Saturday, December 26, 2020

A brief history of shots in the arm...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune on December 26, 2020 

One down (Merry) and one to go (Happy) in a holiday season like no other anyone alive today can remember, but the end is in sight. We hope.


In the meantime, I’ll keep social distancing, avoiding public gatherings, wearing a mask, and I’m going to get a COVID shot as soon as I can. I suppose that either makes me a chicken or a Democrat or both in the eyes of some. I don’t care. I even think Joe Biden was elected president, for crying out loud!


Some people are resisting getting vaccine shots out of fear or suspicion. It wasn’t always that way. For decades, the vast majority of people took them for granted.


 I have an interesting history in getting shots (perhaps interesting only to me, but I’ll share it anyway), going back to my early childhood when I was trundled off to the doctor’s office for various shots recommended at the time.


I believe diphtheria — whatever that was/is — was a hot shot in those days and might have been my first — and worst — experience in the world of inoculation and vaccination, which are one and the same thing, Google reports. I always thought inoculation was when they took a long needle full of stuff, told you it wasn’t going to hurt, poked it in your arm and it hurt like crazy.


 Vaccination, I thought, was something different. That involved poking your arm (or leg as was the case for many girls who didn’t want scars on their upper arm) a whole buncha times with a little needle making a small circle of pokes. (Special scientific note: the term “whole buncha” is not part of the serious medical science lexicon, but should be.)


But back to fending off diphtheria, my first shot experience. My mother and aunt (sisters) took me and my girl cousin, very close in age, to the doctor’s office together. We were maybe four or five. At that age even the smell of a doctor’s office is foreboding. Still is, come to think of it.


So they sat the two of us down and brought out the needles, which seemed awfully long and thin and pointy. I don’t know which one of us got it first, but my girl cousin took it like a man (an expression; not intended to be sexist), and I took it like a baby. I nearly fainted and the nurse rushed me over to a window, opened it and stuck my head outside for fresh air. For the rest of our childhoods, my cousin reminded me that she bravely took the shot and I nearly fainted. It was a cross I had to bear, but not gladly.


I seemed to do better with shots as I grew a bit older. What most of them were for I can’t recall. Mumps? Measles? The poxes, chicken and small? I don’t know, but I caught mumps twice and endured two weeks of quarantine with measles too.


I was a fairly early recipient of penicillin to fight off something I had come down with. In those days, doctors made house calls, and I recall the doctor telling me to pull down my pajamas and lie on my stomach and he poked the needle where the sun doesn’t often shine. Ouch. Medical history.


Shots were not the dread they had been for me when polio vaccine came along. By then I was in my teens. I do recall how everyone was relieved that the Salk vaccine would prevent this horrible, often crippling, disease. The threat stalked every kid of my generation and those going before me, and some didn’t escape it, suffering severe physical disabilities for the rest of their lives like the second President Roosevelt.


Moving on, the military is crazy about shots, and they don’t fool around when it comes to administering them. Scares the H-E-double toothpicks out of some recruits, but I seemed to survive them fine in U.S. Army boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., an Army base actually named after a doctor.


Like so much else in life, the Army way is quite different from what civilians experience (see cooking, barbering). On shot day when I went through it they lined us up in a medical building and you walked single file between uniformed medical aides, your arms bared, and they literally shot you in both arms with medicine-containing guns that looked like ray guns. It looks ominous when you encounter it, but I didn’t think it was too bad.


Not so for a few soldiers-to-be who went through with me. A couple of them began to faint, and others expressed extreme fear. I wished I could have shown my girl cousin how brave I was. Platoon Sgt. Savage — he always lived up to his name — was not impressed.


Today, as a registered geezer, I get flu shots every year, enduring them with equanimity. Same with shingles shots — they don’t bother me much, although I prefer two shots of vodka and a little lime juice over ice when the cocktail hour rolls around. For medicinal purposes, of course.


This is my final column of 2020. Let’s all hope 2021 will be better. At least there’s reason to believe it won’t be any worse. Happy? New Year.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

Saturday, December 12, 2020

For whom the holiday bells toll...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune on December 12, 2020

Well, this is certainly going to be a different Christmas — like no other that I can recall, and I’ve lived through plenty of them.


My parents were around for the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 but they didn’t talk about what effect it had on Christmas that year, other than to say that Duluth churches were closed that fall and masks were worn. And now here we are, masks affixed, 100-plus years later anticipating a holiday season with another global pandemic lurking about everywhere.


Tough times. Terrible times. Worrisome times. Very different from so many joyous holidays in the past when, as the poem goes:


I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet, the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men. 


Yeah, peace on earth. Pretty hard to come by in my lifetime, but even during the dark days of World War II my earliest Christmases were joyous with gifts galore, special food, decorations everywhere and church programs. As I have often complained, in those Sunday school manger tableaux I was always a shepherd, never Joseph. Story of my life.


I thought how, as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom, had rolled along the unbroken song, of peace on earth, good will to men.


Segue to 2020. In addition to our COVID19 concerns this year, there has been so much upheaval caused by our national election — still going on weeks later — not to mention the lack of peace in the Middle East and elsewhere, even violence in the streets of America. I’ve never seen the holiday season so grim.


And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men.


We’ll be sending out our Christmas cards as usual, but we’re one couple who won’t be gathering with family on Christmas Eve as we’ve always done — always in my lifetime, our now-grown kids’ lifetimes and their kids’ lifetimes. It’s going to be very different, very quiet. Lonely.


A certain Jolly Old Elf won’t be swinging by our home this year, so much to the delight of the youngest ones on Christmases past. Our fireplace doesn’t have a regular chimney so the tradition in recent years has been for the white-bearded Saint Nick to pound on the door and throw bundles of gifts in, helped on the inside by an understanding adult, but unseen by kids. Jingle bells, real harness bells, can be heard tinkling in the background as reindeer prepare to resume their flight.


Not going to happen this year. Quarantine.


Still, we’re grateful no one close has gotten sick so far and hoping against hope that that remains the case. And even as I write this early in December, there’s hopeful news of the development of vaccines that have the potential to turn this pandemic around eventually.


Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, and doth not sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.


So there’s hope as we move through this very bleak holiday season, even as we approach the shortest, darkest days on the calendar, and, in 2020, in most of our lives.


Till ringing, singing on its way, the world revolved from night to day, a voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, good will to men.


So be it?


I’d like to thank Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for help in writing this final column before the actual holiday. His words are in italics. And while I’m at it, let me wish everyone as merry a Christmas/Happy Holidays as possible.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Oh deer, season’s finally ending...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune on November 28, 2020

Firearms season on deer has ended in Minnesota and is almost over in Wisconsin (ends tomorrow). I missed deer hunting again, just as I have for all of my adult life. Never done it, never will.


But as a kid I dreamed of going deer hunting with my father, who hunted every year. He always went with his hunting friends from his bachelor days, no youngsters invited. Looking back, fine with me. Besides, it was more dangerous back then. Read on.


I used to excitedly join him at home as he got ready for the big hunt, cleaning his Remington 30 deer rifle, filling his duffel bag. Yup, duffel bag — he called it a “tucker bag” — packed with extra clothes and whatever else you take to the big hunt, slung over his shoulder like a continental soldier.


In those bygone days (1940s-‘50s), hunters weren’t as particular about what they wore for safety in the forest and field. They were supposed to wear red, but they weren’t fussy about it and blaze orange had not been invented. My father used to wear a red cape over his wool hunting outfits, a dyed sheet fastened at the neck with a big safety pin.


 Capes were really quite popular back in those days, to digress a bit. Our iceman wore a black cape made out of rubber so he could sling blocks of ice on his back with tongs and carry them into our house to load in the icebox. It was the early days of home refrigerators, and they weren’t produced during World War II. We had an icebox until after the war.


Nurses wore capes too, navy blue over their crisp white uniforms when they went outside. I always thought of them as capes of good hope. Portending less hope, mean old Count Dracula always wore a cape. Cape fear. Of course Superman and Batman had capes. Escape.


But back to the deer hunt. These days you seldom hear about how many hunters were shot and killed by other hunters mistaking them for deer, but in years past the death toll among hunters was considerable. It was the main hunting season news story, front page news.


When I was a young reporter at this newspaper, reporting how many hunters were shot each day by other hunters was a daily chore. Whoever got the assignment would call around the sheriff’s offices in Northland counties to get the human toll. I don’t remember the numbers, but it seemed like every day there would be a few either dead by gunshot or heart attack. Deer hunting brought on a lot of heart attacks among hunters in the woods too.


Hunting methods have changed over the years, too, it seems. I see they now sell elevated stands that hunters just sit in waiting for an unsuspecting deer to show up below them. Back in the my father’s hunting years, several hunters would band together in a row, a few feet from each other, and “drive” through the woods, forcing frantic deer to flee before them.


Down the woods apiece, other hunters would be waiting on the sidelines for the deer fleeing the drive to get within range, and bang, that would be it. Venison. Maybe it was that method that caused so many shots hitting hunters themselves. Funeral.


Many hunters in those days also just wandered through the woods, hoping a deer would show up. In my early years, employing that method, my father only brought home one deer, which was skinned and butchered into various cuts of meat, a process that I was allowed to witness (grim). I always thought the prepared venison tasted kind of fatty, leaving a film on the roof of the mouth.


I know that deer hunting is a revered time in the lives of many men and some women. They have their remote shacks in the woods and gather each year enjoying the camaraderie as much as the hunt. Plenty of food and drink to go with it. Gutted deer strung up outside. More power to them, but not to me.


Finally, of course deer need to be “harvested,” as they often put it, before they end up smacking up the fronts of even more vehicles and consuming everyone’s gardens. Harvested is a benign word for “killed.” Maybe when they call the roll up yonder, and I am on it, they could put it in the paper that I was harvested by the Almighty. Make it easier on everyone…except me.


Happy hunting. Oops, it’s pretty much over. 


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at


Saturday, November 14, 2020

Voting just isn't what it once was...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune on November 14, 2020 

Well, the election is all over but the shouting (for joy) or the pouting (out of disappointment), but it’s over in either case. What a relief.


These columns are written a few days before they are published, so a lot of things might still up in the air, but it looks like Biden’s the one. Fine with me, maybe not fine with you. But this is America, don’t forget. Majority rules in a Democracy.


For the first time in my voting life, I voted by mail this year. COVID19 precautions, of course. It’s the first time in a startlingly long time that I didn’t go to a polling place to cast my ballot. Here’s a hint about how long: I voted for John F. Kennedy in 1960. Do the numbers.


Thinking so much this year about this wildly contested election, I found myself recalling how the process of actually casting a ballot has changed here in Duluth. Today, if you don’t mail it in, you go to the polling place, sign your name, they hand you a paper ballot and steer you to a little desk with a black pen and you mark your choices with little black dots.


The ranks of those of us who remember how the actual act of voting took place in the long past are thinning, but it was different, and perhaps someone should record it for the sake of history.  So here goes.


In Duluth (rural areas still used ballot boxes), the city provided what were called voting machines. They were stored in a warehouse in West Duluth and hauled out each election and placed in precincts across town. Some precincts that drew lots of voters would get two or more machines.

The gray machines were shaped like a refrigerator but somewhat taller. When open, the cloth curtains, about three feet long from top to bottom, were apart to allow the voter to enter. Upon entering, the voter would grasp a lever and pull the curtain shut.


Inside, with her back to the curtain, a voter would be faced with a dashboard, about chest high, with little levers to pull down beneath the names of each candidate. Click, click, click, you’d go, and your vote would be registered somewhere inside this large machine, There was a small slot with a paper scroll inside for write-ins of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck or some other candidate who would never win — but in some cases should have. When you were done, you would turn, grasp the lever and part the curtain again.


The act of parting the curtain triggered the little levers you had pulled town to cast your ballot, clicking them back up for the next person to register their votes on the dashboard. When exiting the machine by parting the curtain, it always surprised me that voters waiting their turn did not applaud, like a theater curtain call, but it never happened.


After the polls closed, election judges at each precinct would check the numbers recorded inside the machines and tabulate the vote, finally determining the totals for each candidate or issue on the ballot. The results would be called in to headquarters (usually the county auditor or, in city elections, the city clerk). And that was it.


The next day, when the election had ended, workers would visit each precinct, load the machine or machines on a truck and haul them back to the West Duluth warehouse, their important tabulations still inside. I need hardly point out this was a monumental furniture-moving job, with each machine weighing — this is a guess — perhaps several hundred pounds.


That was not it. The election night tabulations were not the official count. The votes had to be canvassed. A few days later, various officials, named to a canvassing board, would visit the West Duluth warehouse and check the numbers on each machine. When that was completed, the official count was declared.


That was it. A huge logistical and complex operation.


But you know what? As a voter you really felt that you had participated in something big, something important, and you had.


I never feel like that today, especially this election when I marked up a mail-in ballot and dropped it off at an official spot, like mailing a letter. Nowadays, even showing up at a polling place on election day and voting by marking dots with a pen on the ballot and feeding it into the slot of an anemic-looking little receiver just doesn’t have the gravitas that voting used to instill. At least in me.


Of course, I’m a geezer, so the old ways almost always seem like the best ways. But some things never change, and it’s consoling to see that Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are still showing up in elections regardless of drastic changes in the process. Sometimes they’re the best choice.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Scariest Halloween in History...

Edvard Munch: The Scream 1893
Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune, October 31, 2020

Holy smokes! This is the scariest Halloween in my entire life, and we’re talking a lot of years here. Instead of being frightened by people wearing masks in the past, this year we’re frightened by people NOT wearing masks.


Who’d have thought that could ever happen?


I don’t need to document why this is the scariest Halloween in history, but I will anyway. First there’s the global pandemic, thank you very much. Covid19 for short. Have you had a nose test yet? I’ve had two.


The other day I got a call from an office I had visited recently advising me that one of their people had tested positive and they were reaching out to everyone who might have had contact with that person recommending they get tested. So I arranged to drive through the Sears Roebuck Quick Covid Testing site at Miller Hill Mall where a guy wrapped in ghostlike protective gear, seemingly in keeping with Halloween, ran a projectile up my nose and sent me packing. I never left my car.


“We’ll let you know,” he said as I drove out of sight, Happy Halloween to all and to all a good night.


Backing up a bit, I should explain the site is in the former Sears auto service center at the mall. I used to drive through it for such things as new tires, before Sears went out of business there.


But I digress. Covid 19 isn’t the only thing making this the scariest Halloween in modern history. There’s that election in three days, in case you forgot. And what an election. I’ve been through a lot of them but I’ve never seen anything like this one.


This year’s election has caused me to reflect on a lifetime peripherally associated with politics and politicians. As a former journalist, I have met and interviewed numerous aspirants to political office, as well as many of those who actually made it. It has given me insights into people who seek to lead us in government, and, regardless of their political affiliations, have some things in common.


Aside from nobly wanting to help people, the main trait they all share is they love it. Absolutely love it. This is most true of those who have been elected at least once and enjoyed serving in the position they sought. It’s true at most levels of elective office, but people who make it to Congress come to adore being there.


And little wonder. The pay is good, the benefits are great, and some of the perks are mind-boggling. Like free handy parking places at Washington’s main airports when flying back home at taxpayers’ expense. Once back home, of course, they vow to “roll up their sleeves” and get to work for you while spouting the word “jobs,” “jobs,” “jobs” wherever they appear. They never take a vacation because they’re working for you all the time. Hmmm.


And woe betide any male politician who doesn’t sport a flag lapel pin. This is in case some voter somewhere might think them unpatriotic. Plus, big flags must surround them whenever possible when they appear in public, presumably reminding voters what country they are citizens of, just in case they forgot.


Each Congress member gets upwards of $1 million to decorate their office and hire a staff. They are kowtowed to everywhere they go, especially in their offices by staff and lobbyists who visit all the time. It could make a person feel pretty important.


But there’s one pesky problem: Elections. U.S. House members have to face the voters every two years, which means they’ve got to be campaigning to stay in office for at least half that time, maybe more. And then there are those upstarts from back home who challenge them in the next election.


Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said “All politics is local.” That statement is quoted all the time, and it’s largely true. But I say all politics is personal, and you can quote me on that.


It extends beyond Congress, but staying at that level, if you had a job you absolutely loved with great pay and benefits and people falling all over you and making you feel important and somebody tried to take it away from you, how would you like it?


Of course that’s true at the presidential level too. And they can’t hide the resentment of their challengers. There used to be such phenomena as “my worthy opponent” and “the loyal opposition” but that has long since disappeared, replaced by contempt and, I hate to say it, downright disdain.


Never have these things been more at play than in this election. This is the first time that an election has actually seemed scary to me. This strange Halloween will be well over by election day on Tuesday, but will the election be over after election day? You wonder.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Possible Old Central sale revives rivalry tales...

Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune, October 17, 2020

So, the Duluth School Board is going about selling Historic Old Central High School. Whew. I have pretty strong feelings about that.


Some history of my own: I’m an old (I’ll say) Denfeld boy. In my childhood, growing up in the West End (now Lincoln Park), I wanted two things in life: To go to Denfeld and to go to heaven. So far I have achieved just one of them and lately I’ve been wondering about the other.


I went to Denfeld in the mid-1950s when the rivalry between Denfeld and Central was at its height. We hated Central. We despised Central. We loathed Central. I’m running out of verbs.


It’s safe to say that the kids at Central felt the same way about Denfeld.


At an early age I learned a saying that sticks with me today. It’s like a sports cheer: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, all good people go to heaven, when they get there they will yell: Central, Central, go to….” Well, you know. This is a family newspaper. Hades doesn’t rhyme with yell.


The extreme rivalry between Denfeld and Central achieved a fever pitch each autumn with the annual Denfeld-Central football game at Public Schools Stadium, out there in West Duluth right next to Denfeld. In fact, while it was supposed to be for all public schools, we Denfeldites claimed it as our own.


When the Central football team and fans showed up for the annual game, we felt they were invading our territory.


For reasons I can’t fathom today, the powers that were in Duluth Public Schools would schedule the Denfeld-Central game as close to Halloween as possible to assure mutual destruction and the spirit of mischief among students at each school. Paint would be used at times to deface each other’s buildings. Cops were on alert.


Lunchtime raids by marauding students from both schools on each campus in crepe paper-decorated cars in each school’s colors — Denfeld was maroon and gold; Central red and white — on the day of the big game drew disgusting jeers and taunts by students on the raided campus. Middle fingers raised and aimed in both directions were common.


In the morning, the schools held “pep” assemblies in their auditoriums to put everyone in the frenzied mood. Halls in the schools were decorated in school colors and posters encouraging victory in the game were plastered everywhere. Little or no learning took place. This was war.


It was all very exciting. Fun, actually. High school in Duluth in a time long past. What about East? East didn’t count. Just a bunch of cake eaters whose school had only been founded as a high school in the early ‘50s. Not enough time for traditions, rivalries and blind hatred to develop. (Don’t get angry, East. Fine school; educated my kids.) Morgan Park and Cathedral were just too small. Besides, they didn’t have clock towers.


Denfeld and Central were the big show. Hunters vs. Trojans. John Vucinovich, Central’s coach, vs. Walt Hunting, Denfeld’s. Both were legendary.


In those days, Public Schools Stadium had stands facing each other with the football field separating them. Good thing. The animosity could have led to serious confrontations if the opposing loyalists were mixed. If memory serves (and so often it doesn’t) the two schools alternated sides of the field each year.


Down in front girl cheerleaders clad in their school colors would lead the crowd into a frenzy. “Hurrah for the red and white,” the cheerleaders for Central would sing. On the Denfeld side, “One, two, three, four…” Well maybe not that but “Roll on to victory..,” and “When the Denfeld Hunters fall in line they’re gonna win this game another time” led by the maroon and gold-clad Denfeld cheerleaders.


The uniformed marching bands of both schools would accompany all this, seated in front rows above the 50 yard line across the field from each other.


Regardless of who won the game, when it ended large numbers kids from each school would descend on Superior Street in downtown Duluth, cars still decorated with crepe paper, horns honking, jeers exchanged, impromptu drag races at corners when the traffic signals changed to green. Pandemonium reigned. Talk about American graffiti. Talk about fun.


So why would I, a superannuated Denfeld chauvinist, so regret the possible impending sale of Historic Old Central, which was converted into the district’s administration headquarters and hasn’t actually served as a school since 1971? I have come to love that building, and for what it has represented for nearly 130 years. Like the Aerial Lift Bridge, old Central, with its imposing clock tower and stone facade, is a symbol of Duluth. I am concerned a private owner wouldn’t take proper care of it.


Several years ago, a few of us from this newspaper took a tour of the building, which included a climb into the tower, looking at those four clocks from the inside and the intricate mechanism of their operation. It is a vantage point that offers breathtaking views of Duluth in all directions.


With my history as a Denfeld grad, loyal to my high school for all these years, I stood in the Central tower and scanned the hundreds of autographs scrawled on every flat surface, put there by students who loved their school for nearly 80 years.


Glancing furtively around, I added mine. And proud to have it there.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Plenty of presidential visits here in the past...

Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune, October 3, 2020

Before President Trump’s visit to Duluth earlier this week, this newspaper ran a story about how popular Duluth has become in election years for visits from high-profile candidates and their family members.


The story recounted how his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, was also here a little over a week ago, that Donald Trump Jr. showed up and Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump recently made a joint appearance here in support of the incumbent.


I’m sure you recall all that very recent history even if you’re only half paying attention. But the story sparked in me recollections of previous visits to Duluth by high-profile candidates, quite a few of whom I saw either as a civilian or a journalist, and one as a member of the Army National Guard.


Truman in Duluth, 1948
So today I thought I’d recall some of those in the past starting — believe it or not — with President Harry S. Truman in 1948. Truman, as vice president, had become chief executive upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, but was facing the electorate for the first time in his bid to remain in the highest office in the land.


He toured large swaths of the country by train during that successful campaign and eventually the Truman campaign train showed up in Superior, his starting off point in the Head of the Lakes for a visit by car across the bay to Duluth on a sunny autumn day. That’s when I saw him.


I was in fourth grade at Lincoln Elementary that fall and we were told by our teacher that anyone who wanted to be let out of school in the early afternoon to see the president should bring a note and we could be released.


I took the bus downtown with my mother and we stood at First Avenue East and Superior Street when Truman was driven by seated on the back of a top-down convertible, waving at the throngs — yes, that’s the proper word — that lined Superior Street along the route.


A bunch of teenagers on top of the building across the street were hollering “phooey on Dewey” as a smiling “Give ‘em Hell Harry” slowly rolled by. Truman’s Republican opponent was Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York making his second run for the presidency, having been defeated by ailing Roosevelt in 1944.


Eisenhower, Duluth MN 1952
Truman was the first president I saw in person but not the last, by far. He was succeeded by former Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower who was elected in 1952 after a campaign that also included a visit to Duluth. I just caught a fleeting glimpse of him as he was driven a block from our house en route to the airport after appearances downtown.


I knew the route he was to take so I waited for the entourage to come, and there was Ike in the back seat of a hard-top Cadillac limo, waving out a side window to people lining the avenue, his famous grin intact. I had actually seen him once before, still in uniform, being escorted around the Minnesota State Fair just after World War II. (Yeah, I’m that old.)


Our next president, John F. Kennedy, had campaigned in the area in 1960 but he also showed up in Duluth as president in September 1963 when he was gearing up for his run for a second term in 1964. I’ve written about this before in columns, but, briefly, I was a member of a Duluth-based Army National Guard unit that was activated for the visit of our commander in chief.


We were lining Superior Street but I was ordered to the entrance to Hotel Duluth along with about a dozen other troopers to hold back crowds as Kennedy entered the hotel, where he would stay the night. The unexpected duty got me within a few feet of the smiling Kennedy after he alighted from the Lincoln limo he would be riding in two months later when he was assassinated in Dallas.


Onward. In 1964, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater’s vice presidential running mate, U.S. Rep. William E. Miller, showed up in Duluth that fall, spending most of his few hours here on the UMD campus. By then I was a newspaper reporter and part of the team covering him. Goldwater was soundly defeated by Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy’s vice president who had taken over when Kennedy was murdered. Miller disappeared into the mists of history.


Minnesota’s own Hubert H. Humphrey, Johnson’s vice presidential pick, visited us numerous times throughout his lengthy political career as a U.S. senator. He got the Democratic nomination for president in 1968 but lost to Richard Nixon, who had campaigned here when he faced Kennedy in 1960 but I never saw him. 


Also in 1968, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, running for president on the third party American Independent ticket as a segregationist, showed up in the Duluth Arena, drawing a huge crowd. I was seated with others in the media slightly behind the stage and noticed Wallace’s lectern was huge and thick, large enough for a speaker to duck into if shots were fired. That didn’t happen here, of course, but he later was shot and lived the rest of his life as a paraplegic. 


Humphrey returned to the Senate after losing the election, continuing his long-time association with the Head of the Lakes. I had lunch with him one of those times, and he always sent a Christmas card.


In 1976, following Nixon’s impeachment in1974, his vice president and successor, Gerald Ford, was the Republican selected to face Gov. Jimmy Carter of Georgia in the race for the White House. Carter won. He showed up here in 1978 campaigning for Democrats in the mid-term elections. He spoke in Symphony Hall on a stage lined with Democratic candidates from Minnesota and Wisconsin, most of whom lost that year. I didn’t meet him, but sat with the press in a front row where I noticed grease spots on his trousers. It’s always hard to eat on airplanes.


Carter lost to Ronald Reagan two years later. I’m not aware that Reagan ever graced the Northland, but his 1984 opponent, Vice President Walter Mondale, certainly had, and did. I’d met him before but he visited us at the News Tribune on one trip to Duluth during that campaign. He was over confident in light of the way things turned out.


The next sitting president to show up was Bill Clinton, half way through his second term, to campaign for Democrats. He spoke at UMD, where I was in the audience with other press people. I didn’t meet him but he made quite a splash here, even going for a run on Skyline Drive.


In 2004 Republican President George W. Bush appeared before an enthusiastic crowd in the Duluth Arena. I was there with other media members. We were corralled as far from the president as possible, in keeping with presidents’ lack of affinity with the press. His wife, Laura, campaigned here too, at Bayfront Park. They won.


Which brings us to the present. I will never count Trump among the presidents and candidates I’ve actually seen while campaigning in Duluth. When he was here on Wednesday I had to see a man about a horse.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at