Saturday, August 6, 2022

A roll down to old Park Point...

Merry-go-round horse similar 
to the old park point carousel
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/August 8, 2022

 I’m on quite a roll this summer recalling a Duluth that doesn’t exist anymore — call it history. Recent columns about the old Lyceum Theater and the former foghorn have elicited interesting responses from readers; so today we’ll take another trip down memory lane before summer wanes.

 

We’ll drive over the Aerial Lift Bridge all the way to the Park Point recreation area, where today’s recreation is quite different from what it was in the past.

 

Today’s volleyball courts, at the base of the hillside leading to the beach house, are the site of what was once a small summertime amusement park

with many of the typical rides — merry-go-round, flying chairs and others including my favorite — bumper cars.

 

There also was a miniature steam-powered train on tracks wending their way around the park, younger kids riding atop the cars pulled by the steam-spewing diminutive locomotive. And of course treat concessions — ice cream and hot dogs along with a penny arcade.

 

Plenty of what you’d want at such a place, and it was popular. So popular that years later when it was closed by the city some backers threatened to recall the then-mayor. More on that later.

 

The Park Point carnival area was the site of the annual “police boy” picnic. School crossing guards in those days were called police boys (and they were all boys). They carried yellow metal hand-held stop signs to halt oncoming traffic and chip away at nearby wooden power poles.

 

Anyway, the Duluth Police Department annually hosted police boys from throughout the city at the end of each school year, engaging buses to cart them down to Park Point. I got to go once, very excited to be going to the Park Point “midway” as a recent fifth-grade graduate.

 

We had free reign on the rides and a nice hot-dog lunch at noontime, secured with a ticket handed out beforehand at the schools. I forgot to bring my meal ticket, though, and felt, well, desperate.

 

I sought out an official-looking cop resplendent in his blue uniform, badge shining in the sun, and told him my plight— forgot my meal ticket. He looked me over, obviously saw an interloper, and declared, “You don’t want to eat, kid.” That was news to me.

 

Even though I was a police boy, I was not too old to well up inside at such a snub by the cops. All’s well that ends well, though, when my Lincoln Elementary police boy captain vouched for me and they let me have my hot dog. That was when I got stung by a bee.

 

But it turned out OK despite all of this adversity, and the fun of being at the Park Point carnival area was a great reward.

 

By that age, having outgrown the merry-go-round and steam train, my favorite ride was the bumper cars. Do they exist anywhere anymore? Just for the record, they were little red vehicles powered by electricity on a hard floor in a large open shed, the electrical current running down a pole at the back of each car from the ceiling.

 

Riders would scurry around and try to bump each other or just circle the place, happy to be operating a vehicle with a steering wheel. I loved it.

 

One time, the guy in charge of operating the bumper car concession turned out to be an older neighbor from the West End known as Junior. I was impressed and proud to be recognized by Junior as I mounted the bumper car ramp. “Hi, Junior,” I greeted. “Hello there,” he responded. I’ve been known as “There” a lot in life.

 

Wow, I thought, Junior has really done well in this world, finding a profession operating bumper cars. I figured he was set for life. (Remember, I was 10 years old.)

 

I don’t know what became of Junior but the entire midway was closed down in 1964, some 15 years after Junior and the police boys and the hot dog and the bee, and when I was working as a reporter for this newspaper.

 

Duluth’s mayor at the time was George D. Johnson (not to be confused with George W. Johnson, whom George D. had defeated) and he and other city officials decided the Park Point recreation area should be more “natural” and not have a tawdry carnival. It was attracting a crowd of youth wearing black jackets, they feared. Oh, the horror.

 

The closure didn’t sit well with some Duluthians, though, and there was even talk of recalling Johnson that never went anywhere.

 

But the rides and concessions did go somewhere, never to return.

 

Volleyball anyone?

 

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at jimheffernan@jimheffernan.org and maintains a blog at www.jimheffernan.org. 

Saturday, July 23, 2022

To TOOT or not to TOOT was the question...

Source Flickr: Photographer is Apollo Antonin (8-6-21)
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/July 23, 2022

An item in this newspaper’s Bygones column the other day brought back a couple of memories: Once upon a time Duluth harbor had a loud foghorn that could be heard far and wide before it died, and its attempted return 40 years ago got me on national television.

 

Fond memories indeed.

 

Modern technology sometime after mid-20th Century obviated the need for a foghorn at all. Today’s maritime communications are such that ships enveloped by fog off our shores can find their way into port without having an ancient mariner in a Southwester rain hat standing at the bow, his hand capping his ear, an albatross overhead, listening for our foghorn.

 

It’s been a long time but I will try to convey as best I can in print what the foghorn sounded like. It had two levels that went together, booming thusly: OOOOOM-pah…OOOOOM-pah. The OOOOOM rendered a higher tone, the pah a little lower. Got that? It resounded throughout the inner city and beyond whenever the fog rolled in “on little cat feet,” as the poet put it

 

The number of Duluthians who recall hearing the old foghorn is getting smaller and smaller with each passing year. Of course. Read the obits.

 

But Eric Ringsred remembers it, and did, back in 1982 when he tried valiantly to bring the foghorn back for, oh, I don’t know, for auld lang syne, I suppose. Ringsred, a physician and civic activist who usually advocates saving historic buildings, must have liked the sound of the foghorn, as did tens of thousands of Duluthians within earshot. Unfortunately a good number of folks within earshot did not care for it at all. It disturbed their sleep, many claimed.

 

Growing up in what was once known as Duluth’s West End neighborhood, I could hear it when the wind was right. I never questioned it; it was simply part of Duluth. When it disappeared I didn’t really notice.

 

Ringsred did, and decided to bring it back. He initiated a campaign to refurbish the old “diaphone” foghorn (its technical description) and formed an organization he called “reTurn Our Old Tone” going by the acronym TOOT. Not bad. And a summer Fog Festival was organized to help raise funds for restoring the old foghorn and celebrate its return.

 

As with some other of Ringsred’s projects, it created some amount of controversy pitting those for bringing it back against those who never wanted to hear the old TOOT again. Like every other controversy, it played itself out, and eventually died. The result was no diaphone foghorn returning to the waterfront. End of story? Not quite.

 

Of course during the height of the TOOT campaign, it made the TV and print news around here ballyhooing the Fog Festival, and somehow WGN  television in Chicago got word of it. One of the most prominent broadcasters in the country, WGN could send reporters and photographers considerable distances in the Midwest for stories. As a result, they sent a team to Duluth to find out about the Fog Festival.

 

The first place the WGN reporter and photographer stopped to seek help in getting started was this newspaper. They first encountered a summer intern in the newsroom who didn’t feel qualified to discuss the foghorn issue and he brought the television news team to me.

 

Would I, they asked, be willing to let them film an interview with me about the Fog Festival?

 

Well, I’m not too hot at TV reporting, but I agreed. Besides, I figured, it would only be shown in Chicagoland.

 

So I sat down behind an empty newsroom desk as they placed their equipment opposite me and I told them all about our Fog Festival. It took maybe 15 minutes total from setup to “thanks” and “goodbye.”

 

I gave it no more thought, but the next weekend, when we were out and about on Saturday evening, people I knew came up to me and said they’d seen me earlier on the CBS Evening News. That’s the national CBS Evening News helmed in those days by legendary Walter Cronkite, although my appearance was on a Saturday when somebody else was anchoring.

 

CBS Evening News! My casual remarks on the Fog Festival had gone national. In the ensuing days I began hearing from people in other parts of the country with whom I was acquainted. Unfortunately, I missed it.

 

And Hollywood never called.

 

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at jimheffernan@jimheffernan.org and maintains a blog at www.jimheffernan.org.