Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jack Benny in Duluth at first anniversary of Arena-Auditorium...

by Jim Heffernan
"When Jack Benny descended on Duluth in 1967 he didn’t seem that-all happy..."
Jim Heffernan (R) greets Jack Benny (9-13-67)
Photo by Charles Curtis–from Heff's attic

Don’t waste your time reading this unless you’re of a certain age, and it ain’t young. I don’t even want to guess at what age you might recognize all of the names. Well, my age, certainly

Don’t believe me? OK, Skitch Henderson. See what I mean?

But this is mainly about Jack Benny, who needs no explanation if you are old enough, although I once read a piece by Dick Cavett in which he wrote that he dropped Benny’s name to one of the Beatles – could have been John Lennon, no spring chicken himself were he still alive, but a Brit – and the Beatle asked “Who’s Jack Benny?”

Benny was brought to Duluth in 1967 to entertain at a civic celebration of the first anniversary of the opening of the Arena-Auditorium, which, at the time, consisted of the arena and the auditorium – nothing else. No Pioneer Hall, no Northwest Passage, no DECC moniker, no convention center and certainly no Amsoil Arena, having its grand opening as 2010 draws to a close. (Click HERE to view today's Duluth News Tribune story about the opening of the new Amsoil Arena.)

The revered comedian is pictured this week (Dec. 29) on the Duluth News Tribune’s entertaining web site blog, called the News Tribune Attic (click HERE), in which they cull old photos from the newspaper’s no-longer-used files (everything is electronically archived now). In a series on the early days of the Arena-Auditorium, the blog posting includes a photo of Benny cutting a large birthday cake commemorating the anniversary. Flanking him are Skitch Henderson (just Google him) and the late Monnie Goldfine of Duluth.

In the picture, Benny looks, at the very least, somber, even angry. Maybe he was not happy to be in Duluth, or not pleased to be cutting a cake, or not feeling that-all well. Who knows?

I wouldn’t bother to mention it, except that it brought back some memories for me. A News Tribune reporter at the time, I was assigned to cover the arrival of the great comedian at the Duluth airport – the old terminal, before they built the new terminal that they are now replacing.

So up to the airport a photographer and I went, with me giving the photographer strict instructions to be sure to get a shot of me interviewing Benny as a keepsake (not for publication). That’s one of the fringe benefits of newspaper reporting. And the photographer did. I have the photo – an 8-by-10 glossy of me in my tan raincoat standing beside Jack Benny, in a suit and tie, chatting, not posing.

In the picture, Benny looks, at the very least, somber, even angry. Maybe he was not happy to be in Duluth, or not feeling that-all well, or in no mood to be interviewed by the likes of me. Can’t say I blame him.

I don’t remember what he said, but I doubt it was funny. The next night I did attend his show in the Arena, and he was back in his old form. Never a laughing hyena, his style was subdued, with slow delivery and lengthy pauses as he folded his arms and looked to the right or left, himself the butt of his own jokes.

Checking Google, I see he was born in 1894 (I told you that you had to be old to care about this), so he was about 73 when he was in Duluth. He died in 1974 at age 80. Of course, to quote Benny himself, “Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More about Zinsmaster...

Paul Lundgren of Perfect Duluth Day has done some good sleuthing to lend some interesting information about the Zinsmaster Bakery in Duluth. The Peerless Autobody business that tragically burned on Monday was housed in the old Zinsmaster Bakery building (see earlier post). The Zinsmaster Bakery was a prominent Duluth business and the founding family well known in Duluth's past. Check out Perfect Duluth Day to learn more HERE. Word has it that yet more information about this historic building and the people behind the business will appear in Wednesday's Duluth News Tribune for all of you who have interest in Duluth's history.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Old Zinsmaster Bakery Building Burns....

For all you former Duluthians who still have your hearts in Duluth....
A huge fire that began at 2:45 am Monday burned all day and destroyed the current (for 6 months) Peerless autobody building located on 29th Avenue W. and Superior St.  The building was originally the Zinsmaster Bakery, bakers of Master Bread and Hol-Ry for many years. The building housed several businesses since. The latest report indicates a possible arson. This apparent senseless crime ravaged both extensive personal and property devastation to the Peerless owner and his customers. Check out the story in today's Duluth News Tribune HERE.

I was attempting to pin down some of the history of the Zinsmaster Bakery in Duluth but memory fails me with the important details. I think that the Zinsmaster Bakery began the Master Bread brand, with a Zinsmaster Bakery also located in Minneapolis.  Harry W. Zinsmaster was a prominent Duluthian who was the vice president and general manager of the local bakery. According to a Rotary 25 history of the first 100 presidents of Rotary 25, his brother, William, was the president of the company and lived in Minneapolis. I'm assuming he headed the Minneapolis Zinsmaster firm but not sure.  A link to the Rotary 25 history places Zinsmaster as the 7th president of the Rotary organization (circa 1911-12). Check it out HERE. At that time Harry Zinsmaster lived at 20th Avenue East in Duluth but later–according to my memory and an old phone book–moved to 2 Hawthorne Rd (the corner of Hawthorne Rd. and Superior Street). This home, under different ownership, was used as a setting for scenes in the 1988 Jessica Lange movie, Far North, located in Duluth.

If any of you readers our there have some Zinsmaster Bakery lore to share, please feel free to add your information or comments.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry White Christmas from Jim Heffernan...

Our poor little decorative tree is now buried in snow.
No question... it's a "White Christmas" this year in Duluth Minnesota. May all of you enjoy a wonderful holiday with health and happiness in 2011!   Jim

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas cards: They just don't stick to the ribs...

By Jim Heffernan

Well, the holiday card exchange phase of Christmas 2010 is almost over for those who care if their cards arrive before the joyous holiday. In the past we always got our cards out the last minute, but this year we sent them out early for reasons that can’t be reasonably explained. It just happened.

Sending cards out early assures that you probably will get cards from recipients who had decided to – oh, what the heck -- drop you from their list this year. Then when they get your card early they hurriedly dash one off to you again. That’s a two-way street, by the way. Who hasn’t gone through that drill?

It’s not that you no longer care to warmly greet the folks you consider crossing off your Christmas card list, it’s that you have moved on from whatever relationship you had with them years ago when the exchange began. Then there are the more recently acquired friends and neighbors who never make it onto your list. Oh well, no harm done. It’s Christmas.

Does anyone actually remember anything about the Christmas cards they receive for very long? Christmas letters and poems can be fun at the moment, then quickly forgotten. Photo cards are nice to see, then file away, probably never to be seen again. Ephemeral, those Christmas cards that require so much organization, time and even expense. Oh well, no harm done. It’s Christmas.

I only remember two cards in all the years I’ve been involved in the Christmas card frenzy, and they weren’t even to me. They were satirical cards in Mad Magazine years and years ago – maybe 40 or more. But I think of them each Christmas season when certain carols are sung.

The first depicted a bleak, snowy scene outside a shuttered steel mill in Bethlehem, Pa., with pickets outside the gate, strikers milling about. Its message was simply, “Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,” and it was signed: The United Steelworkers of America.

The second purported to be from and pictured a smiling Liberace, the late pianist/entertainer known for his flamboyant outfits – gold lame suits, ermine capes and the like – whose manner was decidedly effeminate in an era when that persona was, um, snickered at in many quarters. The card’s message was simply, “Don we now our gay apparel.”

Oh well, no harm done. It’s Christmas. Incidentally, if you didn’t get a card from me (and you’d certainly have received it by now), have a merry one.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

UMD Bulldogs win national title...

Florence, Alabama...
UMD Bulldogs became the NCAA Division II football champs today in an exciting game witnessed by 4,000 some fans in Alabama and likely as many watching big and small screens in here in Duluth. Check out the Duluth News Tribune story HERE for more info. Congrats to the Bulldogs!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Beatlemania: When the Beatles were said to be in Duluth...

By Jim Heffernan
"One Sunday 1965, give or take a year in either direction, this incident occurred in a Lutheran church in Duluth’s West End neighborhood:"
The recent marking of the 30th anniversary of Beatle John Lennon’s assassination, plus widespread mention of what would have been his 70th birthday, has sparked a memory of the time the Beatles were said to be in Duluth. Emphasize “said to be.”

I recounted this many years ago in my column in the Duluth daily newspaper, but it bears repeating, I believe, just for the whimsy of the situation as well as the fact that only a couple of people would remember that earlier column, and I am one of them.

It was early in that era in America known as the time of Beatlemania, and it was manic where the “Fab Four” were concerned. The Ed Sullivan Show appearances, the national tours (including at old Met Stadium in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul) all contributed to the frenzy remembered today only by folks now viewing with disdain some of today’s trends in popular music as they move inexorably into grandparenthood and beyond.

One Sunday 1965, give or take a year in either direction, this incident occurred in a Lutheran church in Duluth’s West End neighborhood:

Each Sunday, as the congregation was settling into the pews and choir members were clearing their throats to open the service with the somber “The Lord is in His Holy Temple,”  the minister, before mounting the pulpit, would review the day’s register of out-of-town guests and other visiting non-members who had signed a guest book in the narthex.

Then, during the announcements portion of the service, he would welcome the visitors by name and, in the case of out-of-towners, their home cities.

What the minister didn’t know on this Sunday was that some teenagers in the congregation had signed the four Beatles’ names into the visitor’s register and – no surprise here – the minister, then in his mid-60s, didn’t know the four Beatles from the Three Stooges, two turtle doves or a partridge in a pear tree.

So, come the less formal part of the service, announcing such things as upcoming potluck suppers, the minister also launched into his welcome of visitors from far-off Liverpool, England: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

It was one of those terrible moments for anyone speaking before an audience when some members of the audience burst into laughter and the speaker doesn’t know why.

I wasn’t there (hooky from church that Sunday) but it was described to me by family members who were. Wish I had been. Missed the guest preacher who repeatedly implored: “Make a noyful joys unto the Lord,” too. And the Sunday the minister – not the Beatles one – missed the chair behind the pulpit and fell head over heels backward, his robe flying.

I should have gone to church more often.  

Note: There's a new book out about the Beatles Minnesota concert: One Night Stand in the Heartland by Bill Carlson. Also youtube has footage of the Beatles MN press conference and you can check that out HERE.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Metrodome Roof Collapse: Video From the Inside

Here's the footage on youtube of the inside of the Metrodome collapse early this morning, around 5 or 6 am.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

That Special Christmas Place...

by Jim Heffernan     

It happens to everyone sooner or later, and this year it’s my turn. I lasted longer than most–not as long as some. This is the first year there will be no Christmas in the home I grew up in.

Many people my age–commonly called “middle”–have only memories of the home where they spent their first Christmas and Christmases thereafter throughout their childhood. Others lived in several places during those years–often in different cities.

But we’re a consistent lot, and our family home stayed intact for close to 45 years, in spite of the loss of my father a dozen years ago and the moving away and marrying of the two boys. This fall we lost our mother, and there will be no more Christmases in that home for us.

I have come to believe that part of the warmth of Christmas felt by most of us when we grow up is rooted in memories of childhood Christmases–happy memories made bittersweet by the passage of time and passing of the people who populated them. And I am coming to understand how Dickens chose ghosts in his “Christmas Carol” to represent his three Christmases.

In a stop last week at the old family home, bereft of holiday decorations for the first time, ghosts of Christmases past–dozens of them–shimmered before my eyes…the place in front of the window where we used to place the tree…the big mirror that used to be festooned with garlands…the dining room table that was always decorated with candles.

As I stood in the hall of the now unoccupied house–framed pictures of family members placed here and there in the main rooms–the sights, sounds and smells of Christmases past, even as recently as a year ago, rushed back for a moment. Our balsam, close to nine feet tall, was there in front of the window, its familiar ornaments shimmering in the colored lights. Gifts encircled its foot and were stacked knee high. The aroma of foods only prepared at Christmastime–Scandinavian sylta, potato sausage, fruitcake, special cookies–wafted from the kitchen.

The sounds of laughter, the tearing of wrappings and voices “Hey, just what I wanted!” “Thanks a million!” “I love it!” filled the room. And above the din, the sound of a well-played piano, full bass chords resounding, treble ringing, “O come, all ye faithful…” and later, a hushed “Silent Night.” We will never hear that piano played that way again.

This year Christmas is not calling on that home except in the memories of those of us who spent so many there that it will always be Christmas place for us no matter where we live.

In every life where Christmas comes at all, there is that one place from childhood where it will live forever. We were lucky to have such a Christmas place for as long as we did.

Originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, Dec. 25, 1983 

in my book, Cooler Near the Lake (2008), available for sale this Christmas at local bookstores and on line through Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Adventure Publications.

Friday, December 3, 2010

History's most boring day discovered; Jesus' arrival declared imminent...

By Jim Heffernan

"Twas the llth of April in ’54, a day declared a colossal bore…”

Yes, it’s true. Some computer whiz in England fed millions of facts into a giant computer – things that make news – and determined that April 11, 1954, was the most boring day in modern history. This according to National Public Radio, which broadcast an interview with the English gentleman, who sounded like no fool.

Nobody of note died on that date, no major governmental happenings occurred, no wars started or ended, no ships sank, Leslie Nielsen’s movie career was still fledgling, nothing much at all happened, making April 11, 1954, the least eventful and most boring ever.

The researcher, whose name escapes me, did make a point of saying he only analyzed “modern history,” and not all of history. So things like the death of Alexander the Great’s horse or the Battle of Hastings (1066) or Charles Martel defeating the Moors at the Battle of Tours on Oct. 10, 732 (date provided by the Gospel According to Google) were not included. Good thing. They didn’t have computers in those days anyway.

Modern history, that’s what we’re after here: April 11, 1954, BSP (Before Sarah Palin). I’m not sure how far back the researcher dipped in modern history. I consider the last 100 years or so modern history, although serious historians probably take it back further. I do not consider myself a serious historian but rather a secular humorist.

This might be a shocking revelation, but I actually remember April 11, 1954. Well, maybe not exactly that day in 1954 but I was around Duluth in 1954 – 14 years old going on 15. I do know I was checking my legs for hair, not very successfully. Swarthier boys in Lincoln Junior High seemed to be maturing faster than I, and it was of more than a little concern to me.

Of course, they wouldn’t have cared about that in England on April 11 anyway. I was also longing – I mean longing – to get my driver’s license, which you couldn’t get until age 15. A few lucky classmates – boys who were smart enough to flunk a grade or two before reaching ninth grade on hairy legs – were already recklessly driving jalopies to school that spring. Most are now dead.

On the national scene, Dwight D. Eisenhower was in his second year as president of the United States. Eisenhower was a calm president who golfed a lot, fished for brook trout quite a bit, and didn’t seem to do much to upset the apple cart, so I suppose April 11, 1954, was just another day around the White House with Mrs. Eisenhower (call her Mamie) presiding over an early cocktail hour, Ike (the president’s nickname) planning a coronary thrombosis in a couple of years, but not that day.

Everybody liked Ike, except maybe Adolf Hitler.

Here in Duluth, Mayor George Washington Johnson must have had a light day in City Hall, or else his successor George Donald Johnson had already taken over. My memory is fuzzy on this. This was during the Johnson period of Duluth history, which not too much later was broken by the likes of Mayor Mork, not from Ork.

Meanwhile, back in the future (now, today, early December 2010), a jeweler in nearby Superior, Wis., advertised a “second coming” sale (all jewels half price) to give customers time to stock up on gems before the imminent arrival of Jesus from heaven. Readers of this from elsewhere might think I made that up. I did not. The jewels are half price! Makes you wonder: “Will there be any stars in my crown?”

Oh, and Santa Claus’ arrival is imminent as well. What if they collided in mid-air? Oh, the tragedy. I don’t even want to think about it.

I wouldn’t look for the second most boring day in modern history this month, that’s for sure.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tis the season....

Cooler Near the Lake
That gift giving season is indeed upon us and I know many of you are making your lists (and checking them twice) for your Holiday gift giving. I just might have an idea to help your gift giving along.

Yes, it's true...I'm hawking my book once again!  It's just that I've got all these books to sell and someone's got to do it. So run to your local bookstore to buy my book, Cooler Near the Lake... or order on line at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Here's my pitch....
"Cooler Near the Lake is a collection of Jim Heffernan's classic newspaper columns that spans his lengthy career in Duluth Minnesota as a popular newspaper writer and columnist for the (formerly) Knight Ridder Duluth News Tribune. Heffernan's writings are known for his wry humor, interesting perspectives on life and for capturing the colorful culture of northerneastern Minnesota. Also included in his book are unique perspectives on John F. Kennedy, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Gregory Peck and other famous people who visited Duluth. Heffernan, now a retired newspaper writer, continues his musings on a blog and writes a regular magazine column."
I've heard it's a great "bathroom reading" book or a book to keep by your bedside, to read a column at a time.  You can check it all out on my book web site too. (Click HERE.) And...thanks!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkey day: Time to flip that bird into the oven...

By Jim Heffernan

On Thanksgiving eve, as we were preparing to gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing the next day, I was intrigued by some of the contents of the Duluth daily newspaper.

Some ads got my attention first. Several large and well-known department stores would be open for business on Thanksgiving Day, they proclaimed.

You wonder if the Lord is blessing that move, although, whether the churches like it or not, Thanksgiving is a civil holiday, set by law. It is not in the Constitution itself, though, much to the chagrin of Tea Party partiers, you’d think. It’s founding fathers, not founding feathers.

But onward. One of the stores in the ad inserts that caught my attention advertised as a suggested Christmas gift a home brewing kit called “Mr. Beer.”

Mr. Beer. For Christmas. Under the tree. I was brought up in a more or less non- or anti-drinking (the anti- being observed more religiously than the non- in some cases) home and church environment in which even talk of drinking alcohol was pretty much taboo.

Now in 2010 we might find Mr. Beer under the Christmas tree? We should have seen this coming, Mr. Coffee having made such inroads, outlasting even Joe DiMaggio, who used to hawk the Mr. Coffee machines after his baseball and Marilyn Monroe careers. Who might be a good spokesperson for Mr. Beer? Send nominations to Milwaukee.

I hope I don’t receive a Mr. Beer set for Christmas. Maybe Mr. Vodka, but not Mr. Beer, thank you very much.

Setting aside the ad inserts, I found the potpourri of the day’s news on Page 2 most interesting. In keeping with recent trends (the past 2,000 years or so, give or take a millennium) the news was not good in this collection of snippets from the wires of the Associated Press and other sources. Some of it was appalling, but there it was, and I noticed.

Under the headline “Man found guilty of torturing teeen” (are teenagers getting so powerful they get three e’s now?), a guy in San Francisco was found guilty of the following charges: aggravated mayhem, torture, kidnapping and false imprisonment. You’d think just plain mayhem would do, but aggravated mayhem? Boy, this is one bad dude. Then on top of that “false” imprisonment? If he imprisoned the teeen, wouldn’t it have been “true” imprisonment? Inquiring minds do not want to know. This was enough.

Then, on the same page, a few headlines away, appeared this one: “Priest accused of trying to hire hit man.” Yes, a priest in Texas allegedly hired a hit man to erase (my word) a teenager who accused him of sexual abuse. Well, there’s a new low. At least aggravated mayhem didn’t involve erasing anybody. For the record, the priest was caught before the hit occurred.

It happened in what was described as, and I quote, “the West Texas community of Rock Springs, a rural enclave known for sheep and goat herding.” Now, I ask, why bring innocent sheep and goats into this priest abuse story? You wonder.

As an aside, I had thought that America had gone beyond sheep and goat herding. Afghanistan, yes. But Texas? Maybe we should let the state secede from the Union after all, as its Gov. Rick Perry, R-Mars, has suggested.

Finally, still on Page 2, we learned that young Bristol Palin – described as a 20-year-old single mom but we all know who HER mom is -- was finally eliminated from “Dancing With the Stars.” Said Bristol before the outcome: “Going out there and winning this would mean a lot. It would be like a big middle finger to all the people out there that hate my mom and hate me.”

I don’t know about you, but I was brought up in a home and church environment where even talk of raising a big middle finger to people was largely taboo.

But enough. We’d better get to flipping our bird into the oven. Twenty pounds this year. Weighs more than our late dog.

Happy Thanksgiving…in spite of it all.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Christmas City of the North parade memories: God save the queens...

By Jim Heffernan
Photo from Northland News Center's Christmas parade site
This is the week of the big Christmas City of the North parade, ushering in the holiday season for Duluth and the Northland.

The parade is a tradition that has lasted longer than most. Somehow, my own involvement, in one way or another, is also a tradition lasting longer than most.

I was a fledgling newspaper reporter in Duluth on Nov. 22, 1963, (I had worked at the Duluth Herald and News Tribune for about a month), the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

One of my duties that afternoon in the newsroom was to determine if the Christmas City of the North parade, scheduled for that night, would go on as planned in light of the assassination. I called the powers that were at WDSM-TV, the then sponsors, at about 3:30 p.m., a mere two hours after the assassination, and was told the parade would not be canceled. But about an hour later, after word had spread that the entire nation was shutting down, WDSM did cancel the parade.

The annual tradition was already so strong it took a presidential assassination to knock it out.

Much happier parade involvement for me followed. Just a year or two later, now a much more seasoned reporter, I was assigned to cover the parade for the newspaper. Parade coverage is pretty much up to the person writing it up – in other words you have a lot of latitude, and some longitude too. Good thing.

In those days, parade-sponsor WDSM was located across Superior Street from then Hotel Duluth (now Greysolon Plaza senior residences), and for the parade the television station would rent a corner hospitality suite off the ballroom overlooking the holiday promenade. The station stocked the room with things to drink – Tom and Jerrys prominent among them – and tasty treats to eat.

This was for visiting dignitaries who, after being driven through the parade in open cars, would be whisked back to Hotel Duluth on side streets and escorted to the then-WDSM hospitality room to “warm up.” It is quite easy to warm up in a room with an open bar, congenial TV station personnel and, oh yes, visiting queens after their arduous trip driven through the parade route in a white Cadillac convertible, top down.

Queens like Miss Minnesota, Miss Minneapolis Aquatennial (known as Queen of the Lakes), Miss St. Paul Winter Carnival, Miss Duluth, the Duchess of Duluth and a host of other misses and near-misses from throughout the northern parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

It was from this cozy, warm, well-stocked room that I would cover the always-chilly if not downright cold parade. If memory serves, I did it for two or three years running. Nice work if you can get it.

That first time stands out though. I had never met a Miss Minnesota or Miss Minneapolis Aquatennial or miss anything before. This, it must be recalled, was the era when these queens and the contests that selected them – all the way up to Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Universe – were taken seriously.

Still single, I welcomed the opportunity to be in the midst of such a dazzling array of young queens, tiaras gleaming, satin gowns draped over, one suspects, long underwear. Who could say what might result? I employed my usual technique for impressing women of my generation: Stand against a wall and depend on my innate animal magnetism to draw them to me – you could call it the Elvis Effect.

And as might be expected, the result was that I met very few of them, and those I did meet showed zero interest in getting to know me better, even though my teenage acne had disappeared and my hairline was still strong. These queens seemed to be more interested in older – to me, old – men like mayors of various area cities, in town for the parade and WDSM’s hospitality, not to mention leering TV personalities.

Oh, but I go on. Only a few years later, after some time off (my parade reporting having given way to more serious stuff like professional wrestling), I found myself again attending the Christmas parade, this time as a spectator, now married and with children. That became an annual holiday ritual until the kids grew out of it, and so did we.

But hold it. What seems like only a few years of taking the parade off, there we were again a few years ago, shepherding grandchildren through the throngs lining Superior Street on parade night.

We’ll be there again this Friday night, watching the bright eyes of the grandkids and the marching by of still another generation of area young people worried about being cold (at least their parents are), the brass players in high school bands concerned that their lips are going to stick to their instruments, but not those of their boyfriends and girlfriends. It never changes.

God save the queens – from freezing to death.

For more information about the Christmas City of the North Parade, check out Northland News Center's Christmas City of the North site HERE or the VisitDuluth site HERE.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Confessions of a quasi-veteran on Veterans Day...

By Jim Heffernan

This is a big week for American veterans, as I was reminded in a church service on Sunday (Nov. 7). In recognition of upcoming Veterans Day, they asked all veterans in the congregation to stand and be honored with a round of applause.

I didn’t stand, although I am a veteran of sorts. I served the Army, if not IN the Army, for six years in the 1960s, but only for six months plus two weeks every summer on active duty. Being a weekend warrior (oh yes, we spent one weekend a month on “active duty” too), I have never felt that I am a bona fide, genuine, real, 100 percent veteran.

So I didn’t stand with the grizzled old vets (most appeared to be of the Korean Conflict era) when the preacher invited them to rise. My father would have stood right up, though. He was a proud veteran of service during World War I, the end of which – eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 – is the reason Veterans Day is observed on Nov. 11.

My father was a sergeant and waiting on the East Coast to be shipped to France and trench warfare when the armistice was announced. Instead he and a few buddies did New York City, the only time he was ever there, and then came home, proud veterans. He was a charter member of the American Legion when it was organized in the 1920s and remained a loyal member for the rest of his life, which ended in 1971.

His Army service, in the telling, was a high point of his life. It was not such a high point of my life, but certainly memorable. As a member of the Minnesota National Guard (and later Army Reserve), I only had to serve six months on REAL active duty, but it’s the worst six months as a trainee.

Going from enlistee to soldier was accomplished in those days (as it no doubt is today in somewhat different form) in eight weeks of basic training, or, as some call it, “boot camp.”

Thinking all of this over in the intervening years, I have come to the conclusion that I was not cut out to be a soldier. Maybe it was because I was three or four years older than the majority of the men in my basic training unit. I had graduated from college and many of the other guys were fresh out of high school.

I think the older you are the more you question and analyze the techniques the Army used to mold civilians into soldiers. At that time, the main technique was fear, administered by Army-sanctioned bullies called “drill sergeants” who, in addition to their apparent 24/7 meanness and anger, were the finest cursers I have ever known, with the oaths directed indiscriminately at individuals and groups. Many intimate body parts were mentioned, in addition to some of their purposes, including procreation.

It was not a good sign – at least I didn’t think it was after being trucked into a quadrant of buildings (barracks left over from World War II) -- that three of the sergeants administering our eight-week punishment were named Savage, Poison and Drear. I am not making that up, although I have altered the spelling a bit for effect. Poison spelled it Poisson, and Drear’s name was spelled Dreher.

Theirs was not an easy job, having to act angry all the time, leading troops on long marches through muddy Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., overseeing maintenance of barracks that involved constant mopping, wiping and polishing (including toilets) on the parts of their charges, getting up at 4:30 every morning in time to shake the bunks of sleepy soldiers-to-be.

In retrospect, I almost feel sorry for the sergeants, but that didn’t occur to me at the time. I felt sorry for me. Oh well, it was an experience.

One of the most interesting experiences was watching the sergeants’ favorite recruit, a Private Stahr, get out of almost all of the training due to alleged football injuries and other ailments. Stahr was a bulldog looking guy with a thick gorilla-style neck, who, it was rumored around the barracks, had been a professional football player -- nobody knew what team. Bart Starr was a Green Bay Packers standout in that era and the similarity in names rubbed off on our Stahr, for no sensible reason, but it did.

He did look like he could clean the clock of anyone who challenged him, and I think the sergeants were in awe of him, even a little afraid to get tough with him. The result was that Stahr spent most of his time in the barracks, reading and relaxing, while the rest of us tromped off – often at double time -- on what seemed like death marches. It was explained that Stahr’s old football injuries had cropped up, but, as the sergeants often put it, if Stahr could participate in the training he’d show you wimps what a real man was like.

I wonder if Stahr would have stood up last Sunday in church to be honored as a veteran. He was a six-monther like me who, it was rumored, would be drafted by the National Football League as soon as he got out of the National Guard, not sure which team, or if the injuries that prevented him from the tough stuff of boot camp would have healed in time for the next gridiron season.

But, as stated, I did not stand up to be honored. I looked around at the old vets who did stand up with great respect. Some had undoubtedly been shot at in Korea, and laid their lives on the line. Some might have spent their military time behind a typewriter. Armies need both.

So happy Veterans Day, or, as my father always put it, “Armistice Day.” Good thing they changed the name. There have been at least six wars involving America since 1918, including the two going on right now.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Minnesota Elections: A Housecleaning in More Ways Than One...

By Jim Heffernan

Minnesota State Capitol–St. Paul Minnesota
A few thoughts on the election in Minnesota…

The legislature has changed hands, with Republicans gaining majorities in both the state House and Senate for the first time since, let’s see, maybe since Eve said to Adam, “Hey, Adam honey, come over here and try this apple.” Something like that.

But we all vote (well, we don’t all vote, but a lot of us do) and hope our candidates will win (not all of them do, but some of them do) and do what we want them to do when the Legislature convenes in January. Election over; let’s get on with our lives and let the politicians get on with theirs.

But it’s never over for winners of seats in the Minnesota Legislature. Republicans, who have now gained control of both houses, and Democrats, who have had power for so long, resent one another, not to say dislike one another. Why not say it – sometimes they truly dislike one another.

I have spent time at the Minnesota capitol during a legislative session, and here is what I experienced: Democrats take you aside and complain about Republicans and Republicans take you aside and complain about Democrats. Talk about policy issues that might, just might, benefit the state and its people is secondary.

What follows is one reason why they so resent one another -- that almost never gets reported.

When a party has a majority in either house, or, as often happens, in both houses, that party’s leaders and members have their pick of offices in the capitol. Members of the party in power choose offices closest to the chambers of the House and Senate, and also the largest offices with the best views of the capitol grounds, the towers of St. Paul in the background.

Lawmakers in the majority get to choose these nice offices, personalizing them with photographs (family scenes, poses with high officials like a president) and art on the walls, knick-knacks on their desks and favorite books. Comfortable chairs are positioned for cozy conferences with constituents or school kids who are brought there for lessons in Democracy. There was a time – I don’t know if it’s still the case – that some offices had liquor cabinets where lawmakers of the same political persuasion would gather, say, at the end of the day (or after breakfast, for that matter) for a nip of scotch, a sip of vodka, or even a humble beer.

These nice offices, close to the House or Senate chambers, become a home away from home for the lawmakers, a comfort zone, a place to reflect on how accomplished and important they are, how far they’ve come in life, and where they can have thoughts like, if only gramps and gramma could see me now. Oh, and sometimes they conduct the state’s business, which most see as their party’s business.

A person can get attached to such surroundings, even enjoying a feeling of ownership, although everybody knows the offices are owned by the state, or, as they say, “we the people.”

So, when we the people speak and say we want the OTHER political party to run things, guess what? Members of the victorious political party tell the movers to vacate the nice offices of the newly minted minority – the desks, the pictures, the knick-knacks, the opposing lawmakers themselves, who are so comfortably ensconced – and gather their stuff from a much less desirable office in the basement, or even a nearby building and move into the rooms with a view.

The lawmakers who survived the election but whose party is no longer in power get to move into the dingy basement offices formerly occupied by some of the people who will be moving into their nice offices.

That’s the way it works.

So if you ever talk quietly with a lawmaker and he or she rails against lawmakers of the other party, you’ll know one reason why they resent each other so much. It’s not fun to be kicked out of your home away from home.

And it’s coming to Minnesota in January.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Duluth MN, October 1976: Elvis sang...and they just loved him

by Jim Heffernan
The following review originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on October 17, 1976

(Note: Thirty-four years ago this month, Elvis made his first appearance in Duluth. He entertained Duluthians one more time the following April, just prior to his death in August of 1977. The following review was my first of two reviews of Elvis in concert in Duluth for the Duluth News Tribune. This concert–reviewed below–took place in the Duluth Arena on October 16, 1976. I reprinted my second review of his April 29, 1977 Duluth appearance in honor of the anniversary of his death on this blog last year– Click HERE . Those of you who are true Elvis fans may also want to check out a  memory piece I included in my book, Cooler Near the Lake, about Elvis in Duluth titled "Elvis Didn't Look Like a God During Duluth Visit." That writing first appeared in my Duluth News Tribune column on Sunday, January 30, 1994. Elvis lives...)

Elvis Presley delivered. He kept a full Duluth Arena waiting for more than an hour Saturday night while his "people" performed, but when he came on, he delivered. And the crowd went wild. Women screamed, flashbulbs - thousands of them - popped, fans tried to climb the stage and were repelled by police, and Elvis sang.

The more he sang, the more they loved him. They loved him most when he began passing perspiration-soaked silk scarves from around his neck to the few adoring fans who made it to the edge of the stage.
He performed for exactly one hour, then he was gone, a good $100,000 richer - before expenses and taxes.

At 41, Presley is amazingly well preserved. He's a little huskier now, but still trim. His white suit trimmed in gold brocaide makes him look like something not of this earth, and in some ways, he isn't. One of the few entertainers who has managed to stay popular long enough to take advantage of his own nostalgia, Elvis drew a mixed crowd of young, older and even oldish. Mainly, though, the crowd consisted of people now in their 30s who were his fans when Heartbreak Hotel forever changed the course of popular music.

He didn't sing Heartbreak Hotel Saturday night, but he managed to get in just about every other hit that's made him a millionaire several times over. But Elvis Presley is more than just Elvis Presley. He's a dozen-piece orchestra, 10 backup singers, and who knows how many people backstage, pilot fish for this unique person who somehow has managed to capture the dreams of so many people.

Soft-spoken when he addressed the audience, he mainly just introduced his music and his people and sang Love Me (Treat Me Like a Fool), Jailhouse Rock, All Shook Up, Teddy Bear, Don't Be Cruel, Hound Dog, even Blue Christmas, probably put in the act after he saw snowflakes from the window of one of the three floors of hotel rooms he's rented at the Radisson.

The show began promptly at 8.30 but not with Elvis. First his band played. Then his gospel quartet sang. Then his comedian entertained (with some pretty funny material). Then his female trio, not unlike the Supremes, sang. That took an hour, and then came intermission. After a good 15 minutes of opportunity for fans to buy Elvis memorabilia, the lights went down again and to the stirring strains of Richard Strauss' "Also Sparch Zarathustra," sometimes known as the "Space Odyssey Song," Elvis materialized in a blaze of light.

His voice is very much intact. A little raspy at first, it mellowed as he went on, soaking his vocal chords every few minutes with drinks of water provided by an on stage valet who also provided the scarves he threw into the audience. The drama of his act - his gyrations and rubbery leg movements that are his trademark - set the audience to screaming whenever he moved.

And after an hour during which he killed at least 10 minutes introducing each member of his troupe and giving them chance to solo, he led into his final number. I Just Can't Help Loving You are the lead words, if not the title, he said "If you want us back, just ask for us." The crowd again went wild with screaming, applauding and stomping and Elvis passed out a few more scarves, bowed to all four sides of his audience (the seats behind the stage were filled too), and left.

That was it. As the audience filed from its seats, a voice on the public address system said "Elvis has left the Arena." That's all there was, there wasn't any more.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Son of Tarzan: Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye....

By Jim Heffernan
Johnny Sheffield
as Bomba the Jungle Boy
Former jungle boy dies in fall from palm tree...
Not too many people think of Johnny Sheffield as a household name. You even wonder if he was a household name in his own household.

But he has always been a household name around my house. Johnny Sheffield had quite a career in the movies, first as Tarzan’s son, whose name was simply “Boy,” and later as “Bomba the Jungle Boy.”

Sheffield died Oct. 15 in California at the age of 79. Seventy-nine. Think of it. Boy at 79. Here’s some of the back story, a mix of information in his obituary in the Los Angeles Times and my own memory.

When the powers that were at MGM in the late 1930s thought they needed to beef up the Tarzan franchise (as if movies with Johnny Weissmuller as the star needed beefing up), they decided to present Tarzan and wife Jane with a son. Young Sheffield got the part.

The boy was not the issue of Tarzan and Jane, though. He was found in the jungle after surviving a plane crash that killed his parents. Luckier than Tarzan, who was raised by apes after being washed ashore in Africa following a shipwreck that claimed the lives of his parents, Boy was rescued by humans who lived in a really neat tree house in the back-lot jungle at MGM.

By naming him Boy it started a Hollywood trend that led eventually to Audrey Hepburn naming her cat “Cat” in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Unfortunately, by the end of the 1940s, Weissmuller got fat and Boy grew up. Jane, played originally by Maureen O’Sullivan, had moved on to her biggest role: The real-life mother of Mia Farrow.

Oh, but I’m going way deeper into this than I intended to.

I just wanted to recall the last time I saw Johnny Sheffield in a movie. It was September 1970 in the maternity ward at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth. I had been kicked out of the labor room where my wife was laboring, and told to go to a smoking lounge to wait while she was wheeled into the delivery room. (Smoking lounge – how about that. And no hubbies in the delivery room in those days.)

I did what I was told, and lo and behold, a TV in the smoking lounge was tuned to an old movie, “Bomba the Jungle Boy” with Johnny Sheffield in the title role. So I settled in to watch Bomba swing through the jungle Tarzan-like combating greedy bad guys who – here’s a surprise – were after illicit gold. Imagine that.

Then, right in the middle of an exciting part (pygmies with poison darts had appeared on the scene), a nurse came and told me my wife had given birth to a healthy girl, our first child. Joy all around, of course, as I was escorted into still another room to meet the new baby. That child turned 40 last month.

But for 40 years I’ve wondered how that Bomba movie came out. And now Johnny Sheffield is dead, and I’m not feeling that great myself. (I’m fine; I just stole that line from somebody who said it about Elvis when he died.)

Post mortem: The L.A. Times reported that Sheffield died after falling out of a palm tree. You always hope that when you go it will be without irony. Doesn’t always work out that way though.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wellstone left Big Shoes to Fill...

Today -- Oct. 25 -- is the eighth anniversary of the day Sen. Paul Wellstone, members of his family and aides were killed when their plane crashed on the Iron Range. Later that day, Wellstone was scheduled to meet with the Duluth News Tribune editorial board, of which I was a member. When we were informed of the tragedy, I sat down and wrote this column (below), which appeared in the next morning's News Tribune. -- Jim

Wellstone Leaves Big Shoes to Fill
by Jim Heffernan
(Originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Saturday, October 26, 2002 and reprinted in my book, Cooler Near the Lake, published in 2008.)

Paul Wellstone gone? Someone so full of life, of exuberance, of zest, of desire to do good by his fellow man–gone in an instant on a drizzly day right here in the Northland? Can't be, you think. But it's all too true.

I knew Wellstone the way a home-state journalist is likely to know a U.S. Senator. Since he was elected to the Senate, we saw him a couple of times a year. He'd come through for a visit with the editorial board, updating us on what was going on in Washington.

Always upbeat, often passionate about what he believed in, the interviews–chats, really–with Wellstone were something we looked forward to. Politics aside, I liked him personally. I admired his resolve to stand up for what he believed in.

I first met Wellstone in 1982 when he ran for Minnesota state auditor–and lost. Aching to be a major player in the liberal political traditions of his adopted state, the then political science professor at Carleton College in Northfield ran for a state constitutional office, probably seeing it as a stepping stone for bigger and better things to come.

I don't think he'd have made much of a state auditor, although he'd have worked at it. The job would have bored him. Wellstone had bigger things churning in that brain–a passion for helping people who need help and a conviction that government should do what it can to make people's lives better. In short, he was a liberal.

The word liberal has become a pejorative in some (conservative) circles. Those who disliked what Wellstone stood for know he was, perhaps, the most liberal member of the Senate. Wellstone wore that label proudly, unashamedly.

On the occasion of another of our editorial board meetings, after he'd been elected to the Senate, the subject of health care came up. Wellstone felt strongly that America's health care system was broken, and of course he was right. It still isn't fixed. In our conversation–four of us around a table–he became so impassioned about the subject that he began to tear up.

The rest of us, all male, became uncomfortable at his emotional display, but I never forgot it. And, reflecting on it, I could see that was what was best about Wellstone. He really felt what he believed in. He truly was a “bleeding-heart liberal” in the finest sense of that often cynical description. The world needs bleeding-heart liberals, and Wellstone filled that bill almost better than anyone else in a position to help shape American policy.

Finally, on another visit with us, I went to the newspaper's lobby to greet him and guide him to our meeting room, and as we walked up the stairs I noticed that his shoes–loafers–were shot. I mean shot. Hobos heating bean cans over fires in railroad yards had better shoes. Long cracks across the top, exposing his socks beneath, shabby soles.

I kidded him about it, saying something like, “A United States senator can't afford decent shoes?”

Wellstone wasn't a bit abashed. He muttered something about not having time to worry about shoes–too much to do and too little time to do it in. I later wrote a column about the senator's shabby shoes, but I never heard from him about it. Still too busy.

We had another editorial board meeting scheduled with Wellstone, this one Friday afternoon, to talk about the newspaper's endorsement in the Senate race this year. An airplane crash intervened. He was dead, along with his wife and daughter and others on the plane.

As the gray day wore on Friday, and details kept pouring in, for some reason my mind kept going back to those tattered shoes. Who will fill them?

No one quite like Paul Wellstone, whose unlikely life journey took him to the place where his death could affect the balance of the U.S. Senate at a time when the nation appears to be poised for a war he opposed, and when so many other issues remain unresolved that need a committed liberal voice.

Life goes on, but for the time being we'd better put it on hold for a truly good man who was more concerned about providing shoes for those who couldn't afford them than what he wore himself.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The History of Pizza in Duluth as I know it...

By Jim Heffernan
My life in pizza actually began in Chicago, when I was 12 years old.....Some of those restaurants featured “pizza,” a word I had never seen before, and I had to ask what it was. An Italian pie, my Chicago relatives said, but they didn’t eat it. They were Scandinavian, and in those days – the very early 1950s – things Italian and things Scandinavian didn’t mix that well, in food and in church.
Sammy's Pizza
It might come as a surprise to today’s generations that there are still people alive – me, for instance – who remember when there was almost no pizza available in Duluth.

Pizza didn’t become widely available in Duluth until about the mid-50s, or maybe just before that. I am aware of only one Duluth restaurant that served pizza among many other Italian dishes on its menu before that time. That restaurant was the Gopher Grill when it was located downtown on the second floor of a long-gone building on the north side of Superior Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues West, with a stairway entrance on Superior Street.

I only found out about the Gopher Grill’s pizza after other pizza outlets had opened, especially Sammy’s on First Street at First Avenue West.

Why all this now? Because I realized recently that never a week goes by that I don’t eat pizza in some form – fresh, frozen, reheated, bake your self. Sometimes pizza enters my life more than once a week. I almost always welcome it, but, of course, not all pizza is created equal.

These pizza thoughts prompted me to recall the first time I tasted pizza, and then the pizza memories began to flow.

My life in pizza actually began in Chicago, when I was 12 years old. We were visiting relatives and they lived in a neighborhood – Halsted Street not too far from the Loop – where several restaurants and bars were located. Some of those restaurants featured “pizza,” a word I had never seen before, and I had to ask what it was. An Italian pie, my Chicago relatives said, but they didn’t eat it. They were Scandinavian, and in those days – the very early 1950s – things Italian and things Scandinavian didn’t mix that well, in food and in church.

Then, toward the mid-1950s, a place called the “Pizzaria” opened on First Street in downtown Duluth, probably around First or Second avenues East, which is where I first tasted pizza. I was wary of it, sampled it, and didn’t like it one bit. Too spicy. I’m half Scandinavian and the rest northern European, and the cuisine served in my home was fairly bland, although my Swedish mother served a tasty spaghetti we all enjoyed.

By then I was in high school, prowling around Duluth with my friends in our family Ford, a lifestyle that opened many new horizons, including eating different foods I was not used to such as Coney Islands.

In 1955, when I turned 16, I went to work at the Duluth Herald & News Tribune as a Saturday night laborer in the mailing room. It was the worst job I have ever had, toiling to put together the various sections of the Sunday newspaper as they ran off the press, and pushing them out the alley door onto the trucks that transported the news throughout the region, from Ironwood, Mich., to International Falls, Minn., with Duluth-Superior in between. I hated it.

But one night, at our 9:30 p.m. “lunch” break (our shift ran from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. if the press didn’t break down0, one of the workers showed up carrying a paper-wrapped pizza pie he’d picked up at newly opened Sammy’s Pizza. He sat on a stack of newspapers holding the cardboard disc the carry-out pizza came on and offered me a piece. I knew I wouldn’t like it because of my experience at the Pizzaria (which the arrival of Sammy’s from Hibbing apparently put out of business), but instead it was a revelation. The pepperoni, the cheese, the tomato sauce -- I was hooked after one square piece. Sammy’s has always insisted on cutting its pies in squares instead of the wedges most pizza restaurants feature.

The rest is history. Sammy’s reigned supreme in Duluth for several years, opening outlets in West Duluth and Superior and other places, but as the ‘50s became the ‘60s other pizza outlets began to compete – Shakey’s, Pizza Hut, several other local pizza “palaces” (for some unknown reason pizza restaurants were often referred to as palaces, which none of them were) like Frank’s and Dave’s. At the same time, home-baked package pizza meals like Chef Boyardee became available and frozen pizza, followed more recently by “bake it yourself”, flooded the supermarkets and strip malls.

Pizza is everywhere, here and throughout America and Canada and Europe, where it all began but in vastly different form. Once, visiting Paris, France, I ordered pizza in a Champs Elysses restaurant and it came with a poached egg in the middle. Very good, though. I like poached eggs too.

The worst pizza I ever ate was not in a restaurant, but at the family cabin many, many years ago when a friend and I, craving pizza, brought a Chef Boyaree ingredient box along only to realize the cabin didn’t have a pizza pan to bake it on. Employing ingenuity only Americans can muster, we scrubbed the garbage can cover clean in the lake and made our pizza in that. I’ll say this for it: It was round.

There’s undoubtedly much more to the history of pizza in Duluth, and I’ve probably left out some prominent pizza palaces, but this is how I recall it. Maybe you have different memories. Go ahead and put them on the blog or Facebook.

Hmmm. Getting kind of hungry for lunch. Maybe there’s some left over pizza in the fridge from or visit to Sammy’s West Duluth the other night.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Election autumn in Minnesota, winter in Norway and Lapland...

By Jim Heffernan

I want to thank the Minnesota Republican Party (well, maybe not the whole party but its leader) for introducing Vidkun Quisling to the political conversation this election season.

There had been concerns in some quarters – mine, for instance -- that the name of Mr. Quisling, who was Nazi Germany’s supreme leader of Norway during World War II, had disappeared from the lexicon. Even the Associated Press called the reference to Quisling (or quisling, as it has become) “arcane.”

Oh but we need background here. Much background. As the 2010 election campaign has “progressed” (not to be confused with “progressive”) in Minnesota (and the rest of the country, for that matter) things have been getting meaner and meaner, nastier and nastier.

This week, the news that many prominent Gopher State Republicans are supporting Independence Party candidate Tom Horner (no relation to Little Jack Horner, who sat in a corner, etc.) rather than the Republican-endorsed hopeful, Tom Emmer (not to be confused with Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son, who stole a pig, etc.) prompted Tony “The Tiger” Sutton, the state GOP chief, to call Republicans who support Horner “quislings.”

As noted above, there are two ways to refer to the nasty Nazi Norwegian who led Norway during World War II for Germany (Springtime for Hitler and Germany, winter for Norway and Lapland): You can either write Quisling or quisling. It’s easier in conversation, where you don’t have to differentiate between capital letters (or capital punishment, for that matter, read on.)

Vini vidi vici Vidkun was such a bad guy that immediately after the war he was taken out and shot, and, what is worse, the case was forever lowered on his last name. Now he resides in every dictionary as quisling, a synonym for traitor.

Years ago, when I was a newspaper columnist in Duluth, emphasizing humorous articles about traitors and rats, I wrote about Quisling (the traitor) quite often in connection with research on the Norwegian rat. But since then, Quisling – even quisling – seems to have disappeared.

Now, thanks to the Minnesota GOP’s Sutton, he is back in the news, albeit in the lower case. Sutton claims he didn’t mean to associate the Horner turncoats (my usage) with those nasty Nazis, but rather only to brand them as traitors, “like saying someone’s a Benedict Arnold.”

All good Norwegians (and they’re all good, ask one) should always remember Vidkun Quisling just as all right-thinking Americans (not all are right-thinking, some are left-thinking) should remember Benedict Arnold, whose heinous deeds during the Revolutionary War are too, well, too heinous to detail here. Besides, I can’t remember exactly what he did. Off hand.

Sutten’s entire quisling-loaded quote was, “There’s a special place in hell for these quislings.”

So Republicans who support little Tom Horner are not only like Norwegian traitors, but have a special place in hell reserved for them. Seems like Republicans always have special places reserved for them.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Minnesota governor race draws gaze of New York Times columnist

By Jim Heffernan

Minnesota’s race for governor made the New York Times on Monday when columnist Peter Applebome cited Republican candidate Tom Emmer in a piece about candidates with what Applebome considers extreme views.

The column focused on the case of a Republican candidate for Congress in New York State whose right-wing writings and associations are so controversial that his own Republican Party is going to court to have him removed from the ballot. Eugenics and Nazis were mentioned.

Applebome also cited other GOP candidates whose views have been labeled extreme – Senate candidates Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sharron Angle of Nevada and New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino -- before writing:

“And then there’s Minnesota State Rep. Tom Emmer, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor of Minnesota, whose view of the ability of states to nullify federal laws approximates what Jefferson Davis argued in 1861.” (Read entire column HERE.)

Davis, for those who have forgotten their 7th grade history, was president of the Confederacy, which seceded from the Union, bringing about the Civil War. Minnesota fought for the North. Somebody should tell Emmer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

W. P. and R. S. Mars Company: MN Nice hits NY City...

A NY City boy's love of Twix bars finds compassion in MN

Duluth – well, a long-standing Duluth company – got some favorable mention in the New York Times on Monday.

Each Monday, the Times publishes a feature called “Metropolitan Diary” in which New Yorkers describe personal experiences reflecting city life. The item relating to Duluth doesn’t mention Duluth but cites the W.P. & R.S. Mars Co. (link HERE), the venerable industrial supply firm with headquarters here.

It’s a real “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” type of story involving Twix bars, a little boy in NY City and a hand-written letter from a warm-hearted W. P. & R. S. Mars employee. But let’s allow the NY Times Metropolitan Diary tell the tale. Click HERE to read the story.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Looking back: When opera was a "gas" in Duluth...

Great spotting by Paul Lundgren and Susie LeGarde Menz in Perfect Duluth Day Blog (link HERE) of a 1965 ad for the opera performance of (I think) La Traviata, held in the Duluth Denfeld Auditorium. This artistic rendering (below)–including the architectural beauty of the Denfeld auditorium–was featured in a Time Magazine advertisement for Northern Natural Gas Co., now Enbridge. They featured the (then) Duluth Symphony Orchestra performances in their advertising campaign. This ad made quite a hit in Duluth when it came out, with national focus on our local community arts. I discovered that you can purchase this lovely art poster for $9.95 through E-Bay natural gas collectables (HERE).
Northern Natural Gas Company ad in Time Magazine circa 1965
The text in small print in the ad reads as follows: "There is music in Duluth. Good music. There is the majestic, the tragic and the comic music of grand opera … sung by the world’s greatest artists … supported by Duluth’s own wealth of talent. There is the symphony. The full and glorious sounds of Beethoven … the powerful and challenging sounds of Wagner … the beautiful sounds of all the world’s good music … performed by the Duluth Symphony Orchestra which continues to build its fame as it starts its thirty-third season. Duluth offers you music. It offers all that a great city should. As one of America’s busiest ports, it’s a thriving market with productive labor and outstanding transportation facilities. And it has abundant natural gas, piped in by the Northern Natural Gas Company and distributed by the City of Duluth Gas Department. For information about plant location opportunities, write to Area Development Department, Northern Natural Gas Company, Omaha, Nebraska."

This scene depicts one of many grand operas presented at Denfeld by the Duluth (before it became Duluth-Superior) Symphony association and before the DECC Auditorium opened in 1966, after which the operas were presented there until around the mid-70s, then discontinued. The operas featured the Duluth orchestra, local soloists in minor roles, and leads sung by prominent opera singers of the day, mostly from New York. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Laurie Hertzel–News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist

By Jim Heffernan
"Working in journalism can be frustrating (newspaper owners are notorious skinflints) and at times a drudge (yes, there’s routine), but it also is interesting, even compelling, much of the time."    Jim Heffernan    
DNT newsroom nostalgia...
That's Sue Willoughby in front with–from L to R–Laurie, Dick Pomeroy,
 George D. Johnson (former Duluth mayor), Jack Tyllia (the guy with the long sideburns
in the back) and Paul Brissett to the right behind Sue.
Sorry my eyes are too old to identify the others.
I’ve enjoyed reading excerpts from Laurie Hertzel’s book recounting her early experiences as a reporter and editor at the Duluth News Tribune.

The newspaper is doing her – and itself – a great favor by publishing the excerpts as Laurie’s book, “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist,” is introduced this week. Her official book launch gathering is at 7 p.m. Thursday at Fitger’s Spirit of the North Theater.

Now the books editor of the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Laurie, who grew up in Duluth, spent nearly 20 years at the Duluth paper, starting with clerical work while still a teenager and evolving into one of the paper’s leading reporters (and editors, after a stint on the copy desk), by the time she left for the Twin Cities about 15 years ago.

I’m pleased to report that I had a small hand in helping her put the book together. We sat for an afternoon in a Duluth restaurant about a year ago and talked about the “old” days at the newspaper, starting in the first half of the 1970s when she showed up there fresh out of high school.

It was fun to reminisce about that period, recalling the names of past colleagues – most long gone on to other jobs, some dead – and events, the coverage of which we might have participated in or at least were witness to. (As most of you know, I began my Duluth News Tribune career in 1963, retiring in 2005 while continuing writing columns as a freelancer until 2008.)

Reading the published excerpts (I haven’t read the entire book yet; I’ll buy one at the launch and have her sign it), I am reminded what an excellent writer Laurie is. Beyond that, she is an impressive memoirist, calling up events and people from more than 30 years ago with fidelity to the way I remember them as well.

Working in journalism can be frustrating (newspaper owners are notorious skinflints) and at times a drudge (yes, there’s routine), but it also is interesting, even compelling, much of the time. Overall, I loved my newspaper career, and it’s clear now that so does Laurie. With this book, she’s on the record.

Note: Connect HERE to access Laurie's book web site and HERE, HERE and HERE for the DNT coverage, including excerpts from her book. See you on Thursday night for the big Duluth launch!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Next week at Rotary...

If any of you are Rotarians, I hope you'll stop by and see me next week. I will be the program speaker on Thursday, September 9 at noon at the Rotary Duluth meeting at the Radisson. Hope to see you there!

Here's the program description...
Jim Heffernan, veteran former Duluth newspaper editor, writer and columnist, will recount some of his experiences at the Duluth News Tribune and discuss the past, present and future of newspapers in general. He’ll also read a few highlights from his book of columns, “Cooler Near the Lake.”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Right Wing can't prove Obama doesn't love America...

Here's my "letter to the editor appearing in today's (August 30) Duluth News Tribune. Guess it says it all....

"Reader's View:  Right Wing can't prove  Obama doesn't love America.

Letter writers from the right wing are never more amusing than when they accuse President Obama of not loving America.

Take the Aug. 15 letter, “Mothers believe in Palin’s message,” which extolled the virtues of Sarah Palin, the failed Republican vice presidential candidate, resigned governor of Alaska and Fox News commentator.

“Most of all, she (Palin) loves our country, something woefully lacking in the present president,” the letter writer stated. Those making such charges (and also those challenging his very citizenship) should be more specific about just what Obama does to demonstrate that he does not love our country. Like, name one thing.

I can name several things he has done to demonstrate his great love for our country. To be specific, he loves our country so much he wants every American to have health coverage assured; he pushed for legislation that very likely averted a deeper recession or even a depression; he spearheaded credit card consumer protection. The list is long.

People might, and will, differ over the president’s policies or choices for Supreme Court justices, but to propagate the myth that he somehow hates (the opposite of love in this case) America is ridiculous and betrays woeful lack of understanding in those who make such a charge without offering one shred of evidence backing it up.

While I might not agree with Palin’s politics, I don’t doubt for a moment she, too, loves America, especially its currency."

Jim Heffernan