Saturday, December 24, 2022

All about Christmas Eve...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/Saturday, 12-24-22

Well, it’s arrived — Christmas Eve. “Finally,” go the excited children; “already?” think the harried adults making preparations. But here it is, and there’s no turning back, except in golden memories of Christmases past.


As a child, Christmas Eve was always the most anticipated part of the holiday for me. That’s when Santa Claus came. In the flesh, right to our porch door, ho-ho-ho-ing as he emptied his pack full of gifts through the open door, greeted by one of the adults in the two-family gathering.


Out on the lawn, from where a clatter arose, you could hear the tinkling of sleigh bells (real ones) as we imagined eight tiny reindeer prancing and pawing each little hoof waiting for Santa to hop back into the sleigh, give them a whistle, and off they’d go like the down of a thistle. They’d be heading for other communities like Hibbing, Chisholm, Eveleth and, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus heading your way.


Exciting time for the children in our family. We weren’t bothered by the lack of fireplaces in our homes. We knew he’d come right up on the porch with our gifts as we excitedly reacted, adults restraining us from running to the door to actually see him. Good thing. Had we escaped we’d have seen a couple of adult men of the family carrying out the magic in shirtsleeves.


We were — and are — big Santa Claus people. Due to the theatrics described above, I was a firm believer in Santa Claus far longer than most of my friends. Eventually, it became apparent to my parents, so my father sat me down for a serious talk. I was concerned he was going to tell me about the birds and the bees. I knew all about them. No, the message was that maybe it was time to realize the truth about Santa.


Hold it. Did that happen or did I dream it?


So the magic was over for me and the other kids in the extended family as we moved into our teens. A couple of us were the youngest — no younger siblings waiting in the wings for whom to enact our Christmas Eve drama.


Sad, but it didn’t last long. In the twinkle of an eye, suddenly an older relative, who had married, showed up on Christmas Eve with a baby, soon a toddler, soon joined by more of that next generation.


Off we went again on our Christmas Eve theatrics, more wide-eyed children restrained by parents as the Jolly Old Elf showed up on our porches. Out came the sleigh bells, older relatives disappearing briefly to assist Santa.


And so it continues, but there are complications. My generation married and started families, and then the next generation — our kids — did the same. Family Christmas obligations inevitably become divided, with each young family heading off in different directions for part of the holiday.


In the case of my immediate family, our traditional gathering was moved from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. How’s that going to play for the young grandchildren and our Santa theatrics?


Never fear. Perhaps you didn’t realize that after Santa makes his rounds on Christmas Eve in the northern hemisphere, he must also see to the children of South America. Yup, he heads down over the equator and brings gifts to excited children down there. This takes time, of course, and by the time he’s finished in Chile and Argentina, Christmas Day is already dawning when he heads back up to the North Pole, his rounds complete. Almost.


On his way back up north, he shows up at our Christmas Day family gathering after the evening meal, pounding on the porch door, opened by one of us adults, another having disappeared into the cold, and pouring gifts into our arms, the little ones restrained by moms and others.


I was concerned that this scenario might even be coming to an end as the kids two generations down from me began to age out of being true believers. But, guess what? Our extended family celebration this year is welcoming a new set of little ones, prime for our Christmas theatrics.


And so it goes. Christmas and children go together like a sleigh and reindeer. As Charles Dickens put it: “… it is good to be children sometimes, never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”


Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays everyone.


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

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Let's get that A out of lutAfisk...

Lutefisk serving, courtesy of Wikipedia
Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/12-10-22

Well, the holidays have arrived, ready or not. I like the holidays but there are, of course, problems with them.

I’m not talking about how busy they increasingly become, or how expensive they can be, or how much weight we can gain eating all of those holiday goodies. I’m talking about a problem largely unique to people living in areas populated by ancestors who hailed from Scandinavian countries. Like around here. Like me.


Oh, I know Finland and Denmark are Scandinavian countries, along with Sweden and Norway, in the minds of most, but my research has shown that Denmark is really sort of Germanish. (I had a grandmother from a far northern German province and the family wasn’t sure if she was German or Danish, depending on the direction of the 20th Century’s two major world wars, labeled I and II to tell them apart.)


I read once that Finland was originally populated by ancient tribes hailing from east of their spot on the map, linking them more to the steppes of Central Asia, but they are part of Scandinavia in the minds of most and Helsinki sure felt like it when I visited there once. Oh, that gollamoijaka (or however it’s spelled).


It’s complicated, and why should we care? Well, one reason is that many of our holiday traditions are handed down through the generations going all the way back to the original immigrants from the various northern European countries who populated this region.


Which raises the problem of lutefisk. We all know that lutefisk, like fruitcake, can be a holiday joke wherever it is served, like in what used to be known as our “Upper Tri-State Region” where so many Scandinavians settled. This region also used to be known as the “Northwest” until somebody pointed out where Seattle is on the U.S. map. Oops, sorry.


But it is here in the upper U.S. that lutefisk is king, and considered either a delicacy or a joke. It was served each holiday season (but not ON Christmas) in my growing-up home by my Swedish-heritage mother. My father liked it, although he was not Scandinavian at all. He considered himself Irish although his mother was from either Germany or Denmark depending on those world wars. The Irish actually have a past in Lutefisk. More on that later.


I never cared for lutefisk. Too slimy for me. But at least I know how to pronounce its name, which is the problem I cite today after this long introduction.


I have noticed that many — actually most — people around here incorrectly call it luteAfisk when the subject comes up. They do this innocently with all good intentions and no malice toward lutefisk.


But it’s time now to correct this travesty. So once and for all, it’s lutefisk — two syllables. Not luteAfisk, with that rogue A inserted, bringing the name of the food way up to three syllables. So, let’s all start at least pronouncing it correctly, whether we like lutefisk or not.


Now back to the Irish involvement in lutefisk. There are many tales of how lutefisk was invented, most of them pointing out that up in Norway or over in Sweden many centuries ago somebody took cod fish, dried it out on wooden racks, soaked it in lye for many weeks, salted it down so the lye wouldn’t kill people and cooked it up in various LutAran churches — sans the meatballs.


Now we hear the tale that none other than Irish St. Patrick is credited with employing lutefisk to poison Vikings when they raided Ireland several centuries ago. Instead of going ahead and dying, the Vikings liked it, brought the idea back home and it became a holiday staple.


This history has been brought into question by Google, when it points out that St. Patrick was driving the grasshoppers from the Emerald Isle centuries before the Vikings raided. Details, details.


Well, that’s my treatise on lutefisk. Pronounce it correctly and enjoy it while (if?) you can because it disappears in a couple of weeks. So will sylta, my favorite Scandinavian delicacy. It used to be called “head cheese” because it was made out of the brains of whatever slaughtered animals were too stupid to avoid their fate. Those old Scandinavians were frugal folk and wasted not a thing.


They don’t make sylta out of brains anymore, though, and it’s starting to show up in education results. (Yes, I know, that’s as nutty as a fruitcake.)


Well anyway, Happy Holidays, in spite of all this.


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

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Use of foul language on rise in U.S...

Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/11-26-22

So many bad words are creeping into the mainstream media lately that I’m becoming concerned we’ll lose some of the euphemisms that have been worthy substitutes for years — all my life, and that’s quite a few years.


Holy smokes! I actually heard the famous F word out loud recited by a U.S. congressman during the Jan. 6 committee hearing. And it shows up elsewhere too, not only on TV but in print in some newspapers and magazines, often with the first letter and asterisks: F*** in quoting the most recent ex-president when he’s “ticked” off. And that’s not the only vulgar term that’s bubbling to the surface and being spouted publicly.


It used to be that you could have the same impact with a substitute word or phrase. Words like “heck” instead of that place down below where the devil lives, or “gosh darn.” the substitute for, well, you know. (You can say what you want about the devil, but there’s no denying that he makes “darn” good chocolate cake and hard-boiled eggs.)


As a good Lutheran boy, I didn’t learn to swear in my growing-up home. No such utterances were ever allowed. As a child I was told swearing was a “sin” and that every time you used a bad word the man upstairs marked it down on a scroll and, well, if enough words got listed, off you go when your time comes to that place where the devil lives and rules. That place was often referred to as “H-E double toothpicks” to avoid using the actual name in polite company.


Holy mackerel! Ending up in “hades” scared the living (you know what and it ain’t “daylights”) out of me and I refrained from cussing as long as I could.  But, of course, eventually you pick up all the requisite words on the street or in the alley, as was the case with me. It wasn’t long before I acquired the proper vocabulary sufficient for hanging around the corner gas station, smoking cigarettes, kicking tires and noticing everybody’s dirty fingernails. Grease’ll do that.


By the time I was in high school I was as good a cusser as any other boy, although it was generally understood that girls didn’t swear and didn’t even know what the words meant — especially the more intimate references rooted in body parts and procreation activities (if you catch my drift). Girls were above that. Way above.


My swearing improved dramatically when I went into the Army in my early 20s. Sergeants can work foul language into every command they bark and into every rebuke of an individual soldier beneath them who screws up. (Screws up is a handy euphemism for a stronger, more vulgar rebuke.)


Who’d have thought that in the 21st century many of these words would become common parlance among respected leaders as well as the rest of us?


Wasn’t the world better when, instead of coming right out with a bad word or phrase, mouthing something like  “goodness gracious sakes alive” was good enough? Darn tootin, I say.


Everybody knows what B.S. stands for but instead of using the initials for that vulgarity or actually mouthing the words, wouldn’t it be better to simply respond to a bald-faced lie with, “And the farmer hauled another load away?”


Then there’s S.O.B., also known to virtually everyone as a grievous insult, sometimes deserved. But still, there are substitutes that don’t involve the sacred state of motherhood. “Son of a gun” works, or even “Son of a sea cook.” I doubt if sea cooks would mind. They likely know a few bad words themselves, being seafaring men and women.


Oh nuts! I see by the gull darn word count on my computer that I’m near the end here, doggone it. How we express ourselves these days is a serious matter, for cripe’s sakes. We’ve simply gotta get busy and clean up the mother tongue, for crying out loud.


Finis. (A perfectly fine F word.)


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


Saturday, November 12, 2022

Nasty election finally over...

Written By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/11-12-22

Well, it’s over. The election, that is. Heaven knows it was the election from hell.

At this writing I don’t know who won what. Newspaper feature deadlines are such that this is being written too early in the week to know all the outcomes of Tuesday’s election. Besides, many races weren’t expected to be decided until much later in the week — like today.


So we likely all know the results by now (as this is being read) and I’m happy for you if things went the way you had hoped, and sorry if they didn’t. The way this election went down, though, was disgusting.


I spent the bulk of my journalism career associated in one way or another with politics at every level. Because of this I’ve met every high-level politician from Minnesota (and to some extent Wisconsin) from the early 1960s through the early years of this century. That’s all the governors, the U.S. senators and Congress members from this part of the state together with state lawmakers from around here. And also many of their challengers who hoped to defeat them. Oh, throw in mayors, city councilors, county board members — the whole kit and caboodle. But I never interviewed a candidate for dogcatcher, more’s the shame.


This is not boasting; it comes with the territory of some aspects of newspaper work.


And I have to say, this has been the nastiest election I have ever seen, including during all the years I was active in covering them, or writing stories and editorial opinions on candidates.


Will I take sides here? No. Campaigning, one party’s as bad as the other today. You wince at those ubiquitous television ads, showing candidates in dark tones and describing all of the terrible things they have done and will do both in their personal and public lives. They are the scum of the earth, the ads convey.


Jeez, who wants to be that mean? The political parties do, that’s who. It’s called negative campaigning, and it works.


In past elections, candidates often were referred to as “worthy opponents” and “the loyal opposition.” That is history. Instead we have ominous voices telling us on TV that if elected so-and-so will destroy our country (or state or congressional district, or state legislative districts).


In contrast, over the years, in conversing with myriad politicians and their challengers I generally found them to be pretty nice people. They harbored their own ideologies, of course, and proudly stated them, but they stuck to the issues of the day. I don’t recall any of them harshly knocking their opponents in a personal way like they did in this campaign. The best ones were way above that.


And while I might have had my own ideological opinions in meeting with those whose political views I knew were opposed to mine, it didn’t affect our cordial contact at all.


On the personal level, I liked both Democrats and Republicans, some better than others. I suppose among Minnesota governors, my favorite was the late Rudy Perpich. He could make any contact cordial while also espousing knowledgeable policy positions. And he was very common in his demeanor.


One time in a group dining with him in a restaurant, he insisted his security guard (a uniformed state trooper) be seated with the rest of us. After leaving office the first time (he served as Minnesota governor twice) he worked in Croatia, the homeland of his parents. I had the occasion to mention him in a humorous way in a column (he WAS known as “Governor Goofy” recall) and he called me from Croatia to good-naturedly rib me about what I’d written. It was when the Balkans were in upheaval, and I thought I could hear gunfire in the background.


Perpich was a Democrat. How about a Republican? Former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger was an affable interviewee who seemed intent on doing good for Minnesotans more than promoting ideological precepts of his party. And like Perpich, he openly displayed a light-hearted side of his personality. Unlike so many politicians, especially today’s, he knew how to laugh.


One time during a dinner meeting I mentioned a line I’d heard pointing out that then President Ronald Reagan was “older than Yugoslavia.” Loyal Republican Durenberger burst out in uproarious laughter at that thought. It was true: Reagan was born in 1911 and Yugoslavia wasn’t formed as a Balkan nation until after World War I. Both Reagan and Yugoslavia are now history. Durenberger, 88, is still with us.


But enough wonking around. I only have room here to cite these two politicians who led in a time before politics got as nasty as it has become. Of course political opponents resented one another, and REALLY resented those who challenged them at election time, but it usually didn’t show.


Elderly people (among whom I must ruefully now count myself) often espouse a fondness for the “old days” by longing for the “way things used to be.” I usually don’t subscribe to that, but I hope we can return to those days election-wise, before I get around to finally interviewing candidates for dogcatcher.


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

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Memoirs of an early election denier...

Denfeld High School clock tower
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/10-29-22

I’d like to get one thing settled before I…before I…um, well, I’m no kid.

I want it acknowledged that I won the election for president of the Duluth Denfeld High School Boys Union when I was a senior way back when, in spite of what the counted ballots allegedly said. When was this? Well — get this and brace yourself — my graduating class recently had its 65th reunion. Yes, 65th. People who were born the year we graduated are now on Social Security, for crying out loud. 


But that’s beside the point. When I was a senior at Dear Old Denfeld (I always call it that to spite my two kids who went to East, and now a couple of their kids are there too) I was nominated for president of the Boys Union, an exclusive organization encompassing every boy enrolled in the school, including those studying auto body and who frequented Roscoe’s Pool Hall in West Duluth.


The girls had a similar exclusive organization uniquely called “The Girls Club.” How could these organizations be considered exclusive if every kid of the designated gender was automatically a member? Well, they wouldn’t let anybody from Central in, that’s for sure.


But back to the election. I was surprised when someone (I found out later who) had the good sense to nominate me for Boys Union president. Of course others were nominated too, meaning the boys in the student body had to vote for one of us.


I had high hopes, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t considered a student leader, wasn’t an athlete and my grades weren’t that hot either. When I was listed among the nominees I knew I was a long shot, but I had hopes.


When the votes were counted, I lost. Lost badly, they said. I don’t remember now, 65 years later, what the numbers were, but I think they said I got a dozen or so votes. I didn’t believe them for a minute.


I found out after the “election” that I had been nominated by my buddy Rusty Rockerpanel, the best mechanic in our car club. Our car club, located in West Duluth, was called “The Regents” in honor of the governing body of the University of Minnesota. How’s that for classy?


We were a dedicated bunch devoted to safe driving (yeah, right), helping distressed motorists (never happened), loud mufflers (varoom) and drag racing from every traffic signal on downtown Superior Street (yup). We were in the vanguard of concerns about critical race theory, constantly arguing over who was the best race car driver at the Proctor speedway.


I found out from Rusty Rockerpanel himself that he had nominated me as a joke. Some joke. I knew I would have been an exceptional president of the Denfeld Boys Union and I believed every boy in school thought so too.


So how the heck did this other kid get elected? Just because he played basketball and I played hooky (not to be confused with hockey); just because he was a straight A student and I was only good at B and S; just because he was already shaving a heavy beard and I sported peach fuzz and pimples. I think he might even have been a Junior Rotarian.


After Rusty confessed to nominating me, I was nevertheless even more convinced that I had won. All the guys at the car club thought I’d won too. Everyone agreed that the school principal had interfered with the counting of votes, throwing out mine because I smoked cigarettes while watching Captain Kangaroo and at other times.


Sixty-five years ago it was common for high school age kids to smoke cigarettes but it was not encouraged in school, although the faculty had a smoking lounge. I took it up to prove I was a “man now,” none of this namby-pamby kid stuff. I was good at it; I could blow smoke rings!


Go ahead and call me an election denier, I don’t care. I was ahead of my time, it seems. Judging from the numbers at our recent 65th reunion, the cemeteries are filled with students who also believe I won the Boys Union presidency in 1957. The trouble is they aren’t around anymore.


No question about it, the election was stolen from me, and you see the result. Now they’ve even removed the vaulted top of Denfeld’s stately clock tower. Elections have consequences.


I have kept these thoughts hidden for more than six decades but I wanted it cleared up before I…before I…um, well, you know.


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

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Irked Irvin denies haunting vessel...

SS William A. Irvin in Minnesota Slip (Wikipedia)
Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune Saturday, 10-15-22

 So, the SS William A. Irvin is haunted, huh? Well, shiver me timbers, matey!


Nice timing, though, for devotees of paranormal phenomena to be making a bid to determine if the old ore carrier, one of Duluth’s main tourist attractions, is host to ghosts, who reportedly make quite a bit of noise on board. Spooky noises. Unexplained bumps in the night.


That nice timing, of course, is the close proximity to Halloween 2022, which experts predict will be very similar to Halloween 2021 and back through the years. (Exception: COVID caused a decline in trick or treating starting in 2020, police say.)


You wonder what William A. Irvin himself would think about all this. He’s sort of lost in the shuffle in the shadow of the big boat (never call an ore boat a ship nor Lake Superior’s shore a coast or you will be branded as an outsider).


Well, a few folks dedicated to the supernatural decided to find out recently by asking Mr. Irvin himself. (I get to call him Mr. in print because he is doornail dead.)


You wonder how in blazes that could work since the boat’s namesake died in 1952? A seance, of course. How else?


So a small group of paranormal investigators sought and got permission to have their seance in the captain’s quarters of the William A. Irvin (the boat) itself. A half dozen gathered around a map table headed by what is called a “medium.” This is the person who has special powers to contact — brace yourself here — THE DEAD! Most mediums are women as was ours.


Mediums are very mysterious people who operate in darkened rooms with people seeking to contact their dead loved ones in the beyond. They sit around a table, their hands extended with their fingertips touching one another. As I understand it, from countless movies that recreate that scene, the medium calls out to the person in the beyond and invites them to answer questions their loved-ones around the table might have.


I have never participated in anything like this. I prefer medium rare.


Meanwhile, back in the captain’s quarters of the good boat (can’t say ship) William A. Irvin, the paranormal investigators eagerly awaited responses from William himself as the medium called forth into the dark and mysterious beyond.


They knew this would take some doing, Mr. Irvin having been gone for 70 years. But lo and behold, the medium got a response.


“Who’s calling?” said a gravelly voice from the long beyond. It was William A. himself. The medium filled him in and asked him if he was haunting the ore boat bearing his name, or knew who was. “The clanging of chains folks hear on board was not the ghost of Jacob Marley, that’s for sure,” said the medium.


“Ghosts? Paranormal activities on my ship?” respond Irvin.


“Not ship, boat,” the medium corrected.


“Oh, sorry. I’m obviously an outsider,” apologized Irvin who never resided in Morgan Park where he ran a steel plant as the president of United States Steel Corporation during much of the Great Depression. “I was born in Pennsylvania and died in New York.”


“But what about the paranormal activities on the boat named for you?” the medium went on.


“Well, I’m not haunting it,” Irvin said, bluntly. “Do you think a successful businessman like me, who rose to the presidency of one of the largest corporations in America, would want to be known as a ghost? Not on your life,”


“Oops, sorry,” said the medium. “No insult intended.”


The group of paranormal investigators with their fingertips touching around the table were becoming greatly disappointed. The medium tried to make amends.


“Of course, you’re almost as well known around Duluth as the namesake of an annual 5K,“ she pointed out.


“What in heaven’s name is a 5K?” Mr. Irvin asked, his voice fading away as his listeners stared blankly at one another. He was gone.


Undaunted, the group left the captain’s quarters and repaired to the poop deck, viewing the nearby Aerial Lift Bridge where one of their number had heard a report of an unidentified flying object shaped like a saucer swooping through the bridge one dark night.


A mystery for another day.


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

Saturday, October 1, 2022

When early autumn walks the land...

Heffernan family traditional
Halloween Pumpkin face
  Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune on Saturday 10-1-22 

Ah, October.  Halloween season — a great time of the year.

Yeah, I know most people would choose Christmas holiday season as their favorite. Go ahead, if that’s your choice. But for me, the crackling leaves of early autumn, the cooler weather, the resumption of school and many activities that lie dormant in summer, are as welcome as the flowers in May were a mere six months ago.


And then there’s Halloween, just 30 days away. Wonderful Halloween. Trick or treat, soap or eats — hey, what happened to that? Trick or treat’s still around but what happened to soaping the windows of homes where residents refused to give out candy?


Seems like everything’s going down hill. You never hear about it anymore. Back in my trick-or-treat days, quite some time ago, that was what we said when we rang the doorbells and people answered: “Trick or treat, soap or eats,” we’d threaten. Of course most people gave out eats, but those who didn’t even answer their doors were in danger of having their windows soaped.


We — my friends and I — tried it only once on a grumpy neighbor whose house was dark on Halloween night, the doorbell never answered. So we tried to soap a few windows — regular bar soap purloined from kitchens and bathrooms of our homes.


We discovered that soaping windows isn’t that easy. Just a few white marks on the windows but to really do mischief it would take you all night, and we had promises to keep, and candy to eat before we could sleep. So forget soaping.


Halloween has so many wonderful traditions and symbols. Scary ghosts, ghouls, goblins, carved pumpkins, fearsome monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, Giuliani.


You can say what you want about Frankenstein, but he was a man of parts. I must admit, though, I don’t know much about ghouls and goblins. You hear a lot about them this time of the year, but I’ve never really understood what a goblin is. I always knew I was supposed to fear them, but who are they really?


Google, a goblin who knows everything, says goblins are grotesque, monstrous creatures first showing up in Europe in the Middle Ages. You remember the middle ages, don’t you? They showed up right after the Dark Ages and before the Renaissance, after which I did my trick or treating. Goblins range from mischievous household spirits to malicious vestal thieves, it is said. “Vestal”? I always thought virgins were vestal. Live and learn.


But enough about ghouls and goblins and ghosts, oh my.


All this folderol is over what is actually “All Saints Eve,” the night before “All Saints Day” when Christians commemorate all the saints of the church, both known and unknown, who have attained heaven.


I did not know all this without conducting deep research like respected academicians undertake. These “facts” are according to a website attributed to Encyclopedia Britannica. The roster of heaven-dwelling saints does not include the New Orleans Saints, but might consider the St. Scholastica Saints if they behave.


So as you send he kiddies out the door on October 31, bags, plastic pumpkins in hand (don’t bring soap), take solace in knowing you are starting the ball rolling on commemorating all those saints who have preserved us for the past millennium or two, give or take an age, era or epoch.


Time marches on.


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

Saturday, September 17, 2022

A quick dip into English history...

Coronation of Elizabeth II, 6-2-53 (Wikipedia)
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/Saturday, 9-17-2 

We didn’t have a TV set in 1952 when Elizabeth ascended to the throne of Great Britain. Almost no one in Duluth did. There were no network affiliated TV stations here yet.

Television reception depended on the weather for those who erected tall antennas on their houses to bring the signal in from Minneapolis. Two of our neighbors did that, and it was exciting for neighborhood kids to get a first look at the magic of television.

At one of those homes we peeked through a window Peeping Tom-style just to see the wonder of television in its earliest days. Another neighbor invited us in once in a while to take a look.

Queen Elizabeth II was the last world leader from my early years — the years when a person first becomes somewhat aware of who’s who and what’s going on in the world. You might have heard she died Sept. 8 at age 96 and her funeral is on Monday.

I first came to know of her as Princess Elizabeth, in the years immediately after World War II when she was barely out her teens. She had a big wedding to Philip in 1947, which I remember from movie newsreels.

I went to a lot of movies as a child, escorted by my mother, who sat through numerous Tarzan adventures and insipid westerns for my sake. In those pre-TV days, all movies were accompanied by newsreels showing important news events of the day, and some unimportant ones. I recall being impressed by Princess Elizabeth’s wedding cake when it was shown. It must have been seven or eight feet tall, tiered on silver stilts.

Not long after, the newsreels were filled with film of their son Prince Charles as a toddler, and not long after that came the death of her father, King George VI, in 1952 and her ascent to the throne. That was all over the newsreels too, and by then television had begun to arrive. Sort of.

But Duluth had no TV to speak of. The coronation of Elizabeth as queen in 1953 roughly coincided with the arrival of television in Duluth around that time, but few people here were connected. My family didn’t have a television set yet, but our neighbors across the street did, bringing in the signal in from Minneapolis with a tall — maybe 15-foot — antenna on the roof of their house. The hazy black-and-white signal came in OK in good weather. It often featured “snow” on the screen in the middle of summer.

Those neighbors invited us to watch Elizabeth’s coronation, which I thought at the time was “live.” Hardly. I since learned that CBS and NBC filmed the coronation in London and hastily put the film on trans-Atlantic flights to New York, where they were beamed to affiliates across the country.

Twin Cities stations then telecast it — who knows how many hours after it had taken place? — and it was picked up by our neighbors and seen by others in Duluth by those who could bring in the signal.

Primitive times in communication. There were no satellites to beam events in Europe to America live. No cable.  And Duluth was only on the cusp of having local network-affiliated TV.

So Elizabeth has been around all my life, and queen for much of it. I read at the time of her death that most of her subjects have never known any other monarch.

In recent years, as she grew older and I didn’t grow any younger, at times I would ruminate about who would last longest on the world stage from those early years — Elizabeth or Fidel Castro of Cuba, as unlikely a pair as could ever be imagined. But their “reigns” were in roughly the same period of our history.

Everybody else from those early years was gone — Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and most of their successors, Joe Stalin checked out around the time Elizabeth assumed the throne, Winston Churchill was her first prime minister and actually lasted until 1965. History.

I remember them all, of course. Castro came on the scene in the late 1950s and everybody in America was overjoyed until they found out he was a communist. That ended that.

So a decade or so ago, I realized that Castro and Queen Elizabeth were the only ones left from that era, and I wondered which of them would outlast the other. Castro died in 2016 at age 90. Elizabeth won. (Google reports that they were only about four months apart in age, both born in 1926.)

So now little Prince Charles from those newsreels is 73-year-old King Charles III. We can only hope he fares better with that name than King Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649.

Our recently departed Elizabeth II’s namesake Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded by her husband, infamous oft-married King Henry VIII in 1536. Lots of heads rolled in English history.

I’m pretty old but I don’t remember those events when they occurred.

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