Duluth TV personality Jack McKenna dies at age 91

We received word from KUWS radio’s Mike Simonson, on the Radio Superior Facebook page, that longtime Twin Ports radio and TV personality Jack McKenna died Sunday, Dec. 8 at age 91.

Jack McKenna does a weathercast at WDIO-TV in 1977, the same year he was chosen favorite TV personality by Twin Ports residents. (News Tribune file photo)

McKenna spent time as a weathercaster at WDIO-TV in the 1960s and 1970s, took some jobs elsewhere in the country and returned to Duluth as a weathercaster and news host at KBJR-TV in the 1980s.

He played the character “Captain Q” on a Duluth children’s TV show, and the News Tribune files report that he also played “Professor Fantastic” on a late-night horror movie show on WDIO.

McKenna also was an alumnus of Denfeld High School, and a good recap of his career can be found on their website.

Jack McKenna portrays the kids TV show character “Captain Q” in the early 1960s. (News Tribune file photo)

In more recent years, McKenna took part in the Radio Superior vintage radio program on KUWS.

I talked with him briefly a few weeks ago when writing an obituary for fellow Duluth TV veteran Dick Wallack. McKenna had had health issues in recent years, but his mind was sharp when we discussed the time he and Wallack spent working together.

Jack McKenna in 1970. (News Tribune file photo)

Several video clips of McKenna exist on YouTube, including….

McKenna as part of the WDIO news team in a 1973 newscast (I’ve included two of the five clips below – the ones that feature McKenna most prominently; find the rest here):

McKenna giving the weather on a 1986 KBJR newscast:

McKenna giving the weather on a KBJR newscast with Barbara Reyelts in 1988:

McKenna in character as Captain Q (this clip starts with footage of Ray Paulsen as Mr. Toot; Captain Q comes in the second half):

There aren’t many Twin Ports TV pioneers left… share your memories of Jack McKenna and other early Duluth TV personalities by posting a comment.

38th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The Edmund Fitzgerald in the Twin Ports with the tug Arkansas, circa early 1960s. (News-Tribune file photo)

Other duties at work have kept me from posting many new items to the Attic in recent months, but I have to note that today – Nov. 10, 2013 – is the 38th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in a massive storm on Lake Superior. The freighter’s crew of 29 men, including several from the Northland, died when the ship sank in eastern Lake Superior off Whitefish Point on Nov. 10, 1975; it had been heading from Superior to Detroit with a load of taconite.

A little after 7 p.m. that day, the Fitzgerald was in radio contact with the nearby Arthur M. Anderson, and reported that they were “holding our own” in heavy seas. There was no further contact with the freighter; minutes later the ship had disappeared from radar screens.

I compiled a number of archive photos and other information about the Fitzgerald in 2010, on the 35th anniversary of the wreck. You can view that post here.

Among the items posted there is this well-done video for Gordon Lightfoot’s famous song about the wreck:

Split Rock Lighthouse northeast of Two Harbors will host its annual beacon lighting and memorial service for the victims of the Fitzgerald, and all Great Lakes wrecks, this afternoon. They will toll a bell 29 times for each man who lost his life on the Fitzgerald, and then toll the bell a 30th time for all lost mariners. After that, the lighthouse’s beacon will be lit. It’s the only time each year when visitors can climb to the top of the tower while the beacon is lit and revolving.

The lighthouse will be open from noon to 6 p.m. today; the memorial service is at 4:30 p.m. Admission is $7 per person, free for Minnesota Historical Society members.

Here’s a News Tribune video of the Nov. 10, 2011, memorial ceremony at Split Rock:

Share your memories by posting a comment.

Some new old Duluth TV news clips

Every so often I take a spin through YouTube to see if any old clips from Duluth TV stations have been posted – newscasts, commercials, etc. On my latest visit, I found these three brief clips from 1991, showing the openings of the newscasts for KDLH, KBJR and WDIO:

Wish we could have a few more minutes of each of those clips… but still interesting to see.

There are a number of old Duluth TV news clips posted to YouTube, and over the years we’ve featured several in the Attic. Here are links to a few of those posts:

Complete 1973 WDIO newscast

Clip of 1985 WDIO newscast, and 1970s WDIO holiday promos 

KBJR newscast from 1990

KBJR newscast from 1975

Here are a few more Duluth TV news clips – stay tuned to the end of the first one for a report from a familiar Duluth TV name, on 1980s youth trends…

KQDS / Fox 21 hasn’t been around as long as the other three stations, of course. But here’s one “from the archives” clip, of the original opening music to the 9 p.m. newscast:

And finally, this assemblage of KBJR clips from 1989, with a lot of familiar faces:

Thanks to those who posted the clips to YouTube over the years. Share your Duluth TV memories by posting a comment.

Miller Hill Mall turns 40

Crowds fill Duluth’s Miller Hill Mall during its official grand opening on July 25, 1973. (News Tribune file photo)

As featured on the front page of the Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013 News Tribune, Duluth’s Miller Hill Mall is turning 40 years old this year. The mall opened in stages, with the “official” grand opening in July 1973.

The mall has been featured in a number of past Attic posts, including several with photos from its opening year. Here are links to those posts:

Montgomery Ward store at the Miller Hill Mall, 1973

J.C. Penney store at the Miller Hill Mall, 1973 (Part 1)

J.C. Penney store at the Miller Hill Mall, 1973 (Part 2)

The buffeteria was one of the most popular places in the Montgomery Ward store at the Miller Hill Mall when this photo was taken in July 1973, four months after the store opened. (News Tribune file photo)

Here’s one more mall-related post:

Aerial view from 1979

And here are images of a couple articles from the mall’s grand opening (one article “jumps” to a second image); click on the images for a larger version:

Share your memories of the mall by posting a comment…

Duluth’s Fidelity Building comes tumbling down, 1977

April 1977

Wrecking crews start to demolish the Fidelity Building in downtown Duluth in April 1977. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

The Fidelity Building stood in downtown Duluth for about 65 years, on the site now occupied by Lake Superior Plaza – along the south side of Superior Street just west of Lake Avenue. Demolition crews knocked it down in 1977 to clear the way for Lake Superior Plaza, home to Allete and Minnesota Power’s headquarters.

Freimuth’s Department Store was right on the corner of Superior and Lake on that block; it was the subject of a previous Attic post. Fidelity was next door. Articles at the time of demolition reported it as both 12 and 14 stories tall; perhaps there was a difference of opinion on whether the small structures up top were actual “stories.”

Initially, the plan was to demolish the Fidelity Building with explosives; less than two weeks before the demolition date, the News-Tribune reported:

“The Fourth of July, minus the rockets’ red glare, will arrive three months early in Duluth, but not for the reason you think. There will be a massive explosion in downtown Duluth at 8 a.m. April 3, and when the dust clears, it will mark the first time that a Minnesota building was destroyed by blasting. The victim is the Fidelity Building.”

Officials with Minnesota Lumber and Wrecking of St. Paul told the paper in March 1977 that smokestacks and concrete footings had previously been destroyed by explosives, but at that time no Minnesota building had been imploded.

However, difficulties in obtaining insurance scuttled plans for the implosion, and the building was razed using more traditional wrecking methods. It took less than three weeks for the building to be reduced to rubble.

Bystanders look on as the Fidelity Building in downtown Duluth is razed in April 1977. (News-Tribune file photo)

There had been efforts to find a new use for the Fidelity Building back in 1968. It was having troubles then – only 30 percent occupied, with thousands owed in back property taxes. In November 1968, the News-Tribune reported that a group of Duluth businessmen wanted to remodel the Fidelity Building “for use as a motor hotel of about 100 units. It would be in conjunction with a parking ramp and retail shops to be constructed on the site of the Freimuth Building,” which had been razed earlier that year.

But the plans never came to pass, and a decade later the Lake Superior Plaza project spelled the end for the Fidelity Building.

Demolition work continues on the Fidelity Building in downtown Duluth on April 20, 1977. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

There was one last bit of controversy regarding the Fidelity Building – or, rather, what was left of it. Brick and concrete rubble from the building was dumped in West Duluth near the corner of Main Street and 52nd Avenue West, where the NewPage paper mill now stands. The proximity of that site to St. Louis Bay prompted complaints and the possibility of fines from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the News-Tribune reported in July 1977.

I’m not sure how the dispute was resolved – the clipping file for the Fidelity Building ends with that article.

Share your memories of the Fidelity Building by posting a comment.

The demolition of the Fidelity Building is almost complete in this view from April 26, 1977. (News-Tribune file photo)

Happy 72nd birthday, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan – then Bobby Zimmerman – as a sophomore in the Hibbing High School yearbook, circa 1957. (News-Tribune file photo)

Today, May 24, 2013, is the 72nd birthday of Northland native and music icon Bob Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth in 1941 and raised on the Iron Range, in Hibbing.

Two years ago, on the occasion of Dylan’s 70th birthday, I posted a collection of text and photos of Dylan from the News Tribune files. If you have not yet seen that – or even if you have – you can find the post here.

Aerial view of West Duluth, 1970

Circa 1970

This News Tribune file photo shows Interstate 35 under construction through West Duluth. It has two dates written on the back – 1969 and 1970 – so perhaps an alert reader can pick out some details from this image to determine which year is correct.

This photo certainly shows how important Cody Street was as an entrance to Duluth before the freeway was completed.

Click on the photo for a much larger version of the image. Here are a couple of zoomed-in views, starting with the West Duluth commercial district (this was a time before Kmart and Super One):

And here’s the area around Laura MacArthur School, what was then Shoppers City and the long-gone railroad viaduct:

Here are links to a couple of past Attic posts on West Duluth:

West Duluth, early 1980s

West Duluth before the paper mill, 1986

What interesting things do you spot in these photos? Share your observations and memories by posting a comment.

The bars of North Fifth Street in Superior, 1978

October 15, 1978

Bars line the north side of North Fifth Street in Superior on Oct. 15, 1978. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Does the scene above look familiar? If so, you have a pretty good memory, because all but one of these bars lining North Fifth Street in Superior have been gone for years. The stop sign by the vintage van marks the corner of Ogden Avenue in this view looking east. From left to right, the bars visible here are the Heartbreak Bar, Burke’s Place, the 5th Street Hotel, High Times Saloon, Nickel Street Saloon, the Viking Lounge and the Handlebar. Click on the photo for a much larger image.

This area was largely cleared to make way for commercial and industrial development in the 1970s and 1980s. Here’s the same stretch of North Fifth Street today:

A surviving tavern is the Viking at the corner of Fifth and Hughitt, visible in the distance with the same vertical LIQUORS sign as it had in 1978. Here’s a close-up present-day view:

There may be one other tavern structure still standings – is the “Handlebar” in the distance in the 1978 photo the same building that houses Schultz’s Sports Bar today? I don’t know.

So when did all those bars get torn down? Was it all at once, or did it happen over a few years? Again, I don’t know, so perhaps one of you can fill in some details.

A March 29, 1981, News Tribune article on the redevelopment effort in the North End mentioned how “the project is creating open spaces in the once heavily settled district between Tower and Hammond avenues and North Third and the east-west rail corridor at Eighth Street.

“The 20-square-blocks are being transformed from one of old frame houses ‘so close together neighbors could shake hands through open windows’ to an area of potential high value as a commercial and light industrial district, Superior community development specialist James Kumbera said.”

The city was buying up houses as it could and demolishing them to create large areas of open land.

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What are your memories of the bars along North Fifth Street? What more information can you offer about when they were torn down? Share your memories by posting a comment.

37th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

 

The freighter Edmund Fitzgerald is guided by the tug Vermont under the Blatnik Bridge and through the opening in the Interstate Bridge, circa 1960. (News-Tribune file photo)

Today – Nov. 10, 2012 – is the 37th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in a powerful Lake Superior storm. The crew of 29, including several men from the Northland, died when ship, heading from Superior to Detroit with a load of taconite, sank off Whitefish Point in eastern Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975.

A little after 7 p.m. that day, the Fitzgerald was in radio contact with the nearby Arthur M. Anderson, and reported that they were “holding our own” in heavy seas. There was no further contact with the freighter; minutes later the ship had disappeared from radar screens.

I compiled a number of archive photos and other information about the Fitzgerald in 2010, on the 35th anniversary of the wreck. You can view that post here.

Among the items posted there is this well-done video for Gordon Lightfoot’s famous song about the wreck:

Split Rock Lighthouse northeast of Two Harbors will host its annual beacon lighting and memorial service for the victims of the Fitzgerald, and all Great Lakes wrecks, this afternoon. They will toll a bell 29 times for each man who lost his life on the Fitzgerald, and then toll the bell a 30th time for all lost mariners. After that, the lighthouse’s beacon will be lit. Find more information about the ceremony here.

Here’s a News Tribune video of the Nov. 10, 2011, memorial ceremony at Split Rock:

And here’s a photo I took a little later that afternoon, of the lighthouse shining out over Lake Superior from its lofty perch:

Share your stories and memories by posting a comment.

George McGovern in the Twin Ports

Former Democratic U.S. Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern of South Dakota died Sunday at age 90.

He made at least two stops in Duluth during his political career, mostly notably on Sept. 8, 1972, during his ultimately unsuccessful presidential campaign against Richard Nixon.

Here are some photos from that visit (and one from 1970). Some of these images from the News Tribune archives had caption information; others did not. If you can fill in any of the gaps or have memories to share, please post a comment:

Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern walks with an entourage of reporters, staff members, security and local officials at the Duluth airport during a visit to the Twin Ports on Sept. 8, 1972. McGovern made a quick campaign stop in the Northland that day, briefly meeting with supporters at the airport before taking a tour of the Farmers Union Grain Terminal Association elevator in Superior, where he donned a hard hat and watched grain being unloaded from a railroad car. Two months later, he lost the 1972 presidential election to Richard Nixon. (News-Tribune file photo)

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George McGovern (second from left) is joined by (from left) Rep. Jack LaVoy of Duluth, Bill Walker of Cass Lake (elected official? candidate?) and Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Martin Schreiber at the Duluth airport on McGovern’s visit to Duluth on Sept. 8, 1972. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern (left) gets a tour of the Farmers Union Grain Terminal Association elevator in Superior from general manager B.J. Malusky on Sept. 8, 1972. (News-Tribune file photo)

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The scene outside the Farmers Union Grain Terminal Association elevator in Superior during a visit by Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern on Sept. 8, 1972. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern (bottom center) gets a tour of the Farmers Union Grain Terminal Association elevator in Superior on Sept. 8, 1972. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern (second from left) walks from his plane at the Duluth airport on Sept. 8, 1972. At left is Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Martin Schreiber; others are not identified. (News-Tribune file photo)

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U.S. Sen. George McGovern (left) visits Duluth on April 12, 1970. Joining him in this photo are (from left) Stanley Breen, chairman of the city’s DFL coordinating committee; Rep. John Blatnik of Duluth; and James Glazman, 61st District (DFL?) chairman. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)