s not a one-man gang. Cromwell was good before he came back. And much better ever since.

Olesiak is simply a splendid athlete. I’ve seen him play football, too, and while he’s a great outside shooter on the basketball court, he’s better on the gridiron, a real tough customer. He is made for Minnesota-Duluth’s running game.

Dean Nyberg is a cool customer no matter what the game. Great football quarterback, fine all-around player on the basketball floor. The Jack Armstrong type, if you go back that far. Ditto Brian Granholm, who can simply run all day and hasn’t found a sport he can’t play.

Cory Aho is the fifth starter and, in the Section 7A final Thursday against Esko, Steve Dahl subbed occasionally for him. Both can play and handle their roles. The other four Cardinals went the full 32 minutes.

Cromwell will be the most fun-to-watch team to hit the Twin Cities since Richie Olson brought Edgerton to Williams Arena in 1960. The Cardinals will be a big crowd favorite at the St. Paul Civic Center this week.

Edgerton’s bench wasn’t any deeper than Cromwell’s, and the team managed to stay out of foul trouble enough to win the fans’ hearts. Not to mention winning the tournament.

Not to put any extra pressure on the Cardinals. They don’t have to win a thing. They already have. This is a special team, a special blend, a special class. Cromwell — and don’t forget nearby Wright (the school is actually Cromwell-Wright) — can be “justly proud,’ as the old Williams Arena public address announcer Julie Perlt would say.

My advice to the Cardinals:

Go to St. Paul and have some fun. If you win some games along the way, all the better, but for sure: enjoy!

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Share your memories of Bruce Bennett by posting a comment.

Hockey mystery photo

Marti Wise of Maryland sent us this great old photo of a hockey team from Duluth’s West End, seeking information about the team and the players (click on the picture for a larger view):

The first uniformed player on the left in the back row is Edward Olson, Marti’s husband’s grandfather. The second uniformed player from the right in the back row is Reuben Olson, Edward’s older brother. Marti said the photo probably dates to the 1920s, and no later than 1931.

The question now is, does anyone recognize anyone else in the photo? Can you provide any other details about the venue (Curling Club? Amphitheater?) or what game they may have won to earn that trophy?

Post a comment if you have more information, or send me an e-mail at akrueger(@)duluthnews.com.

And if you have any interesting old photos from Duluth, Superior or the surrounding area – whether you’re looking for information or not – send them my way; I’d be happy to share them with the community on this blog.

Pop Shoppe pop is back in the Northland

One of the first News Tribune Attic posts, back in early 2008, included this 1977 photo of Central Entrance, which showed the Pop Shoppe:

As I learned then, the Pop Shoppe was a retailer that sold returnable, refillable bottles of soda in several flavors; customers could mix and match their soda selections. You can find more background here.

The original Pop Shoppe went out of business in the 1980s, but the brand has been revived in the past decade in Canada and the U.S., with the pop sold at gas stations, convenience stores and other locations (instead of Pop Shoppe-branded stores).

And now, you can find it again in the Northland. Last week I stopped in at the Super America on Miller Trunk Highway out near Pike Lake, and found these in the cooler:

These are two of the eight flavors bottled by the “new” Pop Shoppe (including cream soda, which apparently had a lot of fans). I don’t know if they are in fact the original soda “recipes,” but I can say that the cola had a unique flavor – certainly different than Coke, Pepsi or RC. A little sweeter and less bite than some colas. The “lime ricky” wasn’t bad, but wasn’t all that good, either.

Want to try some for yourself? The company’s website lists many other Minnesota outlets, including several along the I-35 corridor. The Pike Lake Super America isn’t listed; I’m not sure if the soda is available anywhere else in the Twin Ports area. I also don’t know how long it has been back here – but last week was the first time I saw it.

Share your Pop Shoppe memories and sightings by posting a comment.

A view from the top of the Duluth Incline

February 15, 1936

News Tribune reader Robert Johnsted Sr. sent us this picture a few years back for the old Then & Now column (he said we could keep it). It shows the view from the top of the Duluth Incline in February 1936. The incline railway at Seventh Avenue West, and closed just a few years after this picture was taken, in 1939.

You can read a lot more about the incline – and see many more great photos – at this site.

Here’s a zoomed-in view of the photo above:

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Share your memories by posting a comment.

Downtown Duluth, 1961

August 10, 1961

This photo looks very familiar to me, but I don’t think I posted it with any previous entries. It was submitted by a News Tribune reader years ago, and shows downtown Duluth from the west in August 1961.

As most of you probably can tell, the intersection at lower right is Superior Street and Mesaba Avenue. Here are a few zoomed-in views of the businesses along Superior Street:

Signs visible in this view, from bottom to top, are the Clark gas station, Northern Bible Society Bible House, what appears to be the Francis Hotel, the Lenox Hotel and a portion of the Holland Hotel sign.

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On the other side of Superior Street you can see the Soo Line depot and, behind it, the Spalding Hotel.

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Share your memories by posting a comment.

Downtown Duluth’s Hotel Lincoln

April 17, 2004

A large excavator moves debris from the demolition of the Lincoln Hotel on April 17, 2004. The four-story, 100-room hotel was built in 1926 and closed in 1988. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)

Lincoln Hotel demolished

By John Myers, News Tribune

It was never the caliber of the Spalding Hotel, the Hotel Duluth or the Holland Hotel, but, in its day, the Lincoln Hotel was one of the Zenith City’s nicest places to stay.

Nearly 80 years of memories and tons of brick and mortar came tumbling down Saturday at 317 W. Second St. as a large excavator operated by Northwoods Sand and Gravel Co. ate away at the building from the back.

The main structure had collapsed before noon.

“It’s another piece of history going down,” said Roger Sandberg of Duluth.

Sandberg had a front-row viewing spot for the demolition. He was one of dozens of curious people who stopped by Saturday morning, at least for a few minutes, to see the old building fall.

Sandberg likes to see things torn apart. But he also has a historic tie to the Lincoln: His grandfather made the Lincoln Hotel neon sign for the building.

“I picked it up last year when they had the sale. It’s a connection for me. I have it at home now,” Sandberg said.

The Hotel Lincoln on March 29, 2004, shortly before it was razed. (Bob King / News Tribune)

Richard Riddell of Duluth brought his 12-year-old son, Stephen, to watch.

“I like the big equipment. I wanted to see it when it fell,” Stephen said.

That’s also why Judy and Earl Rogers brought their grandchildren, Colin and Ian Metry, and their son, Tony Rogers, who’s a photography buff.

“They wanted to get some pictures of it coming down. The kids love anything to do with construction and big equipment, big trucks,” Judy Rogers said. “If they (construction crews) are knocking something down, that’s even better!”

All of the structural steel, bricks and concrete will be recycled, said Scott Lucia, owner of the demolition company. The wood and other debris will be taken to a demolition landfill. Recycling work at the site will continue through the week, he said.

A group gathers outside the shuttered Hotel Lincoln on July 14, 1989, to express support for the federal Affordable Housing Act, which would provide $15 billion a year for housing the nation’s homeless. (John Rott / News-Tribune)

Featuring a restaurant and beauty parlor, the four-story, 100-room Lincoln Hotel once was considered among the finest places to stay downtown. It was built in 1926. By the early 1970s, it began housing low-income residents on long-term leases. And by 1975, the hotel had become a haven for an informal program for recovering alcoholics.

In 1987, the building’s owners, the Don Henderson family of Sturgeon Lake, Minn., decided they couldn’t afford to spend $75,000 to enclose stairwells, add sprinklers and renovate the building to comply with state fire and safety codes.

They closed the Lincoln in January 1988, forcing 54 tenants to find new housing. They put the former hotel up for sale, asking $750,000, largely because of its prime location and solid construction. But instead of attracting a buyer, 16 years of no heat and no residents attracted decay, vermin, vandals and arsonists.

The city bought the building from the Henderson family for $60,000 and then invested another $22,000 to remove asbestos, windows and facades and to do other work to prepare the Lincoln for demolition, which cost another $68,000. The money to clear the lot came from the federal Community Development Block Grant program.

City officials hope a developer will buy the lot for upscale housing or another project to help revitalize the downtown area.

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It’s been more than seven years, and the site of the Hotel Lincoln (and the rest of the block) remains undeveloped; it’s all parking lots right now.

So was it the Lincoln Hotel, or the Hotel Lincoln? Judging by the billboard on the side and the sign on the facade, I’m going with the latter.

You can see a late 1920s / early 1930s postcard of the Hotel Lincoln here. Interesting how they replaced Third Avenue West with grass and trees.

In November 2002, some “urban explorers” made an unauthorized trip into the condemned Hotel Lincoln and posted photos on the Web. You can see their account here. The place was pretty much gone by that point.

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Here’s one more item about the Hotel Lincoln / Lincoln Hotel, from when it was still open – an article from Christmas 1987 about how the few remaining residents spent the holiday:

Judy Seeley, 43, passes Christmas Day 1987 in the lobby of the Lincoln Hotel in Duluth. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

Holiday at hotel not the same

By Ellen Smith, News-Tribune

At Judy Seeley’s first Christmas in the Lincoln Hotel two years ago, the residents ate a Christmas dinner together, complete with turkey and mashed potatoes prepared in the hotel kitchen. People had their pictures taken around the artificial Christmas tree.

On Christmas Day 1987, many rooms were vacant, the kitchen was closed and since last year someone had stolen the Christmas tree.

The Lincoln, a low-income, single-occupancy hotel slated to close Jan. 5, has definitely seen better days. And next year, Seeley, 43, much to her disappointment, will have to celebrate Christmas somewhere else.

“We always met the best people since we lived here. It’s kind of like an education,” she said, sipping a cup of vending machine coffee in the Lincoln’s empty lobby. “Wherever we go, it’s not going to be together, because we’re all different.”

About half of the Lincoln’s estimated 54 residents have found homes, said Tom Martin, vice chairman of the Downtown Housing Commission. Most will go to other low-rent hotels like the Seaway Hotel in the West End or the Olde World Inn at 101 W. Third St., a block up the hill from the Lincoln. A few, mostly elderly or handicapped residents, will go to Tri-Towers senior citizen housing. Others will stay in emergency shelters until they can find more permanent homes. Some might end up on the street.

Seeley, who plans to move to the Olde World Inn, will be sorry to go. “The people around here are real handy,” she said. “You can get almost anything we need.”

On Christmas Eve, the Salvation Army went door to door through the Lincoln with cookies for the residents. Seeley received a drink, a dress and a purse from her boyfriends living at the hotel. A few people ate in their rooms, and the mood, she said, was rather festive.

Not so on Christmas Day.

Seeley, dressed in a new-to-her magenta dress with a festive lace yoke, was alone in the lobby with her coffee. A single Christmas card was taped to the front of the empty check-in desk. The lobby smelled of smoke from too-many cigarettes and dirt left over from years of too-few cleanings.

Percy Cline Peterson spends Christmas afternoon 1987 cooking potatoes in his Lincoln Hotel room. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

She wasn’t sure how people celebrated Christmas at the Lincoln on Friday. With the kitchen closed, she suspected many of the residents may have gone to the Union Gospel Mission for dinner. She said she didn’t have any particular plans.

“I’ve had my fill of Christmas anyway,” she said. “I’m just worn out. I’ve had my fill of it.”

But nonetheless it would have been nice to have a Christmas tree.

Former Lincoln desk clerk Wanda Moe, 41, also remembers the six-foot artificial tree. She lent it to the Lincoln, and for seven Christmases it had stood near Alcoholics Anonymous clubroom in the hotel lobby. But when she looked for it this year it was gone.

“They must not have needed the tree stand; that was the only thing left,” she said. “They took the lights, the decorations – everything.”

Moe was at the Lincoln Friday distributing cookies with her friend Jennie Ferguson, 43, to some of their favorite residents. “I kind of got attached to the folks,” she said.

One Christmas Eve when she still worked there, Moe said her mother joined her in throwing a party for the residents.

“My mom had as much fun as I did, handing out punch and cookies to the folks who didn’t have any other place,” she remembered.

Back when the Lincoln still staffed its front desk, the hotel was in much better condition, said Moe, who lived in an apartment there. Maids would vacuum the now-absent lobby carpet every day. The restaurant and beauty parlor, both long since closed, did a booming business.

“If somebody would buy this place and care about it, it would be a nice place to live,” she said.

But not everybody agrees with Moe. Percy Cline “Peter Rabbit” Peterson isn’t a bit sorry to see the Lincoln close.

“You know why – roaches running around and gray mice everywhere,” he said from his second-floor room as he cooked his Christmas dinner, a boiled potato, on a hot plate in the corner.

Although he doesn’t know where he’ll move on Jan. 5, Peterson, 62, said he was in good spirits Christmas Day. The Salvation Army had given him a plate of goodies – fruitcake, two sugar cookies, some chocolates and a spritz cookie. His sister in Wayzata, Minn., had sent a cake. He had two bananas,. And near the door of his room was an eight-inch ceramic Christmas tree with yellow, blue and pink birthday candles on its branches.

“That was really neat,” he said of the Salvation Army’s visit. “You’re getting goodies, and after five years here, that’s pretty neat.”

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Photos of Babbitt from the 1950s

Sunday’s News Tribune includes a News Tribune Attic print edition column about a photo of a grocery store in Babbitt in the 1950s.

A few weeks back that photo ran in the paper, and I asked if any readers knew the people in the picture. They did – and you can read the story at the DNT home page to learn more.

Meanwhile, here is that photo – and a few others from Babbitt in the 1950s:

This photo, labeled “Babbitt Store – Mrs. Roland Wright and son Jon” – ran with the News Tribune Attic print column on Aug. 21. We asked if any readers could provide any more information about the photo – and heard from Jon Wright himself. (News Tribune file photo)

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This photo from the News Tribune files is unlabeled, but was filed with other photos from Babbitt and appears to date to the 1950s or 1960s. It shows a crew working on a new cement sidewalk, with local kids watching closely – perhaps waiting patiently for the chance to write their names in the wet cement? (News Tribune file photo)

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Mrs. John Hyvarinen teaches school – possibly a first- and/or second-grade class – in Babbitt in the 1950s. Do you recognize any of the students? (News Tribune file photo)

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Kids walk past a building labeled “Babbitt School Grades 1 & 2″ in the 1950s. A Standard gas station is in the background. (News Tribune file photo)

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Duluth’s Crew Cut Club, 1983

April 1983

Jerry Brown gives fellow club member Robert Schreck the crew cut test on April 15, 1983, as Dick Gaida looks on. To pass the test, a member’s hair must not extend past the bottle cap turned on its side. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

All the subjects were cut short at this gathering

By Larry Oakes, News-Tribune staff writer, April 16, 1983

At the Pickwick Restaurant in Duluth on Friday night, a bunch of middle-aged men tipped a few beers and thought back to the days when people with long hair were the nonconformists.

The occasion was the second annual International Gathering of the Crew Cuts, a group of men with a mission: To prove that while the wet head might be dead, the flat top is going non-stop.

It all started over a year ago when Duluthian Jerry Brown and two other men, all boasting crew cuts, put their heads together. They decided they could promote their brand of haircut more efficiently if they started a club for people with crew cuts.

They reasoned that while they were a rare breed in these times, they were in good company. After all, Bud Grant, coach of the Minnesota Vikings, has a crew cut. So do actors George C. Scott and George Gobel. And don’t forget diplomat Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Early arrivals – and charter members – at the first annual International Gathering of the Crew Cuts at the Pickwick on April 16, 1982, were (left to right, front) Dick Gaida, Jerry Brown and Milt Lagergren, and (back) Bob Schreck, Cliff Wicklund, Jim Kowalczak and Leo Kennedy. The club is looking for new members, and could probably use someone with a pair of sharp clippers. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

Their first meeting last year attracted 46 neatly-shorn men, Brown said. Fourteen had showed up at Friday’s meeting by about 6:30 p.m.

Most of the flat tops were gray in color. “Our average age is 39,” Brown joked, adding: “No, I think you can safely assume we’re all older than that – by just a hair of course.”

The men discussed the advantages of a heinie: “You don’t have to use a hair blower;” “You never have to worry about which way to part your hair;” “You always know what the weather is like;” “You don’t have to worry about changing fads.”

And the disadvantages: “You get a lot of static – some people call you a redneck.” “You have to go to the barber every 15 days or so.”

Club member Nick Glumac of Duluth takes those arguments on the chin, where he has hair the same length as on his head. “A crew cut all the way around,” his fellow club members proclaim.

Crew Cut Club member Perry Middlemist is given the crew cut test by Jerry Brown on April 15, 1983. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

The club’s philosophy seems to be that when you find a good thing, stick with it – the heck with changing hair styles. “We are definitely individuals,” Duluthian Glenn Stevens said.

The members plan to put the money they collect from $2 registration fees toward promotion of the club. Mayor John Fedo lent a hand by proclaiming April 15 Crew Cut Day in Duluth.

The men boast members from other states (Wisconsin) and other countries (Canada).

No proclamations were made at the meeting, but Brown suggested one: “That the beer we drink never get as flat as our heads.”

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And a little bonus… some readers may recognize a phrase referenced in the article – “the wet head is dead” – from an 1970s advertising campaign. Here’s a YouTube video of an ad from that campaign: