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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Clinton F. Russell, 1895 – 1961, Blind Golf Champion

From the Duluth Public Library slide collection

Clinton Francis Russell was born in Duluth on October 8, 1895. His parents were Newell F. Russell and Isabelle J. Russell. Newell was born on a farm near Rush City, Minnesota, on July 16, 1869, and moved to the Duluth area in 1888. In that year, he founded, along with Henry Bridgeman, the Bridgeman-Russell Co. Isabelle came to Duluth from Michigan about 1890 and she and Newell were married in November of 1891. They had three children–Earl C., Clinton F., and Myrtle. They lived at several addresses in Duluth–309 Mesaba Avenue, 453 Mesaba Avenue (Munger Terrace), 5518 London Road, and 4440 London Road.

Clinton attended public elementary schools in Duluth and Duluth Central High School. In 1916, he began studies at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. At the outbreak of World War I, Clinton enlisted in the Army. Following the war, he returned to Syracuse to resume his studies. Clinton married Marion Ruth Jones, who went by Ruth, in Port Byron, New York, in 1920. They moved to Duluth and lived at 2132 East Fifth Street. Clinton worked at various jobs for the Bridgeman-Russell Co.

Clinton lost his sight around 1924 in an accident in which an automobile tire exploded in his face as he was repairing it. He didn’t play golf for several years after the accident, but tried it again when he was visiting relatives in California. He began playing at Ridgeview Country Club in Duluth and started taking lessons from the pro, Sammy Belfore. He began to count on his caddy teeing up the ball, adjusting his stance for direction, and lining up the club face. Some of his caddies at Ridgeview were Jim Koehler Sr., Dick Kohlbry, Bruce Schwartz, Jerry Weld, and Bob Hammerstrom.

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Forgotten Duluthians well remembered….

Check out the review of Forgotten Duluthians on Jim Heffernan’s blog at:

Forgotten Duluthians, a 2010 NEMBA nominee, was written by David Ouse, the library’s manager of reference services. The book profiles 39 people from Duluth, and their accomplishments. Included are actors and actresses, dancers, philosophers, writers, space scientists, diplomats, artists, Garfield the Cat (voice of), and Joe DiMaggio’s first wife.

Forgotten Duluthians is available for purchase at the Main Library Circulation Desk, and at both branch libraries. The cost is $14.95 plus tax. The book can also be purchased on the library website through the Gift Shop. All proceeds from sales go to the library.

Sidney Buchman, 1902-1975, Film Producer, Writer

From the 1919 Zenith Central Yearbook


Sidney Robert Buchman (shown here in 1919) was born on March 27, 1902, in Duluth. His parents were Robert Buchman and Sarah (Zalk) Buchman. Robert was born in Russia in 1874, immigrated to the U.S., and settled in Duluth around 1895. He worked as a clothing merchant and for a while owned his own store, Buchman and Josephs, at 116 West Superior Street. On February 20, 1898, he married Sarah Zalk in a wedding ceremony in the large second-floor hall in the Kalamazoo Building at 18 West Superior Street in Duluth. As the Duluth News Tribune related the next day, “seldom if ever before in the history of Duluth has there been a larger attendance at a Jewish wedding.” Mayor Truelsen was one of the 200 guests and gave a speech congratulating the new couple. Sarah Zalk was the daughter of Max Zalk, who was born in Poland and moved to Duluth in 1884. He was president of the Duluth Iron & Metal Co.

Robert and Sarah lived at 502 East First Street, later moving for a while to Superior, Wisconsin, and then back to Duluth in homes at 421 First Avenue West, 120 East Fourth Street, and finally building their own brick home at 110 West Fifth Street. Robert continued to work in retail clothing sales but eventually took a job in his father-in-law’s metal business. They had four children: Moses, born on March 22, 1900; Sidney; Marian, born on February 13, 1910; and Harold, born on June 24, 1912. Sidney apparently had a typical childhood and earned money with a paper route in the Central Hillside. He later complimented the area, saying that he hadn’t realized that he had “grown up in one of the real melting pots of the world” that demonstrated “complete race harmony.” Sidney was a popular and successful student at Central High School. He was active as an athlete, participating on the football and track teams and serving as captain of the basketball team in his senior year. He also was sports editor of the school newspaper and business manager of the senior class play, and he won the Wallace Cup for oratory in his junior year. Sidney graduated from Central in 1919 and was chosen to be a commencement speaker. From high school, Sidney went on to the University of Minnesota, enrolling in the pre-med program. He left the Twin Cities after a year of studies, however. His parents and siblings moved to New York City in October of 1919, and Sidney moved there in 1920, enrolling at Columbia University where he later received his degree. After graduating, Sidney traveled to England in February of 1924 to study at Oxford. He left Oxford after a few weeks, later referring to the rigid caste system of the English university. He traveled for a while in France and Italy, worked at the Old Vic Theatre in London, and then returned to New York City. For the next eight years he worked as a playwright in New York and had two plays produced—This One Man and Storm Song. Continue reading

Millie Baker, 1887-1915, Opera Singer

Millie Baker in 1912 (Duluth News Tribune Sept. 1, 1912)

Amelia Baker was born in Minnesota in December, 1887. Her parents, either biological or foster parents (it’s not clear) were Alfred George Baker and Mary Ann Baker. Alfred was born in England in the 1840s. He immigrated to America around 1860 and fought in the Civil War on the Union side, serving in the 61st New York Infantry. He came to Duluth around 1880 and worked for years as a marine engineer. Mary Ann was born in Ireland about 1862. She came to America in 1874. She and Alfred lived in Duluth at 2209 Minnesota Avenue on Park Point.

Amelia, who became known as Millie, grew up in Duluth. She studied music under George L. Tyler, a local singer and voice teacher. As a child, Millie performed in many local programs and gained a reputation locally as a promising singer and actress. In March of 1904, she sang the contralto role of Frederic in a local production of Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon at the Lyceum Theater. Millie attended Central High School and is last listed in the 1904 Central yearbook with the class of 1907. She left Duluth in the fall of 1904 to study music in Chicago. By April of 1905, she was performing in New York, and in July she joined the Weber Musical Company; she later joined the Charles Frohman Company. On April 23, 1907, in New York, she was married to musician Alexander Oliver Lynch. On a visit to her parents in Duluth in August of 1908, she was interviewed by the Duluth News Tribune as Mrs. Oliver A. Lynch and asked about her stage career. According to the article, she was living quietly in New York where her husband was engaged in the advertising business. The writer quotes Millie: “Of course I love the stage…I hope to go back to it, although my husband is opposed to it.” She says, “Maybe I can do something to make dear old Duluth proud of me.” Continue reading

Abraham Kaplan and Irving Copi

Duluth Central High School Debate Team, 1932-33

From the Zenith (Duluth Central High School Yearbook), 1933

Abraham Kaplan and Irving Copi

Noted philosophers, writers, and teachers, Abraham Kaplan and Irving Copi both grew up in Duluth, Minnesota. Kaplan’s family immigrated to the United States from Russia, arriving in Duluth when Abraham was six years of age. Copi was born in Duluth as Irving Copilowish.

Kaplan was younger than Copi but was a year ahead of him at Duluth Central High School, starting there at the age of thirteen in 1931. According to Copi, they first met at debate team tryouts in 1932 and quickly became friends. Kaplan was captain of that debate team.

After graduation from high school in 1933, Kaplan attended the Duluth Junior College for two years, then went off to the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Copi graduated from Duluth Central in 1934 and then attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They both returned to Duluth during the summer breaks and spent their time reading and discussing philosophy, according to Copi.

During the 1938-39 academic year, when both men were attending graduate school, they arranged to study at the University of Chicago, where Bertrand Russell was a guest lecturer.

Irving Copi


Irving M. Copi
From the 1934 Zenith (Duluth Central High School Yearbook)

Internationally known logician and philosopher Irving Marmer Copilowish was born on July 28, 1917, in Duluth, Minnesota. His parents were Samuel B. and Rose (Marmer) Copilowish, who had immigrated from Russia in the 1890s. Samuel had opened East End Cleaners in Duluth in 1914 and operated the business for 45 years at 926 E. Superior St. Irving later shortened his name to Copi, a nickname of his father’s. The family resided at 814 E. First St. when Irving was born, and later moved to 419 Eighteenth Ave. E. Irving had one sibling, an older sister named Priscilla.

Irving attended Duluth Central High School, graduating in 1934. He was active in debate, participating in his junior year on a team captained by Abraham Kaplan, and serving as captain himself in his senior year. He was also active in the Stylus Club, the Zenith (yearbook), the Spectator (school newspaper), and the class play. Continue reading

Abraham Kaplan

 From the 1933 Zenith (Duluth Central High School Yearbook)

Noted philosopher Abraham Kaplan was born in Odessa, Russia, in 1918, and moved to Duluth, Minnesota, at the age of six with his family. His father was Joseph J. Kaplan, a rabbi, and his mother was Chava Kaplan. Joseph served as rabbi at the Tifereth Israel Synagogue at Third Avenue East and Fourth Street from the mid-1920s until about 1940 . While in Duluth, the family resided at 308 E. Sixth Street and at 229 E. Fourth St.

Abraham had four older sistersEdna, Eva, Etta, and Sadie. He entered Duluth Central High School in 1931 at the age of 13. He was involved in the Stylus Club literary magazine and the Debate Team, and was chosen as captain of the Debate Team for the 1932-33 school year. He graduated from Central in 1933 at 15 years of age. Next to his yearbook photo is the caption: A brilliant scholar, and Centrals finest orator.

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Notable Duluthians

Don LaFontaine 

Don LaFontaine was born in Duluth, Minnesota, on August 26, 1940.  His parents, Alfred J. and Ruby V. Lafontaine, resided at 2711 West Second Street.  Alfred worked as a switchman for the Northern Pacific Railway.  Later, his parents divorced and both remarried.  Alfred died in Duluth on December 19, 1976.  Ruby died in Duluth on September 11, 2004.  Don LaFontaine had a sister, Sandra L. Ninow, who died in Duluth on January 26, 1977.LaFontaine grew up in Duluth and graduated from Duluth Central High School in 1958.  After graduation, he joined the Army where he worked as a recording engineer.  Following his discharge from the military, he moved to New York City where he worked in radio advertising and began producing movie trailers.  Continue reading

Notable Duluthians

Peggy Knudsen

Peggy Knudsen was born on April 27, 1923, in Duluth. Her parents were Conrad, a Duluth firefighter, and Helen. They lived in the Stratford Apartments at 18th Avenue East and 4th Street. As a child, Peggy studied the violin and also read extensively about the theater. She attended high school at Stanbrook Hall (College of St. Scholastica), taking part in musical and theatrical activities in her spare time. While in high school, she also won roles in two plays presented by the Little Theatre of Duluth, playing Blossom in “Susan and God” and Kendall Adams in “Stage Door” in 1939 and 1940 respectively. Her father died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 46 in 1940. She graduated from Stanbrook Hall in 1941. Later that year, because of Peggy’s talent and interest in acting, her mother moved them to Chicago. Peggy soon landed a leading role in “Woman in White,” a popular daytime radio program. In 1942, she was hired to replace Jo Ann Sayers in the starring role of “My Sister Eileen” on Broadway. After completing the season in that role, she moved to Hollywood and signed a contract with Warner Brothers. She appeared in “Never Say Goodbye,” ” Humoresque,”  “The Big Sleep” (with Humphrey Bogart), “Stallion Road,” “My Wild Iris Rose,” “Unchained,” and “Good Morning, Miss Dove.” In the 1950s and early 1960s, she made numerous TV appearances in such shows as “Your Show Time,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Perry Mason,” “Bat Masterson,” and “Ozzie and Harriet.” Peggy was married twice, with both marriages ending in divorce. She had three daughters, Peggy, Molly, and Janice. She suffered from crippling arthritis in her later years and worked to support the Arthritis Foundation. She died in Encino, California, on July 11, 1980.