Bear in a boat in Duluth, 1944

This post has been updated to include new information…

Over the years, many people have sent photos to the News Tribune for one reason or another. Sometimes the paper has asked for reader submissions; other times people have sent pictures unsolicited, for the DNT to keep, viewing the paper as a kind of repository for local history.

Many of those photos – sent years, if not decades ago – are hanging around in the Attic without much information to explain the stories behind the images. Here’s a series of five unusual reader-submitted photos showing a bear sitting in a boat in the Minnesota Slip, now home to the William A. Irvin ore boat. The only caption information with them was: “Taken by Einar Amundson. Bear jumped into boat in the canal.”

After putting out a call for more information on Sunday night, Duluth author and historian Tony Dierckins provided the answer:

The tragic story of this bear is retold in the book, “Crossing the Canal: An Illustrated History of Duluth’s Aerial Bridge”:

“An incident in 1944 was far less tragic, but nonetheless unfortunate. A black bear found its way to the slips behind Marshall-Wells, jumped in the bay, and swam into the canal. Three Park Point residents—E. A. Thorleson, age twenty-four; Michael Gauthier, eighteen; and Donald Parker, fourteen—set out in a small boat to rescue the bear and return it to the wild. The bear didn’t appreciate their efforts. Thorleson tried to lasso the bear, but missed; the bear used the rope to claw onto the boat, where it bit its would-be rescuer and tore his pants. Thorleson and his companions abandoned ship. The Coast Guard then towed the boat to the docks, where they successfully lassoed the bear and attempted to pull it onto the pier. But the bruin wouldn’t budge, and officials, deciding it was too dangerous to help, shot it to prevent further trouble.”

This is an excerpt from a longer piece called “Casualties of the Canal.” You can read the whole piece on Zenith City Online.

So, unfortunately, not a happy ending to the story behind these quirky photos. Thanks to everyone who posted a comment so far. If you have anything more to add about this bear – or if you have other tales of odd animal encounters in the Twin Ports – please post a comment.

Homegrown Music Festival photos

Duluth’s Homegrown Music Festival, which opened Sunday, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Here is a gallery of News Tribune photos from – or associated with – Homegrown Festivals of years past:

You may notice that the captions are pretty sparse on a few of these photos; if you can provide any names where they are missing, please post a comment.

Aerial views of Duluth

Old aerial photos always offer a lot of interesting opportunities to see what has changed and what has stayed the same. Here are a few aerial photos of Duluth from the early 2000s, from the News Tribune archives. Click on the images for a larger view:

This photo from October 2003 shows the area just east of downtown Duluth, prior to major expansion by what is now Essentia Health, and also before construction of the Sheraton Hotel. (Derek Neas / News Tribune)

The reconstruction of Piedmont Avenue is under way in this view from June 2004. (Derek Neas / News Tribune)

An aerial view over downtown Duluth and the Central Hillside in June 2002. (Derek Neas / News Tribune)

A view of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in August 2003, before the addition of the Duluth 10 movie theater, Amsoil Arena and an additional parking structure. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)

Share your memories by posting a comment.

Photos of the Aerial Ferry Bridge

Before it was the Aerial Lift Bridge, the Duluth icon was the Aerial Ferry Bridge.

When the span linking Canal Park to Park Point first opened in 1905, a gondola – or “aerial ferry” carried passengers and vehicles across the ship canal. The bridge was converted to its present lift-and-lower span in the winter of 1929-30.

I’m unsure of the origin of the photos with this post; I don’t think they were taken as News Tribune photos. They may have been sent in by readers at one time, but they’ve been residing in dusty files upstairs here for years. Whatever the source, they offer some nice glimpses of the Aerial Ferry Bridge; click on each photo for a larger view:

Duluth’s Aerial Ferry Bridge as viewed from the Lake Superior side, circa 1918.

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Aerial Ferry Bridge viewed from Park Point side, circa April 1923. Signs on buildings to the right of the bridge structure on the far side read “Auto Transfer and Storage Co.” and (I think) “Hoopes Real Estate Loans.”

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Aerial Ferry Bridge viewed from Park Point side, April 1, 1923.

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Boarding the Aerial Ferry Bridge gondola from Park Point, April 1923.

Share your memories and stories by posting a comment.

Warehouse Bar, 1984

July 27, 1984

Butch Curran, owner of the Warehouse Bar, stands in the newly opened dance area attached to the bar and grill on July 23, 1984. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

It’s cool down at the Warehouse

By Bob Ashenmacher, News-Tribune staff writer

The surprise hit of this year’s Grandma’s Marathon weekend was the Warehouse.

Locals among the multitudes at Canal Park were surprised to hear live music pulsing from the big brick garage at 408 S. First Ave. E. It looked less like a nightclub than like the 67-year-old former ice house it is.

But some 500 people crammed in to hear reggae-calypso kings Shangoya the night of race day. The funky brick-and-ventilator look was a perfect setting. Long beerhall-style tables imparted a vaguely Germanic feel, as if one was catching the Beatles at the Star Club in Hamburg. Two huge freight doors were opened to let cool breezes in and attract onlookers, who were kept out by snow fencing. There was an exciting street dance feel.

Co-owner Butch Curran has decided to try offering live music on a regular basis. He had local blues purveyors The Wingtips last Friday night and Twin Cities rockers the Flamin’ Oh’s on Saturday. The Oh’s drew 300, even with a $3 cover charge and lots of free music outside at the Fog Fest.

Tonight it’s the Wingtips again, with Shangoya back on Saturday.

“We’ll try it at least through summer and fall,” Curran said. He plans to use more local bands when UMD resumes classes. The music area is adjacent to the Warehouse Bar, which is nearly three years old. Curran may give the new area its own name soon and is considering The Terminal. Entrance will still be through the Warehouse, he said.

Local club owners have been getting away from live music with depressing regularity the last couple of years. So why did Curran and his mostly silent partner Dick Hicks get into it?

“I saw some statistics the Marine Museum had on the number of people who come down into this area in the summer,” Curran said. “And I had the space. All I was using it for was storage.”

Vending wagons are parked near the entrance to the Warehouse Bar on Aug. 6, 1986, after being moved from Burger King next door in Canal Park. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Curran brought in Charlie Sobczak, a local music promoter formerly with the Norshor Theater, to choose which acts to offer.

“I initially said, ‘Let’s try something outdoors,’ ” Sobczak said. “Butch said, ‘I know June too well.’ ”

The hall is a cavern-like 106 feet long and 45 feet wide, with a 23-foot-high ceiling. The walls still are dotted with a few chunks of the 5-inch-thick cork that used to insulate the ice blocks against summer heat. Large elevated areas on either end would make fine balconies. There’s plenty of room for a stage, two bars and a dressing room, should Curran’s plans go that far.

“We’re trying to decide now how much we should do,” he said. “Some people have told us that the crudeness of it is good.”

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I don’t have any more information about the Warehouse Bar, other than I know a lot of people remember it. Do you know when it closed? Share your memories by posting a comment.

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.

Duluth’s long-gone King Neptune statue

Reader John Michel e-mailed a couple of photos earlier this month of the 26-foot-tall King Neptune statue that used to grace Canal Park from 1959 to 1963. There’s this view from a postcard:

And then this view from the other side that he found online; I don’t have a source, so if you know where it came from, let me know and I’ll post the proper credit:

This photo was reversed hen I first posted it; it’s correct now.

The statue had a brief but tumultuous history in Duluth. The News Tribune’s Chuck Frederick did a great job of recounting the tale in a column that ran September 9, 2006. Here it is:

STATUE OF LIMITATIONS

By Chuck Frederick, News Tribune

Sometimes olden is just old. Not historic. Not significant. And when gone, not a lost treasure. Just lost.

So goes the story of Duluth’s King Neptune. Memories of the 26-foot, 2,000-pound statue that once stood guard over the Duluth ship canal were sparked this summer when Duluth historian and postcard collector Tony Dierckins came across a card featuring the mythical Roman god of the sea. Dierckins dropped me a whatever-happened-to e-mail and the News Tribune published a call for answers — and memories.

The story that emerged, disappointingly, wasn’t nearly as golden as Duluth’s once-proud painted statue.

“Neptune was a hunk of junk,” Duluth’s Lyle Bergal recalled. “Depressing to look at. An eyesore. It was just a disgrace to the city.”

However, as Bergal also recalled, the statue didn’t start out that way. In fact, the big guy was heralded by Duluth Mayor E. Clifford Mork as a “tremendous tourist attraction,” especially among “picture-taking travelers” in 1959, shortly after the Minnesota State Fair Board voted to donate the statue to Duluth. Neptune had been on display during the Great Minnesota Get-Together to commemorate the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The city’s chamber of commerce, visitors bureau, and retail merchants association came up with the cash to truck Neptune from St. Paul to Lake Superior. At least a dozen businesses provided men or equipment to load and unload Duluth’s newest resident.

With a trident in one hand and a replica of the Ramon de Larrinaga, the first large ocean-going vessel to reach Duluth, in the other, Neptune was hoisted with a crane onto a concrete base not far from the maritime museum. The late-fall dedication was well attended, and D.T. Grussendorf, the State Fair Board member from Duluth who was honored for nabbing Neptune, said the statue exemplified Duluth’s “rugged individualism” and “tenacity.”

“City officials and civic boosters made a big deal about its unveiling,” longtime News Tribune columnist Jim Heffernan recalled. They sure did. Mayor Mork even christened the statue by smashing a bottle of champagne. Luckily, he aimed at the concrete base.

Lucky because, within weeks, Neptune began showing his true quality — or lack thereof. Small stones thrown up on shore by Lake Superior’s waves punched holes into his robe. That despite Neptune’s reported construction of durable fiberglass and a weather-proof plastic composite.

The following spring, Neptune had to be patched and repainted, a maintenance job city crews wound up repeating annually. “He was awfully hard to keep repaired,” Charles K. Ulsrud, the city’s superintendent of buildings and grounds told the Duluth Herald in 1963. “We just couldn’t keep him from falling apart.”

The losing battle wasn’t helped when kids and other vandals threw stones at Neptune or kicked holes into him. The city had to spend about $300 a year — nearly $2,000 today — for paint and patching material. And that’s a figure that doesn’t include workers’ time.

“He was quite an expense for the city and he never really did look good,” Ulsrud said. “If the city’s going to have such a statue, it should be constructed of a more durable material.”

As it turned out, Neptune’s plastic and fiberglass construction was only durable in a thin layer on the outside. The rest of his body, it was later discovered, was made of papier-mache, the “stuff kids use in school to make toy figures,” as the Herald reported.

“Papier-mache does not do well in Northland winters nor does it hold up to the occasional fall storm and high waves,” Thom Holden, director of the Lake Superior Maritime Visitors Center, pointed out via e-mail.

After only four years in Canal Park, a battered Neptune was in desperate need of major repairs. City crews, using blow torches to dismantle the pipes that held him in place, went to work to take him down in June 1963.

That’s when Neptune’s true construction material was first realized. The statue caught fire and, within minutes, was reduced to ashes.
“Duluthians had mixed emotions about Neptune,” the Herald reported on its front page on June 4, 1963. “Many thought him to be unutterably ugly and wondered why he faced out to the ship canal rather than toward the park, where he could be seen. Some thought the old fellow had been neglected, that one of his stature deserved better care.”

He probably did.

“It was a gallant effort,” Bergal said, referring especially to the good intentions that brought Neptune north.

“There are postcards and memories of his presence,” wrote Holden. And “there are still those nights … that he occasionally pays a visit to escort a lonely vessel through the canal.”

In concluding its coverage of the Neptune inferno in 1963, the Herald reported: “Fire officials declined to estimate the loss.”

Tough to put a dollar figure on an “eyesore” and “disgrace,” I guess.

Not a lost treasure. Not this time. Just lost.

-end-

Share your memories of the Neptune statue by posting a comment.

Mighty Thomas Carnival memories

For close to 40 years, the Mighty Thomas Carnival has been a summer tradition in Duluth. It’s back again this week, at Bayfront Festival Park (in years past it was held in the DECC parking lot, but that site got a lot smaller with the construction of Amsoil Arena).

Duluth School Police Patrol members Steve Eklund, 12, and Bryan Hill, 11, react during a roller coaster ride at the Mighty Thomas Carnival in Duluth on June 10, 1986. They are crossing guards at Chester Park School. (John Rott / News-Tribune)

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Nicole Giddings of Duluth flies high on a ride at the Mighty Thomas Carnival on June 10, 1988. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

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Reactions are varied on the faces of (left to right, front row) Jeff Lien, Chris Reilly and Mike Johnson, and (back row) Jane Page and Chris Chambers as they ride the Super Hurricane ride at the Mighty Thomas Carnival in Duluth on June 7, 1986. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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Francie Linn, 7, Sarah Toffoli, 4, and Amie Austin, 10, all of Duluth, clutch the bar in the front seat of a roller coaster at the Might Thomas Carnival in Duluth on June 17, 1982. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

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Worker Carlo Magliano of Duluth looks as if he’s about to be ingested by the “Moonwalk” at the Mighty Thomas Carnival in Duluth on June 16, 1983. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

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Carnival-goers line up to buy ride tickets at the Mighty Thomas Carnival in Duluth on June 19, 1981. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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Sea Dragon riders (left to right, front row) Shayne Renaud, Jackie Duvall and Dawn Duvall and (back row) Jodie Blegen, Tracey Myers and Kelly Archambeault enjoy the ride at the Mighty Thomas Carnival in Duluth on June 9, 1989. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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A carnival worker named “Gliff” signals kids to board the Super Himalaya ride at the Mighty Thomas Carnival in Duluth on June 10, 1986.  (John Rott / News-Tribune)

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Seven of the 400 members of the Duluth School Police Patrol show varying emotions while riding the Sea Dragon at the Mighty Thomas Carnival in Duluth on June 9, 1986. (John Rott / News-Tribune)

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For more on the carnival, including its history and a look at all the other places it’s traveling this year, visit its website.

Share your memories of the Mighty Thomas Carnival by posting a comment.


Omnimax Theatre opens, 1996

April 18, 1996

Omnimax Director Dennis Medjo stands in the new theater at the DECC on April 17, 1996. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

OMNIMAX IS HERE

THE DREAM LIFTS OFF / IT’S DULUTH’S GREAT NEW TOURISM HOPE

By Dominic P. Papatola, News-Tribune staff writer

After 13 months and about $9 million, the Duluth Omnimax Theatre lifts off tonight with an appearance by astronaut George “Pinky” Nelson and “The Dream is Alive,” a cinematic ode to America’s space shuttle program.

The theater — the 24th of its kind in the country — is the latest addition to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, one that DECC operators hope will draw around a quarter-million visitors a year.

If the Omnimax meets those projections, the theater will become one of Duluth’s best-attended attractions, surpassing Glensheen, the Depot and the Lake Superior Zoo in terms of popularity.

DECC officials have hosted a few advance screenings of “The Dream is Alive” including a Tuesday night shindig for employees of the convention center and their families. These dress rehearsals indicate that the Omnimax is a functional and comfortable addition to Duluth’s stable of venues.

The lobby — with blue carpeting, bright-white walls, ash woodwork and oreboat red railings and exposed duct work — strikes the semi-formal chord of an upscale “legitimate” theater or a spartan academic auditorium. Yet, there are plenty of movie-house and tourist-friendly touches.

The exterior of the Duluth Omnimax Theatre, as seen in March 1997. (Kathy Strauss / News-Tribune)

For the run of “The Dream is Alive,” for instance, the gift shop stocks a variety of “Mommy-can-I-have” items such as inflatable space shuttles, NASA totebags and freeze-dried “action snacks.”
Back in the lobby, there’s a well-appointed snack bar, offering standard movie-theater fare at the standard — which is to say, grossly inflated — movie-theater prices: $2.99 for nachos, $1.69 for a small soda.

Since you’ll pay a premium for these snacks, Omnimax officials decided to let patrons bring those goodies into the theater itself — and even equipped the seat-arms with cup holders.

If you’ve never walked into one of these dome-style venues, you may experience a touch of vertigo. You enter at the bottom of the theater; soft lighting and synthesizer-heavy background music increase the feeling that you’ve entered another world.

The purple-and-blue seats are set in a permanent diagonal Barcalounger position, focusing your gaze upward at the white, dome-shaped screen that stretches 72 feet in diameter. This angle, ideal for viewing the IMAX movies, makes it difficult to use the theater for other sorts of meetings or presentations, as DECC officials have said they’d consider doing.

People prepare to leave the Omnimax Theatre in Duluth after a showing of “Walking on the Moon” on Dec. 8, 2006. The six people pictured were the audience for the 6 p.m. show. (Clint Austin / News Tribune)

The seats are 20 or 21 inches wide, depending on where you’re sitting, but those handy cup holders make them feel a bit narrow.

For best viewing, try for the seats higher up and toward the middle of the rows.

The “rake” — or angle of the rows — is very steep, so you’ll want to be careful when, say, crossing or uncrossing your legs so that you don’t give the person in front of you a kick in the head.

No matter where you sit, though, the movie completely fills your field of vision. Combined with a 10,000-watt speaker system that seems to rumble at you from all directions, your stomach may be convinced that you’re in motion, even though your head knows you’re sitting still.

“The Dream is Alive,” a valentine to NASA’s space shuttle program made before the 1986 explosion of the Challenger, was filmed in part by astronauts on the shuttle Discovery. The film, an oldie by IMAX standards, is scheduled to run about 10 weeks. It will be replaced by “Special Effects,” a first-run feature that will premiere in Duluth and at a half-dozen other IMAX theaters.

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The Duluth Omnimax Theatre was joined at the DECC by the Duluth 10 – a “normal” movie theater next door – in December 2004. After years of low attendance, the Duluth Omnimax closed in March of this year; the future of the theatre building remains undecided; the DECC board is weighing options.

Here are a few more photos from when the Omnimax Theatre was built:

An explosive charge broke ground at the future site of the Omnimax Theatre, in what was then a DECC parking lot, on March 16, 1995. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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Construction of the Omnimax Theatre is on schedule in this view from Aug. 30, 1995.  Ironworkers placed an evergreen tree on top of the building when the highest beam was put in place. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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DECC Executive Director Dan Russell explains the features of the Omnimax Theatre being constructed next to the DECC on Aug. 29, 1995. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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Lake Avenue viaduct opens, 1984

October 24, 1984

The newly opened Lake Avenue viaduct is seen in an aerial view on Oct. 24, 1984. The viaduct opened to traffic after more than a year of construction. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)

The Lake Avenue viaduct provided a new link between downtown Duluth and Canal Park, in advance of the construction of the Interstate 35 extension across the former rail yards.

You can see the nubs of roadway at the center of the span that would link up with on- and off-ramps from the freeway, which was completed a few years later.

Here are a couple zoomed-in views from the photo:

On East Superior Street, there’s the Strand Theater (now demolished), and the Famous Clothing building, which now houses the Electric Fetus record store.

Famous Clothing had shut down the previous year, but the store’s signs remain visible. You can read more about the store in a previous Attic post here.

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Across the bridge, there’s the Harbor Inn. It later became the Canal Park Inn, and was razed in 2006 to make way for the new Canal Park Lodge.

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