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