Thursday, August 27, 2020

A look back at newspaper, city history...

DNT City Editors, Jim Heffernan & Bob Knaus
& summer interns posing by printing press. 1972

Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune, DNT Extra edition Inside Scoop: Memorable Northland events as told by the News Tribune Journalists who covered them, in print on Wednesday, August 27, 2020 

October 1963: John F. Kennedy was president–but wouldn’t be for long. Queen Elizabeth was on the throne of England–had been for about a decade. Fidel Castro was roiling the Caribbean. Closer to home, downtown Duluth was the center of local commerce–there was no Miller Hill Mall. Oh, and I began a job as a reporter for this newspaper.


This newspaper at the time was really two newspapers under the same roof–the morning Duluth News Tribune and the evening Duluth Herald. (A widely shared joke in those days called them The Morning Liar and the Evening Repeater). It amounted to the publication of 13 newspapers a week–seven News Tribunes and six Heralds–delivered to the doorsteps of tens of thousands of Northland subscribers by school kids eager to make a few bucks. 

Now, back to the present, in a couple of weeks, daily home delivery of this one remaining newspaper ends; publication scales back to two papers a week–Wednesdays and Saturdays–arriving in the mail. Of course the newspaper’s coverage continues daily–even hourly–on line. Times change.


Jim Heffernan in DNT newsroom
circa mid 60's

Back in 1963 when I walked into the newspaper building (currently for sale) it was a pretty big operation, employing hundreds in the plant, a couple dozen in the news and sports departments. I was totally unprepared. I hadn’t majored in journalism in college nor had I worked on school papers. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life, so actually being hired someplace was welcome. So was the 75 bucks a week.


About a month before I showed up at the paper, having recently returned from active Army duty, my Duluth National Guard unit was involved in “guarding” President Kennedy on his visit here. About a month after I began my job at this paper as a general assignment reporter, I was involved in local coverage of Kennedy’s assassination. Things were moving real fast.


They were moving real fast throughout Duluth too. When I began my journalism career the newspaper was located where it is now, Fifth Avenue West and First Street. The back of our building, where they loaded our delivery trucks, was across the alley from the back of the magnificent old Lyceum Theater in its last days in a run that had begun in 1891. Across Superior Street from the Lyceum’s imposing facade the stately Spalding Hotel, a contemporary of the Lyceum, still stood, but had recently closed.


Across Fifth Avenue West stood the Holland Hotel, still in operation but its days were numbered too, along with the Fifth Avenue Hotel, across Superior Street from the Holland. The Radisson is now where the Holland was and the Duluth Public Library is on the Fifth Avenue Hotel site, in a block considered the city’s “bowery,” locus of the oxymoronic Classy Lumberjack tavern.


A few blocks east on Superior Street there were several department stores, the most prominent being the Glass Block. Across the street was Wahl’s and kitty-corner Montgomery Ward had a sizable store. A little farther east was Oreck’s and Sears operated in a building that is now a casino. In between were myriad specialty stops offering everything from sports equipment to clothing for women and men, to shoes only, luggage–anything anybody might need.


There were also several movie theaters, and we can’t overlook various bars and restaurants nestled in among everything else. One, called The Flame, was operating on the bayfront at the foot of Fifth Avenue West, site of the aquarium today. It was Duluth’s classiest eatery, always with entertainment–dining and dancing, as they used to put it. Across the avenue, also on the waterfront, site preparation for the Duluth Arena Auditorium was getting under way. It opened in 1966.


And towering over all this were the banking facilities, business and medical offices, some of them where they are today but with different names. What is now Miller Hill Mall was a golf driving range, which went up in the 1950s on undeveloped land.


That’s not all. There were major bustling industries, including the Duluth Works of United States Steel, called American Steel and Wire, employing thousands at its Morgan Park location. Clyde Iron in the West End was multi-decades away from becoming a restaurant. Up over the hill, the U.S. Air Force had established a major air base to ward off enemy attacks from the Soviet Union (now Russia) during the Cold War. Many Air Force personnel from warmer climates found out in Duluth just how cold the war could be.


The University of Minnesota Duluth (known then as the Duluth Branch of the University of Minnesota) had around 2,000 students, maybe 1,999 after I left the previous year. There are upwards of 10,000 now.


That was Duluth in 1963 when I became a reporter and where I have continued an association with the daily newspaper in one form or another to this day.


Not in our wildest imagination at that time could we ever foresee the newspaper business changing nationally the way it has. Here and elsewhere it was an institution, like the seats of government across the street from our building in the Duluth Civic Center.


When I showed up in the newsroom, many, if not most, of the other men–yes, men–had served in World War II. What about women? There were two: the “society” editor and her assistant. They worked during the day; those of us on the morning Tribune worked evenings and nights. Evening Herald workers were leaving as we arrived.


We wrote our stories using manual Royal typewriters on leftover newsprint from the press downstairs. Electric typewriters had been invented, of course, but the newspaper management at the time was not quick to upgrade. I could recognize my desk in old newspapering movies from the 1930s.


Those World War II vets used the hunt and peck system of typing, but they were fast. I had taken typing in high school and the first night on the job I was asked by the city editor if I could type. When I said I could he said I had half the battle won. I didn’t, but it was encouraging.


Yup, things change. About all I can think of that hasn’t, for the purposes of this column, are I am still here, and Elizabeth is still queen.


It’s been quite a ride for both of us.


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


1 comment:

gloria said...

I moved to Duluth & share so many of these memories. First apartment was in Central Hillside