Anniversary of the 1991 Halloween megastorm

At 11 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 4, 1991, Duluth residents continued to dig out from the storm on East Seventh Street. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

NOTE: This post was compiled in 2011…
This week is the 20th anniversary of the Halloween megastorm, which ranks among the most severe – if not the most severe – winter storms to strike Minnesota and the Northland.

It certainly sits atop the snowfall record books for Duluth, having dumped nearly 37 inches of snow – 36.9 inches to be exact. That shattered the previous single-storm record by nearly a foot.

Copied below are two articles that ran in the News Tribune in October 2001, looking back at the storm on its 10th anniversary – one a chronological account of the storm’s sweep across the region, and the other a look at the meteorology of the blizzard. And there are more photos that ran in the News Tribune as the storm raged two decades ago; I apologize for the marks on the photos; they had to be photographed off microfilm because the original glossy prints have gone missing.

You can share your storm memories by posting a comment (click the “voice bubble” at the top right of this post). And if you have any storm photos to share, send them to akrueger(at)duluthnews.com.

Traffic is sparse and pedestrians few on Superior Street in downtown Duluth as heavy snow falls on the morning of November 1, 1991. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

A BLIZZARD OF MEGASTORM MEMORIES

By Chuck Frederick, News-Tribune staff writer, October 2001

A little snow on the pumpkin — no biggie.

And that’s all it was.

At first.

Before it ended, though, the storm that hit Minnesota and then the Northland 10 years ago today would be the stuff of legend. It would even get its own nickname: the Halloween megastorm.

Decades-old records fell during the three-day winter blast. Duluth alone received more than a yard of snow. Across the state, blinding whiteouts hampered travel, cars slid into ditches, forecasters issued blizzard warnings, power outages darkened homes, principals closed more than 400 schools and owners shut down more than 500 businesses.

An estimated 190 million cubic feet of snow had to be plowed, shoveled and blown away by crews in Duluth.

Everyone was left with a story.

Cars lost under snowbanks. Kids sledding down suddenly deserted hillside avenues. Workers stranded. Snowmobilers in full glory. Weddings called off. Births that couldn’t be. And trick-or-treating. Did anyone make it to more than just a few houses that night?

The storm wound up clouding Duluth’s mayoral election, with supporters of one candidate charging that supporters of the other candidate were plowed out while they were forced to wait.

Who could ever forget it? Who’d ever want to? Here’s a look back at the largest snowstorm in Duluth history.

A group of current and former UMD students didn’t let the heavy snow deter them from enjoying an afternoon in a hot tub at a home on Second Street on Nov. 1, 1991. Clockwise from far right are Kris Simon, Mike Erickson, Brenda Berglund, Cal Matten, Dennis Karp, Jay Lyle, Becky Sunnarberg, Aaron Stoskopf and Eric Rajala.  (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

THURSDAY, OCT. 31, 1991

7 a.m. — Railroad worker Tom Johnston of Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood wades into the Brule River in Northwestern Wisconsin. “The fish were literally jumping on the banks,” he reports. “I don’t know how many I caught, but it was a ton.”

1:30 p.m. — A light, fluffy, postcard-quality snow swirls across Duluth and parts of the Northland.

2 p.m. — With the snow just beginning and with winter weather advisories posted, Duluth’s Judy Rogers remembers an order of 120 tulip bulbs she received weeks earlier from a mail-order catalog. She hurries home from work at a travel agency, slips a snowsuit over her good clothes, and then sets out digging six-inch holes, one for each bulb. Motorists honk in support of her earnestness. “Better hurry up,” one of them shouts from East Superior Street.

3 p.m. — Snow begins to accumulate on the edges of roads, then in grassy areas. The storm strengthens.

4 p.m. — The Walter J. McCarthy, a 1,000-foot coal carrier that makes weekly trips from Superior to Michigan, sails toward Duluth. Unable to see the Aerial Lift Bridge through what is now a whiteout, the boat’s captain joins several others in deciding to anchor off-shore.

4:15 p.m. — Duluth angler Tom Johnston leaves the Brule River after a huge day of fishing. He trudges through the deepening snow and climbs into his truck. For several hours, he tries but fails to climb a hill that leads from the remote parking area back to the sleepy country road above. “I didn’t think I was going to make it home at all,” he said. “I thought I’d spend the night in my truck. It was scary.”

4:30 p.m. — Like other kids across the Northland, Bobbi Pirkola’s children bundle winter clothing under their Halloween costumes in Esko and prepare to set out for trick-or-treating.

4:45 p.m. — With the storm raging, the Pirkola children abandon their plans. Instead, they join Mom in shoveling the driveway. “I’m sure we made quite a picture,” Bobbi Pirkola said. “An ugly witch, an old bum and Rambo all out shoveling snow. It was one of the best Halloweens ever.”

5 p.m. — Emily Meyer, 3, sets out for trick-or-treating in her Lincoln Park/West End neighborhood, the long green fin of her Little Mermaid costume leaving a wake in the fresh snow behind her.

7:30 p.m. — Back along the shores of the Brule River, snowbound angler Tom Johnston perks up. Headlights. A 4-by-4 truck pulls into the parking lot where he’s been stuck for hours. “He broke trail for me,” Johnston said. “He crawled up that hill and I followed. I tried two or three times and finally, thankfully, I made it, too. Nowadays when it snows, I head home real quick.”

Rachel Armstrong of Duluth tries to dig her car out of deep snow on Nov. 1, 1991, during the worst of the Halloween megastorm. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

FRIDAY, NOV. 1, 1991

2 a.m. — Furniture topples and cabinets pour open aboard the 1,000-foot Walter J. McCarthy Jr. The boat rolls wildly in the storm, reports watchman John Clark of Duluth. The captain decides to pull up anchor and head for Thunder Bay, where he hopes there are calmer waters. “It was waist deep on the deck,” Clark said. “Sailors just aren’t used to moving around in that. It was awful.”

8 a.m. — Don Johnson steps into his Lakeside home’s attached garage and presses the garage door opener. A floor-to-ceiling wall of white fills the garage’s opening. “A snowblower would be useless,” he said. “Where would a person put the snow?”

8:15 a.m. — After weeks of praying for snow, Dorothy Carlson’s granddaughter is delighted as she makes her way to the breakfast table in Two Harbors. The eighth-grader is visiting from the Philippines, where her parents serve in the Navy. She had never seen snow. “Tina, you didn’t have to pray so hard,” her grandmother teasingly scolds.

8:30 a.m. — In Ely, Vermilion Community College student and football player Tim Myles fights through the storm to pick up a marriage license. He realizes there’s no way he and his fiancee will make it to the courthouse in Virginia for the ceremony.

11 a.m. — The phone rings in Marcella Von Goertz’s Hunters Park home. “How are you doing over there?” a voice comes from across the street. “Just fine,” Von Goertz answers, “as long as I have electricity, heat and telephone. Only I can’t get out of the house.” The front door is drifted shut.

11:15 a.m. — Betty Plaunt, the owner of the voice across the street, crawls over the snow piles with shovel in hand. She pokes holes in the snow like an ice angler. Then, an inch of snow at a time, she frees Von Goertz’s door from its tomb.

Noon — Gusts up to 60 mph whip the fresh snow. Nearly 4 1/2 additional inches fall during the morning, pushing the storm total past 13 inches, with no sign of letting up.

12:15 p.m. — With license in hand but no way to get to the courthouse in Virginia, Tim Myles calls churches around Ely. On the third call, he finds a pastor who agrees to perform the ceremony.

1 p.m. — Marti Switzer calls an ambulance to her Lincoln Park/West End home. Her 19-month old daughter Carleigh is lethargic and running a fever, likely a reaction to immunization shots the day before. But an ambulance can’t get through the snow. A pair of snowmobilers happen by and offer help. They go to the house and carry Switzer and her daughter back to the main road, where emergency personnel await. “I never did get to thank them,” Switzer said. “They may have saved my daughter’s life.”

3 p.m. — The best man and maid of honor both snowbound, Ely’s Tim Myles corrals two teammates from his college football team. The vows are exchanged — with a free safety as best man and a linebacker as maid of honor. The happy couple celebrates with Hot Pockets at the Holiday gas station, about the only business open. Theirs is one of only a few Northland weddings to go on despite the storm.

5:30 p.m. — With no stores open, restaurants operating with skeleton crews, and 300 guests in town for a tourist-railroad convention, Leo McDonnell of Duluth’s railroad museum finally makes arrangements for a family-style meal at the Chinese Lantern. His group sets out en masse from the Radisson Hotel a block away. But three women, all from Mississippi, refuse to go. “They were afraid,” McDonnell said. “They were afraid they’d fall into the snow and drown.”

6 p.m. — Storm in full gale with continuing high winds and more than 9 inches of fresh powder falling during the afternoon alone. Thunder crackles overhead and lightning flashes.

8:30 p.m. — With the storm whipping into a fury, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials scramble to choose a message for the flashing warning signs they have along Interstate 35. “How about I-35 parking lot,” plow driver Brad Miller jokes. “But that’s what it was,” said the department’s Wendy Frederickson, also on duty that night. “You looked out and it was this sea of white and then all these abandoned cars that looked like they just parked there.”

11:59 p.m. — An additional 5 1/2 inches of snow fall during the evening, stranding workers downtown and residents in their homes. Only four-wheel-drive vehicles move. And only on main roads as snowplow crews can only hope to keep main arteries open.

The front page of the Saturday, Nov. 2, 1991, Duluth News-Tribune, with coverage of the Halloween megastorm. My apologies for the creases – this copy had been folded and stored in a drawer for years. Click on the image for a larger view in which you can read the stories (you can click on most photos in Attic posts to enlarge them).

SATURDAY, NOV. 2, 1991

4 a.m. — Back in Duluth’s Lincoln Park/West End neighborhood, the mother of “Little Mermaid” trick-or-treater Emily Meyer, Barb Meyer, awakens with a wave of sheet-ripping pain. The family’s expected baby decides it doesn’t want to miss the storm.

4:30 a.m. — With emergency lights flashing, a police 4-by-4 arrives at the Meyers’ home. A fire truck follows, then a snowplow, sanding truck and finally an ambulance. “Boy, they’ll do anything to get their road snowplowed,” a neighbor jokes.

5:30 a.m. — After more than a half hour of white-knuckle, siren-wailing driving, the ambulance with Barb Meyer and her soon-to-be-born baby arrives at St. Luke’s Hospital. The family realizes quickly theirs will be one of many storm-baby stories. The maternity ward is jammed with mothers about to give birth and with new mothers unable to be discharged because of the snow.

6 a.m. — Northland residents wake up and can’t believe their eyes. Nearly 4 more inches fall overnight as strong winds continue. Drifts reach the tops of grocery stores. Snowbound and abandoned cars make plowing difficult.

10 a.m. – Unable to drive in the deep snow, Dr. Niles Bartdorf arrives at St. Luke’s Hospital on cross-country skis to help deliver Barb and Ron Meyer’s new baby.

Noon — Two more inches of fresh snow fall during the morning hours. Residents emerge to shovel or to walk to stores for junk food.

12:15 p.m. — Fran Tollefson’s eyes fill with tears in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood. Her husband, Dave, who had fallen off a paint ladder over the summer and suffered a life-threatening brain injury, is out blowing snow with his son. In that moment, she realizes for the first time he’ll be OK. “I hurried for my camera,” she said. “It was hard to see through the lens because my eyes were filled with tears.”

1:13 p.m. — Amy Meyer is born to Lincoln Park/West End couple Ron and Barb Meyer. The little girl is quickly nicknamed “Amy Storm” or simply “Stormy.”

6 p.m. — Nearly 2 1/2 inches of fresh snow fall during the afternoon.

11:59 p.m. — High winds continue, but the snow begins to taper. Less than half an inch of new snow falls during the evening.

There was a lot of digging out to do at Catlin Courts in Superior on Nov. 3, 1991, as the Halloween megastorm wound down. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

SUNDAY, NOV. 3, 1991

6 a.m. — Barely a trace of new snow falls overnight, marking an end to the Halloween megastorm and the beginning of the cleanup. Most streets are still impassable. Hundreds of snowbound cars are still buried.

1 p.m. — After three frustrating days of scrapped-and-updated forecasts, TV weatherman Collin Ventrella pays a group of college students a case of beer to dig his car out of a snowdrift. “Probably the best deal I’ve ever made,” he said.

Liz Howard’s coat bears a silent plea as she shovels out the front entrance of the Archer Building in Duluth’s Canal Park on Nov. 3, 1991. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

SIX MONTHS LATER

Barb Meyer wraps “Amy Storm” into her stroller and heads out on a spring walk along Lincoln Park Drive. A city of Duluth street-cleaning truck pulls up alongside her. “Was that the baby born during the megastorm?” the driver asks. “Yes,” Barb Meyer says. The driver beams. “I was the one driving the snowplow that night.”

NINE MONTHS LATER

The Birthplace at St. Mary’s Medical Center is very, very busy, reports nurse Holly Calantoc.

-end-

Don Syring fixes the snowmobile he used to get from his Woodland home to IGA Foods on East Superior Street during the winter storm on Nov. 2, 1991. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune) 

THE MAKINGS OF A MEGASTORM

News-Tribune, October 2001

The Halloween megastorm wasn’t done after it dumped record amounts of snow on Duluth and the Twin Cities.

The 1991 storm was one of three that headed to the East Coast and produced the now-famous “perfect storm,” the one written about by Sebastian Junger and later turned into a feature film starring George Clooney.

Around here, it snowed like crazy because of a high pressure ridge across the eastern Great Lakes that held the storm in place for the better part of three days.

According to the National Weather Service, a low-pressure system roared north from Texas that week on a jet stream pointed straight at Minnesota. The weather system carried humidity, and tons of it, from the Gulf of Mexico.

When it reached Minnesota and then Duluth, the low-pressure system met a cold air mass moving south from the Canadian plains. Snow developed. It fell and just kept on falling, because the high-pressure ridge over the eastern Great Lakes was stubborn about letting it shake free.

With a Halloween pumpkin grinning behind him, Ben Bjoralt, 11, of Duluth, used a shovel to make a snow fort at a friend’s 21st Avenue East home on Saturday, Nov. 2, 1991. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

At least two feet of snow fell from a line just west of Mankato, through the Twin Cities to Duluth and finally to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Southeastern Minnesota was hit with a deadly ice storm. The Twin Cities got 28 inches of snow, topping the single-storm record there by eight inches.

Duluth also set records. With 36.9 inches of snow, the city easily topped the suddenly wimpy former single-storm mark of 25.4 inches. That one had been set in December 1950.

For the month, Duluth wound up receiving 50.1 inches. That easily iced the old snowiest November mark of 37.7 inches set in 1983.

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Click here for some additional interesting information about the Halloween megastorm from the National Weather Service in Duluth.

And, as mentioned up top, share your Halloween megastorm memories by posting a comment.

20 years ago today, Twins won 1991 World Series Game 7

Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett (left) celebrates with teammate Chili Davis after the Twins won the World Series at the Metrodome on Oct. 27, 1991. (AP photo / News Tribune files)

It was 20 years ago today, Sunday, Oct. 27, 1991, when Jack Morris pitched 10 shutout innings and Gene Larkin’s 10th-inning hit drove in Dan Gladden for the winning run as the Minnesota Twins defeated the Atlanta Braves 1-0 in Game 7 of the World Series.

That win at the Metrodome gave the Twins their second championship in four years.

Here’s a short documentary of the 1991 World Series, and particularly Game 7, produced by MLB Network last year (that’s why they refer to “19 years ago”):

1991 World Series

And here’s a short clip of Kirby Puckett’s game-winning home run in Game 6:
Minnesota’s Gene Larkin celebrates after hitting the game-winning single in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series at the Metrodome. At left is Twins first-base coach Wayne Terwilliger. (AP photo / News Tribune files)
Share your Twins World Series memories by posting a comment.

Minnesota’s last party-line phone system

January 19, 1975

Sigrid Gellerstedt mans the Cotton telephone exchange switchboard at her home in January 1975. (News-Tribune file photo)

Operator rings for last time

News-Tribune

“Hello, Cotton…”

Miss Sigrid Gellerstedt, chief operator of the Cotton telephone exchange, the last hand-crank system in the state, answered a call to her switchboard one afternoon last week.

The late evening sun poured in the windows of her cozy little white house just behind the Wilbert Cafe in Cotton, known far and wide as a good watering spot about halfway between the Iron Range and Duluth on Highway 53.

Miss Gellerstedt sat at the massive old oaken switchboard, a headset crowning her curly hair. On top of the board and the closet full of circuits behind it were a picture of her parents, a plaque with the opening lines of the 23rd Psalm on it and two small American flags.

At her elbow stood her “assistant” and confidante, five-year-old Gwen Rogers from the country store kiddie corner across County Highway 52.

Gwen drops in almost every afternoon after school to chat, “help” tend the switchboard, and play fetch with Miss Gellerstedt’s small but very vociferous dog, Cookie.

The old switchboard looked very much like an upright piano and Miss Gellerstedt “played” it with the skill and artistry of a true virtuoso.

“Hello, Cotton … Oh, it’s you Brenda…”

The switchboard started buzzing and a little brass flap flipped away from one of the plug-in connections on its face. That indicated someone wanted “Central,” the “Operator,” or more often, just plain “Sig,” as Miss Gellerstedt is known by most Cotton denizens.

“Can you hang on a minute, Brenda? … Hello, Cotton … Yes, Liz … I’ve been ringing her all afternoon and she doesn’t answer, must’ve flown the coop … Are you still there Brenda? What is it that you want? …”

Brenda, evidentally another operator, was wondering about a billing or service call or a new listing or something at the Somebody residence.

Miss Gellerstedt explained that Mr. Somebody is now deceased and Mrs. Somebody has entered a nursing home but Mr. Some One Else is now living on the Old Somebody place and has kept the phone in the Somebodys’ name for convenience sake but it’s all right because Mr. Some One Else is the Somebodys’ son-in-law.

More buzzing in the switchboard and about six little flaps dropped at once.

“Hang on Brenda … Hello, Cotton … Just a moment, please … There you are … Hello, Cotton … Well, you’ve certainly called the right place …”

Such was the inimitable style with which Miss Gellerstedt handled the Cotton telephone exchange one afternoon last week.

But it’s all part of history now. At 7 a.m. Saturday, Cotton’s hand-cranked telephones were disconnected and 200 subscribers joined the outside world’s dial system in the form of Arrowhead Communications Corp.

Switchboard “assistant” Gwen Rogers, 5, watches Sigrid Gellerstedt examine the new Cotton phone book in January 1975. (News-Tribune file photo)

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The party lines with up to 17 persons on them are no more. Cotton residents now have automatic dial phones. No longer do they have to “crank up the operator” to place their calls for them.

Instead of having phones operated from 6 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m. with only emergency service in between, Cotton residents now have 24-hour-a-day service and direct dialing to just about anywhere in the country.

Yes, “Sig” and her two assistants, Madge Peterson and Dagney Kwiatkowski, have been replaced by a small windowless building filled with automatic dial equipment. It’s located on County Road 52 about three miles east of Cotton.”

“It’s the end of an era,” said George Nustad, independent company relations supervisor for Northwestern Bell. He had mixed feelings about the progress that comes with the discontinuance of the crank telephone.

“These people don’t know what they’re going to miss,” he predicted.

The new dial system will obviously be faster, more convenient and efficient but the hand-crank did have some unique advantages and characteristics.

For one thing, Cotton residents will be deprived of a free answering service. Under the old system, they were hooked up to party lines. If one family wasn’t home, a neighbor would answer.

For another, there probably won’t be any township-wide fire alarm. Under the old system, Sig or Madge or Dagney could give a “general ring,” four long rings on all the phones in the area, to alert volunteer firemen of the time, place and intensity of fires.

For another, they’re going to miss Sig, Madge and Dagney. The operators, particularly Miss Gellerstedt, recognized many called by voice. That’s personalized service you probably won’t find in other places.

And if you were lonely or bored, Sig, Madge and Dagney were glad to discuss local events, give evaluations of the weather or chat about anything you cared to mention and had the time to talk about.

They were a social service and a news medium all rolled into one.

“People could save on the News-Tribune” joked Miss Gellerstedt. “All they had to do was talk to us.”

She has been the Cotton operator for more than 30 years, starting her career in the communications industry on May 4, 1944. At first she had it all alone and worked about 15 hours a day, seven days a week, although her mother helped out.

Now Madge Peterson, an 18-year veteran switchboard operator, works Mondays and Dagney Kwiatkowski has Tuesdays and they split the duty on Thursdays. But sometimes they switch days and then the schedule is different.

The rest of the time Miss Gellerstedt is on duty. She said she works about 76 hours a week.

The duty is not without certain hazards in the summer when thunderstorms are prevalent. A lightning strike can really make the phone wires snap and crackle and several times fuses have been blown in the closet behind the switchboard.

“Last summer we had a few bad ones but they always seemed to happen on Tuesdays when I was off,” Miss Gellerstedt said. “I was just lucky, I guess.

“And don’t forget our faithful lineman, Ernie (Ernest) Nordberg,” she added. “Without him, I don’t know what we’d do.”

Now Miss Gellerstedt is looking forward to getting the big switchboard and its accompanying wiring out of her house, although the unit will remain in service for a short transition period.

“There’ll be a lot more room and you can’t even clean the dumb thing the way it is now,” she remarked.

What does she plan to do? Surely she is too young to retire.

“Now don’t you try and flatter me,” she said. “It so happens I probably could retire if I wanted but I plan to stay on for a little while yet.”

She took out the new Cotton Telephone Directory, which reads like a “Who’s Who in Cotton.” On the back it says for reporting trouble and service requests to call a certain number with the new 482 prefix.

“That’s my number,” Miss Gellerstedt said with a certain hint of pride. “That’s how I found out what I am going to be doing.”

She reported she’s already gotten a number of calls from people wanting to buy the old phones as antiques. Apparently people think the Cotton residents have the old box-type phones that hung on the wall but actually they have standard desk model instruments with cranks.

The dial unit can be installed in the old phones, she said. The old wall models were replaced many years ago and sold for about $5 apiece; now they’re worth more than $100, she added.

Miss Gellerstedt claims she isn’t sentimental about the passing of the old hand-crank system but she has collected a large scrapbook of information on them.

She said the Cotton exchange was the last in the state and one of only three remaining in the country.

One is in Bryant Pond, Maine, and has about 400 subscribers and plans to stay in operation for some time yet.

Miss Gellerstedt was just going to tell where the other one was when the switchboard started buzzing.

“Hello, Cotton…”

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This story reminds me of a passage I’ve always liked in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days, in which he writes about a former switchboard operator for whom it seems Sigrid Gellerstedt could have been a model. Here are a few lines:

The pantry off her kitchen holds the old switchboard, still in good condition, and also the steel cabinet with the switching equipment that took over from it when they went to dial telephones in 1960. … If someone doesn’t answer their phone by the fifth ring, she does, and usually she knows where they went and when they’re expected. … If you do reach her instead of your party – say, your mother – she may clue you in on things your mom would never tell you, about your mom’s bad back, a little fall on the steps the week before, or the approach of Mother’s Day, or the fact that when you were born you were shown off like you were the Prince of Wales.

But modern, 24-hour, direct-dial phones are better… right?

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Share your memories of “old-time” telephones in the Northland by posting a comment.

Corner of Superior and Lake, 1988

October 28, 1988

Dust rises from rubble dropped by the operator of a front-end loader during demolition of buildings at the corner of Superior Street and Lake Avenue on October 28, 1988, as seen from the Gardner Hotel. The vacant buildings were being removed to make way for a parking lot. (John Rott / News-Tribune)

Here are a few zoomed-in views from the photo above:

The Electric Fetus record store and the now-gone Strand Theater are visible across Superior Street.

What’s now the Lake Superior Plaza was being used as a parking lot.

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The parking lot that replaced the buildings being torn down was itself replaced by the Tech Village building about 10 years later.

The corner of Superior and Lake is at the heart of downtown Duluth, and appears in lots of photos in the DNT files.

Here are some other Attic entries that include photos from the vicinity of that corner:

Freimuth’s Department Store

Crossroads Inn fire

Bradley Building razed

Famous Clothing

Lake Avenue Viaduct opens

And here are a couple more views of the corner:

Looking out over the site of the proposed Tech Village / Soft Center project at the corner of Superior Street and Lake Avenue on March 8, 1998. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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I’m not sure of the origins or date of his old photo that was saved in the News Tribune’s electronic archive around the time when the Tech Village was being planned. It shows the corner of Superior and Lake, apparently during a flood, sometime around the turn of the century. It’s from after 1890 – that’s when the Tremont Hotel, later the Gardner Hotel, visible (and still standing) up the hill on Lake Avenue was built. And I don’t see any signs of cars, so that probably places it before 1905-10.

Share your memories of downtown Duluth by posting a comment.

Superior shots from the ’60s

Here are a couple of photos of Superior from the 1960s from the News Tribune files; click on the photos for a larger view.

First up is one from May 1965, of the new Montgomery Ward store on Tower Avenue:

You can see the opening signs and some of the merchandise inside:

Montgomery Ward isn’t there any more, of course, but the remodeled building still stands on the east side of Tower Avenue in the block just north of Belknap. Horizons Travel occupies part of the building.

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The other Superior photo I have is this aerial view looking northwest over the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus – then Superior State College – in October 1966, taken by the News Tribune’s Earl Johnson:

The photo was taken to show the then-new Gates Physical Education Building, at lower left.

It’s interesting to compare this photo with a present-day map, to see how the campus has grown. Several streets in this photo, including a portion of N. 18th Street, have since been vacated to make way for new buildings.

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Share your memories by posting a comment. And share your old photos of Duluth and Superior by sending them to akrueger(at)duluthnews.com.

Listening to Rawhide at Johnny’s Bar in Superior, 1981

November 1981

The crowd at Johnny’s Bar in Superior twirls to the sounds of Rawhide in November 1981. (Duluth Herald file photo)

Rawhide plays to tough crowd at Johnny’s

By Bob Ashenmacher, Duluth Herald staff writer

Parked in front of Johnny’s Bar in Superior on some nights is an old Comet Cyclone, red except for one black door.

The car has that sexy boxy shape; the sharp-edged lines of a mid-60s Plymouth Satellite that make it look like it wants to leap forward even when it’s just sitting there. Taped to its dash are Polaroids of the driver’s family.

Johnny’s Bar itself is a bit like the car: a little sharp-edged at times (the clientele leans toward grain truckers and sailors who are built like trucks and ships), and always exciting to be in. But it has the right interior touches to feel comfortable.

The touches include the “homemade pasties” sign above the bar and the TV above the pool table showing “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

And the house band, Rawhide, the professional vehicle of ElDean Johnson. The 37-year-old singer-guitarist has seen it through many personnel changes in nearly five years at the club. He now has things pared down to his wife Linda on bass and Mike Badden on drums.

ElDean likes it that way. Apparently the crowd does, too: a hand-lettered cardboard sign by the dance floor warns, “Not responsible for any accidents while dancing with your shoes off!”

The stage is small, with a purplish fluorescent “black” light hanging above. The ceiling is so low that when ElDean jumps to end one of the faster numbers, his straw hat brushes it. The crowds are lively people from many walks of life. Plenty of grain truckers and sailors.

Asked to describe a typical Johnny’s crowd, ElDean says: “Well, they’re a fun-loving bunch. Sometimes they do surprising things, but they have fun and in the end that’s what matters.”

He laughs. “I know so many of them now it’s pretty familiar.” Like the trucker who often stops by on weekend nights to climb up on stage: “His specialty is Red Sovine songs. Always gets a big hand for ‘Giddyup Go.’ ”

Sometimes the strangers are a kick, too. There was the night a boatload of Greeks came in. “One fella gets up there and starts singing away, and we tried to back him,” ElDean recalls. “I couldn’t understand what he was saying and didn’t know the song. But he looked happy when he was through. Kept smiling, anyway.”

ElDean pauses. “I like playing at Johnny’s. You can go to work and watch the show, you know what I mean? It’s out there on the dance floor.”

Rawhide plays a mildly progressive country show, with some ’50s rock and any requests you care to hear thrown in. ElDean’s strong suit as a vocalist is moderately paced songs by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Moe Bandy, Gene Watson and the Gatlins. His smooth baritone has a nice way with ballads.

ElDean plays a slightly nicked black Fender Stratocaster. His guitar style is in the jumpy, snazzy manner popularized two decades or more ago by guys like Duane Eddy – an early idol – and Carl Perkins. On the rock-flavored things such as “Wipeout,” ElDean shows a Ventures influence. He likes to use a lot of echo and wah wah pedal – “my gadgets” – through his Fender Twin Reverb amp. He plays a mean rendition of Juice Newton’s “Queen of Hearts.”

Linda, who handles that vocal, is a blonde not much bigger than the Fender bass she plays. She sings plenty strongly, and shows a charming touch with things like Lacy Dalton’s “Takin’ It Easy” and Gail Davies’ “I’ll Be There.”

Mike the drummer’s big number is “Kaw-liga,” the tom-tom thumping Hank Williams tune. Sometimes when he goes on a run from snare to tom-toms he ends up where he’s going faster than the rest of the group. But they catch up quickly.

Rawhide is at Johnny’s only three nights a week. He has an upholstering business and he and Linda have a small son. “It’s almost hobby playing. And you know, I like it that way,” he says.

A lot more than in the early years. He was based in Rochester but spent most of his time in a station wagon and motel rooms. The groups came and went along with gigs throughout the nine states between Michigan and the Rockies. He cut an album in Nashville.

“The record company promptly went broke. The famous Nashville swindle. When I hear the name of that town my hair still stands up. But that’s all right. I still like the music.”

Eventually ElDean (“I know it’s unusual,” he says, adding “No idea” before asked why his parents chose it) ended up in Duluth. He played a number of years with the Country Gentlemen.

“I liked it all right, but eventually I was getting into things like Waylon Jennings and they all wanted to stay more traditional. They had steel guitar, you know. The sounds we wanted were different.”

So five years ago he used his CB handle to name his new group.

“I could tell you stories about my life,” ElDean says, “but you couldn’t print ‘em. When I try to think of ones you could print, that makes it tougher.” He scratches the stubble on his face.

“I could write a book.”

-end-

Johnny’s Bar, 1508 N. Third St. in Superior, as seen in September 1985. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)

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The members of Rawhide in January 1993, from left: Jack Rygg (drums), Linda Johnson (bass) and Al Johnson (lead guitar). (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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Assemble the best Northland restaurant meal of all time

Any Attic post involving restaurants inevitably spurs stories of long-lamented menu items that readers wish they could taste just one more time – stuff like, say, the onion rings at King Leo’s or the London Inn.

So, I’d like to devote this post to those memories of favorite foods from restaurants past and present in Duluth, Superior and elsewhere in the region. If you could assemble a perfect meal from those establishments, what would it be?

Mix and match – pick an appetizer from one place, an entree from another and dessert from a third restaurant. Combine stuff from a restaurant still open with food from one closed for 40 years. Or just pick one item – whatever you want.

Think it over, and then share your choices by posting a comment. And if seeing others’ food selections jogs your memory, by all means post again. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.