Saturday, July 15, 2017

Where East Was East and West Was West, in Duluth...

What follows is one of several columns I wrote for the on-line magazine Zenith City Online, started and edited by Duluth publisher Tony Dierckins. ZCO is still active as an area history blog but no longer uses regular posts in a magazine format so Tony graciously allowed me to repost here on my blog. I was its "western neighborhoods correspondent" (also labeled "Denfeld Boy") on ZCO and wrote monthly about growing up in Duluth. Thus, virtually all of my monthly columns for Zenith City had some connection to Duluth's West End and West Duluth, back before they were called Lincoln Park and Spirit Valley. I've decided to put a few of them on my blog from time to time.             Jim Heffernan 
Where East Was East and West was West
By Jim Heffernan

For decades atop the Point of Rocks, the commanding rock outcropping just west of downtown Duluth at the foot of Mesaba Avenue, a huge sign advertising Master Bread dominated the skyline.

It was more than an ordinary billboard. It appeared to have been fashioned to fit the surroundings, long and narrow at the peak of the outcropping, and it was animated, showing a loaf of bread with slices pouring out of one end. Done with sequentially lighted neon tubes, it was attention grabbing and impressive for its day. 
Its day, hard to pinpoint exactly, did encompass the years from my childhood in the 1940s until sometime in the 1970s. [editor’s note: Photo borrowed from Andrew Kreuger’s wonderful News-Tribune Attic.]

And it had greater significance than the bread wars between Master and Taystee, both baked in Duluth’s West End neighborhood (now referred to as Lincoln Park). The Master Bread sign came to symbolize the western end of “East End” (including downtown) and the beginning of “West End” including West Duluth. Only on the map did Lake Avenue divide Duluth’s east from its west. In Duluthians’ minds, the Point of Rocks, with its Master Bread sign, did. 

The prevailing perception in Duluth was that the rich people lived in the East End, the working classes lived in the western precincts, and never the twain shall meet, except when their high school sports teams vied to prove, once and for all, which section of the city was best.

It was a fallacy, of course, to believe everyone in East End was rich. Far from it. But all of the mansions in town were there; the mining and lumber tycoons lived there, cheek by jowl with bankers and most doctors and the powers that were in Duluth. Never mind that the Central Hillside, a bit east of the Master Bread sign, was for decades considered Duluth’s poorest neighborhood. 

Image from ZCO, originally in UMD Library Archives
In the 1970s, a colorful priest, Father F. X. Shea, was engaged as president of the College of St. Scholastica. In one of his many pronouncements about civic life, Shea called for the Master Bread sign to be torn down. He wasn’t expressing a preference for bread or disgust with advertising’s often intrusion on natural beauty; as a recent arrival here he had come to realize that the sign was a line of demarcation between east and west in Duluth that stifled the city’s social, business and cultural life. (The Master Bread billboard can be seen at the top of photo on right.)

I grew up on the “poor” side of the Master Bread sign that so brightly lit the Point of Rocks after the sun went down. Not that we were actually poor, nor were most of the others in the western neighborhoods. Far western Duluth had a steel plant, after all, together with other substantial industries, and the thousands of jobs they provided allowed workers—including immigrants and many who hadn’t completed high school—entry into what most people regarded as the middle class. Being middle class roughly meant owning a home, having a car and providing for your family.

My role here at Zenith City will be to write about the western Duluth neighborhoods as I recall them in the decades after World War II. My precise neighborhood was the West End, right in the heart of it, about half way between the Point of Rocks and the ore docks at 35th Avenue West. Informally, the ore docks have always represented the dividing line between West End and West Duluth.

There was competition between those two neighborhoods too, but socio-economically they were similar. Each had a thriving business district, providing residents with everything they might need from groceries to hardware to banking to household and personal needs, not to mention a stiff drink. J.C. Penney operated department stores in each neighborhood, as did Bridgeman’s ice cream parlors. The West End had more furniture stores; West Duluth more movie theaters (two) while each had two funeral homes for most of the years my memory encompasses.

Each neighborhood had numerous churches representing most of the mainline Christian faiths, but no synagogues. West Duluth had a small hospital, long-since dissolved, but people from the western precincts who needed hospital care depended, as did the entire city, on St. Mary’s (Catholic) and St. Luke’s (Protestant), both on the eastern edges of downtown.

Commandingly, West Duluth had Denfeld High School, for generations bringing together students from both neighborhoods whose earlier education had been provided at Lincoln Junior High (West End) and West Junior High. Until 1950, the West End educated its younger pupils at elementary schools scattered throughout the neighborhood—Adams, Monroe, Bryant, Ensign and Lincoln. West Duluth had Longfellow and Irving and others farther west, but short of Morgan Park and Gary New-Duluth, with their own schools, including a high school.

In future columns I’ll try to extract from these neighborhoods glimpses of their colorful past life —a life I knew as a youngster and much younger adult, when Master Bread meant more than the staff of life in this small corner of our world at the head of the largest freshwater lake in that world.

Previously published on Zenith City Online on January 15, 2016 and 2012.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

One Duluth Man's WWI Experience...

By Jim Heffernan
George Henry Heffernan in WWI Uniform, circa 1918
On a bright, beautiful garbage pickup day a few years ago, I watched as the truck lifted our bin, dumped the contents into its box, and drove away. I don't always pay that much attention to garbage pickup, but on this day our refuse included a plastic bag with very special contents: My father's World War I U.S. Army uniform, sans buttons and insignia. 

Reflecting on it as the truck disappeared, a lump formed in my throat. It meant so much to my father to have served, in many ways defining his life. But after almost a century, the uniform couldn't be saved.

Much has been made recently marking the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into the conflict roiling Europe since the guns of August were loosed by Germany on its neighbors three years earlier.

On April 6, 1917, the U.S. Congress, at the behest of President Woodrow Wilson, declared war on Germany. The action was felt in every community in the nation, certainly including Duluth.

Tens of thousands of American young men were conscripted or joined on their own to go off to France to fight in "the war to end all wars," as it was optimistically and naively billed at the time. Along with scores of other Duluthians, George Heffernan, 23, was among them. He wasn't my father yet -- he married late and I was born 22 years later.

The Duluth contingent marched to the train on Dec. 17, 1917, heading for the "Pacific Coast," as the Duluth News Tribune put it the morning after the departure. George was employed as a photo engraver for a firm that provided the plates that produced the photos in the News Tribune. He worked in the Tribune building, then on Superior Street between Lake Avenue and First Avenue East. The building is still standing, long since put to other uses.

The paper on Dec. 18 ran a photo of my father with the words "Leaves For Camp" above it and featuring the following caption: "Among the soldiers who left Duluth for the Pacific Coast last night was George Heffernan, for many years a valued employee of the Duluth Photo Engraving company. He was enrolled in the contingent from the second Duluth district. His fellow employees gave him a wrist watch and a fine jackknife." 
Photo and story of soldier George H. Heffernan leaving Duluth for camp
Duluth News Tribune, December 18, 1918

So off he went to California, where he was issued his uniform and inducted into the American Expeditionary Force made up of men who were called Doughboys. All I know about his service came out in dribs and drabs over the years in conversations with him as I was growing up.

Upon arriving in San Francisco, the inductees were stationed at the Presidio, hard by San Francisco Bay's Golden Gate (long before the famous bridge was built), a facility that still exists but is no longer a military base. It's never been clear to me how he happened to be promoted so rapidly from buck private to sergeant, but that's what transpired. He was a man of some bearing, and I assume that was why he was quickly named a training sergeant for inductees who followed him into the service.

He took great pride in that, and it possibly saved his life. While the trainees were sent off to France to fight in the trenches, George stayed in San Francisco as a training sergeant. But not until the end of the war. Not quite.

Finally, his unit was mobilized to join other Doughboys in France. They were put on a troop train and transported from San Francisco to the east coast, arriving there just in time for the end of the war. On Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 o'clock in the morning the guns were silenced, and armistice was declared. The war that didn't end all wars had ended.

No France for George. Rather, a sojourn into New York City with Army buddies as tourists (the only time he was ever there), and mustering out of the Army some time later followed by a return to Duluth and civilian life. America was only actively involved in "The Great War" for about a year-and-a-half, but some 117,000 American service men had been killed, and tens of thousands more injured, many with what we now refer to as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

For my father, it meant returning to Duluth and his job, and some years later marrying my mother and having two sons, the youngest being me, born at the outbreak of World War II. By then, George was too old to serve again. In our home in Duluth's West End he placed his old uniform on a sturdy hanger and hung it on a nail in a dark corner of our basement.

There it remained all my early life and later, until we broke up the old homestead after my mother died in 1983. George had died in 1971 and was buried beneath a government headstone honoring his military service. 

When we emptied out the house, I took his uniform to my home, and later to two subsequent residences. Then, cleaning out the garage of our current home a couple of years ago, I found it, packed away in a box, a deteriorating, moth-eaten garment unsalvageable for any use such as in a museum.

So on that day, I took a scissors and cut off his sergeant stripes and the metal buttons, stowed them with other family memorabilia, stuffed the tattered tunic and trousers into a plastic bag and put it in our garbage bin to be hauled away with the rest of our trash.

By James Montgomery Flagg, 1917
Source: Wikipedia
The 100th anniversary of the start of American involvement in that war set me reflecting again on my father's proud service during that conflict, even though he escaped combat. A charter member, he spent decades actively involved in the American Legion, founded by World War I vets.

But not quite all of that century-old uniform was hauled off that day. I have the hat, the Smoky Bear-style hat (seen in the picture of young George accompanying this column), part of the standard Army uniform in that era. I'll never part with that. Or these memories.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Times They Are A Changin' for sure...

Yes, as Bob Dylan sings (YouTube) in 1964, The Times They Are A-Changin'. They certainly have changed for Bob from the time in 1959 when he witnessed Buddy Holly and other performers (along with me and hundreds of area youth) before "the music died" to today as a Nobel Prize winner of literature. His prophetic song, about change hits home today....
...from Dylan's music web site (link HERE):
Come senators, congressmen/Please heed the call/Don't stand in the doorway/Don't block up the hall/For he that gets hurt/Will be he who has stalled/There's the battle outside raging/It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls/For the times they are a-changing
Funny thing about time, it does change. And yet some things never seem to change.

Originally published on Zenith City Online , June 2014
I'm not receiving any Nobel prizes and my changes are pretty tame. But change is ahead here on my blog too. I'll be writing the same type of stories, recollections and political commentary here as the spirit hits me... but I also will be including the archives of my posts from Zenith City Online beginning in May.

ZCO's creator is Tony Dierckins who is also the original publisher of my book, Cooler Near the Lake. Tony has been a creative force here in the Duluth and surrounding area as he traverses the changing publishing field. We're lucky also to have him preserve our area history on his site and enjoy his books that do the same.  He's a good friend and we share the love of local history.

Tony is changing things up a bit on his web site, Zenith City Online, and will no longer be including posts such as mine on that site. He's encouraging me to include my posts from the ZCO archives here on my blog to preserve their online access.
Published on Zenith City Online in March, 2014

So... beginning sometime in May, I'll be working on incorporating those archived posts and, of course, adding more to my recollections about growing up in the Duluth area, especially Duluth's West End.

Right now, I'm working on a piece about WWI as I recall my father's part one hundred years ago. That's coming up soon right here on my blog. But also stay tuned as I utilize many stories about growing up in Duluth from my writings on ZCO.