Friday, November 21, 2014


By Jim Heffernan

My wife and I recently attended a Grandparents Day program in a Twin Cities suburb at the elementary school of our 10-year-old granddaughter.

The fourth-grade children put on a program – including a flag ceremony and a solemn, hand-over-the-heart, recital of the Pledge of Allegiance -- in the school gymnasium before moving, grandparents in tow, to classrooms to meet teachers and look over school projects prepared for the occasion.

As we joined our granddaughter following the program, she brought with her a classmate and asked if we would serve as the classmate’s grandparents for the day because the other girl’s grandparents couldn’t attend. Of course we were happy to be surrogate grandparents for the bright, cheerful, pretty little girl.

As the session in the classroom played out, the two girls showed us some of their school projects at their table, after which they had been told to escort grandparents around the room, viewing their small library, a computer in the corner and art projects festooning a wall.

Since my wife and I were there for both our own granddaughter and her friend, I joined the friend for the tour of the room and my wife went with our real granddaughter.

Chatting with the girl a bit as she showed me around, she told me her real grandparents couldn’t attend because they live in Mexico City. Responding, I asked the child about her own family and she proudly stated that her mother had “walked across the desert” to get to America. I didn’t pursue it, nor could I forget it.

I couldn’t help but think about that little girl when President Obama addressed the nation outlining his planned immigration overhaul. And I think of her, too, when I hear Republicans in Congress rail against Obama and his plans for protecting some 4 million undocumented people whose children are United States citizens because they were born in this country.

It made me wonder if my surrogate granddaughter for a day is a United States citizen because she was born here, and if her mother is not. It made personal for me just what the president has done to protect certain families from being broken apart.

What does a 10-year-old child know of political forces swirling around the president over whether he was overstepping his bounds in protecting some immigrants? But a child would clearly understand if her mother was arrested and deported. She’d likely have to leave this country too. As a result of Obama’s action, I feel confident that if this girl showing me around her classroom needs that kind of protection, she’ll now have it.

In her school program, she’ll have pledged allegiance to the flag of a country I am more proud of because of what the president did. Or, as Obama put it in his speech, deporting millions is “not who we are.”

Let’s hope not.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday...

In honor of a milestone birthday I recently celebrated, I thought I'd share a couple of my old Duluth News Tribune photos. Time sure does fly...   
DNT ad-circa 1980's
DNT photo-1979
DNT photo-1969

Friday, September 26, 2014

Secret Service has some 'Splaining to do...

By Jim Heffernan
The White House, Washington D. C.
The recent news that a man jumped the fence at the White House and scampered all the way to the main door of the executive mansion has become a major embarrassment to the Secret Service. As well it might.

It turns out that the suspect had had two recent encounters with law enforcement authorities, one in which it was discovered in a traffic stop that he had several guns in his vehicle along with a map of the White House, and another, just a few days before he jumped the fence, when he was questioned near the White House because he was on foot carrying a hatchet. In both cases he was not detained.

My, my. Who’d think you could get anywhere near the White House carrying a hatchet without some kind of repercussion. Certainly not I after an experience I had near the White House almost 30 years ago.

Our family had taken a vacation trip to Washington in about 1986 to see the sights. Our son and daughter were in their erly teens. Unfortunately, our young son was ill with a severe eye infection, which put a damper on our sightseeing.

But one night, after dark, when we were back in the hotel, our son needing rest, I wanted to see Washington by night. So I took my daughter for a ride around downtown Washington while my wife stayed back in the hotel looking after our son.

The night-time drive was a very worthwhile thing to do – floodlights galore on all of the monuments, the Capitol dome – but, of course, I wasn’t used to driving in that city. As we circled the White House on the roadway nearest the south lawn, I reached what I thought was an intersection that would lead to the street where our hotel was located.

Instead, it was a small intersection that led to the White House grounds, blocked off with concrete barriers, and guarded by uniformed police officers.

Too late to alter course, I turned into it, and came to an immediate abrupt stop, realizing I had made a mistake. The two guards quickly and ominously approached the car, hands on holstered side arms, and threateningly ordered me to back away. Which, of course, I did.

I would guess that well-guarded roadway to be about a block from the White House itself, apparently guarded 24-7 way back in 1986. So now in 2014 you can hang around there carrying a hatchet and then later jump the fence and make it through the North Portico doors?

As Desi Arnaz would put it, the Secret Service has got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

Just in case you missed the story... read THIS updated story.

Monday, September 15, 2014


By Jim Heffernan

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the premiere of the movie “Gone With the Wind.” It also marks the 75th anniversary of my birth, which isn’t getting nearly as much hoopla as the movie’s anniversary.

Truth be told (and this is a fact you could check) the filming of Gone With the Wind almost coincides with my own gestation period. The filming began in December 1938 with the shooting of the scenes involving the burning of Atlanta (they were actually burning the old King Kong movie set) and proceeded through most of 1939. It had its premiere in Atlanta in December of that year, some two months after I was born.

As part of the great celebration of this Diamond Anniversary (never mind that the 60th anniversary of anything is also called diamond), the movie is being reissued on the big screen Sept. 28. It will be shown in the Twin Cities and I will be there.

I first saw GWTW (let’s call it that from now on) at Duluth’s Granada Theater when I was in junior high. It had been reissued, probably for the 15th anniversary of its premiere.

In today’s parlance, I was blown away by it. I don’t know where you’d end up being blown away by a wind that’s gone, but let’s just say it made a big impression on me. Greatest movie I’d ever seen, and even at that tender age I’d seen many. I joke that I spent half my childhood watching double features at the old Lyceum Theater.

Nothing I’d ever seen, though, compared to GWTW. In the intervening years I went to it every time it was reissued. It came back to theaters for years before it was ever shown on television. Then I watched it on television a few times. I would hazard a guess I have seen GWTW about 12 times. Since the movie is four hours long (three hours, 45 minutes plus a 15-minute intermission), I suppose I’ve spent 48 hours of my 75 years watching that movie.

And now I look forward to spending four more hours – again in a theater on the big screen in blazing Technicolor with the sweeping sound of composer Max Steiner’s awe-inspiring score and the stellar performances of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and the rest. I can hardly wait.

This could be the last time for me on the big screen, though. If they put it into theaters at its century anniversary, I’ll be long gone… you could say gone with the wind. By then, frankly, my dear, I won’t give a damn.

Still, if there is a heaven… Oh, I won’t think about that now. I’ll think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow IS another day. (Cue music.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

My West End Story conclusion...

Ruth Carlson Heffernan, circa 1920's
Last month I wrote a part one segment of what I called a "West End Story" in my monthly post on Zenith City Online. This month I wrote the conclusion to the story, titled, "A West End Story, Part 2: Daughters of a star-crossed couple persevere after being orphaned."

Anna & Charles Carlson with my mother
and three of her five sisters circa 1910
I received so many calls, private notes and online comments asking me to write the rest of the story that I decided to write the conclusion of this remarkable saga of young girls orphaned by the untimely deaths of both parents in in the early twentieth century. The oldest of these six daughters of Charles and Anna Carlson was my mother, Ruth Carlson Heffernan, and this story is a very personal tale of her early life.

If you'd like to read the conclusion to this story that took place in the late 19th century and early twentieth century, you can link HERE to my post in Zenith City Online. (There's a link embedded in that story to part 1, if you haven't read the first part of the story.) I think you'll find the tale of my Swedish immigrant grandparents and the struggles of my mother and her sisters reflecting the era and likely paralleling so many stories of that period of time.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Denfeld honor roll...

My closing remarks given at the Denfeld Hall of Fame event...

"I feel I should confess that I wasn't really the most attentive or industrious student to have graced the hallowed halls of Denfeld; so it feels great to have finally made a Denfeld honor roll."

And it did feel great to stand on stage in a school I love with a most distinguished group of Denfeld Hall of Fame inductees... the first woman chief of police in Minneapolis, a revered local public defender, a highly decorated air force major general in the Air National Guard, two accomplished professors, a talented and beloved teacher, three acclaimed athletes, a prominent area artist, and a skilled and loved secretary. I felt very humbled and indeed honored.

And to paraphrase Fred Friedman in his acceptance remarks... Basically we are those who seem to get the attention; but there are so many others out there who live a life unnoticed and who are as much or more deserving. Well said, Fred!

Duluth Denfeld High School

Friday, August 1, 2014

Just an ink-stained scribe from the West End ...

Nice writing by John Meyers in today's Duluth News Tribune. He coined the phrase about me as "ink-stained scribe from the West End." I rather like that. You can read the article along with a photo of yours truly HERE.

Tomorrow is my big day as I once again hit the hallowed halls of Denfeld to be inducted into the Denfeld Hall of Fame, along with a group of very esteemed inductees. The ceremony takes place in the beautiful Denfeld Auditorium and begins at 1 pm on Saturday, followed by a reception. The event is open to the public. – Jim

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Drone over Duluth...

DroneStar over Enger Tower in Duluth, courtesy of 
For all you lovers of our fantastic city, take a look at this youtube video produced by Drone Star of Duluth right HERE. The video of this low altitude aerial photography begins at the Rose Garden and spans many popular Duluth scenes most majestically. 

Check out more about this innovative Duluth-based enterprise and view their gallery on their website You're also invited to subscribe to their youtube channel to view more video. They're on Facebook and Twitter and always appreciate a "like" and a follow 


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Duluth Playhouse "Les Mis" Shouldn't be missed

“Les Mis” shouldn’t be missed...

The current Duluth Playhouse production of “Les Miserables” is an incredible show. Absolutely flawless. Everybody with a part can sing, can act, can move around smoothly, even dance, accompanied by a huge pit orchestra of symphony members and backed by an exuberant chorus.  I’ve Never seen anything like it locally and I spent nearly 10 years as the theater reviewer for the Duluth newspaper.

Honestly, you could take the whole production intact, drop it into a Broadway theater, and audiences would give standing ovations, as Duluth's audience did on opening night -- jumping to their feet at the end. Some solos sung in the middle of the show stopped the show in its tracks with the audience clapping and hooting. I’ve never seen anything like it. It might be the most thrilling night I've ever spent in a live theater.

It opened Wednesday, July 16, in Symphony Hall of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. It runs through Saturday, July 19. Go. Jim Heffernan

Click HERE for more information and ticket information.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Denfeld Hall of Fame...

Denfeld Hall of Fame to induct 12 new members...

I'm proud to be a graduate of Duluth Denfeld High School and especially proud to be inducted into the Denfeld Hall of Fame this August 2nd. I'm very privileged to be in the company of 11 distinguished alumni and a teacher also being bestowed this honor that day.

We will be inducted officially into Denfeld's Hall of Fame at a ceremony open to the public in the Denfeld High School Auditorium on Saturday August 2nd at 1pm.

The 12 inductees include me ('57) and the following outstanding Denfeld graduates and teacher: Bob Lund ('38), Major General Wayne Gatlin ('42), Howard Sivertson ('47), Professor Ted Litman ('50), Professor James Banovetz ('55), Jack Puglisi ('60), Betty Suliin ('62), Dave Hicks ('63), Fred Friedman ('65), Janee Harteau ('82), Jean Endrizi (Denfeld teacher).

Check out Howie Blog HERE for  more information about the inductees. More information to come.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Swedish immigrant roots: A Duluth West End Story

Anna & Charles Carlson with four of their six daughters.
Ruth Carlson Heffernan is on the left behind her mother.
Photo taken around 1910~Jim Heffernan photo

Saga beginning in Sweden ends tragically for one family...

Some of you readers of my blog also follow me on Zenith City Online (an online site filled with engaging highlights of Duluth and area history–including my monthly posts about growing up in Duluth's western environs).

Just in case you haven't yet discovered this most interesting web site, I'm linking my latest post on ZCO about my Swedish immigrant grandparents (on my mother's side). It's titled, "A West End Story" and represents just one segment of the intriguing saga of my mother's family while settling in this area. You'll find my post HERE and discover more about our area history on Zenith City Online.
Charles Carlson circa 1910
Jim Heffernan photo

Monday, July 7, 2014

Can't beat Duluth's fireworks...

We spent the Fourth in town this year and once again were not disappointed by the Duluth fireworks display to cap the day. For all you former Duluthians... and all you wannabes... I just have to share this gorgeous photo taken by my friend, Gary Kelleher, that evening. He captured a real Duluth scene from the lake side, highlighting the Aerial Lift Bridge lit up in red, white and blue while the sky lit up with fireworks. Spectacular!
Photo courtesy of Gary Kelleher

Monday, June 16, 2014

Duluth an outdoors winner...

Travis Chadwick photograph
"Congratulations, Duluthians. You live in the best outdoors town in the country. That’s the verdict after six rounds of online voting came to an end late Sunday night in Outside magazine’s annual 'best outdoors town' competition."                             Reprinted from the Duluth News Tribune , Sunday, June15  

Read this breaking news story in Duluth News Tribune HERE.

Duluth was in stiff competition with Provo Utah in the Outside magazine competition for the best outdoors town in the country. Congrats, Duluth...a true winner!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Old news in Aarhus...

Guess this was an irresistible pose of me caught by my wife
in front a business located in the quaint city of Aarhus, Denmark 
during our recent Baltic Sea cruise. 
Thought you'd get a kick out if it too. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Crisscrossing the Baltic Sea: How I spent my spring vacation...

Crisscrossing the Baltic Sea to northern Europe’s capitals
By Jim Heffernan

Tallinn Estonia 
If you should find yourself in downtown Tallinn, Estonia (actually “Old Town”) beckoned by nature’s call and you go to McDonald’s for relief, you will find the water closet locked and requiring a button code for a pad situated by the door to enter.

As a public service of this blog, that code is 0504…if you are a man. I don’t know what the ladies’ code is. I learned the men’s code from another tourist, he from Japan, just in the nick of time for both of us.

The incident was just one of many on our (my wife and I) late May tour of the great capitals of northern Europe by ship. Big ship. Longer than the Titanic, and taller than Duluth’s Alworth Building, if you count the stops on the elevators. If the vessel had gone to the bottom of the chilly Baltic Sea, the body of water we traversed, more than 4,000 souls would have visited Davy Jones’ Locker. Fortunately, there were ample lifeboats, I think, should the vessel founder.
The Christian Radich moored in Oslo, visited Duluth in the 1970s

It was nostalgic so see that public toilets (bathrooms, rest rooms, loos, etc.) in that part of old Europe are labeled as “water closets” or simply WC for those who do not recognize the international symbols for such facilities – outlines of men in pants, women in skirts, babies in diapers.

We don’t call them water closets in the United States anymore, except in northern Minnesota where our wilderness, the BWCA, stands for Bad Water Closet Accommodations, doesn’t it? Never mind that. We were in Europe.

On our voyage, we went all over the Baltic, crisscrossing from Copenhagen (where our journey began and ended) to Oslo, to a northern German port not far from Berlin and then by train to that storied capital, to Tallinn (remember that bathroom code, men) and on to St. Petersburg, Russia, the easternmost outpost of our journey. Then it was back westward ho to Helsinki and Stockholm, the Swedish capital of the homeland of one set of my own grandparents.
The Royal Princess docked in Oslo near the Christian Radich

People ask me which place I liked best. Each has its charms. Most of the cities are very old, some buildings standing since the 13th Century or even before. It shows in places. I bought a pair of boat shoes (I was on a boat, recall) in Berlin and got an irresistible urge to goose step whenever I put them on. Can’t imagine why.

So many of our fellow Northland residents hail from Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo, I felt right at home walking down the streets. The natives look a lot like many of our natives. Actually, multitudes of the apparent natives in that entire region – including Russians -- look like they could be plunked down in our area, and nobody would notice until they opened their mouths to speak and out would come their native tongues. I don’t speak or understand tongues other than English, and a little pig Latin in a pinch.

Toward the end of our voyage, the ship’s captain announced over the PA system from the bridge that he was sorry he couldn’t dine with the elite group of passengers who had paid to dine with him (the Captain’s Circle), but he was too busy “driving the ship.” I had thought underlings manned the ship’s wheel while the captain dined, but what do I know. I’m a landlubber, among other things.

McDonald's in Tallinn Estonia
Finally, let me note, as so many tourists do, that travel is broadening. They served three squares a day on the boat, with plenty of food available in between. I don’t know if my physique has broadened; I haven’t dared step on the scale yet. I’m just relieved to be back in America, where you can use McDonald’s bathrooms without memorizing a code.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May ice on Lake Superior...

View from airplane over Duluth Minnesota of spring ice on Lake Superior
Photo courtesy of Patrick Heffernan, 5-11-14

As our son took off on from Duluth International Airport the other afternoon, he took this photo from the airplane window of the ice on Lake Superior.

Yes, we still have ice on our big lake in mid May! The experts can't determine when the ice will totally melt as our weather has been so erratic this spring.

Maybe we should have a contest to see who can accurately guess the date the ice will finally melt. Anyone want to venture a guess?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Remembering Oberstar...

Oberstar did many big things, 
and also some small ones
 By Jim Heffernan

I knew Jim Oberstar quite well – in the way journalists often know politicians.

The genial former congressman, who died Friday at age 79, was a frequent visitor to the Duluth News Tribune, meeting with the editorial board several times a year. I was part of that board.

Oberstar represented Minnesota’s Eighth District for 36 years before being ousted from office in 2010. This weekend he is being lionized in the media for his great service to his district, the state of Minnesota and his country. Even President Obama issued a statement praising Oberstar’s service. The president is one of many who have spoken about Oberstar’s brilliance, his efforts to enhance all forms of transportation in the United States and his steadfast attention to issues in the Northland, especially regarding the economy.

Oberstar deserves all of that praise.

But here’s a different insight into Oberstar the man. When he’d visit the newspaper we’d sometimes go to lunch at a nearby restaurant to do our talking, rather than stay in the office. One such time we went to the revolving restaurant atop the Radisson hotel, just across the street from the newspaper.

As we were ushered from the elevator to our table – there were perhaps five of us including the congressman – I noticed a woman server standing with her back to a wall as we swept passed by her. She signaled Oberstar and he immediately stopped to talk to her as the rest of us went on to be seated, perhaps 30 feet away.

I could see emotion on her face as she addressed Oberstar, who was listening intently to her. When they were finished talking – were those tears in the server’s eyes? – he gave her a warm hug, and then moved on to join the rest of us.

What that was about was never totally clear. I believe he said he’d helped her or her family with a foreign adoption, and let it go with that. On with our discussion of the really important matters of the day.

But you got the sense that the concerns of one restaurant server who needed his help were as important to Oberstar as those of the lobbyists, special interests, his party associates and big-wigs he dealt with all the time as the sometimes chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

And as the revolving restaurant slowly spun around a couple more times, we undoubtedly discussed the mighty issues of the day. Who can recall? But I’ll always remember the thankful server, standing there in her work uniform, who got as much attention from Oberstar as a captain of industry might…or a newspaper editorial board.

For more about the recent death of Congressman Jim Oberstar, read the story in today's Duluth News Tribune HERE.