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.

Duluthians of 1912 find a reason to like Superior

I’m going through old papers from 1912 in advance of the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and stumbled across this editorial that ran in the News-Tribune on April 17, 1912.

At that time the early rivalry and battles between Duluth and Superior – over the ship canal, etc. – still were in living memory. But the newspaper found “one (issue) on which we can get together” – Superior’s superiority as a site for a horse-racing track:

Share your memories and stories by posting a comment.

Hare-raising times on Duluth’s Park Point

May 21, 1999

Smokey the dog, owned by Donella Kubiak, has become quite accustomed to his rabbit friends on Park Point in May 1999. They have become used to him, too, not showing the least bit of concern as he barks at strangers. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

Park Point’s hare-raising problem

Rabbit population in Duluth neighborhood growing – by leaps and bounds

By Bob Linneman, News-Tribune staff writer

Donna Scorse sees nothing bunny — make that funny — about a robust rabbit population hopping around her Park Point neighborhood.

She’s expecting $500 worth of plants, flowers and shrubs to arrive this weekend for her back yard and fears the burgeoning bunny boom town will quickly embark on a search-and-destroy mission.

“Sure, they’re cute,” Scorse said with a hint of laughter tinged with frustration. “But this isn’t a cute problem.”

She’s at wits’ end, unsure how to deal with her long-eared dilemma. Everywhere she turns she sees rabbits. While the exact number of bunnies is difficult to determine, there are at least 50 throughout the four-block area — probably more. And the population is growing, evidenced by a large number of baby bunnies.

According to several of the area’s residents, the colony of rabbits started a few years ago from a single breeding pair of pet Easter bunnies who were released into the wild — which is illegal and morally repugnant, says Duluth rabbit expert Ruth Lyon. No one is sure of the culprit’s identity.

Being rabbits, these furry mammals have done what they do best — procreate prolifically. Females are capable of producing a litter of up to a dozen offspring every 28-35 days.

The explosion of rabbits has some in the neighborhood calling for some kind of control.

But not everyone is anti-rabbit in this area of Park Point — Minnesota Avenue between the 1400 and 1800 blocks, with scattered bunny sightings as far away as the Aerial Lift Bridge.

While Scorse would like to see the rabbits eradicated, relocated or simply removed, Donella Kubiak says leave the cute little varmints alone.

They aren’t hurting anyone or anything, she says, and nature will eventually take its course.

Kubiak has about 20 rabbits living in her yard — where a large deck allows good cover for the animals. To her, the rabbit population is a wonderful addition to the landscape. Even her dog, Smokey, doesn’t seem to mind the rabbits, who have been known to invade his doghouse on occasion.

“They mow the lawn and fertilize it too,” Kubiak said of the rabbits. “I enjoy them. They’re wonderful. I don’t want anyone out here harassing them.”

Six rabbits roam in the back yard of Donella Kubiak’s house on Park Point on May 19, 1999. Kubiak says the rabbits don’t do any harm on her property and she loves to have them around. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

There are several separate warrens of rabbits in this area, but all seem to be from the same roots. Most of them are white with black spots or stripes, and a smaller number are brown and black.

Folks in the area seem split on the bounty of bunnies. Some go as far as feeding the rabbits, while there have been reports of others who shoot them — which is illegal within city limits.

George Flentke, who heads the Wisconsin chapter of the House Rabbit Society in Madison — an education and rescue group devoted to rabbits — called the Park Point infestation a tragedy, “a dump-and-breed situation.”

“It’s one of those situations we have a hard time dealing with,” he said. “They can do a good deal of damage. They can denude that area pretty quickly.”

Low-lying trees and bushes in the area are feeling the effects. Scorse points to bushes in her yard that have gone from about 18 inches tall to a fraction of that size.

While distressed that the domestic rabbits were dumped, creating this colony of semi-wild rabbits, Flentke is equally surprised they have managed to survive — and thrive.

“I’m shocked, more than shocked, that they made it through the winter there,” Flentke said, adding that when he heard domestic rabbits were booming in Duluth, Minnesota, he couldn’t imagine them surviving for long. “Domestic rabbits don’t usually do well in the wild. They usually die out.”

But Park Point is lacking in predators at the moment. A normally strong fox population is down and raptors — hawks, owls and eagles — are not prevalent, either.

Two rabbits huddle nose to nose in the woods between the 1400 and 1800 blocks of Minnesota Avenue on Park Point in May 1999. Rabbits can be seen in the area in groups or alone, but they seem to be just about everywhere. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

Rich Staffon, the area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said the rabbit epidemic isn’t a huge threat to the ecosystem of Park Point.

The area is isolated. And, Staffon says, domestic rabbits are genetically incapable of breeding with native species like the snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit.

If the rabbits managed to cross the Aerial Lift Bridge and began establishing colonies downtown or on Duluth’s hillside, “then we might have to say it’s time to nip this in the bud,” Staffon said. “But I don’t see them as a big threat to this point.”

Staffon recommends those who don’t want rabbits eating their plants to construct enclosures to keep them out.

“It’s up to the individual,” he said. “Property owners can remove them. But I don’t recommend they release them somewhere else.”

Carrie Siegle, director of the Duluth Animal Shelter, said property owners on Park Point can bring any rabbits they capture to the shelter, but they would be destroyed. The shelter has neither the space nor the resources to handle a large number of rabbits.

Other options include live-trapping the rabbits and giving them to someone who raises the animals.

Staffon suspects it won’t be long before predators, especially airborne ones, discover the area is teeming with easy prey.

The mostly white rabbits tend to stand out in the brush. And these domestic-turned-wild bunnies, most likely descendants from European hares, are not exactly fast on their feet.

“Pretty quickly, I would guess, something in nature is going to discover this surplus of food,” Staffon said. “Sooner or later, they’ll move in and take the rabbits out.”

The sooner the better for Scorse: “I’m hoping someone can come out here and help us control this problem,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”

—–

A year later, Scorse got her wish – a group called Rabbit Rescue of Minnesota came to Park Point to round up the animals:

June 24, 2000

Volunteers from Rabbit Rescue of Minnesota, a Twin Cities animal rescue group, try their luck at catching a rabbit with a volleyball net on June 23, 2000, in front of a house in the 1700 block of Minnesota Avenue on Park Point. This one got away. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

‘Wascally wabbits’ divide Park Point

Some residents cheer volunteers, others want furry creatures left alone

By Bob Linneman, News-Tribune staff writer

The rabbit roundup on Park Point got under way Friday with limited success, but the presence of the group — known as Rabbit Rescue of Minnesota — had residents of the Point taking sides.

The Park Point rabbit zone, from about 13th Avenue to 20th, was ground zero for these volunteers, most from the Twin Cities, trying to capture as many of the domesticated rabbits as they could. It’s thought that at least 200 rabbits roam the neighborhood.

As of Friday evening, the group had caught about a dozen rabbits. Another 30 were trapped and caged — prior to the group’s arrival — by Park Point residents helping in the rescue operation.

The roundup continues through the weekend.

Not everyone on Park Point was happy with the bunny catchers’ arrival….

… but some Park Pointers were overjoyed to have the rabbits removed. (Photos by Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

Residents of the area were clearly divided. The group of volunteers, ranging in size from a half-dozen early Friday to about 15 later in the day, were met with signs of protest and welcome.

Two yards had clear “No hunting” signs posted, urging the rescuers to stay off their land. Two others had signs; one said, “Welcome Rabbit Roundup” and another “Bunnies here, please find and remove.”

“It’s been the extreme on both ends,” said volunteer Michelle Nephew of St. Paul, a member of the Rabbit House Society, a national advocacy group devoted to pet rabbits. “We’ve had some people drive by yelling at us, and others cheering us.”

There were also confrontations. Tim and Cindy Olson didn’t want any of the rabbits living in their yard to be removed.

At one point, the rabbit group skirted the Olsons’ property line while the family watched closely, making sure they didn’t cross onto their property. A few words were exchanged, but nothing got out of control.

“They’re terrorizing the rabbits,” Cindy Olson said. “They’re chasing them through people’s yards. The rabbits usually come right up to us, but now they’re shying away.”

Tools in the roundup included live traps, nets of various sizes and plastic fencing used to trap the animals.

The effort to capture the rabbits, neuter the males and hold an adoption Sunday has been sanctioned by the city of Duluth.

Administrative assistant Mark Winson, Mayor Gary Doty’s top aide, said the city is picking up the rescue group’s lodging costs and has rented a truck to transport the rabbits from the Point to a West Duluth warehouse.

Michelle Nephew of St. Paul and Christopher Ellian, 11, who lives on Park Point, bait a live trap for rabbits on June 23, 2000. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

Winson estimates the city’s contribution at $300. He added that the group does not need a permit to capture and transport the rabbits within city limits.

The mayor’s office, Winson said, has been inundated with pleas for the city to take action on the rabbit issue.

Andrea Nye, a 17-year-old Jefferson High School student from Bloomington, is one of the leaders of the rescue group and coordinated the roundup.

She said she’s rescued rabbits for more than two years and ; raised them for 11. She- is committed to helping: solve the Park Point situation, which she learned about from a Minnesota Public Radio report.

Friday’s effort was difficult.: “We’ve had lots of confrontations, but that’s part of it,” she said, unfazed by those opposing the group’s presence.

Many enjoy the rabbits and would prefer they be left alone. Others, however, call the rabbits a nuisance, doing thousands of dollars in damage to gardens and shrubs.

There are three schools of thought: leave them alone, kill them or capture and adopt them out as pets. Rabbit Rescue of Minnesota prefers the third. Others expressed a different viewpoint.

“The rabbits would be much better served by re-introducing a few native red foxes to Park Point and adopting an ordinance outlawing the feeding (the rabbits),” said resident Gary Hopp, who said the rabbits have destroyed his gardens.

The roundup continues today. Sunday, at a warehouse on West Michigan Street just past 29th Avenue West, the group hopes to host rabbit adoptions. The event will be open to the public — signs will direct people to the warehouse.

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So whatever happened to all those rabbits on Park Point? News Tribune Editor Robin Washington tackled that topic in a column that ran in the paper on April 4, 2010.

Share your stories and memories by posting a comment.

Greased pig prank at East, 1981

October 23, 1981

GREASED PIG JOKE FLOPS

Duluth Herald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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