Duluth’s Madam Butterfly

Rena Vivian Smith was a Duluthian with an incredible singing talent. She sang regularly while attending school in Duluth, and after high school traveled to Europe where she


Rena Vivian Smith as Madam Butterfly, Cosmopolitan Magazine, February 1907

studied voice and began singing professionally. While in Italy she auditioned for opera composer Giacomo Puccini and he hired her to sing in the American premiere of Madam Butterfly.

Rena Smith was born in Oklahoma Territory around 1880. At that time, the Oklahoma Territory was controlled by five Native American tribes, but during the 1880s “boomers” were forcing the opening of the region to white settlement. Smith later said she spoke the Choctaw language fluently.

Smith and her mother Elizabeth apparently moved to Duluth around 1896, after Henry B. Smith, the father, had died. Elizabeth was a sister of John Sutphin. Born in New Jersey, Sutphin came to Duluth around 1868 and founded a meat-packing plant. He became the mayor of the village of Duluth in 1886 and then mayor of the city of Duluth in 1887, when Duluth regained its city charter. He remained in the job until 1890. In the 1900 U.S. Census, Elizabeth is listed as the widow of Henry B. Smith. It’s presumed that he died before they moved to Duluth, and that his death may have been the reason for his wife and daughter to move in temporarily with the Stuphins.

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Actress Barbara Hale in Duluth

Movie actress Barbara Hale visited Duluth in October of 1946 for the world premiere of her newest film, Lady Luck. Hale, who was 24 years old at the time, had begun her movie career in 1943 and by the time of her Duluth visit had appeared in 14 films, six in major roles, and all but one produced by RKO Pictures.

Barbara Hale blog

Barbara Hale

Accompanying her on the trip was her husband, Bill Williams. They had just been married on June 22 of that year and said the trip to Duluth was something of a honeymoon. Williams was also under contract with RKO and had started his movie career in 1944.

The couple arrived in town at the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway Depot at 200 South 5th Avenue West on the morning of October 23, 1946. Their afternoon was busy with a press conference in Hotel Duluth, interviews by representatives of local high school newspapers, and a theater party.

Lady Luck premiered on Thursday night, Oct. 24, at the Granada Theater at 107 East Superior Street. The film tells the story of Mary Audrey, played by Hale, who strongly opposes gambling because of her father’s addiction to it. She meets a gambler named Larry Scott, played by Robert Young, and they fall in love and decide to marry. Larry promises to Mary that he’s giving up the betting life. Unfortunately, they choose Las Vegas for their wedding, and Larry soon gets involved in gambling again. Also in the cast are Frank Morgan (best known for playing the title character in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and James Gleason.


From Duluth Herald October 23, 1946

Hale and Williams appeared at the Granada premiere that night, and then made appearances at the theater before every showing of the film through that Sunday, October 27. Over that period, the Granada was showing the movie five times a day—at 1:21 p.m., 3:21 p.m., 5:21 p.m., 7:21 p.m., and 9:21 p.m. The charge for admission was 50 cents up to 5:00 p.m. and 60 cents after 5:00, including tax. At one of the Friday night showings, the two actors were given certificates of ambassadorship from the Duchy of Duluth, presented by the 1946 Duchess of Duluth, Shirley Elden. The Duchess of Duluth was an annual title awarded in the late 1940s and 1950s. The winner was selected from nominees by a panel of judges and announced at the Fall Festival in the Armory on London Road. Elden was the first Duchess of Duluth.

In the following decade, Hale would appear in more than twenty films, most notably in: The Boy with the Green Hair (1948), with Pat O’Brien and Robert Ryan; Jolson Sings Again (1949), which had a script written by Duluth native Sidney Buchman; The Jackpot (1950), with co-star James Stewart; Lorna Doone (1951), in which she plays the title character; and A Lion in the Streets (1953), with co-star James Cagney.

Hale is best remembered, however, for her portrayal of Della Street in the CBS television series Perry Mason, which ran from 1957 to 1966. Street was the confidential secretary and invaluable assistant to attorney Mason, played by Raymond Burr. Hale appeared in most of the 271 episodes of the show. Hale would win an Emmy in 1959 for best supporting actress in a dramatic series.

Hale and Williams would have three children and remain married until his death in 1992. One son, William Katt, would also become an actor. She died in California on January 26, 2017, at the age of 94.


Duluth War Casualties Database

The Duluth War Casualties Database was recently completed by the Reference staff and volunteers at the Duluth Public Library. The database indexes military personnel from Duluth and the area immediately around Duluth who were killed or captured in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.


Duluth Herald, July 13, 1945

The database began as a card file kept by Reference staff during World War II and the Korean War. In the 1990s, staff entered the cards into a database, and in 2015-2018, library volunteers searched the newspapers on microfilm for more information on those wars and on World War I and the Vietnam War, and added that information to the database. Each entry includes information such as name, branch of the service, rank, local address, description of incidents, and, most importantly, citations to articles about the person in the Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Herald. The article citations are important because, especially in World War I and World War II, an article may not have appeared in the local papers until weeks or even months after the incident.

The database can be searched by first name and last name. A typical entry looks like this:

Johnson, Alvin L     Flight Officer     U.S. Air Corps         Incident: Died of injuries received in action over France (DNT 09-08-44 p.5); posthumously awarded Purple Heart (DNT 12-29-44 p.1)       Notes: Body returned for reburial in Park Hill Cem (DNT 11-09-48 p.12) (DNT 12-05-48 p.10) (DH 12-04-48 p.2); name on plaque at East High School (DNT 09-26-45 p.7)         Address: 4619 Gladstone St           Town: Duluth

Copies of articles can be located on the newspaper microfilm on the top floor of the Duluth Public Library.

The War Casualties Database can be found on the Duluth Public Library web site under “Research” and “Genealogy,” or you can follow this link:


Duluth’s Only Female Military Casualty of World War I

Over 115,000 Americans died in World War I. Slightly more than half of those were deaths from disease. Hundreds of Duluth men were casualties of the war, but only one Duluth military woman gave her life—U.S. Army nurse Lydia Whiteside.*


LydiaWhiteside, findagrave.comon

Lydia V. Whiteside was born on November 3, 1884, in Severn Bridge, a small community in the Muskoka District of Ontario. She was the seventh child of Richard and Ellen Whiteside. Richard was born in Ireland in 1843 and the family moved to Ontario when he was a child. On October 11, 1871, he married Ellen Dyer, a native of Innisfil, Ontario.

Richard was involved in the lumber business in Ontario, and around 1887 he moved to Minnesota, first establishing a homestead on Fall Lake, just a few miles south of Ely. His brother, Robert, who was involved in lumbering and later in iron ore mining, was one of the founders of the town of Ely and was probably there at the time. Later, Richard would move the family into the town of Ely to a house on Harvey Street. In about 1901, they would move to Duluth.

Upon moving to Duluth, Lydia was a student, presumably at the Villa Sancta Scholastica Academy or the Duluth Normal School, which opened in September of 1902. By 1908 she had moved to Minneapolis and was a student nurse at the Asbury Methodist Hospital, which had a nursing training program. On May 24, 1911, she and 13 other women received their nursing certificates from the hospital. She then returned to Duluth and worked as a nurse, living with her family who were now residing at 4409 London Road. Continue reading

Digging into the Duluth Herald and the Duluth News Tribune


Sometimes you want more than an obituary from the local paper. Perhaps you want to confirm a story about an ancestor that may have made the paper (Did Grandpa really rob that bank?) Or you might Border Holdup Fails
want to find the article that reported an ancestor’s achievement (like Grandma’s award for her prize-winning pie at the State Fair).  Here’s your guide to digging into the past.

Obituaries: No sweat

If you want an obituary from the local papers, the task is fairly straightforward. Volunteers at the Duluth Public Library have indexed obituaries in the Duluth News Tribune back to 1956, and are pushing farther back every week. If the death was earlier than that, you find the death date and browse the papers for a while after that date.

However, how do you find that non-obituary article? That’s what I plan to discuss in this post.

Everything else:  Time is of the essence

The key element is the time of the event you’re looking for. The Duluth daily newspapers have been in existence since 1887 (Duluth Evening Herald/Duluth Herald) and 1892 (Duluth News Tribune). There are different article-finding tools for different times in these papers’ existence.

Here’s a rundown. Starting from the present and moving backward in time:

1995 – present: Full text online

The News Tribune has been online since October 1995. The full text since that time is available on the Duluth News Tribune/NewsBank database, to which the Library subscribes.

Border NewsBank DNT screen shot

This database does not include pictures or other graphic elements such as graphs, but with a citation from the database you can find the article on our newspaper microfilm and get the parts the database version does not provide. A major advantage of this database over the News Tribune website (besides no charge for printing articles from home, 10₵ per page in the library, and no ads!) is the much more robust search capabilities.

The database is available to anyone inside the Library, and from home to anyone who has a Duluth Public Library library card. (By the way, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune are also available for varying time periods through the NewsBank site – but I digress…)

Access the Duluth News Tribune/Newsbank database at www.duluthlibrary.org —> research —> databases —> Duluth News Tribune/Newsbank

1978-1995: Print and online indexes, produced by DPL librarians

Librarians indexed the NewsTribune and Herald for stories of regional interest, starting in 1978, ending when the paper went online in 1995.

      • 1988-1995: Online Duluth Newspaper index
        The index for this time range is searchable online at the Duluth Public Library website, available to anyone with or without a library card, at: www.duluthlibrary.org —> research —> databases —> Duluth Newspaper index 1988-1995. (Note: Print volumes covering 1988-1995 are also available in the Reference Department.)
      • 1978-1987: Printed index only
        The index for this time range is available only in print format, available in the Reference Department at the Main Library.  These bound volumes are affectionately referred to as the Purple Books.

1929-1978: NO indexing available – Clipping files

There is no indexing for either paper during this period, except for the Obituary Index (1956-present). You may have to browse the microfilmed version of the newspaper for your article – hopefully you have some idea of the time the article might have been published (e.g., a for a high school football-related event, you would “only” have to look for at most 4 years during the fall).

However, Librarians were very active clipping articles from the newspapers for much of this period. The Library has vast numbers of files full of clippings of local interest, many going back to the 1940s and even earlier. I just the other day came across a file beginning at 1920.

There are three separate filing systems:

    • Subject clipping files – organized by subjects of local and regional interest. Hundreds of linear feet of these files, mostly Duluth subjects, but also Minnesota regional subjects as well. Subjects clipped cover Duluth’s economy, government, education, culture, and much more, but here are some of the specifically people-related headings: Duluth Artists; Duluth Authors; Duluth Musicians; Duluth Crime and Criminals; Duluth. Schools. Teachers.
    • Industry clipping files – organized in notebooks by company name, ranging from just a page or two for a company to notebooks full for major companies such as Allete, Essentia, Grandma’s. Industry clipping files include regional companies as well.
    • Biography clipping files – contain information on Duluthians or others who have had an impact on the Northland, ranging again from a short obituary to several inches of clippings for notables (such as Elizabeth Congdon).

1893-1929: Online Duluth Newspaper index

Librarians at the Duluth Public Library indexed both the Herald and the News Tribune in a card file for this period as part of the WPA in the 1930s. Despite the time range indicated in the title of this index, index cards were added to this file – and therefore digitized – sporadically through the 1930’s and even as late as 1941. Several years ago, through the efforts of volunteer Joyce Peterson, the file was digitized and put online. Like the later index, the focus was stories of regional interest only. Very short articles and most sports stories are excluded.

The index for this time range is searchable online at the Duluth Public Library website, available to anyone with or without a library card, at: www.duluthlibrary.org —> research —> databases —> Duluth Newspaper index 1893-1929.

Border Newspaper Index 1893-1929 screen shot     Border Results screen shot

Other resources

In addition to the resources above, which are available only through the Duluth Public Library, there are a couple of other resources to know about for finding information in early papers:

1887-1922, Duluth Evening Herald and Duluth Herald

Full text online at the Minnesota Historical Society Digital Newspaper Hub (http://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/hub). Before 1923 the newspapers are in the public domain; afterwards, copyright inhibits inclusion in digitization efforts.

1892-1922 Duluth News Tribune: Genealogy Bank

The Genealogy Bank database includes the News Tribune pre-1923. Unfortunately, their pricing for the Library is out of our reach; however, individual subscriptions are quite reasonable.

If all else fails – or as a quick & dirty first effort – try your favorite internet search engine.

JFK’s Three Visits to Duluth

President John F. Kennedy visited Duluth three times, both before and while he was President. All three visits were in the autumn.

September 26, 1959

Kennedy first came to Duluth on September 26, 1959, for a visit of just one day. He was then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, serving in his second term. On this trip he was accompanied by Mrs. Kennedy. The main purpose of the Duluth trip was to visit Superior prior to the Wisconsin presidential primary. Kennedy hadn’t yet

Kennedy library

Sen. John F. Kennedy, from JFL Museum and Library

declared himself a candidate for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, and he was traveling the country trying to gauge the support he might have should he decide to run.

The Duluth/Superior visit was the last stop on a three-day tour of Wisconsin. He arrived at the Duluth International Airport at 3:45 p.m. on September 26, where he was greeted by about 100 supporters. He took part in a press conference and a television interview in Duluth, and then toured the harbor on his way to Superior. That evening in Superior he spoke at Superior Central High School, focusing on the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which he said he had supported when he was in the House of Representatives.

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Billy Sunday’s Duluth Tabernacle

Billy Sunday was a professional baseball player who became an evangelist in the early part of the twentieth century. He toured around the U.S., drawing big crowds wherever he preached. His style of preaching was very physical, befitting a former athlete—he would jump up on tables, chairs, or the podium; run back and forth across the stage; and even sometimes smash furniture to emphasize his point.

Billy Sunday preaching

Billy Sunday, from thegospelcoalition.org

It was big news for a community when Sunday brought his evangelical team to town. Early in 1918, he announced a six-week visit to Duluth starting that May. Sunday expected any community he visited, especially the churches in that community, to form a planning committee and take responsibility for some duties. One local responsibility was to raise money to cover expenses. It was determined that Duluth needed to raise $45,000. The largest portion of that money went to the building of a tabernacle.

Ever since Sunday’s large tent had collapsed under the weight of a snowstorm in 1906 in Colorado, he required the communities he visited to build a large, one-story building where he could hold his worship services. He called the building his tabernacle.

The city agreed to have Duluth’s tabernacle built on a site on the west side of Fourth Avenue West, between First and Second Streets, on a green space called Courthouse Square. That’s the present-day site of the Duluth City Hall, which was built eleven years later in 1929.


From the Duluth Herald May 2, 1918

The Duluth Herald at the time published a floor plan of the building, which would measure 224 feet by 183 feet and would be equipped with electric lighting, plumbing, and heating. It would have 4,500 seats for the public, 1,000 seats for the choir, and standing room for 1,500 to 2,000 more people. To make the tabernacle level, since it was being constructed on a slope, the First Street end, at 42 feet high, would be taller than the Second Street end, at 21 feet.

Ground for the tabernacle was broken on April 20, 1918, and workers immediately began laying timbers for the foundation. The building was completed in three weeks, on May 11. Billy Sunday arrived in Duluth on May 25, and the next day he preached three sermons in the tabernacle. A total of 18,000 people attended those first three sermons.

After Sunday left town in July, the tabernacle was purchased by a local contractor to be taken down. The contractor planned to use the lumber to build houses in West Duluth.

A 1926 Description of a Ride on Duluth’s Seventh Avenue West Incline Railway

In Volume I of his two-volume 1926 novel The Duke of Duluth, author Thomas Shastid, a Duluth physician, depicts a scene in which the main character, John Gridley Smith, who is visiting Duluth, is walking on West Superior Street and comes upon the entrance to the Incline Railway on Seventh Avenue West. On pages 74 to 80, Shastid describes the Incline and John’s ride up to the top:

Following his lonesome way, he came, after an interminable time, to a place on West Superior Street where a high fence was, composed of tall, slender pickets of red-painted iron. In the middle of the fence squatted


From Duluth Public Library Slide Collection

a little red house, with a closed door. Of a sudden, there came rushing down from upper space—it must have been an airship. A moment later John saw that it was really a funny little car coming down a steep track of wide-set iron rails.The car came to a stand almost against the fence at the left of the little red house, or station, and, a few moments later, the door of the station opened, and people began passing into the street. When they had all got out, John went into the station, and thence, by a sliding side-door, into the car. Continue reading

Why dig into the past?

Library staff member, Gina Temple-Rhodes, digs into the history of the new Duluth Folk School building at 1917 W Superior Street and explores our fascination with local history in this blog post she wrote for Perfect Duluth Day. The Duluth Public Library thanks Gina for her permission to re-post the article here.

Duluthian Phillip Merritt and the Manhattan Project

Emblem (unofficial)

Unofficial emblem of the Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project, named for the Manhattan District (the U.S. Army’s designation for the project), ran from 1942 to 1946. It was a research and development project undertaken by the United States with the assistance of Canada and Great Britain with the goal of defeating Germany in the race to develop an atomic bomb. It led to the production of the first nuclear weapons during World War II. Bombs were tested in the desert of New Mexico in July of 1945 and then dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 respectively, leading to the surrender of Japan and the end of the war. Duluth native Phillip Merritt played a key role in the success of the project.


Phillip Merritt

Phillip Merritt —  image from the Geological Society of America

Phillip Leonidas Merritt was born in Duluth on February 8, 1906. His father was Alva L. Merritt, the son of Lucien F. Merritt, one of the eight Merritt brothers whose discovery of iron ore in the 1890s opened up mining on the Iron Range. His mother was Ruth Merritt, the daughter of Leonidas Merritt, the undisputed leader of the “Seven Iron Men.” Lucien and Ruth were married in Duluth on November 12, 1895. Phillip grew up in a home at 4603 Oneota Street. He


Childhood home of Phillip Merritt

attended Denfeld High School for his freshman year and then attended a private school for the remainder of his high school years.  He began as a student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1924 and completed an undergraduate degree in geology in 1928. Continue reading

Duluth’s bid to become headquarters of the U.N

In June 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization. They worked together to write the United Nations Charter, which the conference members approved on June 25, and on June 26, 1945, in a ceremony at the Veterans Building, all 50 representatives signed the Charter. Then, when the Charter was ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries on October 24, 1945, the United Nations (then known as the United Nations Organization or UNO) officially came into existence. Continue reading

Riding Duluth’s Hills on Moving Sidewalks

The invention of moving walkways or sidewalks dates back to the late 1800s. An inventor named Albert Speer of New Jersey received the first patent for an “Endless-Traveling Sidewalk” in 1871. Speer planned to revolutionize transportation in New York City, but his idea was never adopted.


Scientific American, Jan. 16, 1892, p.1.

It wasn’t until the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago that one was built in the U.S. Continue reading

German Prisoners of War in Northeastern Minnesota

As World War II continued into 1943, some U.S. industries were experiencing shortages of workers. In Minnesota, the pinch was felt especially acutely in agriculture, food processing, and logging. Women and even children often stepped up to help with the labor shortage in agriculture and food processing. One notable local example was Life09274317-year-old Duluthian Shirley Armstrong, who appeared on the cover of the September 27, 1943, issue of Life magazine because she was working in corn fields near Fairmont, Minnesota. She and several other young women from Duluth were featured in an article about the Women’s Land Army.

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Alexander Miles

Users of early elevators were responsible for opening and closing the doors manually, and sometimes the doors were left open, creating a hazardous situation with the shaft exposed. As Andreas Bernard writes in his 2006 history of elevators:

. . .in the 1880s, manually operated or hinged doors. . .on each floor still frequently misled careless passengers wishing to enter the cab into opening them and falling into the shaft. (Andreas Barnard, Lifted: A Cultural History of the Elevator, p.31)

Duluthian Alexander Miles helped solve this problem by inventing an improved mechanism for opening and closing elevator doors when the car arrives at or departs the floor. This is just one accomplishment of this successful and creative businessman who lived in Duluth in the late 1800s and was thought at the time to be the wealthiest black man in the Midwest.

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Babe Ruth visits Duluth


Duluth News Tribune11/7/1926

Following the 1926 baseball season, in which the New York Yankees won the American League pennant and lost the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, Yankee slugger Babe Ruth went on a twelve-week vaudeville tour. The tour started in Minneapolis, and the next stop was Duluth. Ruth arrived in Duluth early on the morning of Saturday, November 6, 1926, and attended a breakfast in his honor at Hotel Duluth. He was greeted by Mayor Samuel F. Snively, Police Chief E.H. Barber, and Ruth’s friend, Superior resident, and player-manager of the Boston Braves Dave Bancroft.


Duluth News Tribune11/7/1926

BabeRuth5At 10:30 that morning, Ruth appeared for about 2,000 young fans from the Twin Ports at the Lyric Theater, 213 West Superior Street, in a program sponsored by the Duluth News Tribune. He told them stories of his baseball career, gave them the inside picture of the life of a big league ball player, and passed out fifteen autographed baseballs—maybe some Twin Ports resident still has his or her autographed ball?

On Saturday afternoon, Ruth did the first of four performances for adults at the Lyric—2:30, 4:30, 7:10, and 9:20. He repeated the four performances on Sunday, his last day in Duluth. His vaudeville act usually consisted of him telling stories about his career with the Yankees.


Duluth News Tribune11/7/1926

The next day, Ruth reportedly went duck hunting in northern Minnesota with three friends from the Detroit Tigers—outfielders Harry Heilman and Heinie Manush, and Tigers manager George Moriarity. He then continued his vaudeville tour in Fargo, ND.


Duluth Public Library collection


Duluth Public Library collection

Ye Olde Corner Grocery

Brown's Grocery Store, Duluth

Brown’s Grocery Store, Duluth
Photo: Minnesota Reflections

At one time, you could find a corner store in just about any Duluth neighborhood.   The 1973 Duluth City Directory lists 69 stores under the Groceries and Meats—Retail heading.  The list includes a few large chain markets like Super Valu, National Food Stores, and Piggly Wiggly, but the vast majority at that time was one-of-a-kind family owned neighborhood shops.  From east to west, smaller markets like Tonkin’s Grocery, London Road Market, Taran’s Food Market, Seventh Street Groceries, Plets Grocery, Tony’s Market, Ideal Market, and Mac’s Grocery dotted the map.

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Cathedral High School/The Marshall School

The Duluth Public Library doesn’t just collect books, it collects memories! Take a trip down Memory Lane by looking at some  old yearbooks. Check out the fashions and relive your carefree youth.

We have yearbooks from Cathedral/Marshall, Central, Denfeld, East, Harbor International, Hermantown, Morgan Park, and Proctor. Be sure to check the catalog to see if we have your years. Click on the “Full Display” tab to see the years owned by the library.

Check out some of the local celebs who attended CATHEDRAL AND MARSHALL HIGH SCHOOLS.

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Denfeld High School

The Duluth Public Library doesn’t just collect books, it collects memories! Take a trip down Memory Lane by looking at some  old yearbooks. Check out the fashions and relive your carefree youth.

We have yearbooks from Cathedral/Marshall, Central, Denfeld, East, Harbor International, Hermantown, Morgan Park, and Proctor. Be sure to check the catalog to see if we have your years. Click on the “Full Display” tab to see the years owned by the library.

Check out some of the local celebs who attended DENFELD HIGH SCHOOL.

Continue reading

East High School

The Duluth Public Library doesn’t just collect books, it collects memories! Take a trip down Memory Lane by looking at some  old yearbooks. Check out the fashions and relive your carefree youth.

We have yearbooks from Cathedral/Marshall, Central, Denfeld, East, Harbor International, Hermantown, Morgan Park, and Proctor. Be sure to check the catalog to see if we have your years. Click on the “Full Display” tab to see the years owned by the library.

Check out some of the local celebs who attended EAST HIGH SCHOOL.

Continue reading