Explosion at Laura MacArthur School, 1982

Story printed September 28, 1982

Apprehension and excitement show on the faces of first-graders outside Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School following a boiler explosion on September 27, 1982. They’re waiting with teachers Gail Olson and Evelyn Clancy. Click on the photo for a larger version. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune & Herald)

Boiler room explosion rocks elementary school; 2 injured

By Barbara Kucera, News-Tribune & Herald staff writer

More than 700 pupls will stay home today from Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School in West Duluth after an explosion in the boiler room rocked the school Monday.

The school will remain closed at least two days, said Franklin Bradshaw, director of elementary education for the Duluth public schools.

Two men were injured in the explosion, which occurred about 11 a.m. Richard Meadowcroft, a school engineer, and Lyle “Butch” Seeley, an employee of General Heating and Engineering Co., were reported in satisfactory condition Monday in Miller-Dwan Hospital. They suffered first-degree burns on their faces and hands.

No pupils or teachers were injured in the blast.

Two boilers, located in the former West Junior High School at 725 N. Central Ave., provided heat for both the West and MacArthur buildings. The boilers were rendered inoperable by the explosion.

“At this point, we’re assuming that after a couple of days, we’ll have that boiler fixed,” Bradshaw said.

Firefighters prepare to remove windows damaged by the boiler explosion at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)

The two men were working on the boilers when “apparently there was some kind of a malfunction,” said LeRoy Moore, director of physical plant for the school system.

The explosion occurred in the stack connecting the two boilers with the chimney, Moore said.

Fire officials said the blast occurred because of a buildup of gas in the stack, but they do not know what ignited the gas. An investigation was continuing Monday. Neither fire nor school officials had a dollar estimate of the damage.

After the explosion, the fire bell sounded and the school was evacuated. Three engine companies, two ladder trucks, two rescue squads and an assistant chief responded to the alarm, but no fire followed the blast.

About 45 minutes later – after firefighters checked the blast scene – pupils and school employees were allowed back in the school.

Richard Meadowcroft, a school engineer at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School, winces as distilled water is poured over burns on his head by paramedic Ken Danelski, Firefighter Rick Raimo assists. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune & Herald)

Damage was confined to the basement and an entrance to the school located on the floor above the boiler room.

The blast caused some cracks in the walls in adjoining rooms, and shattered windows at the school entrance on the next floor.

Bradshaw said school officials are not sure the boilers can be fixed in two days. Parents will be notified when they can send their children back to school, he said.

“We can’t have the children sitting in a classroom without heat,” Bradshaw said. Busing to other schools isn’t possible because not enough space is available to house the 710 MacArthur-West pupils, he said.

The hall next to the boiler room was damaged by the explosion at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School in West Duluth on Sept. 27, 1982. Two people were injured. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)

The boiler room was extensively damaged by the explosion. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)


Demolition is under way at the former Laura MacArthur School in West Duluth, which closed at the end of the 2010-11 school year. The new Laura MacArthur Elementary School stands across Central Avenue.

Here’s some information about the school’s history, from a May 2011 issue of the News Tribune: The original 1914 wing of the old school was the original Denfeld High School. When the present Denfeld opened in 1926, it became West Junior High. The elementary wing opened in 1957; it shared a cafeteria and administrative offices with West Junior High and was named Laura MacArthur after a longtime Duluth educator. West Junior High closed in the 1970s, and the entire complex became an elementary school.

Here are some more Laura MacArthur photos from the News Tribune files:

Laura MacArthur Elementary School, as seen from Central Avenue in 1959; click on the photo for a larger version. (News Tribune file photo)


Community Schools students at Laura MacArthur work on a mural on July 16, 1979. The students were working with artist Mary McDunn of Duluth. Click on the photo for a larger version; note the use of Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets as paint pails. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


High fashion at Laura MacArthur-West: Modeling can be a tough business, as second-grader Jeremy Hagen found as he wrestled with a sweatshirt while trying to take it off to show a shirt underneath during a fashion show at the school on March 17, 1986. (Bob King / News-Tribune)


Mary Holz helps her daughter Mandi Anderson, 7, put on a pair of dainty gloves prior to her getting on stage for a fashion show at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School in West Duluth on March 17, 1986. (Bob King / News-Tribune)


Students at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School listen to the Duluth Accordionaires perform in the school auditorium on March 7, 1986. (John Rott / News-Tribune)


Share your memories by posting a comment.

Morgan Park High School memories

This year marks the end of the line for classes at what is now Morgan Park Middle School; students from Morgan Park will attend classes at the new Lincoln Park Middle School starting in the fall.

It’s also the 30th anniversary of the closing of Morgan Park High School in that building; the high school combined with Denfeld in 1982, and the building then housed a junior high and, later, a middle school.

This week’s News Tribune Sunday Opinion section features memories of Morgan Park, and I thought it was a good time to dig up some more photos of the school from the News Tribune Attic. These photos are from the last years of Morgan Park High School; click on the photos for larger versions, and enjoy (and look for a surprise in one of these pictures)…

At a noisy pep rally on March 7, 1979, at Morgan Park High School, faculty members staged a parody of the Lake City cheerleaders and basketball team, which Morgan Park will meet in the state Class A tournament later in the week at the Met Sports Center in Bloomington. (Charles Curtis / Duluth Herald)


Morgan Park High School Principal Milan Karich asks students not to walk out of classes on March 25, 1981, to protest plans to close the school. (Karl Jaros / Duluth Herald)


Morgan Park students march down 88th Avenue West on April 1, 1981, during a protest against plans to close the senior high school. (Charles Curtis / Duluth Herald)


Morgan Park students march down 88th Avenue West on April 1, 1981, during a protest against plans to close the senior high school. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


Morgan Park junior and senior high school students listen to Duluth Schools Superintendent Richard Pearson on April 13, 1981, in the school auditorium as he discusses plans to close the senior high school. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


Morgan Park students watch a Dec. 3, 1981, hearing on plans to close the senior high portion of their school. (Bob King / News-Tribune)


Morgan Park High School senior Chris Black and junior Bob Delancey work on May 11, 1982, on an 8-foot-by-8-foot sports mural titled “Winners,” to be included in the school’s Festival of Arts exhibit in the school library. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)


Although they may be among the last seniors to graduate from Morgan Park High School, Terri Smith (front left) and Mary Spehar (front right) appear ebullient on June 8, 1982, as they rehearse for the graduation ceremony. (Jack Rendulich / Duluth Herald)


Morgan Park seventh-grader Chris Skull leans back and puts his feet up on his teacher’s desk while talking to classmates Bill Gronseth (center) and Laura Sinclair on the last day of the school year at Morgan Park on June 10, 1982. At the time, it was unclear if high school students would be returning to the school in the fall. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


Morgan Park football coach Kyle Inforzato speaks with some of his team members and backers at a potluck dinner held in the school’s cafeteria on Aug. 28, 1982. The team’s fate was up in the air at the time after the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned a lower-court ruling that had barred the school district from closing the senior high school. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


The Duluth School Board voted in December 1981 to close Morgan Park Senior High School at the end of the 1981-82 school year. Eleven residents and 10 community groups challenged that decision in District Court, and in July 1982 a judge barred the school district from closing the senior high and transferring its 253 students to Denfeld.

But on Aug. 27, 1982, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned the District Court ruling and allowed the school district to move ahead with closure plans.

Recognize anyone in these photos? Share your stories and memories by posting a comment.

Old Denfeld sign at old Laura MacArthur school

There’s been a discussion over on Perfect Duluth Day the past couple days about whether or not an old, engraved Denfeld High School might exist on the 56th Avenue West facade of the now-former Laura MacArthur Elementary School.

That part of the old MacArthur (the new MacArthur opened this year) was Denfeld High School when it first opened; go to PDD for the full history. Over the course of the years, the building was remodeled and added to, covering up the old Denfeld sign.

But it did exist, as shown in these two pictures that ran in the News Tribune on April 13, 1994 (one was archived in color; the other had to be retrieved from microfilm):

These photos were taken by the DNT’s Charles Curtis when workers were preparing to add a new entrance, stairwell and elevator to the school. A sign that read “MacArthur-West” was removed from above the entrance, revealing – if only temporarily – the old (and damaged) Denfeld engraving.

Alas, there was no further word in that day’s paper about the fate of the sign. Was it removed? Saved by being encased within the addition? If you know more, post a comment here or over at the PDD discussion.

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.


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.


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

Break dancing takes Duluth by storm, 1984

I found a file of break dancing photos in the News Tribune Attic, and oddly enough every single one of them was from 1984. It seems like that was the year break dancing really took off in Duluth, at least for a while.

Here are a few photos from “The Icebreakers,” a break dance show staged by students at Washington Junior High in December 1984:

Willie Kruger rehearses a solo dance from “The Icebreakers,” Washington Junior High School’s break dance show, while Ebony Carter and Kim Ouillette watch on Dec. 4, 1984. Kruger is one of about 15 dancers who have been rehearsing since early November for the show, which will premiere before the student body Friday. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Mike Rojas “takes it to the floor” during a rehearsal of a break dance show, called “The Icebreakers,” at Washington Junior High School in Duluth on Dec. 4, 1984. To the left are Scott Daugaard and Steve Miller; to the right is Jeff Jegloski. (Bob King / News-Tribune)


Here are some photos from March 1984, which accompanied an article headlined “Break dancing makes it to Duluth”:

Make a “wave” in the halls of Washington Junior High in March 1984 are, from left, Alvon Carter, Ollie Grant and Chet Pepper. Carter learned break dancing from relatives in Ohio. He taught Pepper, who taught others, and so on. (John Rott / News-Tribune)

Sean LaFontaine break dances at a Washington Junior High School dance in March 1984. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Terry Goods break dances at a Washington Junior High School dance in March 1984. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


And then there were these photos with an article that ran on September 19, 1984:

Alvon Carter, 16, takes David Gerber, 10, through some “floor rocking” moves during break dancing lessons at the Duluth YMCA on August 23, 1984. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)

Young dancers breakin’ parents tradition

By Marc Perrusquia, News-Tribune & Herald staff writer

Some women in black leotards were finishing an aerobic dance lesson when the children rushed into the gym, crowding around the exercise mat in the Duluth YMCA.

A Michael Jackson song blared from a tape deck: “Billie Jean’s not my girl…”

The women seemed to enjoy it immensely, smiling as they twisted their torsos side-to-side in an exercise that would make a belly dancer groan.

The kids didn’t appear impressed with the older generation’s gyrations. They were waiting for the “old folks” to clear the mat so they could get down for the real hit of the day – break dancing lessons.

A group of the youngsters gathered around their instructor, Shockwave.

The first lesson of the day was this: Shockwave is the street name for Alvon Carter, a 16-year-old Duluth break-dancing enthusiast.

Picking a street name is the first and simplest step to becoming a break dancer. All you do is take a name you like and give it to yourself, as many of Carter’s friends have done: Reflex, Sonic D, Space Cowboy and Baby Breaker.

The second lesson is this: The name must be “fresh.” Fresh is the equivalent of “cool” or “with it.”

For example, it’s doubtful a name like Melvin Podiovak would be fresh, but Marvelous Mel just might be.

Lesson three is similar to lesson two: Along with the right name, you must have the appropriate music.

Carter shook his head as he watched the women finish their Michael Jackson-inspired lesson.

“No, it’s just not fresh enough,” he said, nodding toward the aerobic exercisers.

Carter brought his own music by little-known groups like Grand Master, Sugar Hill Gang and Electric Kingdom. The music features a lot of of bass playing, lightning-fast lyrics and, most importantly, a quick beat.

Some youngsters try break dancing during lessons at the Duluth YMCA in August 1984. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)

After the women cleared the mat, Carter’s 25 young apprentices  climbed on.

The first step Carter showed them was the “Joker Kick.”

To do it, you squat to the floor, bend a leg beneath your seat and, alternating with the other leg, thrust it forward like a Russian gopak dancer – except here the dancer isn’t really leaving the ground. …

Some of the students of the students were taking spills, so Carter watched them individually.

“What are you guys doing here?” Carter asked.

“It’s too hard,” said little Jim Kubiak, 7. He and some boys were sitting on the edge of the mat, watching the others.

Unlike a fresh name, fresh dancing never is achieved easily.

“Go like this,” Carter said, demonstrating. “I’ll bet you can do it.”

The boys mimicked Carter. Still they weren’t up to his level, but they were a bit better. When Carter left, the boys sat down again.

“I seen break dancing a lot on TV and I like it and stuff,” young Kubiak said. “Mostlty on ‘Beat It’ (the Michael Jackson video).”

Unlike their instructor, most of the students have a greater fondness for Jackson.

So do many of their parents.

“When Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ tape came out he (her son, Justin) started break dancing by himself, so I mentioned they had classes and he said yes,” explained Wendy Eld, 29, who was watching from the edge of the mat. “I like it. I’m glad he’s into it. I try to do it myself, but he says I do it wrong.”

“When we were young, we were doing the twist and jerk,” said Terri Reilly, 28, Eld’s sister. “It was Elvis, then.” …

The stars and the dancers have changed since then, but the enthusiasm of these youngsters is just as intense as it was for their parents.

Back on the mat, Justin was going through some steps.

He stumbled and fell, but got up and continued. …

Carter doesn’t demand that his students be good, only that they try.

“You can make things up if you just practice it,” Carter said. …

Carter discussed many other break dance moves: popping, top rocking, ticking, and hand spinning. To describe them would take more words than Michael Jackson’s gloves have sequins.

But if you feel up to it, the break-dancing lessons are continuing at the YMCA at 4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. The cost is $16 for four weeks.


Do you recognize anyone in these photos? Share your memories by posting a comment.

Lincoln Park School’s ‘Grandma Margaret,’ 1997

September 22, 1997

Margaret Conway, otherwise known as Grandma Margaret, is all smiles during kindergarten class at Lincoln Park School. She worked as a teacher and as a principal for a total of 43 years, and  has been a school volunteer for 17 years. Her belief in children has influenced others to volunteer their time at school. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)



By Mary Thompson, News-Tribune staff writer

Every weekday at precisely 7 a.m., Grandma Margaret Conway picks up her cane, bids farewell to her toy poodle, Tuffy, and heads toward Duluth’s Lincoln Park School.

She moves gingerly down the sidewalk, standing barely 5 feet tall, careful of her arthritic knee. Lincoln Park Principal Ed Marsman swears a strong wind could blow her away.

If that’s true, then Grandma Margaret’s daily arrival is something of a miracle.

A miracle would be fitting for this white-haired, 81-year-old kindergarten volunteer. In 17 years at Lincoln Park, she’s missed exactly three-quarters of a day.

“I see a need. It’s nice I can still do something,” she says. Somehow, Conway believes that explains why she does what few people will do. She has given more than 3,000 days of her life, without any thought of material reward, just because it’s best to love children.

Hundreds of people take time to volunteer in local public schools. Each one is special, but none more so than Grandma Margaret.

She was born Patricia Margaret Conway. Family and close friends call her Pat, but in the world of Lincoln Park elementary school she is simply Grandma Margaret.

Most teachers don’t even know her last name.

Grandma Margaret reads to Kellie Alaspa in the kindergarten class at Lincoln Park School. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

‘Now you try’

This year, Grandma Margaret will spend the school year helping kindergarten teacher Donna Busick prepare 23 5-year-olds for first grade.

Donna Busick is teaching 5-year-olds to write their names. Most children trace nice, short names like “Ann” or “Robbie” with fat crayons. But one boy struggles against the immensity of his eight-letter name. He is the smallest child in Busick’s class.

The beautiful dark-eyed boy traces and then retraces the first letter.

Grandma Margaret, moving quietly past knee-high tables of children, stops behind the boy, leans over, and covers his small hand with hers. Together, they trace the letters of his name in fat green crayon.

“Now you try.”

Her voice is almost a whisper, but the child hears.

The long-named little boy wobbles his crayon across the page. He tires just before the end, and Grandma Margaret’s hand falls lightly over his to trace the last two letters.

“Very nice,” she says, leaning a little closer so he can hear. Then, as quietly, she moves on.

Children call from each knee-high table.

“Look, Grandma.”

She turns and lays her hand on the girl’s shoulder, admiring her newly penned name.

“Look, Grandma. My drawing.”

Grandma Margaret turns again, this time to a family portrait scrawled on white paper. She moves this way all morning, smiling, moving her delicate hands from one child’s shoulder to another child’s head.

“Very nice. That’s very good,” she says over and over. She means it every time.

She comes back to the littlest boy, once again lost in his long name, who is scribbling fat lines instead of tracing his name. Grandma Margaret doesn’t chastise. She simply leans over, again, and takes his hand. They finish together.

“Good job,” she says.

Grandma Margaret fusses over the kindergarten children during lunch break at Lincoln Park School. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

‘Kindness and gentleness’

Donna Busick is grateful for Grandma Margaret. “She teaches kindness and gentleness. She teaches them manners. She’s a blessing to have here,” Busick said.

Grandma Margaret knows teachers can use an extra set of hands. She was in education for 43 years — first as a teacher, later as a principal at St. Anthony Parochial School in St. Paul. She never married, devoting her life to children in parochial schools. She spent many years teaching choir to young students. Music, like teaching, was a passion.

“I was told I had a true voice,” Grandma Margaret said.

She lost her voice a few years ago when a rare virus paralyzed her vocal cords. For one day, she could barely hear and couldn’t speak. She came to school anyway, but the teachers sent her home. It was the only day she missed in 17 years.

Now, this woman with a master’s degree in special education is content to shepherd children through crowded hallways and prepare lunch tables. She lays out 23 plastic spoons, 23 paper napkins and 23 cartons of milk each day.

These are things the children will pick up in the lunch line as they get older, then set out themselves, though never as carefully as when Grandma Margaret did it for them.

“It’s hard for them to pick up everything at first. It’s a lot to remember,” she said.

Some things have changed over the years. An arthritic knee forces Grandma Margaret to the elevator more often than the stairs. She worries about the two-block walk this winter.

Not that rough weather could stop her. Last winter, after an ice storm glazed her six front steps, Grandma Margaret broke down a cardboard box, placed it on top of the small hill on her front yard, and slid to the sidewalk along the street.

The children would notice if snow or illness kept Grandma Margaret from school. But she would notice it most — like this summer, when her arthritic knee kept her from summer school for the first time in 17 years.

“I missed the kids. I was lonely,” she said.

Grandma Margaret’s gifts are not just for children. She works her magic with adults, too.

Florence Taylor has grandmothered Lincoln Park kindergartners for nine years. It’s her reason for living, now that she’s widowed.

She got the position through Grandma Margaret, who didn’t want Taylor sitting alone in her Gary-New Duluth trailer home.

“If it wasn’t for Margaret, I wouldn’t be here. I’d give my life to her,” Taylor said.

It’s quiet time

Recess is over. Time for snacks. The children bounce in their little blue chairs. One blond-haired boy, wild from play, hoots out loud.

Margaret turns from the tray of peanut butter crackers she’s arranging and softly lays her small hand on his head.

He gazes up at Grandma Margaret and knows it’s quiet time.


Margaret Conway, “Grandma Margaret,” died in Duluth in September 2003 at age 87.


Monday’s News Tribune has an article and photos looking back at the long history of Duluth’s Lincoln Park School, which is closing at the end of this school year.

Looking back at Duluth Central High School

Sunday’s News Tribune features a story looking back at the history of Duluth Central High School, which will close this year after nearly 120 years of classes and memories at two locations.

The first Central opened in 1892 in the downtown building now known as Old Central High School, with its landmark clock tower. In 1971, Central students moved up the hill to the present location, with one of the best views in town.

Central High School has been featured a few times in the Attic; here are some of those posts:

Ceiling collapses at Central, 1963

Building new Central High, 1971

Driver’s ed at Central High, 1971

Longtime Central teacher and coach John Swain, 1969

Here is a gallery of more Central High School photos not previously featured in the Attic; click on the photos for a larger version….

Share your memories of Duluth Central High School by posting a comment.

Stolen bulldozer goes on rampage at Duluth school, 1981

December 14, 1981

Students from Birchwood Elementary School in Duluth look at a bulldozer that was stolen and used to damage buildings on the school grounds before being abandoned in a mud-filled ditch in December 1981. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Suspects sought in vandalism by bulldozer

By Gail Feichtinger, Duluth Herald

Duluth police are looking for two people who drove a stolen 9-ton bulldozer through a concrete warming shack, cracked two walls and moved a kitchen oven and range several feet at Birchwood Elementary School about midnight Saturday.

The vandals caused between $10,000 and $20,000 damage to the building and grounds at 1504 Swan Lake Road before burying the machine to the top of its treads in a nearby ditch, police said.

Birchwood Principal Henry Pederson said classes were held as usual today despite the damage, which included a 15-foot crack and a small hole in the kitchen wall, other damage to the kitchen and a 10-foot-long crack in the gymnasium wall.

The front wall of the warming shack was demolished, the baseball field backstop was crushed and about 20 railroad ties separating the playground from the parking lot were broken.

“The grassy area behind the building is now reduced to dirt piles. … It looks like a battlefield,” said Pederson.

Students from Birchwood Elementary School in Duluth look at the damage done to a warming shack at the school by a stolen bulldozer in December 1981. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Police said the $40,000, 9-ton bulldozer, a 6-ton bulldozer worth about $35,000 and a 10-ton backhoe worth about $35,000 were stolen about midnight Friday from a lot at North Country Equipment Inc., 3801 Arrowhead Road.

The backhoe was found this morning mired in a swamp behind the store. The 6-ton bulldozer was discovered abandoned near the backhoe after the vehicle apparently ran out of gas, according to police reports.

Al Johnson of North Country Equipment said, “It would appear to me the equipment was taken Friday night into the swamp behind the store. And Saturday night they took a bulldozer over to the school. I can tell by the amount of snow on the tracks they had been missing two nights.”

No damage estimates were available on the 9-ton bulldozer.

Laurel Mokros (left), a building operations supervisor for Duluth schools, and Gail Freeman, an engineer at Birchwood Elementary School, survey the remains of the school’s warming shack after a stolen bulldozer was driven through it in December 1981. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

The vandals drove the 9-ton bulldozer about a mile from behind the store to the school, sticking to the woods, according to reports. Police said the suspects apparently went through the woods west along Arrowhead Road, crossed Arrowhead just before Swan Lake Road and continued through the woods on the other side until they reached the school.

Johnson said he believes the vandals are teen-agers who “must have had a key” to start up the heavy machinery.

Pederson said the school is offering a $100 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the vandals.

Dale Anderson, maintenance supervisor for the Duluth School District, surveyed the damage this morning. He said, “The foundations were fine. They pushed in a wall a little, but there’s nothing really that’s dangerous.

“They wiped out the warming house. That will have to be replaced or removed before the kids get into it.”


A few days later, Duluth police announced they would be charging two 17-year-olds and two 19-year-olds in connection with the incident.

Share your stories and memories by posting a comment.

Greased pig prank at East, 1981

October 23, 1981


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.


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.

A look inside UMD’s Old Main, 1980

April 3, 1980

Old Main on the University of Minnesota Duluth’s lower campus, April 1980. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Weathered Old Main silent, almost empty

By Doug Smith, News-Tribune

The long, dark halls of UMD’s Old Main are mostly silent these days.

Footsteps echo down the high-ceilinged hallways only occasionally. Most of the classrooms are empty.

The four-story brick and stone building, built in 1901, sits solemnly in disrepair, a victim of old age. The building, the oldest at UMD, is one of four on the lower campus on Fifth Street.

Outside, its once-handsome brick face and stonework are crumbling. Wooden snow fences keep students back a safe distance in case something falls off the building.

Inside, plaster from crumbling ceilings lies on classroom floors.

“It’s going to pieces,” said Ernie Anderson, UMD maintenance and operations supervisor.

Few Old Main classrooms are in use. This is one that has fallen victim to the ravages of time. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


Anderson, 60, has coddled the building for 33 years – since it became part of the university system.

“It’s where I started,” he said Wednesday, peering down an empty hall.

Old Main and the other buildings of UMD’s lower campus once housed Duluth State College, Duluth State Teachers College and the Duluth Normal School. Ernie remembers the exact day the campus became UMD: July 1, 1947.

Now Old Main contains some federal and county offices as well as overflow university offices. Some slightly remodeled classrooms also are used, Ernie said.

Although in disrepair, Old Main retains some of its pride. Oak wainscoting, as shiny and solid as when students traipsed by decades ago, still graces hallway walls. There is an aura of dignity about it all.

Halls in UMD’s Old Main no longer see the traffic they did during most of the building’s history. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


But there is major work to be done if Old Main is to live again.

“The windows are all in bad shape,” Ernie said, unlocking a door to one room. “The wind blow right through. The roof is leaking and the brick needs repair.”

Washrooms and radiators might need replacing. Said Ernie, “The money involved to fix it up would be fierce.”

Because of a pollution problem with the existing heating plant, the university must first decide if it will continue to use the lower campus. The other three lower campus buildings, the Research Laboratory building, Torrance Hall and Washburn Hall, are used more extensively than Old Main.

“What are you going to do with (Old Main)?” Ernie asked, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s a big decision.”

Ernie said he isn’t sentimentally attached to Old Main, although hundreds of former students may be. “I’ve got a lot of other buildings to worry about,” he said.

But strolling around the building Wednesday, Ernie couldn’t help but admire it.

“It’s a pretty building,” he said.

Sunlight reflects off an upper window at UMD’s Old Main in April 1980. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


UMD maintenance and operations supervisor Ernie Anderson in front of the coal-fired furnaces at Old Main in April 1980. (Photos by Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


UMD closed and boarded up Old Main in September 1985, and officials announced their intent to tear it down. Within a few months, however, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the next few years various deals and discussions about the building made the news, interspersed with timelines for its demolition.

Old Main in January 1989. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

In 1989 there were talks about swapping Old Main with the Duluth school district for the Chester Park Elementary School building adjacent to the upper campus; the school district intended to raze Old Main and build a new elementary school on the site.

Other ideas called for keeping the building, and converting it into senior housing or a community college.

In November 1992, Duluth’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved a plan to develop Old Main into a 49-unit apartment building, with a 100-car, two-level parking ramp built into the hillside behind Old Main. Developer George Hoene had an option to purchase Old Main and adjacent Torrance Hall from UMD for $1.

Then, three months later, on Feb. 23, 1993, Old Main went up in flames….

Developer George Hoene looks in a rear window of the gutted shell of Old Main on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1993. He had planned to convert the building into apartments. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Redevelopment plan goes up in smoke

By Anne Bretts, News-Tribune

A friend with a police scanner called developer George Hoene minutes after the first fire alarm came in at 12:32 a.m. Tuesday.

Hoene could see the flames as he dashed the few blocks from his home to the scene. He stayed most of the night, one of more than 100 onlookers who watched helplessly as fire raged through Old Main, the landmark that formed the heart of the former University of Minnesota Duluth campus.

As the others saw the past go up in smoke, the 31-year-old developer saw the future disappear in the flames.

“God, we were so close,” he said later Tuesday, returning to the site to see what was left of the massive brick building at 23rd Avenue East and Fifth Street.

As he walked around the charred brick skeleton, Hoene explained how he was about a week away from a formal ceremony launching a $3 million effort to turn the abandoned college classrooms into 45 apartments.

Concentrating on the massive walls that were still standing and ignoring the twisted wreckage inside them, he talked about the detail in the stonework, now blackened by smoke and dripping with ice. …

Tuesday’s fire left the interior of Old Main gutted, and the exterior walls charred. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


Hoene said he first talked with university officials about renovating Old Main in 1988, but the idea was put on hold while UMD unsuccessfully tried to sell the building for a public elementary school and later a community college.

By the time the university was ready to move ahead, the financing had been stalled by the recession, Hoene said. Three months ago Tuesday, Hoene toured Old Main once again and decided the timing was right.

“Interest rates were down,” he said. “This was the year to do it.”

On Tuesday, Hoene called the prospects for continuing the renovation very unlikely. …

Hoene agrees with fire department officials in suspecting arson as the cause of the fire, which they believe started in the west end of the building at least an hour before it was reported.

“It was seriously burning when we got here,” assistant Fire Chief Donald Kivisto said Tuesday.

“It was frightening,” said Paul Osterlund, a neighbor who watched as the inferno spewed ashes and burning debris over rooftops and cars for several blocks. Osterlund credited the snow cover with keeping the airborne debris from touching off any more fires.

The 31 firefighters, five pumper trucks, two ladder trucks and two rescue units did save three other university buildings on the 7.5-acre campus, including one just 30 feet from the west end of Old Main. Two of the buildings are used for research facilities, while Torrance Hall, a former dormitory, is closed. …


Trying to decide the fate of fire-ravaged Old Main on Feb. 26, 1993, are Duluth Mayor Gary Doty (far right) and UMD Vice Chairman for Finance and Operations Greg Fox (facing camera). They were part of a group that toured the exterior of the building to decide if anything was salvageable or worth saving. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

After a few days’ delay, during which city officials tried to find a developer who would make use of Old Main’s still-standing walls, the structure was razed with the exception of several arches, which were preserved and reinforced – and which still stand on the site, which was turned over to the city to become a park.

Three men were arrested and pleaded guilty to setting the fire.

Demolition crews started at the rear of Old Main on March 1, 1993. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


A bulldozer operator removes debris from the front of three main arches that remain standing at the site of Old Main on March 3, 1993.

For more about Old Main, the University of Minnesota Duluth has information about the building here. Also, there was a discussion about Old Main’s later years – and some unauthorized expeditions inside the then-abandoned building – a few months back on Perfect Duluth Day.

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