Saturday, November 19, 2016

Christmas City of the North parade was canceled once, but not due to adverse weather conditions...

Santa Claus waves to spectators during
a wintery Christmas City of the North Parade
on Friday. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
By Jim Heffernan

KBJR-TV, which has sponsored the Christmas City of the North parade for nearly six decades, proudly announced on Friday that it would not cancel the popular procession ushering in the holiday season due to the blizzard swirling around the downtown Duluth parade route.

As the storm intensified Friday afternoon and people began wondering if the parade would go on, the station went to facebook with the announcement: “Weather has never caused us to cancel the Christmas City of the North Parade in 58 years, even in worse conditions than today.”

The parade went on, and quite successfully under the circumstances, just as it has every year in the past…except one time. Yes, it has never been canceled due to the weather, but it was canceled on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

As a fledgling newspaper reporter (I had been working at the Duluth News Tribune for about a month), I was assigned to find out, on what was probably the most intense news day of the 20th Century, if the scheduled Christmas City of the North parade would go on that night.

Call WDSM (KBJR’s predecessor call letters, a TV-radio station owned by the same company that owned the newspaper), I was told in the heat of the busy local coverage of the assassination.

I called. Nobody answering phones there knew what to say, or what to do. Finally I got through to Robert J. Rich, general manager, the top dog at the time. The parade will go on, Rich determinedly told me, in no uncertain terms.

The terms were not so certain about an hour later, however, when WDSM called me. The parade would not go on, they announced, out of respect to the fallen president.

So yes, the Christmas City of the North parade has never been canceled due to the weather. But it was canceled once, due to the murder of a president of the United States. As well it might have been. Had to be.

Check out today's Duluth News Tribune coverage of last night's parade HERE.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

My Life in Baseball...

Joe DiMaggio and Dorothy Arnold
By Jim Heffernan
 October 1939 – I am born. A month later Joe DiMaggio, “The Yankee Clipper,” marries Duluth native Dorothy Arnold, who was Dorothy Olson when she grew up here, but took a stage name when she went to Hollywood, where they met. I know nothing about this at the time because I am one month old.

Baseball season 1941 – Joe DiMaggio has a 56-game hitting streak, but at age 2 I know nothing about it. Also that year, in an event considered by many to be of lesser interest, the United States enters World War II, but I know nothing about that either.

Spring-summer 1949 – I make my debut as an outfielder and at-bat strike out king at a neighborhood playground. Memorable moment: I am in left field with my brother’s old leather glove on the wrong hand (I am left handed, he is not) and wonder, what am I doing here? A neighborhood group of friends plays some form of baseball just about every day in summer. I hate it, but go along.

Around that same time – My father takes me to a few Duluth Dukes Northern League games at Wade Stadium and admonishes me for not watching the action on the field, but rather eyeing hot dog vendors. I am given a Dukes sweatshirt, which I wear, but with no commitment.

Entrance to Wriggly Field, Chicago
June 1951 – On a visit to Chicago to see relatives, I attend my first (and almost only in life) major league baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Braves (later Milwaukee Braves and after that Atlanta Braves), sitting in the 60-cent bleachers, admiring the vines along the fence at Wrigley Field but not paying much attention to the game. Like the outcome.

The year 1954 – I notice that Joe DiMaggio marries Movie star Marilyn Monroe who sang
Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe
“Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” She wasn’t singing about baseball diamonds. They divorce nine months later, possibly when Joe found out.

Rest of 1950s -- I ignore all baseball except in movies like “The Babe Ruth Story” and “Kill the Umpire” both starring character actor William Bendix who looks nothing like Babe Ruth.

Entire 1960s – I begin a journalism career and am required to “help out” the sports desk on busy nights, shocking the sports editor with my lack of knowledge of baseball (and other sports except ping pong).

Late in the 1970s – After work I play “catch” with my young son, who takes to baseball like a duck takes to water (and I take to clichés) and becomes involved in Little League. I am forced to watch entire games because I am chauffer.

Sometime in 1984 – I view the Robert Redford baseball movie “The Natural” and love it. When discussing it with co-workers on the newspaper sports desk I learn that true baseball lovers hate the movie, which explains a lot.

Around that same decade – I accompany my son to a couple of Minnesota Twins games at the old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, one of which goes a monotonous 12 innings. I notice a romantic couple in the stands. He kisses her on the strikes.

Jump to October-November 2016 -- The Chicago Cubs win their first World Series since more than 20 years before I was born, defeating the Cleveland Indians. I do not watch on television. I know nothing about the teams, like why the Indians are demonstrating against pipeline construction in North Dakota. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bob Dylan not the only Nobel winner with Duluth connections...

Bob Dylan, 2010 (Wikipedia)
By Jim Heffernan
The Swedish Academy has been having a hard time personally contacting reclusive Duluth native Bob Dylan to tell him he has been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, according to news reports. At this writing he has not personally acknowledged the great honor.

The story of how that other Nobel literature laureate with Duluth connections, author Sinclair Lewis, was informed of his selection is well documented, and it’s quite amusing.

It was described at the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, the author’s birthplace. I visited the now closed center – as well as Lewis’ early family home there – several years ago and reviewed in one of the offerings just how the famous author learned he’d won the literature Nobel in 1930, the first American so honored. 
Sinclair Lewis, 1930

Who knows how Nobel officials will eventually contact Dylan directly, maybe with a simple telephone call. It was a simple telephone call that informed Lewis of the honor, and he had a hard time believing it was legitimate.

As every schoolchild knows, the Nobel prizes are selected by a committee in Sweden and awarded in Stockholm. (Exception: the Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway.)

When Lewis was selected, the Swedish Nobel authorities notified that Scandinavian nation’s consulate in Chicago and instructed personnel there to contact Lewis and inform him of the honor, according to the material at the Lewis center.

The Chicago-based Swedish diplomat who contacted Lewis by telephone had a strong Swedish accent when he spoke English. When Lewis was told by the caller that he’d won the Nobel Prize in literature he simply didn’t believe it. He thought it was one of his friends putting on a Swedish accent to pull his leg.

Lewis’ response was the same as that of any one of us who might receive a crank call, calling out the caller to admit it was a hoax.

I have conjured up how the conversation might have gone, with the familiar Swedish accent of the caller, and Lewis’ reaction:

SWEDISH CALLER – Mr. LOOis, this is the Svedish consul calling from Chicago to inform you the good neuse that you have yust vun the Nobel Prize in literature.

LEWIS – Is that so. Well thank you very much, friend. Now who is this? Elmer? Martin? George? Who’re you trying to kid? I can see right through that fake Swedish accent.

CALLER – No, sir, this really is the Svedish consulate calling to tell you you have vun the Nobel Prize. I yust hope you believe me when I say this.

LEWIS (ridiculing the caller) – Ya sure, you betcha. C’mon, who is this?

And so on and so forth.

It took Lewis awhile to settle down and realize it wasn’t a crank call.

It really is an unlikely coincidence having two Nobel Prize winners in the same field with strong connections to Duluth. But for the record, neither Dylan nor Lewis lived here for very long. Born in Duluth in May 1941, Robert Allen Zimmerman (Dylan’s original name) resided here with his family until 1947 when he was six years old, moving to Hibbing that year.

Lewis bought his mansion at 26th Avenue East and Second Street in 1944 but only stuck around the Zenith City until 1946, presumably within a few months of when the Zimmerman family moved to Hibbing.

Duluth has honored Dylan with special commemorative manhole covers. It does nothing to honor Lewis for his association with the city. Most people around here have forgotten it, or never knew.  

NY Times story (10-13-2016) about Dylan's Nobel award: read HERE.

Duluth Budgeteer News column (1-13-2013) describing Sinclair Lewis book written in Duluth Mansion: read HERE

John G Williams House, located at 2601 E. 2nd St., Duluth MN where Sinclair Lewis lived
read  HERE

Zenith City Online post about Sinclair Lewis in Duluth: read HERE post about Sinclair Lewis & Nobel Prize Award for Literature in 1930: read HERE.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trump's hair to boost American Agriculture on Rushmore...

Trump on Mt. Rushmore photo source:
By Jim Heffernan

Someday adding Trump to Rushmore could help boost American agriculture...
 The other day I found myself doing some deep thinking – very deep thinking – about what the future might hold if Donald J. Trump is elected president of the United States.

I’m not talking about what would happen to the country if Trump should become president. We should save those ruminations for registered, bona-fide pundits, so many of whom appear nightly on cable television to predict the future according to their political persuasion.

No, I’m speculating on what might transpire should a Trump presidency be deemed successful, even great, by the noisy majority that would have elected him (without any help from me) and it is decided that the Trump visage should be added to those of the four presidents already sculpted on Mount Rushmore.

The idea of putting a fifth revered president on Mount Rushmore comes up every so often when over-zealous supporters of one ex-president or another deem it appropriate to propose adding the face of their man (it’s always been men, unfortunately) to those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, pince-nez and all. So far we’ve avoided that embarrassment.

Remember now, I am not suggesting that Trump should ever be considered for Mount Rushmore, or that he should ever be considered for the office of president. I am merely speculating on some dreaded future time when, should he happen to be elected, after he is dead and gone his supporters could push through a measure to add him to the revered national monument.

Such were the deep thoughts running through my head as I contemplated these matters and, in a Eureka Vacuum Cleaner moment, I came to realize that, should it ever happen, the addition of Trump to Rushmore might be a good idea, as abhorrent as it seems today.

Think green.

If they sculpted his face on the mountain, to accurately portray him they could plant wheat grass on the top of his head to represent his hairdo. Wheat grass grows quite tall and is close to the hue (you wouldn’t say “color”) of Trump’s carefully sculpted mane. 

What a terrific symbol of America. Amber waves of grain beneath the beautiful spacious skies atop the purple majesty of a South Dakota mountain right on America’s third-most revered work of sculpture.

So, to bring all this together, Trump on Rushmore isn’t such a dreaded idea after all, should it come about. With wheat grass crowning his brow, it would be a tribute to American agriculture, and the face below it an enduring symbol of American folly.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Remembering the birth of the DECC fifty years ago...

Today the Duluth News Tribune paid homage to the upcoming 50th anniversary of the DECC (formerly known as the Duluth Arena-Auditorium). I was a fledgling reporter in 1963 covering the beginnings of what later became the Duluth Arena-Auditorium. A few years later, in August of 1966, I covered the events of the gala celebration week of it's grand opening. I was asked to recount some memories of that time for the Duluth News Tribune and my recollections are included in a column in today's special DECC edition of the paper. You can read the column HERE.

Pictured to your left is a photo of an event held in the arena that celebration week. I, Voula (my fiancé at that time and now my wife) sat across the table from our long-time friends, Dave and Karen Erickson now living in Denver Colorado. Many TV and other celebrities were also in attendance.

Pictured (right) is an old post card 10 years later (1976) showing the Arena-Auditorium with the Curling Club/Pioneer Hall addition (to the right of the original structure. Docked at the Arena pier on the St. Louis Bay is the Norwegian Training Ship, the Christian Radich of Oslo. A couple of years ago, I was able to again visit that ship docked at it's home in Oslo.

The DECC complex has, of course, expanded and changed in subsequent years. Read more about the 50th anniversary in today's DNT HERE.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Duluth hit hard by summer storm...

Early morning storms crept into Duluth and area fast and furiously Thursday. Strobe-like lightening flashed every second and hurricane-force winds measuring upward from from 69 mph to 100 mph swept through the area. Lots of trees were uprooted, torn in half or broken off so that neighborhoods hit the hardest had obstructions on roadways, trees on cars or roof-tops and electrical lines catching trees or laying live on the ground. Minnesota Power noted 75,000 were without power in the region, with many still without power even now. The Lakewood pumping station near lake Superior was out of power as well and area residents were asked to conserve water. Duluth was finally getting back to normal after the big 2012 flood so this has hit the city hard.

And, believe it or not, Duluth is having a heat wave. It's 90 degrees right now–hot and humid.

You can read more about it and see video footage of the scenes around town on the Duluth News Tribune website HERE and HERE.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Government Programs Benefit Millions

What follows is my letter to the editor appearing in today's Duluth News Tribune...

                         Posted on Jun 24, 2016 at 11:59 p.m.
The June 16 letter, “Intrusive federal bureaucracies kill prosperity and jobs,” ended with the statement: “We have a president and government that seems to suspect it knows what’s right for you. Do you find that comforting?”

Yes, I find that comforting when I look at the history of government programs designed to help Americans, programs such as Social Security, which was established in the 1930s and saved older Americans from abject poverty, and Medicare, which was established in the 1960s and guarantees basic medical insurance coverage for those over 65.

The liberal-led administrations and congressional majorities that instituted these programs knew what was right for millions of Americans who have benefited for decades in the face of conservative interests that rail against them even today while also thwarting any measure — such as increasing the federal minimum wage and Obamacare — aimed at improving the lives of the poor and middle class.
Jim Heffernan

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


By Jim Heffernan

Many of the bills I get in the mail include a sheet describing what the company does with the personal information gathered over the life of our business association.

Some people are uncomfortable with the sharing of personal information accumulated by businesses and other organizations. My own reaction is not so much discomfort as resignation. What can you do about it? Not much.

Most of these notices are lengthy and describe in detail why they share, what they share and with whom this information is shared.

Here is an example of such a disclosure sheet:

Dear Valued Customer,

All financial companies need to share customers’ personal information for the purpose of making oodles of money. We protect this information to the extent that it is available only to parties whose vital interests depend on such information or anyone who wants it, whichever comes first.

We limit personal information sharing to clients’ home addresses, e-mail addresses, Social Security numbers, height, weight, color of hair and eyes, shoe size, bathing habits, TV watching preferences, religious affiliations, educational attainment, dining proclivities, vehicle preferences (car, truck, SUV, motorcycle, ATV, tractor, skateboard), and any and all other information we choose, including blood pressure, exercise habits, bank account numbers and investment accounts, not to exclude credit history, pets and voting record.

Organizations receiving information on you may include, but are not limited to, the MAFIA, ISIS, IRS, NAFTA, FBI, CIA, DPW, MNDOT, COPS, ROBBERS, ADT, HOTLCOG, NEMDA, CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, CSPAN DNT, AARP, DDT & NRA, among others.

You have the right to challenge sharing of your personal information by contacting us between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. at South Florida Cellar Enterprises, atten. “Blackie”, at 1-912-GO-PUNT. A telephone fee of $1 per word applies. Mail inquiries to: Afghanistan Banana Man, 314 Taliban Way, Kabul, 90210 and include your mother’s maiden name.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A beefeater’s prayer...

By Jim Heffernan

I like to eat steak, and almost always order it when I’m dining in restaurants. A New York strip, baked potato, Caesar salad and a bread roll is all I need to satisfy me.

In recent years, though, friends, with whom I occasionally dine, rib me in a friendly way about always ordering steak, while they proudly have some kind of fish, which is better for you, they say, and you read that all the time in articles on healthy eating. Omega 3 in fish is good for the heart, we read. There is no Omega 3 in steak, but there is fat. Bad old fat.

But I still like steak. These friends are part of the International Anti-Red Meat Conspiracy (IARMC) and I try to ignore them when they get on my case about eating steak.

I know they think I haven’t got a prayer, but I have:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
Tell Him I ate too much steak.

Be sure to fold your hands when you say it.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Minnesota Welcome...

Guess that vacation went fast! I arrived back home a couple of days ago, still feeling the Arizona sun's rays and was greeted by a Minnesota April welcome...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Warm days and cool nights...

We arrived in the land of sun ...and warm and sunny days with cool nights. Pretty nice :-)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Dessert sun and sunny skies...

I've been remiss in keeping this blog up lately. I'll be taking a vacation to a different destination this winter (check out photo for a clue). Hopefully once I'm settled in a bit, I'll write here again. So stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Where have all the phone booths gone?

By Jim Heffernan           
Here’s an old limerick:

There was an old maid from Duluth,
Who wept when she thought of her youth,
Remembering the chances
She had at school dances,
And once in a telephone booth.

Telephone booth? Telephone booths today are as rare as referring to women who choose not to marry as old maids.

Last week the New York Times reported that only four outdoor telephone booths remain in Manhattan, concentrated on the upper West Side. A technology company maintains them, apparently because residents of the neighborhood like them and because they are the last ones.

I don’t suppose most in the Millennial Generation have ever seen one or that Generation Xers have ever used one, having seen them only in old Superman movies showing the Man of Steel transforming from suit-clad Clark Kent into the caped crusader in telephone booths. How handy that was.

Let me say for the record, though, that even in Duluth, telephone booths were once more ubiquitous than old maids. You could find them all over the place in the downtown, and in outlying areas as well. Before cell phones, pay phones, most often found in aluminum booths, were the only way to call someone when away from home.

Because the phone in my family home was located right next to the living room, where others could easily overhear, I used to make some personal calls from telephone booths, often to make dates with young maids. It cost a dime then.

Leave it to New York City to be the last bastion of the telephone booth in America. At one time, there was one on every block, at least in Midtown. But good luck trying to use one.

Once, years ago, when I was in New York for an extended period, I got word of the death of a relative, and wanted to call home to learn more about it. Roving around Midtown, I went to a nearby phone booth only to find it had been vandalized – probably robbed – and didn’t work. No problem, there was another booth a block up the avenue. Oops, same thing. Receiver torn from its wire too. Well, there was another booth nearby, a ways up the street. Unfortunately, same thing. I couldn’t find a functioning phone in a half dozen booths, and finally gave up. 

So now New York is down to four and Duluth has none that I know of. I don’t carry a cell phone and recently I looked for an indoor pay phone at Miller Hill Mall here. There used to be a couple in the main corridor. Gone.

Fortunately I ran into a woman I know who carried a cell phone she let me use. She’s a widow now, but has no reason to weep when she thinks of her youth, having had plenty of chances at school dances, but probably never in a telephone booth.