Happy 72nd birthday, Bob Dylan

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

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

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

Photos of Paul Wellstone in the Northland

Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, marks the 10th anniversary of the plane crash near Eveleth that took the life of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), his wife Sheila, and six others. Read the News Tribune’s coverage of the anniversary here.

Here’s a selection of News Tribune file photos from Wellstone’s many trips to the Northland, leading up to his election to the Senate in 1990 and in the years that followed:

Democrat Paul Wellstone ratchets up his U.S. Senate campaign against incumbent Republican Rudy Boschwitz during a stop at the Duluth Labor Temple on June 9, 1989. (John Rott / News-Tribune)

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Senator-elect Paul Wellstone reacts to the approval of the crowd during a standing-room-only town hall meeting at the Marshall School cafeteria in Duluth on Dec. 5, 1990. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

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As Sen. Paul Wellstone jokes with locals at Maggie’s, a popular restaurant in Nashwauk, on April 5, 1991, owner Margaret Breuling looks on and smiles. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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Sen. Paul Wellstone greets people who gathered for the opening of his office in Virginia, Minn., on April 5, 1991. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., speaks at a rally at the Duluth Labor Temple on London Road on April 13, 1991. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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Sen. Paul Wellstone answers questions from the audience during a meeting about health-care issues on Feb. 13, 1992, at Duluth Central High School. (Clara Wu / News-Tribune)

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Sen. Paul Wellstone addresses DFL delegates from across Minnesota on June 5, 1992, the first day of the state DFL convention at the DECC, Interpreting was Kim Olson of Minneapolis. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

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Marilyn Pribyl of Chaska and Terry Selle of Bloomington listen as Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., pauses to chat with them during a stop at Grandma’s Restaurant in Duluth on Jan. 15, 1994. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

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Sen. Paul Wellstone addresses a gathering of people in low-income situations during a news conference Nov. 21, 1995, at Emerson School in Duluth. The event was held to bring attention to the plight of low-income people in need of housing assistance. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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Aimee McIntyre (left) and Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., share a laugh during a rally for Wellstone at the Federal Building in Duluth on July 1, 1996. Supporters wore shirts with red targets and the words: “Proud to be a Republican Target.” (Kathy Strauss / News-Tribune)

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Sen. Paul Wellstone speaks to the crowd gathered at a rally at the DECC’s Pioneer Hall in Duluth on the morning of Oct. 23, 1996, as Vice President Al Gore applauds in the background. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone answers a question from a student in the audience during the Democracy in Action forum April 9, 1999, at the College of St. Scholastica. More than 600 students from the three high schools in Duluth attended the forum, which gave them an opportunity to challenge and ask questions of elected officals. Listening to Wellstone on stage are state Sen. Sam Solon and Duluth Mayor Gary Doty. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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Sen. Paul Wellstone speaks to a crowd of about 100 gathered Sunday at the entrance of ME International in Duluth on Oct. 31, 1999. Wellstone voiced his support of the United Steelworkers of America Local 1028 strike that has been in effect since August. (Renee Knoeber / News-Tribune)

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Sen. Paul Wellstone visits Denfeld High School in Duluth on Nov. 16, 2000. (Rick Scibelli / News-Tribune)

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Sen. Paul Wellstone meets with a full auditorium of Denfeld High School students on Nov. 16, 2000, at the school. Wellstone took questions and comments from students regarding the recent election and the issues surrounding it. (Rick Scibelli / News-Tribune)

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U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone greets members of the Duluth Denfeld singing groups Solid Gold and Steppin’ Up on Nov. 16, 2000, during a visit to the school. Wellstone engaged the students in a town hall-style meeting, discussing the previous week’s presidential election. (Rick Scibelli / News-Tribune)

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Sens. Paul Wellstone and Mark Dayton talk in Superior on March 9, 2001, with employees of Partridge River Inc., the company whose Hoyt Lakes plant was destroyed by fire earlier that month. The meeting took place at Partridge River’s Superior facility. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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Share your memories and stories by posting a comment.

Photos of Babbitt from the 1950s

Sunday’s News Tribune includes a News Tribune Attic print edition column about a photo of a grocery store in Babbitt in the 1950s.

A few weeks back that photo ran in the paper, and I asked if any readers knew the people in the picture. They did – and you can read the story at the DNT home page to learn more.

Meanwhile, here is that photo – and a few others from Babbitt in the 1950s:

This photo, labeled “Babbitt Store – Mrs. Roland Wright and son Jon” – ran with the News Tribune Attic print column on Aug. 21. We asked if any readers could provide any more information about the photo – and heard from Jon Wright himself. (News Tribune file photo)

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This photo from the News Tribune files is unlabeled, but was filed with other photos from Babbitt and appears to date to the 1950s or 1960s. It shows a crew working on a new cement sidewalk, with local kids watching closely – perhaps waiting patiently for the chance to write their names in the wet cement? (News Tribune file photo)

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Mrs. John Hyvarinen teaches school – possibly a first- and/or second-grade class – in Babbitt in the 1950s. Do you recognize any of the students? (News Tribune file photo)

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Kids walk past a building labeled “Babbitt School Grades 1 & 2″ in the 1950s. A Standard gas station is in the background. (News Tribune file photo)

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Share your memories by posting a comment.

Famous Lashua, Duluth’s singing cowboy

The post on Duluth’s first television station from a few weeks back included a mention of “Famous, a country-western singer.”

The name “Famous” piqued my curiosity, so I went digging in the files and found out a lot more about Famous Lashua, Duluth’s singing cowboy, including this article from February 6, 1983:

Famous Lashua, Oct. 21, 1953. (News-Tribune file photo)

Duluth’s singing cowboy remembers

By Bob Ashenmacher, News-Tribune staff writer

He was Duluth’s singing cowboy during the heyday of radio.

He wrote country-western songs that were recorded by some of the biggest names. He made one of the earliest live television broadcasts in Duluth.

So what ever happened to Famous Lashua?

“Every once in a while that comes up,” Lashua, now 66, said from his home in Mountain Iron. “I get mentioned on one of the radio stations I worked for – maybe on a call-in show or something. People wonder where I went.”

He moved from Duluth in 1964 to take over a dry-cleaning business in Virginia. He and his wife Ruby retired two years ago. Lately he’s recovering from an artificial hip operation.

Lashua doesn’t regret leaving show business.

“I’d been in it for 30 years. This (the dry cleaners’) was a chance to get into a good, growing business, so we bought it.”

But his enthusiasm for the music days remains.

“Oh, the way I got into it is funny. I’d gone out West on a freight (train) when I was 16, gotten a job on a ranch. The cowboys there, it was a big joke for them to put me on a wild horse. I did pretty good – an old Indian wanted to put me in the rodeo. Anyway, I wrote a letter to a girlfriend back in Rhinelander and to dress it up a bit I said, ‘We’re sitting around the campfire singing songs and I’m playing my guitar.’ I was BS’ing – I didn’t know a guitar from any other instrument.

“When I came back home in ’36, well, of course I run into the old girl again, and the first thing she wants me to do is sing for her. So I had to quick scare up a guitar and get me a music book for two bits. After about a week I could sneak by with ‘Home on the Range.’ I did it for her, and she liked it. It went from there.”

Songwriter and performer Famous Lashua spins country and western music on WDSM radio in early 1964. Note the Hotel Duluth / Greysolon Plaza facade visible through the window. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Except for a brief stint in Kentucky, Lashua played music locally for almost three decades. He had a pleasant soprano voice that lent itself well to relaxed country-western tunes.

He worked in many settings, from WEBC radio’s 15-piece orchestra to a popular band called Uncle Harry and His Hillbillies to a solo act.

He was master of ceremonies on “Corn’s A’Poppin,” a weekly KDAL radio show broadcast live from the stage of Duluth’s Lyceum Theater for three years in the mid-1940s.

“Every Monday night, right after the stores closed,” he said. “We had full houses – boy, it was great. We’d bring in some local acts each night. Some girls tap dancing or a local kid singing.”

Among his more unusual gigs was one with an organist who was dying of cancer. They played together on a show sponsored by a funeral home.

“He knew he was done for,” Lashua said, “but he insisted on continuing playing. During commercials I’d sing hymns and he’d play organ softly in the background and once in a while he’d break down and cry. … That was harder than digging ditches, I tell you.”

The early TV appearance came when engineers of Duluth television station WDSM were preparing to go on the air and wanted to test the signal.

“There wasn’t even a studio yet, just a garage up on the hill by the antenna. … We dragged a log in out of the woods. I sat on it and played some songs.”

All the while, Lashua was writing songs.

Red Foley had a big hit with his “Chocolate Ice Cream Cone.” It was among the top 10 country songs of – he thinks it was – 1952 and was eventually covered by 10 artists. Vaughan Monroe and Hank Snow each recorded his “Ghost Trains.” The Blue Sky Boys did his “I’m Glad.” His own favorite among his originals: “A thing called ‘Little Miss Mischief.’ It was recorded by the Oklahoma Sweethearts. I liked that one, but it never went anywhere.”

Where’d he get that stage name, “Famous,” anyway?

“They’ve been asking me that for years,” he said. “It’s my real name. My folks must have had big plans for me. Either that or they were running out of names – I’m the ninth out of 10 kids.”

Now that he’s retired, Lashua wouldn’t mind putting together a little radio show of his own again.”

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Famous Lashua, undated photo. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Famous Lashua died on May 3, 1992, at the age of 76.

A Google search turns up quite a bit of information on Famous Lashua. For a site with a number of mp3 files of his songs, click here. Among the files available is “Choc’late Ice Cream Cone,” which was a country hit back in the early 1950s. It’s a sweetly innocent song, certainly from another era. Not quite sure how it would be received today. I found this image of a folio of sheet music for the song on Amazon.com:

A few more sites with information about Famous Lashua can be found here and here.

Share your memories of Famous Lashua, or other well-known Northland musicians, by posting a comment.

Happy 70th birthday, Bob Dylan

Seventy years ago today, on Saturday, May 24, 1941, if you were walking the halls at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth you might have run into members of the Zimmerman family. They would have been there for the birth of Abe and Beatty Zimmerman’s first child, a son whose arrival was noted in the News-Tribune five days later:

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Today is Duluth native Robert Zimmerman’s 70th birthday. You know him better as Bob Dylan.

Dylan was featured in an Attic post back in November 2008 – a post that included the full text of a 1963 News-Tribune article that – introduced local readers to this local kid who was making it big in New York at the time. It’s a good read, if you hadn’t already seen it.

For this post, I’ve typed in an equally interesting News-Tribune & Herald article from June 29, 1986, when Dylan – in the Twin Cities for a concert at the Metrodome – agreed to an interview with reporter Bob Ashenmacher and spoke about his ties to the Northland.

One bit of background info… right before this interview the Duluth City Council voted to rename Harbor Drive to be Bob Dylan Drive, then reversed itself a few days later after public outcry against the idea…

DYLAN TALKS

His images of the North are faint but fond

By Bob Ashenmacher, News-Tribune & Herald

MINNEAPOLIS – Yes, Bob Dylan returns to his native northern Minnesota for visits.

No, he didn’t feel like an outcast in the days when he rode a motorcycle and had the plug pulled on his rock ‘n’ roll band at a Hibbing High School talent show.

And about last week’s short-lived Duluth City Council proposal to name a Duluth street after him, he’s puzzled and amused.

Dylan spoke freely about his youth on the Iron Range in a backstage conversation before his concert Thursday night in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. He was born Robert Zimmerman 45 years ago in Duluth, and raised in Hibbing from age 6. He left after high school graduation in 1959.

Through more than 20 years in the forefront of American music, Dylan has granted interviews infrequently. More than once he has given brooding, elliptical responses rather than straightforward answers.

A different Dylan talked plainly Thursday night. He spoke to the News-Tribune & Herald primarily because of the efforts of a close friend of his who lives in Duluth. The friend said he wanted Dylan’s fondness for Duluth and the Range to become known.

Bob Dylan in concert at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, June 26, 1986. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)

The backstage area was quiet. Dylan appeared from a room sectioned off by sheets hanging from the ceiling.

He wore the same outfit he would wear onstage, minus a leather vest: a blue sleeveless shirt, black leather pants with silver studs up the sides and Beatle boots. Close up, his eyes are very blue. His build is thin, almost slight. His handshake is dry, the grasp gentle.

The conversation was conducted sitting atop a musical instrument trunk in the room behind the sheet. Dylan eschewed small talk. He avoided direct eye contact at first and appeared uncomfortable, even irritable. When he began hearing some old names, remembering some old impressions, he seemed to begin enjoying himself.

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It’s surprising you wanted to talk to the Duluth newspaper. You’re not talking to any others now that this tour is under way.

“Don’t you want me to? I can go, I really can. I mean, I got things to do. I thought you wanted to speak to me.”

But is there something you wanted to say specifically to Duluth and the Iron Range?

“No, nothin’. Nothin’.” He paused, seemed to soften a bit. “It’s just really hard going, here, with all these one-night stands.”

Have you heard about this Bob Dylan Drive idea in Duluth?

“Yeah, I’ve heard about it.”

What do you think?

Pause. “I really don’t know what to think. I would think there’d be a lot of other people in Duluth they could name streets for.” He laughed a little. “I think everybody who was born there should have a street named for them.”

“I don’t remember much about Duluth, really, except, uh, the foghorns.” He plucked at one of the hanging sheets, glanced into an empty adjacent room. “That’s about it.”

Did you come down to Duluth from the Range much as a kid?

“I saw Buddy Holly there, actually. I saw a few bands in Duluth, but there weren’t that many clubs happening. People who played back then usually just did it in their house.”

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

Do you remember any musicians from the Range or Duluth?

“There was a guy who used to live in our duplex in Hibbing named Chuckie Solberg, who a few years ago was playing piano with (a national act). And some other people from Minnesota I remember. I run into people from Minnesota in the strangest places, actually.”

What was the Range music scene like when you were growing up?

“Back then it was mainly polka bands. If you went to a club it was more like a tavern scene, with a polka band. There was country music, too, that I remember. My girlfriend, Echo was her name – Echo Helstrom – her father played guitar.”

She lives in Los Angeles now. Do you ever hear from her?

He smiled. “I see her occasionally.”

Was she the “Girl from the North Country”?

He smiled wider and said: “Well, she’s a North Country girl through and through.” He laughed. It was a nice laugh. It sounded kind.

They say she was free-spirited.

“Mm hm, she was just like me. We’re both the same.”

Do you remember Bill Marinac (a childhood friend of Dylan’s)?

“He’s a string bass player. We played together. Charles Nara, he was our drummer. We had a good guitar player in that band, Monty Edwardson.”

People always wonder – do you ever come back?

“I do sometimes. In, you know, odd moments. When I’m passin’ through.”

Once a year, maybe?

“Up to the Range, there? No, I don’t get up there as often as that. Duluth, a little bit more often, but, you know, I haven’t spent any great amount of time there.”

Do you like that you can visit and have it be low-key, not a bunch of fans pestering you?

“Yeah. It’s nice when that happens.”

Robert Zimmerman – aka Bob Dylan – as he looked when he graduated from Hibbing High School in 1959. (News-Tribune file photo)

Local legend says that at the Hibbing High Jacket Jamboree someone cut the electricity on your band because you were so loud.

“Yeah, I wasn’t very popular when I was there.” He laughed. “I don’t remember that, but it could have happened.”

Did people sometimes not understand what you were doing?

“Nah, we were just the loudest band around, it was mostly that. What we were doing, there wasn’t anybody else around doing. (The music scene) was mostly horn kind of stuff, jazz – there was one other band in town with trumpet, bass, guitar and drums. Mostly that type of stuff. And you had to play polkas.”

Did you actually play polkas?

“Yeah. Oh, yeah.”

It seems in recent years you’re less guarded about discussing things like this.

“Well, nobody really asked me about it. Nobody much asks people where they came from or what they’re doing while they’re growing up, so…”

Bob Dylan performing in November 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

When you started to get successful in New York, did the national press romanticize your past in Minnesota?

“I don’t really know. I don’t know what they did.”

You didn’t read it?

“Um, I didn’t really keep up with it at all.”

Could you ever see having a summer home in northern Minnesota, out in the woods somewhere?

“Yeah.” He chuckled. “Who couldn’t imagine that?”

That’d be neat.

“It would be.”

Well, Kevin McHale does it.

“Yeah, I saw Kevin out there (at the concert) just now.”

There’s a great story about him seeing you at a Celtics game.

“He did, he came right out into the crowd and shook my hand. That was an amazing thing to do.”

Bob Dylan performing, circa 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

Do you ever listen to Garrison Keillor?

“A few years ago I used to listen to him. I like his show, I’ve always liked it.”

Does it ever make you homesick for Minnesota?

“Well, ah… yeah, it does. Well, I don’t get homesick for those kind of things he talkin’ about because, ah, I don’t know if my upbringing was like that. But I get homesick for where it all happened.”

Everyone says it was a very warm home you and your brother, David, were brought up in.

“Well, we had a big family, like a big extended family. My grandmother had about 17 kids on the one side, and on the other side about 13 kids. So there was always a lot of family-type people around.

Were you kind of an outcast when you were growing up? That’s part of the myth.

“I couldn’t really say.” He laughed. “To me, I was perfectly right.”

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Bob Dylan in concert at the Metrodome, June 27, 1986. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)

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Share your memories of Bob Dylan – or Bobby Zimmerman – by posting a comment.

For questions and comments on this post or about the blog, send an e-mail to akrueger@duluthnews.com.

Dominant Broncos: State hockey tourney

International Falls hockey coach Larry Ross and the Broncos during a game in the mid-1960s against Duluth Cathedral in Duluth. News Tribune photo by Charles Curtis

There have obviously been many good teams to play in the Minnesota high school boys hockey tournament, but there were none as dominating as the International Falls Broncos during the 1960s.

The Broncos have won seven state championships overall, with four of those coming in the 1960s. The Falls put up some impressive numbers in accomplishing that feat.

–The Falls had a 59-game winning streak from 1962 to 66.

–The Broncos won three consecutive state titles (64-65-66), and were an overtime loss away from five straight. The Falls beat Roseau for the 1962 title, then lost 4-3 in overtime to St. Paul Johnson in the 1963 title game. The Broncos came back to win the next three state titles, including undefeated seasons (26-0) in 1965 and 1966 under the guidance of coach Larry Ross, who was with the Broncos from 1954-85.

Falls hockey coach Larry Ross, who had a record of 566-169-21 in 31 seasons (1954-85), including six Minnesota state titles. News Tribune photo

One other interesting note about those teams. Before Bronco Arena was built in 1968, the Broncos played their "home games" at Memorial Arena in neighboring Fort Frances, Ontario.

Many argue the undefeated 1965 Falls team with players like Tim Sheehy and Pete Fichuk was among the best in Minnesota boys hockey history. I tend to agree, but I may be a little biased being from the Falls. Agree or disagree, I’d like to hear who you think was the best prep hockey team in Minnesota history.

–Dave Nevanen, copy editor

Kevin McHale

Hibbing native Kevin McHale played basketball at all levels, including the University of Minnesota and in the NBA with the Boston Celtics during the 1980s and early 1990s. He later became a front office member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, including a stint as coach. Here are some notable encounters for McHale.

Dave Nevanen/copy editor

Bob Zbasnik tries to guard Kevin McHale. 1978 / Duluth News Tribune

Bill Walton (left) makes a point to Kevin McHale when the Celtics were playing in the NBA Championship in 1986. Associated Press

Kevin McHale collars Kurt Rambis of the Lakers during the 1984 NBA playoffs. Ironically, Rambis replaced McHale as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009. Associated Press

Detroit Pistons’ Dennis Rodman (center) reels backward after Kevin McHale (left) of the Celtics hit him in the neck in 1991. Looking on is Larry Bird. Associated Press

Kevin McHale (right) made a cameo appearance on the NBC comedy "Cheers" in 1990. Bartender Sam Malone (Ted Danson, left) tried to convince McHale of the Celtics to play for Cheers in a basketball game against a rival tavern. Photo by NBC

Winter Olympic memories

In the excitement following the gold medal win over Finland, Robert Verchota, father of U.S. Olympic hockey player Phil Verchota, grabbed a shotgun and fired three triumphant blasts from the front porch of the Verchota home in Duluth on Feb. 25, 1980. Charles Curtis / News Tribune

As the 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, we remembered that Duluth News Tribune sports writer covered the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. Here’s his column from the opening ceremonies along with some people mentioned.

John Harrington waits out a penalty during a Team USA exhibition game in Duluth in October, 1983. News Tribune

By Kevin Pates/News Tribune Staff Writer

The guy in front of me looked a lot like Mark Johnson, but it was hard to tell. The 55,000 people crammed into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium on Friday night were all wearing white. It was part of the Opening Ceremony group performance. Everyone got a white cape, colored placards, a flashlight and a flute.

So I kept looking at this guy who reminded me of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey player. He turned around once to say something to another guy. “Hey Bah,’ he said. Bah? Like John “Bah’ Harrington, another 1980 Olympian from Virginia? Hey, it was Bah. And there was goalie Jim Craig in front of me. And Mike Eruzione over here. And Eric Strobel over there.

And wasn’t that Duluthian Phil Verchota?

You don’t have to hit me over the head with a hockey stick. The rumors were right. The Olympic torch would reach the cauldron with the help of the most-remembered Olympic team in U.S. history.

They were all right there on stadium bleacher seats waiting their turn. Well, 18 of the 20. Evelethian Mark Pavelich is back on his land near Lutsen, and Mike Ramsey is working as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild.

But everyone else was there, and these Olympians were still willing to talk about Lake Placid even 22 years after the fact.

“The 1980 Olympics has been a wonderful part of my life. It’s what sports is all about,’ said Verchota, a Willmar, Minn., banker who sat in the cool night air with his wife, Julie. “Getting a chance to get together with our team the last two weeks has been absolutely exciting.’

Verchota, 45, was also captain of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team and played that year, again, with Harrington.

Harrington brought his son, Chris, to a 1980 Olympic reunion in Los Angeles a week ago, and had his two daughters, Leah, a St. Benedict College freshman, and Patty, a high school junior, with him Friday. They loved the patriotic, USA atmosphere that featured the Dixie Chicks, Yo-Yo Ma, President Bush and the World Trade Center flag.

Craig, 44, hadn’t been to another Olympics until Friday, but he’s never stopped being reminded about 1980.

“There isn’t a month that goes by, probably not even a week, that someone wants to talk about Lake Placid. And I never get tired of talking about it,’ said Craig, who lives in North Easton, Mass., and is a motivational speaker and an account manager for an advertising publisher.

So here are these guys, and their families, dressed in white and loving the spectacle on a Utah night of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir doing the wave.

And I’m talking to Verchota, catching up on his parents, Bob and Phyllis, who still live in Duluth, and he says, “Hey, I’ve got to go.’ The 1980 team vanishes, and minutes later the Olympic torch reaches the stadium.

It’s handed off in a U.S. Olympic relay from Dorothy Hamill and Dick Button, to Peggy Fleming and Scott Hamilton, to Bill Johnson and Phil Mahre, to Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair, to Jim Shea Sr. and Jim Shea Jr., to Picabo Street and Cammi Granato.

Then, at the base of a spiral staircase, Eruzione appeared in a replica of his 1980 jersey, followed by the rest of the hockey team, like Buzzy Schneider of Babbitt and Bill Baker of Grand Rapids. During a group lighting, the “USA!’ chants felt real again.

The best-kept secret of the opening ceremonies wasn’t such a secret after all.

I could’ve told you that, once I figured it all out.

 

Whistling Bird restaurant, 1999

March 27, 1999

Toney Curtis encourages guests at his Whistling Bird restaurant to try one of the Jamaican specialty items on the menu in March 1999. Photos by Josh Meltzer / News Tribune

Thursday’s News Tribune included a "Stuff We Like" column by reporter Christa Lawler on the Whistling Bird restaurant in Gilbert.

On Thursday evening, I decided to look in the archives to see what was in the paper 10 years ago – and by coincidence stumbled upon an article from soon after the Whistling Bird opened, reporting on the phenomenon that the Jamaican restaurant had quickly become.

Here is that article from exactly 10 years ago – March 27, 1999:

HOW GILBERT GOT ITS GROOVE

AGAINST ALL ODDS, A NEON HOTSPOT CALLED THE WHISTLING BIRD IS COOKIN’ JAMAICAN GOURMET FOR AN APPRECIATIVE IRON RANGE CROWD

News Tribune

William Morrissey knows fine dining. His firm, Morrissey Hospitality Cos. Inc., manages two of the Twin Cities’ highest-rated restaurants - the St. Paul Cafe and Pazza Luna, where few diners get in without a reservation.

But he wasn’t prepared for what he found while passing through the Iron Range town of Gilbert on his way to a ground-breaking at Giants Ridge Ski Resort.

There, across the street from Big Al’s bar, a nondescript funeral home and Jim’s Bait, Morrissey found an island of neon in the heart of pasty and sarma country, population 2,800.

"This restaurant would be unexpected in the Twin Cities, much less Gilbert," Morrissey said, recalling his visit to the Whistling Bird, a spicy Jamaican restaurant lighting up Gilbert’s main street with its neon storefront. "It’s just fun. It’s what dining should be."

The barely 5-month-old restaurant is owned by Iron Range chef JoPat Curtis and her husband, Toney Curtis, who is Jamaican.

Pedestrians pass by the Whistling Bird Cafe in Gilbert in March 1999.

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Given the high mortality rate of independent restaurants, other business owners told the couple they’d be crazy to open such an improbable restaurant in Gilbert - not generally known as a hub for culinary adventure.

But to the surprise of many, the restaurant has made Gilbert a destination among the local and not-so-local cognoscenti. The place is booked every Saturday night through April 10. Even weekdays often require a reservation, as Morrissey found out one Tuesday in March. He had to settle for a seat in the bar.

"It’s just the most talked about thing in the area," said Linda Roketa, marketing director at Giants Ridge. "You have to call for reservations weeks in advance, and that’s not normal for around here."

The restaurant’s guest book reads like a geography lesson. Customers have come from Texas, Canada, Florida, Wisconsin, Minneapolis - even Hamburg, Germany. Gas stations and other businesses on Broadway street have enjoyed the benefits.

"It’s drawing people into their community for other things, too. It’s almost part of economic development through food," Roketa said.

All this, JoPat Curtis notes, without placing a single advertisement.

"It’s almost embarrassing," she says. "We’re full every night."

JoPat Curtis puts the finishing touches on coconut shrimp in March 1999 at the Whistling Bird Cafe in Gilbert, the restaurant she owns with her husband, Toney.

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Curtis’ cooking career spans more than 20 years. She has worked the country clubs, hotels and resorts that are sprinkled across the Iron Range.

Working country clubs meant she had winters off and plenty of time to travel. It was during a vacation in Jamaica that she met Toney, who was a waiter at one of her favorite Caribbean restaurants. They married in 1991.

"He’s probably one of the only black people living in this town for sure, but he’s been very well-received and there haven’t been any problems," Curtis said.

The two often thought about opening their own restaurant, but couldn’t afford it. They got a break one Christmas when JoPat’s brother - who sold a successful Twin Cities brokerage firm - offered to put up the money.

The Whistling Bird is named after a guest house in Jamaica. The menu consists of pastas, steaks and seafood items that Curtis has built her reputation on. But it’s perhaps most notable for four Jamaican entrees - all based on recipes Toney Curtis brought from home.

The two pride themselves on their authentic jerk sauce, a concoction of minced onions, allspice (pimento), fresh thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg and, of course, Scotch bonnet peppers, which provide the kick. The spices and jerk paste are brought over from Jamaica by friends and relatives.

"Toney’s father actually has a small plantation of pimento trees (in Jamaica)," JoPat said."We have lots of people making trips for us (for spices)."

Though the flavors are alien to many locals, the restaurant has become more than just a curiosity.

"Just about everybody I know from Hibbing has been here," said Greg Ban of Hibbing. "They can’t wait to get back."

Lake Vermilion resident Doug Meaden agrees.

"It’s a very plain-Jane, steak and baked potato type of town - fish fries on Friday nights - you know, the traditional stuff. So this is really a breath of fresh air," he said.