Sunday, December 15, 2019

A long, cold ride on an airborne sleigh....

From today's Duluth News Tribune column; you may read it HERE.

May you all enjoy your family traditions this holiday season... whatever they may be.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Dear Season Opener: Plastic Deer Threatened in City Hunt...

By Jim Heffernan
This column originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, September 25, 2005, in a previous blog post and is also reprinted in my book, Cooler Near the Lake. The column created quite a stir nationally when some took it seriously. (Click HERE) I guess this might be considered some of that "outrageous nonsense" I'm accused of writing every now and again... and, of course, this is REAL FAKE NEWS! Enjoy the hunt.    
Here’s the latest fair and balanced news…

Homeowners who decorate their yards with life-sized plastic deer are complaining the sculptures are being damaged by people stalking real deer during Duluth’s special season for bowhunters.

“My decorative doe, Felicity, had an arrow sticking out of her hind quarter,” Orval Pussywillow of Hunter’s Park complained yesterday. “This has got to stop. We paid good money for our beautiful deer.” Pussywillow said his four plastic pink flamingos and a lawn ornament depicting the posterior of a fat woman bending over were unmolested.

Local police said they have received numerous complaints from throughout the city that plastic deer are being shot with arrows by hunters mistaking them for the real thing. One citizen, who declined to be identified “because I work with a bowhunter,” said she has outfitted her plastic deer with blaze orange vests to protect them from arrows.

Randy Waxwing, spokesman for the Lake Superior Spear, Boomerang & Bowhunters Ltd., said residents with plastic deer in their yards should remove them from now through season’s end December 31st to protect them during the municipal bowhunting season. “You can’t blame our people for shooting plastic deer; they’re so lifelike. Many of our own members have plastic deer themselves as inspiration for hunting season. Hunters love deer; that’s why we kill them.
Waxwing did point out that association members are complaining to him that their hunting arrows are being blunted by hitting plastic deer and not the soft flesh of real deer. “It’s a two-way street,” he said. “Good hunting arrows cost plenty.”

Thelma Twelvetrees of Thelma’s Yard, Garden and Southern Belle Figurine Emporium, which sells ornamental deer, said sales are down since the city bowhunting season was announced. “People don’t want to fork over good money for plastic deer only to have them shot full of arrows,” she said. It was not known how the decline in faux deer sales would affect city sales tax receipts.

Meanwhile, Msgr. Ernest X. Chasuble said religious leaders are concerned that fake donkeys in Christmas nativity scenes will be shot at by hunters when churches erect crèches on their lawns beginning around Thanksgiving. “Also wise men riding camels. What if they hit a wise man? Or the Holy Mother, for that matter?” Chasuble asked.

Concern about safety around Christmas crèches outside local churches was seconded by Worship Duluth, successor organization to the Duluth Church and Sunday School Bureau, in a news release. “The Christmas message of ‘Peace on Earth’ is diluted when you find arrows sticking in outdoor religious displays,” the news release stated. Religious leaders said either the hunt should be suspended during the holidays or characters in the displays should be adorned with blaze orange garments.

Officials also predict that ornamental reindeer in secular home displays will be affected.

Finally, Professor Michael Angelo, head of the Sculpture and Human Sexuality Department at the Arrowhead College of Carnal Knowledge, said plastic ornamental deer are an important part of American art on a par with department store mannequins. “I once saw a fake deer with a nude female mannequin astride it. Priceless,” said Angelo, 43, who is registered with the police.

Film at 10.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Corner Grocery Store Revisited...

By Jim Heffernan
Before supermarkets, corner grocery stores supplied Duluth’s West End...

Recently, as I was shopping for a few groceries at one of Duluth’s largest supermarkets, I found myself in the bakery area needing to move on to the deli.

Looking down the long aisle between the two departments, I realized that the distance between the bakery and deli was almost a city block, greater than the distance between the home I grew up in and the corner grocery store where my family bought most of its staples.

That home was in Duluth’s West End well over a half century ago—long before anyone ever dreamed the neighborhood would change its name to Lincoln Park and before that neighborhood—or any other in Duluth—lost its grocery outlets to the advent of the supermarket era.

We were located on 23rd Avenue West, between Fifth and Sixth streets, and our nearest grocery was on the northwest corner of 23rd and Sixth. It was just one of several “mom-and-pop” grocery outlets within short walking distance from our house.

The Sixth Street grocery was such a short distance away you could sit down to dinner, realize you were out of something needed for the meal (ketchup?) and run to the store and get some before the food on the table got cold. Handy. Very handy, those corner groceries.

Counting on my fingers (I always have), I realize that there were eight small grocery stores within three blocks of my house, all of which we patronized from time to time, depending on the urgency and nature of our needs. Some were just confectioneries (although they stocked basic groceries in addition to candies), others also had meat departments staffed by official meat cutters and at least one had a self-contained bakery.

Our neighborhood was not unique. Throughout the city, every residential neighborhood had its grocery stores that served nearby residents who, as a rule, simply walked down the street to pick up whatever they needed.

The eight stores in the heart of the West End near our home are largely forgotten today, and even the thought that they existed at all, and that supermarkets were unheard of, is alien to most people today. But thanks to the increasing number of candles on my birthday cakes, it’s not alien to me.

So here’s a brief compendium of the West End stores I knew best as a youngster in the 1940s shortly after World War II and into the early ’50s. By the end of the 1950s they had largely disappeared, yielding to larger, full-service, stores like Piggly Wiggly and National, serving entire sections of the city from one building.

I’ve already mentioned the Sixth Street market near our home, operated in its later years by the Archambault family. These owners, and some before them, became almost like family to their regular customers. The building is now a residence.

A block west—24th and Sixth—was a somewhat larger store I knew as “Sternal’s store” as a child but was operated by the Natalie family toward the end of its existence. The store part of the building is now vacated, with apartments above.
Just half a block south on 24th, was Charlie Caskey’s—a combination meat market and light groceries. It was a block from our house and I was often dispatched to Caskey’s in the late afternoon to pick up pork chops or hamburger for our supper. The building is now a one-car garage.
Another half block down 24th, at Fifth Street, stood Olson Bros., a full service market—groceries, produce, meats and on-site bakery, not to mention every imaginable candy of the day for the nearby Lincoln Junior high kids. (I popped a grape into my mouth from their window produce display one time and I’m still feeling guilty about it.) We shopped there too, from time to time. The much-altered building now houses the Boys and Girls Club.

Directly across 24th from Olson Bros. was a small grocery store operated by the Kramnic family, who lived nearby. Kramnic’s stocked such things as yo-yos and other items appealing to kids, and, like Olson’s, a display case chock full of (teeth-rotting) candy, not to mention wax lips and wax buck teeth.

South on 23rd Avenue West from my home, on Third Street just east of 23rd were two more grocery stores, one with meats operated by Joel Johnson and his son Delbert, and the other by Joe Lee and his son Norman. Both buildings are still there, Johnson’s today operated by another Johnson family, the bakery Johnsons.

Straying a bit farther afield, two blocks east of my childhood home, at Piedmont Avenue and Sixth Street (where 21st Avenue West meets Piedmont) was Repke’s store, with groceries and other things, like comic books. Thank heaven for Repke’s and the comic books. How else would I have learned of the exploits of the day’s superheroes, like Captain Marvel (whatever happened to him?) and western stalwarts like Lash LaRue, who tamed the Old West with a bullwhip. Superman and Batman comics were available there as well. The building is gone.

Once these handy neighborhood stores started to disappear, my family had to actually go out of this three-block radius to a good-sized, full-service (meats, produce, everything else for the pantry and fridge) neighborhood grocery, Hjelm’s, at 21st Avenue West and Third Street, across from the imposing St. Clement’s Catholic Church, itself long gone.

Hjelm’s—later Hank’s market operated by the Lysaker family—delivered, making it possible for customers to call with a list of grocery needs in the morning and have them show up in the kitchen in plenty of time to prepare dinner. For some reason in that bygone era it was tolerated that grocery delivery boys (always boys) could walk right into your unlocked house without knocking and deposit the order on the kitchen table. The Hjelm’s/Hank’s building is now apartments. 
Source: PerfectDuluthDay

Not far off, even in the mid-’40s the clinking and clanking of grocery shopping carts were starting to sound through the neighborhood. One of Duluth’s first modern-style markets —serve yourself with shopping carts and check out near the door—had been established by Piggly Wiggly at 2025–2027 West Superior St. in the heart of the “friendly” West End business district.
That clinking and clanking became the death knell for the corner grocery stores, most of which were gone by 1960 as Piggly Wiggly and others established themselves in large stores with big parking lots, often in strip malls. The final holdout, LaPanta’s market at 23rd Avenue West and Superior Street, lasted until the 1970s by staying open when the supermarkets were closed—Sundays and late at night.

The corner stores are missed, though, when you sit down to dinner and realize you’re out of ketchup.

Originally appeared in Zenith City Online on February 4, 2013
We are gradually reprinting the columns I wrote as a columnist with Zenith City Online that focused on growing up in Western Duluth. That area history site changed format a few years ago to a blog and no longer archives columns.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Bethany Lutheran Church: Metamorphosis and memories...

Bethany Lutheran Church, Duluth, Minnesot
When a house of God is vacated only enduring memories remain...
By Jim Heffernan

People who know me well ask me what I think of the plan to convert the unused building that once housed the church I grew up in, Bethany Lutheran in Duluth’s West End, into a restaurant/bar. (Click HERE for story link)

“Brick and mortar,” is my standard reply. It’s just a brick building and whoever owns it can do with it as they please. The congregation of Bethany was merged with two others in the West End several years ago and the building put up for sale.

“But it was God’s house,” some might say. Well, God has moved out. Is that the devil moving in? I know some past ministers of Bethany who would believe that, and a lot of parishioners as well. Believe what you will.

My main attachments to that building are the memories from my earlier life centered there. They can’t be erased because the building has been put to a different use.

Before I was even born, the funerals of my maternal grandparents were held there. In more recent times so were the funerals of my parents, numerous relatives and treasured family friends. My parents were wed in that sanctuary, their two sons baptized there, as were my own daughter and son. My daughter, who had spent her early childhood in the Bethany Sunday school, was married there, the most recent family milestone connected to Bethany.

Memories. Some rueful, some joyful. All in that brick structure with the tall cross-topped steeple, built just after the turn of the 20th century by Swedish immigrants, carrying on the faith of their homeland half a world away. They conducted their services in the Swedish language until the 1920s.

History. But it’s only brick and mortar now.

Still, other memories bubble to the surface. Oh, those Christmases. Two 25-foot evergreens festooned with colored lights flanking the altar — a treasured memory from childhood. And putting on a nativity tableau on a makeshift stage. I was always a crook-carrying shepherd — never Joseph.

Those warm memories remain long after the building closes or is put to other uses.

Ruth Heffernan playing Bethany organ, circa 1950's
But I do want to express one caveat to my largely unsentimental and unemotional reaction to my old church no longer being a church.

At the front of the sanctuary, up on the balcony, above the altar, sits a pipe organ, banks of gold-tinted pipes lined up on either side of a choir loft. My mother was the musician who played that organ for most of the history of Bethany — 58 years starting at age 19 until her retirement over 40 years ago in her mid-70s.

Not simply brick and mortar involved there, as I ponder it.

From those pipes flowed the great Lutheran anthems, the holy liturgy, the hymns sung each Sunday, the Bach preludes, the familiar carols of Christmas, the somber Good Fridays and the accompaniment for joyous Easter Sundays. That was all expressed with tender feeling by my mother’s hands on the organ’s two ivory keyboards and dozens of stops together with an octave of bass pedals below the console activated by her feet.

That kind of thing can make an impression on the son of an accomplished organist. It’s more than just a precious memory — like the other reflections of times in the church. It’s deeper. To this day I cannot hear pipe organ music without a flood of memories.

It brings to mind Sir Arthur Sullivan’s enduring composition “The Lost Chord” in which an organist strikes one chord of music that has “the sound of of a great Amen.” As the poem unfolds, it’s clear that the organist is never able to find that chord again, and then laments:

“It may be that death’s bright angel
Will speak in that chord again,
It may be that only in Heav’n
I shall hear that grand Amen.”

Amen to that.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Spirit Valley Days in Duluth: Remembering when cars were king...

My pristine 1940 Ford Coupe in 1956-Jim Heffernan photo
Western Duluth did not escape ’50s car club phenomenon...  by Jim Heffernan  
NoteI wrote this column a few years ago for the now-defunct on-line Zenith City magazine (although the site continues as a blog of Duluth area history). I'm reprinting it here today to call attention to Spirit Valley Days, ongoing this weekend in what folks of a certain age call West Duluth. Since one of the major events is a vintage car show, it seemed like a good time to recall with this column a day when vintage cars were king in West least for young men (or aging adolescents). JH

A New York Times columnist recently declared “The End of Car Culture” in America.

I’ve noticed it too. Young people today are not as focused on cars as those in earlier generations. Now they’re more interested in technology, the Times columnist pointed out, citing statistics showing that many young people today—millennials—often don’t even bother to get driver’s licenses when ample public transportation is available.

It’s a cultural shift that makes me nostalgic for an earlier time in America (Duluth included) when the chief focus of youth—male youth especially—seemed to be the automobile. That focus crossed the length and breadth of the Zenith City, including its western neighborhoods. Especially its western neighborhoods.

I came of age in the 1950s, a part of the post-World War II generation that, unlike its elders who had endured the Great Depression (when even many adults couldn’t afford cars), embraced the automobile as something more than just transportation. The cars had to be “souped up” and “customized” into what were euphemistically called “hot rods” or “street rods,” some of which were not so hot at all, but more of the jalopy class.

It was nearly every teenage boy’s dream to have such a car, mainly to impress girls, impress their peers, trounce other hot rodders in street drag races and rebel against their parents, in roughly that order. Also, cars were handy in the romance department. The era was faithfully depicted in the movie “American Graffiti,” although that story was set in 1962.

Throughout Duluth in that era car crazy boys banded together and formed what were called “car clubs.” In Duluth’s western precincts, largely within the limits of the Denfeld High School district with some Morgan Park spillover, the only car club was called the “Regents.”

I was a charter member, and even named the club. A group of us got together in a West Duluth living room in 1955 to organize and, trying to come up with a name, someone suggested “Road Gents.” That seemed kind of corny to me, so I suggested we compress it and call ourselves the Regents. It had no connection to cars or much else outside of the University of Minnesota governing body, but it sounded classy. We adopted it, and a car club for the city’s western neighborhoods was born, complete with fancy license plate-size plaques bearing our name to be displayed on the rear bumpers of our cars.

The original group numbered about 15, but when we began flexing our muscles, the club grew, perhaps doubling in size. The Duluth car clubs—central and eastern neighborhoods had the “Road Toppers” and “De Malos Marauders” among others—were officially organized to assist any motorists who might be in distress: flat tire, out of gas, conked out engine, lost. We had wallet-size business-style cards printed up to hand to people we helped, stating, “You have been assisted by a member of the Regents Car Club of Duluth, Minnesota.” 

I had a passel of them in the glove compartment of my hot little ’40 Ford DeLuxe coupe powered by a ’48 Merc engine with twin exhaust pipes and rumbling mufflers to die for. I never gave out one card. Never helped anybody. Almost nobody did. I still have a few of those calling cards in a box somewhere, never to be used.

Duluth’s several car clubs were even associated with one another as the “Joint Association of Car Clubs,” JACCs for short. They met monthly in City Hall, mainly to promote the idea of the city building an official drag strip. It never happened.

Mainly, the members of the Regents just wanted to get together, fix up cars, and drag race each other after dark on wide Oneota Street, when the cops weren’t around, or on divided Highway 61 atop Thomson Hill sans the highway patrol.

West Duluth’s Regents went beyond any other city car club by establishing our own service station in a rented building still standing on the southeast corner of 41st Avenue West and Grand. It was called “Regents Pure” because we pumped gas supplied by the Pure Oil Co. Our building had a three-stall garage and an office. We sold gas to the public, and the garage was handy for club members to work on cars, installing dual exhausts or changing oil or tires and in some cases changing entire engines.

I suppose the car club was an early form of “gang,” although there was no criminal element aside from street drag racing. By today’s gang standards, we were as harmless as aging Boy Scouts trying to work our way through adolescence. Most of the members went on to college after our Denfeld years, when interest in the car club inevitably faded.

When definitive histories of Duluth are written, it’s doubtful any will include this brief car club phenomenon. Most of those who participated are now in their 60s and 70s with only dim memories of a time—a decidedly more innocent time—when America’s car culture really got rolling, often two cars side-by-side, engines roaring, tires squealing, mufflers blaring, with the noble goal of finding out which car could cover a quarter mile the fastest.

Well, maybe not so noble, but it was fun.
Reprinted from Zenith City Online, July 11, 2013

Friday, July 26, 2019

Trump and the cherry tree lore...

By Jim Heffernan 
From cannot tell a lie to deny, deny, deny...

When George Washington was a youngster, the myth goes, his father gave him a hatchet and young George proceeded to chop down a cherry tree. When his father asked him who chopped down the cherry tree, George said, “I cannot tell a lie…I chopped down the cherry tree.”

That’s the way I always heard the story, just as most Americans heard it. It was told to children to promote honesty at all times.

You wonder if Donald Trump heard it though.

Here’s a story that might be told about him to future generations:

When Donald Trump was a youngster his father gave him a hatchet and Donald proceeded to chop down a cherry tree. When his father asked him who chopped down the cherry tree, Donald said, “Not me. I didn’t do it.”

“Well who did then?” asked his father.

“It must have been that poor kid who lives over in another neighborhood. Or maybe it was that kid who talks funny in an accent who lives nearby,” the boy lied.

“Are you sure?” his father persisted.

“Absolutely,” said Donald. “But I can check to see who did it.”

Donald called his friend whose nickname was “Fixer.” “My old man thinks I chopped down the cherry tree and I did. What’m I gonna do?”

“Deny, deny, deny,” Fixer advised. “Always deny, deny, deny.”

Moral: American presidential history has gone from “I cannot tell a lie” to “deny, deny, deny.” 

Good luck with that, children of the future.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Why I won’t run with the bulls in Pamplona...

Running of the bulls in Pamplona (Source: Wikipedia)
By Jim Heffernan
I’ve missed the running of the bulls in Pamplona again this week. That’d be Pamplona, Spain, where each year during one of their many festivals they steer a bunch of angry pointy-horned steers into the streets to chase a passel of people — all males it looks like in photos — who prove their manhood — this all started before Viagra — by running like mad before the angry bulls, in extreme danger of getting gored or trampled or both.

Were you to count the words in the preceding sentence (I don’t dare) you would immediately discern the writing is very un-Hemingwayesque. I refer to famous author Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, known for his terse writing and short sentences and affection for all things bull — bullfighting, bulls running loose in Pamplona, but probably not Papal bulls.

He might tersely write something like: “The bulls ran in Pamplona again. The day was hot, and the radio-listening nuns crossed themselves imploring divine protection for the men running with the bulls.” See? Short and snappy.

I have never wanted to run with the bulls in Pamplona. It sounds romantic when Hemingway describes it, but I’d be, to revive a pejorative from my youth, “chicken.” (There is a vast difference between a chicken and a bull, although both make pretty good eating unless you’re a lactose ovarian vegetarian.)

I doubt that Hemingway himself ran before the herd, although you never know. He led an adventurous life before he shot himself in 1961, at age 61. He was the kind of man who could wear a beret and there’d be no questions asked. Also a neck scarf in summer.

Hemingway at the Festival of San Fermin (source:
There was a time in my life, in my English lit studies in college, when I was very “into” Hemingway. In fact, I was taking an American lit class that included some of his writings — “The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio” — around the time he committed suicide. The professor was quite moved. We all were.

But no running before the Pamplona bulls for me, even in those carefree days of my youth. Earlier, as a child, I’d seen a boy about my age get gored by a bull in the forgotten Disney movie “Song of the South.” It made me so fearful around bulls that I refused to wear my red cowboy shirt when visiting the farm of a family friend.

Bulls hate the color red and attack it on sight, it’s been claimed. (At that same college, a political science professor described our congressman as “so red any self-respecting bull would charge him on sight.” I don’t want to use the congressman’s name, but we have a certain bridge named after him. Not Oliver.)

So in spite of my admiration of everything Hemingway at the time, there’d be no running with the Pamplona bulls for me. Heck, as a bullophobe child I was also afraid of turtles (turtlepobia). Not afraid of being trampled by turtles, mind you, but of having one bite off a finger or toe while swimming. If you have ever had dealings with a mature (how old? 100? 110?) snapping turtle you know what I mean. They are not as cute as painted turtles but they make a tasty soup.

As long as I’m confessing my early fears, I might as well mention also that I was deathly afraid of vegetable-based human blood drinking space aliens like the one in the movie “The Thing.” 

Happily, I am no longer particularly afraid of turtles or Mr. Thing, but tangling with a bull in Pamplona still does not appeal to me. Besides, the sun is setting on my time in life for such adventures, praying nuns or no praying nuns.

Of course, “The Sun Also Rises.” 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Duluth News Tribune 150th Anniversary: Lots of memories from a long newspaper career...

DNT press room, 1972: Then city editor Jim Heffernan is second from right
along with staff members and journalism interns.
By Jim Heffernan
I had to miss the gathering at Glensheen marking the 150th anniversary of the first publication of the paper that became the Duluth News Tribune. I would have liked to have attended, since I spent nearly a third of those 150 years —my entire career — in various news room positions at that newspaper and its sister, the former evening Duluth Herald.

Some people might regard local newspapers outside of the larger metropolitan areas as the backwater of journalism, and in some ways they are. But for most of my journalistic career Duluth was the third-largest city in Minnesota. It could not be ignored by politicians and other leaders, nor was it ignored by the entertainment industry, including visits by Elvis Presley (more on that later) and other top-name entertainers.

I had a varied career at the Duluth papers, as a general assignment reporter (which means you walk into work every day not knowing what you’re going to cover), beat reporter (education, city government, politics), city editor, arts/entertainment editor-writer and finally on the editorial page convincing half of the readers we were a Republican rag and the other half a Democratic diatribe. During much of that time I was also a general columnist. 

For being in the so-called backwater of newspapering, you meet or cover a lot of people from every field of endeavor, some well known, others ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and still others in the most dire of circumstances, victims of fatal traffic accidents, drownings, murder. You name it.

Looking back on it all, I think I enjoyed my first job the most — general assignment reporter. It meant working nights and being available for anything deemed newsworthy by the city editor. In those days the paper’s circulation covered the territory from Ironwood, Mich., to International Falls, and everything in between in the upper, upper Midwest, including Duluth, Superior and the Iron Ranges (there were two, Mesabe and Gogebic).

So a lot can be happening that’s newsworthy on any given day that, as a general assignment reporter, you might be assigned to cover. I have many memories of that period, some of which might resonate today. Mainly, you meet a lot of people you wouldn’t have met if you’d gone into some other line of work — some of them quite noteworthy.

One Saturday in the 1960s, for example, I was told to go over to Hotel Duluth and cover a press conference for Walter Mondale on the weekend it was announced he had been appointed to the U.S. Senate by Gov. Karl Rolvaag, also in attendance. Mondale had been Minnesota attorney general and would succeed Hubert Humphrey in the Senate because Humphrey had been selected as President Lyndon Johnson’s vice presidential running mate. Humphrey, of course, showed up many times over the years. I had a working lunch with him one noontime in the old Duluth Athletic Club, and always got a Christmas card from him and Muriel.

Mondale came back 20 years later, as vice president, for an interview with the editorial board on which I sat. Quite a few more miles on him since that Saturday in Hotel Duluth in 1964. He was running for president against Ronald Reagan, who, to my knowledge, never came to Duluth.

Then there are those days when, from out of the blue, you become involved in an unfolding story linking someone from around here to national headlines. The most vivid of those in my memory was the time the Associated Press reported that a U.S. military member from Superior had been arrested in Europe for treason, charged with passing American secrets to the Russians. It was the height of the Cold War.

Hmmm. Nobody around here knew the man’s name (I still recall it but won’t use it), so I and our Superior reporter, Richard L. “Scoop” Pomeroy, began looking for anything about him in Superior. We found his picture in a high school yearbook in the public library, went on a couple of hunches Pomeroy had, knowing Superior like the back of his hand, and ended up finding the alleged traitor’s elderly mother scrubbing the floor in a Tower Avenue cafe after hours.

Somehow we got in, and Pomeroy approached her, asking if she was so-and-sos mother. Yes, she was. Did she know her son had been charged with betraying the country? No she did not, and her reaction was what might be expected. Such a sad scene, it is vivid in my memory 50-plus years later. The other side of general assignment reporting.

Eddie Rickenbacker
WWI Ace & race car driver
You meet a lot of famous, or formerly famous, people in this backwater. One noon I had a hasty interview with Eddie Rickenbacker, who had been one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century, a war hero and race-car driver. Here to address a service club, I cornered him in advance to ask what he was going to say because I couldn’t stay for the meeting. “Get out of the U.N.” the conservative ex-hero growled.

Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong also showed up here in the ‘60s to do a show at Denfeld Auditorium (this was before the DECC was built) and I was sent over to Hotel Duluth (so much happened in that hotel) to interview the famed jazzman. He was so uncooperative I couldn’t get a story out of him (we were in his suite where he was dining on pork chops and vanilla ice cream). Thanks Satchmo.

Over at the Radisson Hotel a few years later I had lunch with a much more cooperative luminary, actor Gregory Peck, best recalled today as the man who personified Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Looking back, I might have been talking to Atticus himself, Peck was so warm and reasoned. He invited me to visit him and his wife in Los Angeles. I promised I would but went back on my word.

Nobody knows who Dimitri Nabakov was, but his father Vlaidmir Nabokov is pretty well known to the well read. The younger Nabokov was in Duluth to perform with the Symphony as a baritone soloist in some oratorio. I spent part of an afternoon with him in my office at the paper, me wanting to talk about his father, the “Lolita” author, and he plugging the oratorio. Nice guy, though. And not a bad singing voice.

In my active years at the paper, I met or interviewed every Minnesota governor, every U.S. Senator, two congressmen from this area (that’s all there were in my active years), all Duluth mayors, Superior mayors and other Wisconsin political leaders (I’m talking about you Alvin O’Konski) and a whole host of personages too numerous to mention who had their moments in the sun, and have now faded. Among Minnesota governors, Rudy Perpich was the most fun and Jesse Venture the most intimidating. He refused to tell me his real name when asked. (It’s James Janos.)

Paul Wellstone showed up about once a year before and during his tenure in the U.S. Senate, always deeply concerned about the downtrodden. He had an appointment to meet with us in the afternoon a few hours after he died in a plane crash on the Range.

The sun still shines, sort of, on Elvis Presley, who came here twice in the last year of his short life. I stood face to face with him in the Radisson lower parking lot on one of those occasions but couldn’t get him to say a word. Alighting from a Cadillac limo, he just stood and smirked until somebody opened a nearby service door and away he went, taking some of the final steps of his storied career.

You get into courthouses quite often when you are a reporter. I covered the trial of a prominent Duluth insurance executive who had bludgeoned his wife and who, upon being declared guilty, folded into the fetal position in the lap of his attorney, moaning. Not a pretty sight; one you remember. It was said years later, after serving prison time, that he had his cremated ashes dumped from a plane on the St. Louis County Courthouse. None landed on me but I was across the street at the paper.

Another time I was sitting in the back of a courtroom just to rest on a hot afternoon when they drew a guilty plea for shoplifting from a local doctor who had treated me as a child. It made me feel terrible.

There can be action, too, at times in the work life of a reporter. I remember driving a press car through the bumpy backroads of the broadcast tower farm atop Duluth’s hill in pursuit of a confused moose so our photographer, riding shotgun, could get a photo. He got the photo; I got a memory of just another day on the job as a general assignment reporter. 

Of course, every day wasn’t exciting or even interesting. You do a lot of drudge work in newsrooms too. Before the paper turned obituaries over to the advertising department, reporters wrote them. I have sent hundreds to their rewards after a final mention in their local paper, including my own parents. Pretty soon I think I’ll write my own, just to stay in practice.

Regular news reporters also helped the sportswriters when the Friday night lights were beaming down on football fields across the Northland. I know almost nothing about sports, but managed to put together passable accounts of games described on the phone by excited or disappointed coaches enlisted to call us. My one foray into sportswriting.

Well, this is getting long. I’ve got to say, though, that sometimes I think I’d like to go down to the paper again, find my old newsroom desk, crank a sheet of paper into a mechanical typewriter, set the margins, and start banging away on some story…any story.

But wait. “What’s a typewriter, Grandpa?”

I hope that child’s child doesn’t have to ask “What’s a newspaper?”

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Trump administration to block wolves crossing northern border...

By Jim Heffernan
Here’s all the fake news that’s unfit to print… 
The Trump administration yesterday said it will act to remove federal endangered species protection for gray wolves across the lower 48 states, once again opening up the debate over how many, if any, wolves should be killed by hunters and trappers. 

A spokesman for the Loyal Order of the Moose endorsed the executive action.

In announcing the move, President Donald J. Trump said most wolves cross the border from Canada. “This must stop immediately,” Trump said in an impromptu press conference on the White House lawn, “or I will declare a national wolf migration emergency.” 

It was unclear if the president could declare a national emergency on the border with Canada under executive powers without congressional authorization. Furthermore, he said that unlike the southern border with Mexico, no wall is envisioned, but rather a prison-style chain link fence would “do the trick, and Canada will pay for it.”

Trump further announced that if “corrupt” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau does not act, he will mobilize American military forces along the border “in places like Frostbite Falls, Minnesota.” It was later pointed out he meant to say International Falls, although the mercurial chief executive is not fond of anything international or familiar with the mercury falling below freezing levels.  Frostbite Falls was the fictional setting of the television cartoon “Rocky and Bullwinkle” which aired when the president was a youngster.

He left the door open to a summit meeting with Trudeau to resolve the wolf crisis. A White House spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such a meeting could be held atop North America’s tallest mountain in Alaska, Denali, known also as Mount McKinley to many conservatives. “That would be the world’s first true summit,” the source said, “a summit summit.”

In the wide-ranging Rose Garden session, Trump also said he would be fulfilling 2016 campaign promises to hunters and trappers who are eager to kill as many wolves as possible to enhance bragging rights. “They tell me many of the wolves disguise themselves as sheep to gain access to American soil. This has got to stop,” the president said.

Moving on to other topics, Trump said he feels very good about his recent Hanoi summit with “Kim Jong Novak.” An aide later pointed out the president meant Kim Jong Un and not the former Hollywood actress who shares a first name with the North Korean dictator. “Kim is actually the first name of everybody in North Korea,” the aide stated, unequivocally. Kim Novak was popular in the Rocky and Bullwinkle era.

Democrats who do not favor lifting the protections for wolves pointed out that recently in Estonia construction workers saved a wolf from drowning, thinking they were rescuing a dog trapped in an icy river. It wasn’t until later when one of the workers remarked, “What a long nose you have” that the wolf fessed up. It recalled “Little RED Riding Hood,” a fable popular in Estonia during the Soviet era. The wolf was later released to the wild in hopes it would cross the border into Latvia or Lithuania. 

Meanwhile, wolf experts at the International Wolf Center in Ely Minnesota (down the road from the Ely Bear Center and not far from the Root Beer Lady World Headquarters) indicated they were “howling mad” at the development.

Film at 10.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Duluth's historic western breweries: In Heaven there is no beer, but there's plenty in Duluth

By Jim Heffernan
People's Brewery: 4230 W. 2nd St. Duluth, MN
With the new craft beer operations seemingly opening on a regular basis, especially in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood, I thought I'd reprint a piece I wrote for Zenith City Online in 2015.  As the column points out, Duluth has a storied past in brewing even as it moves today into the forefront of craft brewing in the Upper Midwest. 
Now that Duluth is one of the major centers for craft brewing in the Upper Midwest, perhaps it’s time to take a glance back at Duluth’s storied brewing history, together with shifting attitudes toward drinking today and in the past.

Duluth has a rich history of beer brewing going back to its earliest settlement in the 1850s, with small breweries popping up and fading in the last half of the 19th century before what I’ll call the “big three” established themselves here in large brick edifices, two of them in the city’s western neighborhoods.

About a century later, by the mid-1950s, Duluth was the only city in Minnesota hosting three major breweries, but their days were numbered.

The best remembered today—Fitger’s—was not in a western neighborhood. Major portions of that brewing company’s imposing structure at 600 East Superior Street remain as a hotel and shopping and dining facility including Fitger’s Brewhouse Brewery and Grille, an operation befitting the complex’s 135-year history. 
Fitgers Brewery, Duluth, MN

Major brewing elsewhere in the city was located in West End (now Lincoln Park) and West Duluth (now Spirit Valley), where hardly any traces of their operations exist today. Duluth Brewing and Malting stood at 231 South 29th Avenue West (adjacent to today’s Clyde Iron/Heritage Sports Center facility) and the People’s Brewery operated out of 4230 West Second Street, a block south of Grand Avenue.

Like Fitger’s, both were housed in imposing castle-like buildings, with Duluth Brewing and Malting

operating in a six-story brick building a stone’s throw from today’s path of Interstate 35 through that part of Duluth. According to Lost Duluth, Duluth Brewing and Malting’s headquarters had at least three towers and was trimmed with stone quarried at Fond du Lac.

I remember the building, usually called the “Royal Brewery” (after one of its popular brands) in my lifetime. It contained a taproom where parties and wedding receptions were held well into the 1960s. Royal went out of business in 1966, with most of the property purchased by the Minnesota Department of Transportation for Interstate 35 construction.

Royal’s West Duluth neighbor, the People’s Brewery, was established in 1908 by socialist entrepreneurs (a seeming oxymoron) “to avoid having to buy beer from Fitger’s and large national breweries and so they could…resist the evils of capitalism,” according to Lost Duluth. That didn’t stop them from erecting a five-story, castle-like structure for their brewing operation. 

And for socialists, the People’s people seemed pretty impressed with European royalty, as were their competitors a few block eastward at Duluth Brewing and Malting. The People’s Brewery’s best known beer was named “Regal Supreme” while Duluth Brewing and Malting produced a popular product called “Royal Bohemian” which later became “Royal 58.” That brewery also developed the “Rex” trademark, which later was sold to Fitger’s where it became one of the brewery's most popular beers. Rex has a strong royalty association as well—“Rex” is Latin for “king;” The beer’s full name was “Rex ImperialDry Beer.”

Portions of these huge complexes remain today. Carlson Duluth Plumbing is housed in what was once the offices of Duluth Malt and Brewing, and Brock-White Landscape Products and Serv-Pro operate out of remnants of the former People’s facilities. In fact, the brewery’s tanks are still inside the building Serv-Pro owns, as the walls would need to be partially demolished to remove them.

With modern brewing methods, it no longer takes multi-story, rambling factory-like buildings with scores of employees to produce beer. Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood alone houses two of the many craft beer producers that have cropped up in the Zenith City over the past several years: Lake Superior Brewing Co. at 2711 West Superior St., which bills itself as Minnesota’s oldest microbrewer, and Bent Paddlebrewing at 1912 West Michigan Street. Several other microbreweries—including the Brewhouse, Carmody Irish Pub & Brewing, Blacklist Brewing, and Canal Park Brewing Company—operate out of brewpubs found downtown and in the Canal Park business district, where you will also find a microdistillery.

Beer, beer everywhere, and plenty of varieties to drink, unlike those days of yore when there were just three breweries in the city, housed in massive buildings. They were three too many, though, as far as folks clinging to temperance attitudes were concerned.

Prohibition, the American experiment that likely spawned more beer brewing than we have even today—but undercover—ended in 1933 after 14 dry years, but the attitudes it promulgated lasted well into mid-century and beyond. Protestant (but not Catholic) churches, in particular, condemned “demon rum” (as all drinking alcohol was often called) and Duluth had an active chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union until well after World War II.

In the Lutheran environment I was reared in, any drinking of alcohol was soundly condemned from the pulpit, with card playing and dancing not far behind. And while that message received lip service by many congregants, plenty of booze rendered its own lip service in the confines of people’s homes. And of course, for those less concerned about the religious attitudes toward drinking, the city’s West End offered plenty of taverns for open defiance of drinking strictures laid down in the churches.

Even in the 1960s, when, as a young newspaper reporter in Duluth I would cover meetings of the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Board, its members—led at the time by a Lutheran minister—tried to keep a tight lid on all purveyors of malt beverages and spirits.

Today, thanks to the most recent session of the Minnesota Legislature, you can even buy a growler of beer to take home on a Sunday, a move that remained controversial due partly to those blue-nosed attitudes of the past, which continue to prohibit, in Minnesota, off-sale beer and liquor sales on the Sabbath.

Those attitudes are fading fast, though, as more and more small brewing operations compete for a public that today views beer drinking in moderation as an innocent libation and not a ticket to eternal damnation.

So today we can celebrate this new era of Duluth’s brewing history by raising a glass of local brew without fear of the afterlife—and we should do it while we can, for as the song says, “In heaven there is no beer.”

Originally appeared on August 16, 2015 in Zenith City Online