Saturday, May 14, 2022

A brief history of UMD grad rites...

UMD graduation 2006 
Written By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/5-14-22

I got caught in a big traffic backup last weekend en route to Duluth’s Canal Park area. What the heck could be going on, thought I, as I joined the mid-afternoon lineup of cars, most of which were headed to the DECC area.


Well, come to find out later, the caravan was headed to UMD commencement exercises at Amsoil Arena. I also learned later that some 2,500 seniors were receiving their diplomas. Lots of pomp, under the circumstances, with robes galore and regalia resplendent, I saw on the TV news that evening.


It prompted memories of my own less auspicious graduation from UMD many moons ago. Oops, not sure moons describes it. Ages is more like it; decades hits the nail on the head. Let’s say more than half a century.


It was a sunny, warm August afternoon in 1962 when I lined up outside what was then known as UMD’s Physical Education Building in a cap and gown to march into what is now Romano gym. The basketball court was fitted with rows of chairs for grads and guests, placed before a makeshift stage for dignitaries and some faculty.


I don’t know how many capped and gowned graduates there were that day, taking advantage of a smaller August ceremony rather than the traditional May or June commencement. Maybe a couple hundred.


As the lineup marched into the building to the usual musical accompaniment and rows converged, I ended up in the front row seated next to the faculty member who was in charge of arranging the whole ceremony. I noticed he was taking notes under the heading “Next Year’ and the first item was, “Don’t wear hush puppies.” Hush puppies in those ancient times were a brand of casual shoes.


I wonder now if my old biology teacher was there. He’s the faculty member I wrote about a couple of months ago who, when as a student I had questioned my “D” grade in zoology, had told me I was lucky to get that basement passing grade. In the column I called him Professor Frogstad not wanting to use his real name, even though it was so long ago I figured the professor would have lived out his days.


Well, he hasn’t. I will use his real name now —Dr. Blanchard Krogstad —because even though more than 60 years have passed, he saw the column. He e-mailed that he is now 100 years old, living in rural Minnesota. He didn’t mind my punning up his name, and I’m sure he didn’t remember me (I beat it to the English Department as soon as I could), but he indicated he appreciated the column and noted that over his many years of teaching he’d told numerous other students the same thing: Lucky to get a D.


Any educator who bends over backwards not to fail students is fine with me.


Meanwhile, back at my graduation ceremony lo those many years ago: My parents were there, of course, along with a host of other well wishers attached in various ways to my fellow grads. I don’t remember too much about the program. The usual stuff, I suppose, a speech or two and a procession of students walking across the stage to receive diplomas.


One thing about it all stood out. The Minneapolis campus-based president of the University of Minnesota — all campuses — at the time was O. Meredith Wilson — not the Meredith Willson (double L) who wrote the Broadway musical “The Music Man.”


The University’s President Wilson messaged that regrettably he could not attend our ceremony in Duluth but he sent his good wishes to the graduates. The message was related by one of the robed ceremony officials. The University’s President Wilson was mentioned several times, always simply as President Wilson this, President Wilson that.


So when it finally all came to an end, we marched back out and met our well-wishing family members and friends. My father seemed somewhat perplexed, though. He was a veteran of World War I and had served when a different President Wilson, Woodrow, was the wartime U.S. president.


All those references to President Wilson in the program made him wonder if all these brainy academicians knew what they were talking about.


“Don’t these people know who the president is?” he queried as we walked out of the building.


For the record, the U.S. president at the time was John F. Kennedy. We didn’t hear from him that day, but he spoke in that same UMD gym a little over a year later, a couple of months before he was assassinated.  Call it history.

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, April 30, 2022

From hot pants to bloomers in hoops...

St. Bonaventure athletics photo of former 
star, Marques Green, remembered for
spectacular play & baggy shorts.

 Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth NewsTribune/Saturday, 4-30-22

I’m no sports fan, that’s for sure. I can ignore any sport in a storm (or even in fair weather).


Oh, I admit I had the Super Bowl on TV this year as I sat re-reading “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. Looked up once in a while if somebody scored. I do get a kick out of the booting of field goals and extra points (all puns intended).


But of course when I was in high school many decades ago I supported our teams and dutifully attended all the games. When I was in college, at the University of Minnesota Duluth Branch (as it was known then), basketball was king.


I know this will come as a surprise to many of today’s fans, but when I was a student there, hockey, still in a regional small college league with home games at the old Duluth Curling Club, played second fiddle to basketball. Football was pretty big too, as it always is.


Well anyway, I attended lots of basketball games on campus as UMD faced fierce Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents like St. John’s, Macalester, Gustavus Adolphus and others. The UMD hoopsters had pretty good teams in those days, with a couple of big stars from my own high school alma mater, Duluth Denfeld.


I was glad when we won, but I didn’t really care much. Going to the games beat the living daylights out of hitting the books.


Why all this now? Because in watching sports reports on the 10 ‘o clock news on TV and flashing by an occasional pro basketball game en route to a movie channel, I notice the drastic change in basketball uniforms worn by the men. (There were no organized woman basketball teams in what I now ruefully call “back in my day.”)


When I was attending high school and college basketball games, the players wore trunks what were tantamount to briefs that came to be known much later as “hot pants” worn by young women. These brief trunks somewhat resembled “boxer shorts” worn by many men even today.


Year in, year out, these small trunks were worn by basketball players at every level — high school, college, pros, church, Y.


Then, a few years ago, long after I grew up and stopped watching basketball on any level, I noticed in newspaper sports page pictures and snippets of games on the news that the men’s trunks were getting longer and longer — down to the knees — and fuller and fuller, waving in the breeze as players ran to and fro (AKA back and forth) on the court.


The trunks resemble what we used to call bloomers, an ancient undergarment worn by older women made famous by the name of a city in Wisconsin. As kids we used to recite the ditty: “School’s out, school’s out, teachers wore their bloomers out, sliding down the bannisters, kissing all the janitors.” (This should not be taken as literal truth, but it worked in a few cases I knew about, sans the bannisters but likely not the bloomers.)


I never thought I’d see the day in America when basketball players wore bloomers. Lots of things seem to be going down hill in this country today.


Segue now to the present. They’re still wearing bloomer trunks, I see on the sportscasts, slimmed down a little bit, but now the players also don white long underwear under them. At least the outfits look like long underwear. They’re probably the same white tights worn by ballet dancers in “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake” and “The Bald Soprano.”


Ballet tights in basketball? Well, what’s the world coming to? What’s next, figure skates on hockey players clad in tutus?


Occasionally, as with today in this column, as a registered geezer I like to remind contemporaries of the way we were and tell the younger generation what it was like, especially in areas that don’t often get mentioned elsewhere.


Coming soon: “Tattoos — They’re not just for drunken sailors any more.”


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, April 16, 2022

Gulf trip full of surprises...

Written for the Duluth News Tribune by Jim Heffernan/4-16-22 

Travel. So broadening, as they say (sometimes across the beam).


I recently got back from a car trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast up on the state’s panhandle and border with Alabama. Great weather, beautiful beaches, fine accommodations, good food, heavy traffic.


In fact the traffic was heavy almost all the way from Duluth to the Pensacola, Fla., area, near our destination. Maybe it’s COVID relief, but it’s almost bumper-to-bumper even on the many interstate freeways between here and there. Blame spring break.


Three days on the road (each way) gives you lots of time to contemplate things as you weave in and out of traffic, often surrounded by semi trucks — 18 wheelers that proliferate in some places.


Besides those huge trucks, the roads are filled with travelers in motor coaches or travel trailers, some pulling boats. Many of these are pretty elaborate. You get the feeling that if they could, some travelers would put wheels on Glensheen mansion and attach the Titanic to the back.


Not us. Compact SUV — a rather recent model with all kinds of features I do not understand, especially a screen on the dashboard that allows travelers to do just about everything except vote for Supreme Court justices. My wife is much better at this tech stuff.


Marika speaks
There was a slight problem with our dashboard gizmo though (aside from not understanding much of how it works). We did manage to hook up a smart phone to the GPS to guide us in our travels. For anyone not in the know, GPS stands for Global Positioning System in which a cadre of women in outer space tells everyone where to go. Not to hell in a handbasket, thank heaven.


Put in your destination and a space woman will tell you every highway to traverse, every turn to take. We call her Marika, and I want to thank her from the bottom of my tank (at these gas prices, that bottom is plenty ominous). I have known only one other Marika in my long life whom I suspect was pretty good at giving directions too.


But back to our slight problem. Every time we activated the GPS, the Count Basie orchestra would suddenly blare Christmas carols over the car’s speaker. It was usually “Good King Wenceslas.”


I have nothing against Count Basie or Good King Wenceslas, but you don’t exactly want to travel 1,500 miles with them. Some readers might not remember Count Basie, the famous and revered big band leader of the past. Good King Wenceslas, of course, looked out on the Feast of Stephen, when the snow was all about, deep and crisp and even. Like it was when we got back to Duluth just over a week ago. Ah, spring in the northland.


Still, riding along with royalty — a count and a king — can get a little tiring pounding down the miles between Minnesota and Florida. They didn’t interrupt all the time, though. We figured out how to stop the music and still hear Marika bawl us out every time we veered from the highway to grab a bite of lunch. She got us back on track, though, every time.


While we were there we had our daughter and her children (AKA or grandchildren) join us for frolicking on the sandy beach and wading into the sometimes turbulent Gulf. (They frolic, I watch.) To their eternal credit, they flew to Pensacola, so we met them at the airport.


As everyone knows, waiting around airports these days can be challenging, even disconcerting. I always get the same feeling when I’m at an airport: It seems like everybody else here — travelers leaving or arriving, staff, of course — knows exactly what to do, where to go at all times and I am a befuddled fool who can’t even find a bathroom in my stocking feet.


Why is that? Did I miss something in my education-courses in Airport Navigation and Procedures 101? I have flown to Europe a few times, and never failed to feel like a dumbbell in the airports while Albert Einstein’s nephew and his friends confidently work their way through the maze, warmly greeting Madame Curie’s descendants along the way.


Fortunately, I wasn’t flying this time, just meeting travelers. But I never did figure out which gate they would be coming out of until there they were, all smiles and excited to hit the beach.


Well, anyway, we’re safely back in Duluth and that’s fine. Our arrival home was greeted with a thick Twin Ports fog. We could barely see our home community. So as the sun set foggily in the west, we bade farewell to Count Basie and Good King Wenceslas as well as the reliable Marika. I think I’ll miss them. Just a bit.


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 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

What’s in the name of a high bridge?

Looking from Duluth toward Superior
near Blatnik Bridge/Wikipedia
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/March 20,2022

I see in the newspaper that they’re talking about replacing the Blatnik Bridge. What? Already?

Seems like just yesterday that I rumbled across it on the weekend it opened in my flashy ’40 Ford coupe, my first car. But I guess I have to admit it was 61 years ago. My, how time flies. The car and I were about the same age at the time.

It was quite a milestone for Duluth and Superior — an imposing high bridge looming over the mouth of the St. Louis River and connecting the two communities known then and today as the Twin Ports. But it wasn’t called Blatnik at first. More on that later.

The ranks of those who traversed the bridge’s predecessor, called the Interstate Bridge, are thinning these many decades later. I remember it well.

The earlier bridge was a combination railroad and vehicle bridge. Its owners charged a toll for vehicles crossing between the two cities, a pittance by today’s standards — just small change. The bridge’s owner employed men (it was always men) to man the toll booth at mid-bridge 24 hours a day

Another toll bridge, the Arrowhead, connecting West Duluth with Superior’s western environs, was for cars and trucks only. It forever canceled its toll the day the new bridge opened to traffic and has, of course, been replaced in pretty much the same spot by the Bong Bridge, named after World War II “Ace of Aces” Maj. Richard Ira Bong, who grew up in Poplar, Wis., outside of Superior.

As mentioned, the Blatnik Bridge didn’t always bear the name of northern Minnesota Congressman John A. Blatnik. 

They didn’t name it after the veteran congressman until 1971, a decade after the bridge was completed, when he was nearing the end of his congressional service. Before that it was simply called the Duluth-Superior High Bridge. It’s pure coincidence that one of our bridges is “high” and the other “Bong,” although that hasn’t gone unnoticed by those with in interest in the cannabis culture..

I knew Blatnik the way a journalist gets to know public officials and other news sources. Blatnik was a genial native of Chisholm who had served in the Minnesota Legislature and had a distinguished World War II record in the Army Air Force Strategic Services, operating in Europe’s Balkan area where his Slovenian roots had formed.

In his 28 years in Congress he became a savvy political operative, eventually securing chairmanship of the House Public Works Committee from which he could influence considerable legislation beneficial to his district (our bridge), state and, of course, the nation. Lots of infrastructure before anybody called it that. Blatnik died in 1991 at age 80.

Early in my years as a reporter for this newspaper I had frequent contact with him as I covered multiple events where he was the main speaker. These events crescendoed around election time every two years. Even though he was enormously popular with Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party voters — he never lost an election or even came close to losing — he always ran scared, a close friend of the congressman told me.

One election, the Republicans imported the ambitious son of the president of a major steel company in the East to challenge Blatnik. He didn’t come close.

Back in the district, he’d show up anywhere where a few people gathered, often presenting groups with a flag that, he said, had flown above the U.S. Capitol. Maybe it had. And at these gatherings he almost always gave the same stock speech, extolling the people of northern Minnesota with varied ethnic backgrounds who get along so well — Serbians, Bosnians, Herzegovinians.  (They don’t get along so well in Europe.) 

I’d heard that speech several times, and one time covering him, when I was pressed to move on to another assignment, I asked him before the event began if he was planning to give the same speech he always gave. I believe I insulted him, and I’m sorry for that, but I didn’t stick around.

I ran into him at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport one time, greeting him as I queued up behind him as he was engaging an airline employe. He quickly extended his hand back without turning around to see who it was. Blatnik, like his political compatriots, shook a lot of hands. 

He was part of the Hubert Humphrey coterie that formed the DFL and was said to be disappointed in 1964 when then Gov. Karl Rolvaag passed him over for an appointment to the Senate to replace Humphrey, who was elected vice president. The appointment went to Walter Mondale.

Politically, he was considered a liberal but the lines between the parties were not so sharp back then. Still, political competition has always been fierce. I had a political science professor at UMD who said Blatnik was “so red any self-respecting bull would charge him on sight.” The red referred to what was often called “godless communism” at the time.

He was far from that; he served this region well and his name lives on on the bridge connecting Duluth and Superior. Will any bridge replacement bear the same name? Stay tuned.

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, March 5, 2022

Lots of war and not much peace...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/3-5-22


I have decided to write part of my autobiography, Here. Today.


I was born in Duluth one month after Nazi Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II. America wasn’t directly involved until two years later when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. By then I was 2 years old, and I remember nothing about it.


So I was introduced into this world in wartime. World War II went on long enough for me to grow into being aware of the war. Fragments of childhood memory include seeing a lot of men in uniform and the deaths of two soldiers, sons of our church my family knew. I wanted a children’s military uniform and got a sailor suit. Lots of children wore little uniforms.


I remember the rationing of certain foods and gasoline and the saving of tin cans. My father sold our car because of gasoline rationing and tire shortages. We took the bus.


I was four when President Roosevelt died, the war still raging in Europe and the Pacific. I remember grownups talking sadly about the president’s death. And those grownups — mainly my parents — talked a lot about the war’s end, when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945. By then I had completed kindergarten.


Everyone seemed relieved that the war was over. It was a joyful time. No more war forever, it seemed.


Five years later, when I was 10, the Korean War broke out. They didn’t want to actually call it a war so it was mainly referred to as the “Korean conflict.” My brother had graduated from high school and was concerned about being drafted. All healthy males in America were subject to the draft at age 18, war or no war, for decades. Unless, of course, they had bone spurs.


Things seemed to settle down a little after the Korean War came to an end following three years of fighting, About 40,000 American service personnel were killed, many more wounded. Duluth’s Marine reserve unit was hard hit. I was getting into my teens and soon would have to register for the military draft myself.


But throughout that period something called the Cold War was ongoing, with ubiquitous references to possible nuclear war with Russia. No actual fighting, though, involving the U.S. Everyone was relieved when Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin died, but it didn’t do much good, as Hungary found out a few years later.


What is more, there was this Indochina war going on throughout the rest of the 1950s. It seemed awfully far away and remote until America’s leaders started grumbling about the spread of communism in Asia (falling dominoes) and began sending more and more American troops to “advise” the leaders of a place called South Vietnam, under siege from the communist north of that country.


Oops, by now I’m of draftable age, but was deferred from conscription because I was in college. After I finished college in 1962, I joined the National Guard to avoid the draft (six months active duty vs. two years) and recall being told in boot camp that you guys better pay attention to your training because things are getting hot in a place called Vietnam.


I had joined shortly after tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union resulted in the building of the Berlin Wall, and the closest most historians believe we ever came to nuclear war, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961. Dangerous times. War and rumors of war, as the Good Book says, portending the Armageddon.


The war in Vietnam kept right on going though and by the time it ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon (we didn’t win), some 55,000 American service personnel, majority of them my age, had been killed. Their names are on a black wall in Washington, D.C.; you can’t visit without getting choked up. I served in guard and reserve units right here in Duluth until 1968 when my obligation ended. Whew. Never got called up.



I was getting too old for military service in the 1970s and had married and started a family. The next several years seemed pretty peaceful, and besides, I was busy being a husband, father and tending to making a living.


But that pesky Middle East kept flaring up and finally boiled over in 1990 in a conflict we now call the First Iraq War and also known as Operation Desert Storm. Short lived, and not many casualties, but war nevertheless. It drove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and kept American military personnel busy over there for several years.


And can’t forget the 1990s trouble in the Balkans, the ethnic cleansing, the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the revival of centuries old grudges among the populations of such places as Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.


Then in 2003 American leaders declared the Second Gulf War in Iraq in response to the September 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets, including the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. No one has ever shown that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks. That one went on until 2011, concurrently with the war in Afghanistan that also got going in 2001 and just ended last year. Many Americans died and were wounded in both theaters.


I’m almost out of space, but not wars. Here we go again. I need hardly mention that a couple of weeks ago war erupted in Ukraine, started by Russia for no good reason, just like all the rest. America is not directly involved with troops this time around. We’ll see if that lasts. And hey, they’re back fighting in Europe where this personal account started.


That’s my life in war and very little peace. I’m pretty old now, but feeling fine. I figure there could be a couple more wars before I call it quits. Stay tuned.


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 here at You may find other Duluth News Tribune posts by searching Heffernan on the DNT site and HERE.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

TV ads ruled the fifties...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/2-19-22

I was reading the other day that some people in America want us to return to 1953 in this country. They don’t like modern society and believe the 1950s were better.


Many of these people are older Americans, like me, although I don’t join them in their longing for the past. Younger folks have had to be told how wonderful this country was in 1953 (and other years on either side of it) because they weren’t there. I was there. There was good stuff, and there was bad stuff, just like in any other era. Oh, and stupid stuff too.


I was dipping my toe into the murky waters of adolescence in 1953, eagerly looking forward to getting a driver’s license and starting high school — in that order. Anticipation of high school was exciting, but nothing in my life compared to the thrill of being able to drive. You could get a driver’s license at age 15 back then.


Everyone in my male peer group suffered from a condition known as “car crazy.” I’m not sure the psychological tomes list car crazy as a malady worth addressing on a psychiatrist’s couch, but it was very real in the 1950s. Some never got over it, I’ve noticed.


We eagerly anticipated each fall’s introduction of the latest Fords, Chevys, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs and others, making pilgrimages to each model’s local dealership to inspect the new models on the showroom floor. Wow. Get a load of those tail fins. What? They’re making wrap-around windshields now? Cool.


These developments were nothing short of thrilling. Never mind that nobody I knew well could afford one. My family had a clunky old 1950 Ford, the car I learned to drive in, with its shift lever on the steering shaft, three gears forward, one gear back, don’t forget to disengage the clutch and have a good life.


We all were told then, by TV commercials, that: “When better cars are built, Buick will build them,” but if you want to get out and about a bit, “See the U.S.A in your Chevrolet.” We were also told, “There’s a Ford in your future,” in case you were wondering what the future might hold.


Nobody I knew had a Cadillac, but then I didn’t know many Republicans. I grew up in Duluth’s West End (now Lincoln Park) and the fanciest car anyone in the neighborhood could muster was a Packard, fading by then as a luxury car with Chrysler still hanging tough.


Lincolns were favored by rich Democrats but at least they now have named a Duluth neighborhood after them. Hudson introduced “step down in design,” which meant the floorboards were sunken, and you could turn the interior of a Nash into a double bed for sleeping and whatever else.


There were a lot of catchy ad slogans in 1953, right when television came on the scene. You were told such things as “you’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.” We were Colgate toothpaste people though, so I suppose my teeth were doomed to be permanently yellow.


Still, these slogans make an impression on you. I notice one for Alka-Seltzer has been half revived recently on television. “Pop, Pop, Fizz, Fizz” is back but without the next line of this upset-tummy nostrum’s commercial: “Oh What a Relief It Is.” Just how do you spell relief? Ask the Rolaids people. Or take Pepto-Bismol “and feel good again.”


Over in soft drinks, don’t forget that “Pepsi Cola hits the spot, two full glasses, that’s a lot, lots more value, lots more zest, why take less when Pepsi’s best?” Sorry, I was a Coca-Cola man myself, being a somewhat lazy kid lacking in zest. Later, when I grew into imbibing in beer a bit, I was tempted but didn’t choose Hamm’s, proclaimed as “the beer refreshing” from the “land of the sky-blue waters.” I was a Bud boy, told by an ad in plain, declarative language that, “This Bud’s for you.” Yup.


The 1950s was the heyday of smoking cigarettes and their purveyors were ubiquitous on television of the day. Old Gold cigarettes outfitted leggy female models with oversize mock Old Gold packages over the rest of their bodies. They danced around on commercial breaks to the tune of some ditty. And if Old Gold wasn’t your favorite brand, you met television characters who proclaimed: “I’d walk a mile for a Camel.” I wouldn’t, although I was puffing an occasional Pall Mall. (“Outstanding, AND they are mild.”)


Camel cigarettes were also recommended by more doctors than any other cigarette. Sure they were. They said so on TV, stethoscopes draped around their necks.  And in the ‘50s we all welcomed into our homes the Marlboro Man, a weathered-looking cowboy type personifying all that any self-respecting American male would want to emulate. Just lose a few pounds.


Of course a good way to do that would be to eat Cheerios for breakfast. That cereal had the melodious slogan: “Oh, he’s got go-power, there he goes, he’s feeling his Cheerios.” I guess they didn’t care if any females slurped Cheerios.


But enough 1950s. I see today’s infinitely more enlightened television ads feature a lot of animals and birds like penguins, turtles, owls and ostriches. Have to admit, there’s nothing like a crazed ostrich to make you want to buy insurance. Nothing. Darn tootin’.


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, February 5, 2022

Underwater hotel in Two Harbors intrigues...

Written by By Jim Heffernan for The Duluth News Tribune on1-5-22

There’s talk up in Two Harbors about maybe, possibly, building an underwater hotel with an associated submarine. How exciting is that?


But first…due to the Internet, this column is sometimes read in other parts of the country, even world, where some readers might not know about quaint Two Harbors. By way of explanation, it is a small shipping, brewing, car sales and tourist hamlet -- to build, or not to build an underwater hotel; that is the question -- along the north shore of Lake Superior, a hop, skip and jump east of Duluth (seems like north, though).


As might be deduced, there are two harbors in Two Harbors, but they call them bays. There’s Agate Bay and Burlington Bay. Most of the shipping action is in Agate Bay, where the massive ore dock is, so the underwater hotel would go in Burlington Bay, they say.


Who says? Well, the mayor and a mysterious billionaire who is called Mr. O. Oh my goodness. We can only hope his last name is not Omicron.


Still, this is certainly an intriguing development even though some leaders in the hamlet are a bit skeptical. You can’t blame them. For one thing, how deep is Burlington Bay? That would determine how many stories the underwater hotel could be. Maybe they should build a single-story underwater motel with boat mooring outside the rooms. I don’t know.


Once years ago I was a traveling in Greece, up in the “mountains” (the Alps they ain’t) outside Athens, and stayed in a hotel built on the side of a mountain. You entered the lobby at street level, registered, and then took an elevator DOWN several stories to your room. Very exciting and I slept like a log.


I suppose that’s sort of how the Two Harbors Underwater Hotel (THUH) would have to operate, if the rooms were to be in the depths of Burlington Bay. There’s also mention of a submarine involved in some way giving rides to tourists. Fun. Hire Captain Nemo.


As a matter of interest (I certainly hope), here’s some esoteric local front submarine background: There was talk of a submarine in Lake Superior during World War II. In an early conspiracy theory, those nasty Nazis from Germany were out to stop America’s valuable shipping of Minnesota’s iron ore for the war effort, some of which passed through Two Harbors itself, as well as Duluth and Superior, of course.


The theory posited that the Germans were smuggling submarine parts overland through Canada to a remote area along Lake Superior and assembling an underwater vessel that would sneak down to the Head of the Lakes and torpedo our ore boats. Never happened, of course, but it would make a good movie.


I suppose the novelty of spending a night in an underwater hotel would appeal to many tourists. Far be it from me to throw a wet blanket on the idea of an underwater hotel, but they sure would have to be careful about leaks. (I’m not certain the term “wet blanket” is apt here. Sorry.)


Bathrooms used to be called “water closets” in polite company. This development could bring them back. In an underwater hotel all closets are water closets, in a manner of speaking.


Hotel room windows, of course, would front on Burlington Bay under water. What might visitors see? Well, big fish, I suppose. Coho salmon and the like swimming around worried about their next meal, maybe an occasional creature from the black lagoon or stray mermaid? Exciting.


I wish the developers well in spite of all this wising off about it. But we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for it to become a reality. (I’m not sure “hold our breath” is apt in ruminating about an underwater hotel, either.)


For the record, there are no black lagoon creatures or mermaids in Lake Superior, last time I checked.


The only cost figure floated — yes, floated — so far is $400 million. Would that be per night to stay there, and include a submarine ride? Inquiring minds want to 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, January 22, 2022

A brief history of winters in Duluth...

Library of Congress Photo 1917
Written by By Jim Heffernan for The Duluth News Tribune on 1-22-22

This is shaping up to be a pretty decent winter — if you like winter. Snow one day, bitter cold the next, even an occasional thaw. All of the elements (pun actually intended) of a typical Duluth winter.


But it’s nothing compared to the winters we experienced when I was growing up in Duluth. Why, those winters were so severe they had to close down the schools it seemed like every other week; snow banks were so high cars had to have extended aerials with flags on them to alert other drivers at intersections. Red triangular flags, not good Old Glory. 


Those were the real winters when blizzards were blizzards and not a Dairy Queen treat. I have told my kids (no longer kids) numerous times that my childhood winters were the toughest in weather bureau history. You wanna talk temperatures? How about 40 below? Pretty sure, at least. Coulda been minus 50, for all we knew. We’re not talking wind chills here. They hadn’t been invented yet. Scout’s honor.


No school, no ice skating, no skiing, no going outside unless absolutely necessary and then the snow so deep it engulfed entire houses, residents escaping their domiciles (I like to toss in fancy words once in a while) through second-story windows.


That’s what winters were like when I was a young lad.


But I always felt short-changed back then, listening to my father tell about the winters they had when he was a boy (he’d better be a boy or I wouldn’t be here). Even though our winters were pretty severe, they were like a couple of months on a tropical isle compared with the winters of my father’s youth.


Why, the snow was so deep, when he skied down the West Duluth hillside he ended up on the porch roof of a house at the bottom of the hill. Cars had to have chains on their power wheels from November to May in order to get around. Streets were so slippery, they took slag from the steel plant in Morgan Park and spread it all over the roadways. Supplies of coal were running low by February, causing widespread fear that people would freeze to death in their beds.


But my father’s dangerously severe winters were nothing compared to the winters of his father’s day. That’d be my grandfather, whom I never knew because he died around the time I was born. Might have frozen to death for all I know.


Those winters of my grandfather’s day made my father’s winters seem like a walk in the park and our winters today resemble the Fourth of July by comparison. The snow was so deep people had to tunnel through it to get out of their houses. Plows pulled by draft horses became stuck and didn’t get pulled out until spring, the horses frozen stiff. The frozen horses were dumped into Lake Superior near the city’s water intake, causing widespread typhoid fever when spring finally arrived. Those were REAL winters.


And so it went down through the generations. My grandfather’s winters were nothing compared to his father’s winters. That would have been my great-grandfather who wrote about winters in his day and passed it down through generations of family lore.


He wrote that most people heated their homes with fireplaces and barrel stoves fueled with wood. Many hardly got out of their houses except to heed nature’s call, the heeding of which involved trudging through deep snow and bitter cold to a small unheated building known as the “biffy.” As the poet once wrote, “The terror of that icy seat would make a Spartan sob.” They had to have a rope between the house and the outhouse to guide the folks wanting to see a man about a horse through the snow.


That’s pretty much as far back as I can go in telling of past winters. I suppose I had a great-great grandfather, but I don’t want to get going on the Mayflower people, who had some pretty tough winters themselves. Way more challenging than today. They had landed on Plymouth Rock and things were so bad they named a flathead six cylinder car after it a few centuries later that never started when it got cold.


And how about George Washington at Valley Forge? Cold, snow, little shelter. He had to cut down a cherry tree for firewood, right?


So, yes, we’re having a pretty challenging winter so far, but as this report proves beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s nothing compared to past winters, which were always worse than current winters no matter what weather statistics tell you. Ask your ancestors.


I’m sure when my grandchildren are as old as I am, they’ll be able to tell their progeny that their childhood winters — like this one right now — were way more challenging than whatever it will be like several decades into the future.


And it’ll be true, that’s for sure.


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