Sunday, June 28, 2020

Duluth statues appear safe from toppling...

UMD statue of Daniel Greysolon Sier DuLhut
created by French sculptor, Jaques Lipschitz
 Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune on June 28, 2019

Statues are falling all around the country but I think our statues in Duluth are safe. We haven’t got too many, and those we do have are pretty innocuous.

Take Daniel Greysolon Sieur DuLhut up at UMD. I covered the unveiling of that statue–high on a pedestal in Ordean Court on campus–for the paper in the mid-1960s. It was a cool, crisp but beautiful autumn day. Folding chairs were set up for maybe 200 people to witness the great unveiling.


The sculptor, Frenchman Jacques Lipchitz, whose name was very hard to say out loud without blushing, actually came to Duluth for the unveiling. It was quite exciting to see this world-famous sculptor that almost nobody around here had ever actually heard of.


Then in his 70s, Lipchitz was every bit the French artistic gentlemen on his Duluth visit. I think he might even have been wearing a beret, although I might have fancifully added that to his image in my memory bank because…well…because he was a French artist. Who can imagine a male French artist without a beret?


Anyway, the great sculptor was difficult to interview because he knew very little, if any, English, and I don’t recall that they had a translator handy. I considered throwing out a few Frenchy words like “fond du lac” and “grand marais” to demonstrate my remarkable Euro centric sophistication, but thought better of it.


As the formal program began, speeches were given by the mayor and other local dignitaries as we all listened attentively, anxiously awaiting the big moment when Jacques Lipchitz would pull the cord, the shroud covering his depiction of our city’s namesake would fall and we could see what the French explorer looked like.


When it finally happened, applause ensued, but it seemed that many in the audience were surprised and a bit nonplussed. For one thing, everyone thought Sieur DuLhut was a lot taller than he is portrayed to be in the sculpture. And many were wondering what he was doing pointing toward Wisconsin. And was that a hot dog in his hand?


Still, it was exciting, seeing our namesake in all of his regalia, flowing garments on his body, an imposing hat, a sword on his hip. He looked a little rumpled, as though he had been sleeping in a canoe.


It was considered such an important artistic occasion that Time Magazine ran a story and photograph of the sculpture.


Several years later, chatting with a high-level UMD official about the statue, he noted that Sieur DuLhut, in the heart of the Minnesota-Duluth campus, seems to be pointing toward the University of Wisconsin Superior and saying, “Don’t ever lose a football game over there.”


I always think of that when I encounter the statue on visits to UMD. Come to think of it, I don’t think the denizens of the gridiron ever did.


But onward. Famed Viking explorer Leif Erikson is brought to life with an imposing statue in Duluth’s park that bears his name. I have heard people who know a thing or two about art maintain that, unlike Lipschitz-wrought Daniel Greysolon Sieur DuLhut, Leif is not…well…not distinguished art.


It looks as though Leif, in his Duluth stone incarnation, is holding up his hand to block the sun from his eyes. Really, of all the great deeds of this Viking explorer (like finding America), shielding the sun from his eyes does not seem to be a signal accomplishment, but then those other Vikings never won a Super Bowl either.


Or maybe Leif is squinting from the sun and thinking, where’s my boat?


Which brings us to bearded Jay Cooke and his collie, seated with his leg crossed over his other knee where Superior Street and London Road split up. Jay Cooke was an extremely wealthy financier from the East who was highly influential in the very founding of Duluth in the 1800s. Of course he is blamed for causing the fabled Panic of 1873 that brought the entire country to its knees, but that doesn’t mean you can’t name a state park after him.


The Duluth Cooke statue is one of the few sculptures in existence that depicts the subject with his dog. The collie by Jay’s side is not named, unfortunately, but he or she (Lassie?) protects the statue of its master from ever being defiled in any way. Who would tear down a statue of a dog? Horses, yes, but surely not a dog.


Old Albert Woolson is brought to life with a statue showing him seated outside the Depot downtown. Woolson, 109, was the last surviving member of the Union army in the Civil War. When he died here in 1956 a massive funeral was held in the Duluth Armory, a venue better known as the place where teenaged Bob Dylan (then Zimmerman) saw Buddy Holly perform his hits like “That’ll Be the Day,” presciently referring to completion of the Armory’s restoration.


That completes the list of major statues in Duluth that I can think of off hand. Oh, there’s a Roman centurion in the Civic Center and the mini Statue of Liberty down by the DECC. Very inspiring. Very patriotic. Very much resembles Elvis Presley, I’ve always felt.


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

Friday, June 19, 2020

Juneteenth for the Twins: Calvin Griffith is out

The Minnesota Twins announced today–on Juneteenth–that the statue of former Twins owner Calvin Griffith has been removed from Target Field due to racist remarks he made in 1978 in a speech before the Waseca, MN, Lions Club in 1978. (Read the MPR story HERE) The poem below was written in response to news of that appearance and speech. 

Calvin at the Plate ~ By Jim Heffernan

Originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, October 8, 1978 

& republished in 2008 in Heffernan's book, Cooler Near the Lake.

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Lions Club that day;

The chaplain muffed the praying and the Lions would have to pay.

And so when Calvin took the stand, and after they hand dined,

The Lions sat back to listen up, looking leonine.


The subject would be baseball, appropriately enough,

But who could know the speaker would be dishing out such guff;

A simple little meeting, in a simple little town,

Would make the club look foolish and the speaker look a clown.


But Calvin didn’t know that day the ripples he would cause;

He tried his best to stand the test and gather up applause.

But his audience included, much to his distress,

A writer taking lots of notes, and he was from the press.


So when Calvin started talking, and missing not a point,

The air was filled with silence, and smoke filled up the joint.

The speaker tried for laughter, and getting himself none,

He thought he’d toss some spice around, to add it to the fun.


He started out with marriage, an honorable state,

But Calvin said it had no place on or near home plate;

He said his catcher Wynegar would be better off still free:

He didn’t care that Wynegar’s wife would deign to disagree.


Free love, he said, comes pretty cheap for players of the game;

A lad should take advantage, and build upon his name,

And then when extra innings in the game of life are played,

There’s plenty of time for marriage, when life’s a bit more staid.


There was ease in Calvin’s manner as he shifted on his hips;

There was pride in Calvin’s bearing, and a smile on Calvin’s lips;

There was scotch in Calvin’s belly, and a redness on his face,

When Calvin turned the subject to a place known as first base.


His voice boomed like thunder when he talked of Rod Carew;

And everyone was shocked when he called him a damn fool.

Rod sold himself too cheap, he said, so we gave him a bonus;

He really should to appreciate such treatment from the owners.


Then Calvin changed his visage, his voice a quiet roar;

“In the old days players cared,” he cried, “but they don’t any more.”

And throwing out an epithet, the kind we know so well,

He told the stadium commission that it could go to hell.


And hitting Billy Martin–he couldn’t let that pass–

He said the feisty manager could charm a monkey’s---.  

And he said Bill never punched a man who looked to be his size;

He’ll have to live with that one, until the day he dies.


And then as if to top the rest, ol’ Cal went on to say,

The team could leave tomorrow, but it’s still here today

Because we moved from Washington, balls, bats, gloves and sacks,

When we heard that Minnesota had but fifteen thousand blacks.


Oh!  Somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,

But there was no joy in Twinsville, When Calvin G. spoke out. 


Sunday, June 14, 2020

A look back six months: Was it all a dream — or a nightmare?

Written By: Jim Heffernan, For the Duluth News Tribune | Jun 14th 2020 


Return with me now to last New Year’s Eve–six months ago. I know…it already feels like different time in another era. Looks like it was, come to think of it.


Our New Year’s Eve 2019 was typical. For many years, we have celebrated the arrival of the new year the same way. Close friends annually throw a party in their home and invite a coterie of old friends together with some newer acquaintances. Adds up to upwards of a dozen or so celebrants.


Good food and drink, good company, shed the old, ring in the new, bright hopes for the future, etc., etc., etc.


Upon arrival, I was quite startled to see an old acquaintance from way back in our college days. I had thought we were both dead. I’d heard talk of him in the intervening years–about how he’d gone to Alaska and made a fortune in fish. I’ll call him Willie to protect the innocent. 


I spotted him across the crowded room shortly after arriving and immediately approached him. “Fancy seeing you here,” I enthused. “Happy New Year.”


“Not gonna be so happy,” my very old rich friend responded.


Oh, oh, I was thinking. He must think the stock market is going to crash or the banks fail. The truly wealthy worry about that a lot. I asked him what he meant by the dour new year remark.


He took a sip of the red wine he was holding and said, “Well, it looks like there’s going to be a global pandemic affecting everyone in one way or another, killing thousands and throwing the economy into a tailspin.”


Whew, that was pretty shocking to hear. “Aw, you’ve got to be kidding. Can’t happen today,” I responded. “Ain’t happened since 1918.” I was quick with that date because my parents experienced it. “America can beat back any disease. It’s about to become 2020,” I went on.


“It’s gonna happen again in 2020,” said Willie, but I laughed it off. It was New Year’s Eve, after all. Let’s party. I wasn’t going to let that pessimistic tycoon ruin the evening.


“You wait and see,” he continued. “And if you think that’s bad, wait’ll you see what’s going to happen to the economy. The pandemic is going to close down the country and millions of workers will lose their jobs. Unemployment will match that experienced in the Great Depression.”


I started looking around the room for other people to talk to, to ring in the new year on a more optimistic note. Everybody was laughing, jabbering, imbibing a bit, munching on goodies and looking forward to the midnight arrival of 2020.


As I was attempting to break away, he took my arm and said, “There’s more.”


“More?” I responded. “What more?”


Willie looked me in the eye and said, “There’s going to be an incident of police brutality in Minneapolis resulting in the murder of an African American man that will result in major rioting in American cities and even spread throughout Europe and elsewhere.”


I just stared blankly at him with a look of incredulity. “Yeah, right,” I responded. “Are you sure that’s only wine you’ve got in that glass?”


“A major neighborhood in Minneapolis will be destroyed by rioting,” he went on. “Similar rioting will go on in major cities across the country–New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Portland and Seattle. The Minnesota National Guard will be activated in Minneapolis to restore order and in St. Paul to protect the Capitol.”


I figured the minnow mogul had gone off his rocker somehow. “Hey, come on, I responded. “This is America. Things can’t get out of control like that here.”


With talk like that I was starting to experience a great depression of my own. Besides, it was only just talk. 


I moved on to engage with other revelers, leaving him standing alone in a corner sipping his wine and eyeing the hors d’oeuvres. It was New Year’s Eve, after all. Bring on 2020.


In keeping with our annual practice, we all gathered in front of the smart TV as the countdown to the new year began. The Times Square ball had dropped an hour earlier in New York. Now it was our turn to toot our party horns and toast the new year with glasses of champagne.


As the clock struck midnight, spouses kissed, friends hugged, warm greetings were exchanged and “Auld Lang Syne” was sung in typical fashion. I glanced around the room for Willie, but he was gone, disappeared like a thief in the night.


“Jeez,” I said to a fellow partier standing nearby, “poor Willie ˙has really gone off the deep end predicting the new year will change our lives forever after disease, economic collapse and anarchy.”


“Happy New Year,” my friend said, affecting an ironic tone.


“Here’s hoping,” said I, my usually sunny optimism flagging.


The next morning I awoke thinking, did I dream all that? What a nightmare.


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