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