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Dennis O'Hara


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A Grownup Prequel to “Peter Pan” Tells a Creative and Imaginative Tale


Hope Nordquist plays Molly Aster with Jake Mathey in the lead role of Peter.  Photo by Terry Cartie Norton

The Duluth Playhouse’s ”Peter and the Starcatcher” is a wild adventure ride telling the “origin story” of Peter Pan and what happened before the boy who “wouldn’t grow up” flew into the Darlings’ nursery one fateful night.

Bravo to Phillip Fazio who had to be not only the director, but also a circus ringleader of sorts, keeping all the balls in the air, the actors “spinning,” and the plot driving forward. It is a choreographic whirlwind of a show, not for dance, but for keeping all the constantly role and costume changing actors in the right place at the right time.

Fazio also establishes the right mix of sweetness, silliness, playfulness, and even, at times, pathos to tackle this challenging piece of theater. He and his cast take the audience into a world of make-believe and inventive storytelling

Writer Rick Elice (based on a novel by humorist Dave Barry) turned the beloved tale upside down in this 2012 Tony award-winning play. While keeping elements of the charm and magic of J.M Barrie’s beloved 1911 story, there is little that is “Disneyesque” or even remotely reminiscent of the Mary Martin original Broadway musical of decades ago.

This version is filled with fast and furious dialogue delivered with sometimes thick, intentionally unrecognizable accents, requiring the audience’s full attention. Sly and often witty allusions to everyone from Shakespeare to Michael Jackson also require the audience to be attentive to catch them all.

One of the first “stars” of the show is Jeff Brown’s magnificent set, an attic with nooks, crannies, platforms, stairs, and even a hatch door, giving the perfect “playground” for the 12 actors to perform 100 characters.

Brown’s masterful lighting provides shadows and sunshine, starlight and the dark of night, and much more, to create imaginative and captivating stage pictures.

Kudos to prop designer April Ellingsen who uses the cluttered attic to plant the needed “bells and whistles,” trunks, fabrics, musical instruments and other ephemera as creative props for the actors to tell the story.

Peg Ferguson’s wonderfully colorful and eclectic costumes intentionally look as if they are mostly made up of cast-off pieces that might have been pulled from the attic’s trunks by children playing dress-up.

While providing necessary exposition and set up of the complicated plot, Act I got a bit bogged down at an hour-and-a-half. After intermission, however, the show shifts to a higher gear, and the audience came alive.

Opening Act II. a hilarious mermaids’ “chorus line” of the entire cast, costumed in ratty sequins and wigs of every color of the rainbow, delivers a preposterous song and dance. Then, all the puzzle pieces of the plot start quickly falling into place, leading to an emotional and heartfelt ending.

The show requires its actors to be onstage prop masters, musicians, stage crew, and singers, and to change roles at the literal drop of the hat. An ensemble cast, onstage for almost the entire show is filled with talented performers.

Standout ensemble members include Alyson Enderle, who, with a nod to the ever so prim and proper nanny Mary Poppins, turns from a governess into a lascivious wench by the show’s end. Enderle also takes on other roles with fast costume changes on the fly, playing a variety of musical instruments, and even broadly conducting the “chorus” in the company’s biggest vocal number.

Playing two beleaguered Lost Boys, Greyson Holste and SJ Olson evoke both laughter and sympathy as they try to keep up with the ever-changing twists and turns of events.

Justin Peck’s Smee is a delightful “right-hand man” and devoted sycophant for the Pirate Captain. At one point, Peck gives a hysterical turn as a singing mermaid “siren,” unsuccessfully trying to lure men to the rocks.

Plucky, courageous, and decidedly not a girl to leave the dangerous “stuff” to the boys, the character of Molly Aster (Hope Nordquist), at first, seems to be the Wendy of Barrie’s tale. It is not until the very end of the show, however, that her true identity is revealed.

Nordquist is entirely convincing, charming, and funny as the courageous, fearless, adorable, and bossy leader of the story’s mission, determined to set things right.

Playing the title role of Peter, Jake Mathey tugs at the heartstrings as, at first, the nameless Lost Boy, who so desperately wants an identity, home, family, and ultimately love. Mathey hits all the right notes of the earnest, sweet, and conflicted boy, who needs to make the ultimate decision to come into Molly’s world and grow up or to stay on an island to play forever.

Despite the title, Evan Kelly is decidedly the star of the show, “swashing and buckling” with the best of them in his role of Black Stache, the “avatar” of Captain Hook. Kelly’s commanding presence, his magnificently tailored red coat, his impossibly coiffed and lush mustache, and his endless stream of double entendres, modern references, and smarmy dialogue make him the show’s black heart.

Kelly revels in every nuance of being the villain, playing it to the hilt and shamelessly stealing every scene when he is on onstage, much to the audience’s raucous approval.

The conundrum of “Peter and the Star Catcher” to consider: “Is it a children’s show?” Despite it being based on a favorite children’s story, its length of 2 1/2 hours (with intermission) may be tough for the wee ones in the audience. A few sleepy faces at intermission in the lobby were sipping blue mermaid drinks.

Much of the dialogue and complicated plot would be lost to all but the most precocious children. Yet, the action, color, and broad comedy, could hold many kiddos. Parents’ discretion is the best rule here.

The Playhouse and Fazio are commended for choosing a demanding play (not a musical in the traditional sense), and finding the cast and artistic team to bring all the elements of the creative staging to enchanting life.

See “Peter and the Star Catcher” to remember what you have always loved about the “Peter Pan” characters. Then enjoy following the trail of the “basket of Easter Eggs,” discovering the hidden surprises and clues of the prequel to the story.

You’ll find Peter, the Lost Boys, Neverland, the crocodile, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, and the scurvy pirates, all there in new and whimsical ways you have never seen before.

Jake Mathey and Cast in Peter and the Stormcatcher. Photo by Terry Cartie Norton

Peter and the Starcatcher
Written by Rick Elice
Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Music by Warne Barker

At the Duluth Playhouse at the NorShor Theatre
211 E. Superior St., Duluth

May 24 - June 2, 2024
Thursdays – Saturdays @ 7:30pm
Saturday Matinee on May 25 at 2pm
Sunday Matinee on June 2 at 2pm
Audio Description: May 25 @ 2pm (Carol Cheslak)
ASL Interpretation: May 31 @ 7:30pm (Interpreters: Rebecca Rick & Emily Engel)

For tickets,visit the box office at the NorShor Theatre, call 218-733-7555, or visit: https://www.duluthplayhouse.org/shows/peter-the-starcatcher

The Playhouse recommends patrons be ages 8 and up for this production. Everyone must have a ticket. Children under 3 are not admitted. Call the Box Office if you have any questions.

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Dr. Ross Perko is a Husband, Dad, Doctor – In that Order

Dr. Ross Perko is a Husband, Dad, Doctor – In that Order

Dr. Ross Perko has been a pediatric oncologist at Essentia since 2013. Here, he treats young patients with all types of cancer.

During his career, Perko has had the distinct privilege of caring for many young patients. He has also guided children and their families as their disease progressed, helping them achieve a dignified death.

While his career is deeply meaningful and important to him, he has his priorities in the right order. Living in Duluth helps him achieve that.

“My goals are to be a good husband, dad, and doctor – in that order,” Perko said. “Every morning before work, I can go for a run with my wife, and take my kids to school. That wouldn’t be possible if we lived in most other places.

Rachel, Ross, Nora, Riley, and Lucas Perko enjoy some family time. Photo by JaneCane Photography /

“My commute is only 15 minutes. And then after work, I can also coach my kids’ basketball. These are all opportunities for me because we live in Duluth.”


Perko and his sister, Margaret, were born and raised in Eveleth. Their mother, Maxine, was a teacher, and their father, William, worked for a fuel oil company. Young Ross was athletic and enjoyed playing basketball.

He was inspired to pursue medicine – in part - after watching his parents survive several serious medical events. “I like to say our parents were patients, not doctors,” Perko explained.

“My dad had quadruple bypass surgery at age 39. And my mom had ovarian cancer when I was a senior in high school. She later developed breast cancer. Both of my parents are healthy today. I like to say that my parents are grandparents due to medicine.”

Another inspiration for the field of pediatric oncology was watching a young friend of the family battle liver cancer. “I would visit him in the hospital, and learned that he really loved Batman,” Perko said. “So, I arranged for Batman to visit the hospital to see him. He has since passed away, but I still have a photo of him on my desk.”

Interestingly, both Ross and Margaret were drawn to medicine. While Ross is a pediatric oncologist, Margaret practices family medicine – and both are at Essentia Health Duluth.

“Margaret and I saw the positive side of medicine very early on,” Perko noted. “We saw a lot of great people who helped our parents, and I think that drew us both towards an interest in medicine. And I firmly believe medicine is a calling.”


After graduating from Eveleth-Gilbert High School in 1998, Perko attended Mesabi Range Community College for two years. Later, he transferred to the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD), where he ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in cell biology.

Choosing Duluth was a clear choice for Perko. “Coming to Duluth was like coming to the big city,” he noted with a chuckle. “And, my mom got her degree at UMD. Ultimately, I’m a local kid from northern Minnesota, and I liked the idea of being close to my family and my wife’s family.”

During college, he worked part-time retail jobs – at Foot Locker and Best Buy. “I still wear Air Jordans to work every day,” he said, explaining his unique choice of professional footwear.

Medical school would follow. Perko attended UMD for two years and the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities for the next two. After that, he did a residency at the Twin Cities campus and a fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

He was hired at Essentia in 2013 and was thrilled to return to Duluth.


As noted, Perko is a cancer doctor. In this role, he deals with life, death, and everything in between. It is a deeply rewarding profession for him.

“The most rewarding thing is when I see someone who has just gotten word that their child is sick, and I can come in and give them clarity,” he noted. “I always tell them we’ll get through it together.

“We have a massive team of people, including social workers, nurses, pharmacists, child life specialists, physical therapists, and so many more, here to help. And as the doctor, you get to be the quarterback of the team.”

Obviously, cancer is a very scary diagnosis to receive. But the odds are much better than they used to be – especially for kids.

“At this point, 80% or more of patients with childhood cancers survive,” Perko said. “Just this year, I’ve helped high schoolers cover their port sites or adjust their chemo schedules so they can go to prom. It’s cool to see kids I treated - who are now adults - play hockey, get married, or have children of their own.

“Taking care of children who die is also one of the most important things we do,” he added. “We surround the family with support, and try to make every day the best day possible.”

Experiencing the full circle of life has had a deep impact on Perko in every way. “Being in this role has definitely helped make me a better husband, dad, and son.”

In addition to his busy professional life, Perko serves on the Board of Directors for the Northern Lights Foundation. He is also a coach for youth basketball at Duluth East.


Perko and his wife Rachel (insert your clever “Ross and Rachel” jokes here) met while they were both working at a Children’s Hospital in the Twin Cities. She had a career as a pediatric nurse until the couple began having children.

Rachel and Ross Perko love their life in Duluth. Photo by JaneCane Photography

For now, she stays at home with the kids: Lucas (10), Nora (8), and Riley (4). The family also has a Goldendoodle puppy named Teddy.

Riley, Lucas, and Nora Perko enjoy time with the family dog – a Goldendoodle named Teddy. Photo submitted.

Ross and Rachel enjoy running and attending their kids’ school and sporting activities in their spare time. They live in the Woodland neighborhood, just outside Hartley Park.

Ross Perko and son Lucas celebrate a victory following a basketball tournament in 2023. Photo submitted.

“When we moved to Duluth, I said I either wanted to see the lake from our house, or be able to put on my running shoes and hit the trail right out our front door,” Perko said.

Smashing Goals

Perko is doing an extraordinary job achieving his goals of being a good husband, dad, and doctor. He remains deeply committed to all three roles but definitely has his priorities in order.

Looking ahead, he plans to continue striving to do his best in all areas. And he remains proud of all the hard work and dedication he’s put in to get where he is.

“I love sharing what I do with others,” he said. “And I just want to continue being present with my kids and building up the people around me. But, at this point, every dream I’ve ever dreamt, I’ve achieved.”


Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications, and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.

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Amber Burns Blazes Her Own Path on Her Artistic Journey


Amber Burns is a multi-talented artist. Photo by Lynnette's Portrait Design.

Amber Burns is a modern-day Renaissance woman with a distinctive array of talents and accomplishments. Whether choreographing, directing, dancing, acting, teaching, or making a positive impact on the community, she is a human dynamo who puts her creative stamp on everything she touches.

Born in Shakopee, MN, she grew up in Chanhassen/Chaska, MN and graduated from Chaska High School in 2006. Amber has a BFA in Art Education from University of MN Duluth and a MLS in Arts Administration from the University of Denver.

Her job experiences include being an AmeriCorps member, a dance and theatre instructor, an art teacher and Fine Arts Department chair, and the Artistic Director of the Playhouse Family Theatre and Education Programming. She now works as a Community Impact Specialist for the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

A big part of her love of the arts is centered on dance and choreography. “I have been a dancer since I was 3 years old! I have always loved to dance and known that I would continue dancing and creating for my entire life,” she said.

Theatre came into her life later in her life. “I actually didn’t start doing theatre until after college. My friends Evan Kelly and Jenna Kelly(Kase) were auditioning for a production of the ‘Who’s Tommy’ at Renegade and invited me, saying, ‘We always need dancers in theatre.’ I auditioned and was cast as an ensemble dancer and also as Young Tommy. From there, I was hooked on theatre!”

Amber has brought her own brand of magic to a variety of theater, dance, arts organizations in over 50 productions since 2012 at The Duluth Playhouse, Zeitgeist Arts, Renegade Theatre, Minnesota Ballet, Raise the Barre, 218 Dance Project, Madill Performing Arts, Dream Dance, University of MN, East High School, Denfeld High School, Marshall School, Superior High School, Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Amber plays Ali (R) in Duluth Playhouse Mama Mia with Jessie Olson (L) and Courtney Groves (M). Photo submitted.

“My favorite productions I have worked on have been ‘Newsies,’ at the Duluth Playhouse Family Theatre, ‘Matilda,’ at the Duluth Playhouse Family Theatre, ‘Grease’ at the NorShor Theatre, ‘American Idiot’ at the Underground Theatre, and most recently ‘Dance TV’ at Zeitgeist. I had so much fun working on each of these shows and mostly it was because the group of people and the team I worked with were amazing and wonderful. These shows also had a lot of dancing, which I love! “

Amber Burns directed and choreographed a combined youth and adult projection of Matilda, both in March 2020, and remounted in October 2021. Photo submitted

“I think the arts community in the Twin Ports is thriving. After college, I remember thinking that I could go back to the Twin Cities, where there is already a big arts community, or I could stay in Duluth and probably be a big part of creating a thriving arts community. I chose to stay, and I have loved how involved I have been able to be,” Amber noted.

“I am also a visual artist, and have taught art for many years,” she said. “I love to create acrylic paintings of animals and nature. I recently had an exhibition at the Great Lakes Aquarium and had a piece in the First Witness Art Exhibition at the Duluth Art Institute. This winter I will have a show up at the Northern Lakes Art Association in Ely, MN.”

Amber Burns stands next to her acrylic painting "Protector" at First Witness Art Exhibition at the Duluth Art Institute. Photo submitted.

Burns said, “My parents have always been strong advocates for me and have inspired me to always create and follow my passions. My dance teachers over the years have also had a significant impact in my life and have always encouraged me,” Amber said.

She is married to Bryan Burns, who is playing one of the characters in the show she is choreographing now for Boat Club. “Bryan and I love to spend our spare time making people laugh in the sketch comedy shows at Renegade and doing shows together,” she said. “And I also still love teaching dance and fitness classes on the side!”

Bryan and Amber traveled to Mexico earlier this year. Photo submitted.

“We have two fur babies, a dog and a cat. Our dog loves to come to work with me every day at the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation where I am in charge of scholarships and get to give out money to youth pursuing higher education,” Amber noted.

 “Great American Trailer Park Musical” at Boat Club

“Trailer Park sounded like such a fun show, and honestly, it is a stellar group of people. I am always all in when I know the team is going to be amazing! I love collaborating and when you get the right group of people it can be magical,” Amber explained.

“I have never done the show before, and I didn’t really know that much about it before doing some research, which can be exciting but also intimidating to take on a big project that you don’t know much about,” she said. “But it has been really fun getting to know the story, the characters, and creating movement to help guide the process! “

She added, “The show is silly, fun, over the top, but also really down to earth. I think this will be one of those shows that you are laughing one minute, and crying the next. It is touching and sincere, while also being ridiculous!”

 “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”

Music and Lyrics by David Nehls, Book by Betsy Kelso
June 7-16, 2024
June 7-8 7:30pm | June 9 2:00pm
June 13-15 7:30pm | June 16 2:00pm

Spirit of the North Theatre, Fitger’s – 3rd Floor
Box Office Phone Number: (218) 623-7065
Buy tickets online at boatclubrestaurant.com

Content Warning: Due to the mature nature of this production, it may not be suitable for all ages.

The story has, at its center, a love triangle between an agoraphobe, a highway toll collector and an exotic dancer with an unhinged ex-boyfriend. A Greek-chorus-eque trio of trailer park women helps guide the narrative, playing any character or gender they choose while breaking the fourth wall at whim to air their own dirty laundry. The result is a sense of informality and community – the lifeblood of neighborhoods everywhere.

More than a decade after its New York premiere, “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” continues to connect with audiences and sold-out crowds. Beyond the broad comedy and Jerry Springer-worthy confrontations, the show is about rising above our impulses, our mistakes and our surroundings to make a future we can believe in despite the past. (Synopsis from Boat Club website)


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Phillip Fazio Creates a Magical Place for People To Play

DD Artist Profile Series – Phillip Fazio Creates a Magical Place for People To Play

Phillip Fazio is Duluth Playhouse Producing Artistic Director. Photo submitted.

Phillip Fazio, Duluth Playhouse Producing Artistic Director, recalled a turning point in his life. “My Aunt took me to see the national tour of ‘Peter Pan’ starring Cathy Rigby when I was about six years old. To say that it was a life-changing experience would be a massive understatement. When the performance ended, I had decided I was going to spend the rest of my life doing theatre.”

He recalled how, later in his life, theater also became a refuge for him. “When I was growing up, I often felt like I did not belong in the environments I inhabited. I had different interests from a lot of the kids my age, and I often felt like an outsider. The place where I always knew I could be my true authentic self was at the theatre.”

12-year-old Phillip Fazio gives the curtain speech before his backyard production of “Cinderella”

Faziio was born and raised in Tempe, Arizona. “My family’s history in Arizona dates back over a hundred years, with my great grandparents moving to the area when it was still a territory in the early 1900s,” he noted.

After high school, he attended Boston Conservatory, where he earned a BFA in Musical Theatre with an emphasis on directing. After graduating, he began a three-year contract as an Artist in Residence at​ The​ Phoenix Theatre​ Company​ where he directed, acted, and taught at the Arizona School for the Arts.

After completing his contract, he moved to New York City and began working as a freelance director for almost ten years. During that time, he directed and assisted directed productions in NYC, as well as regionally in several other cities.

In 2020, he graduated from Penn State University with an MFA in Directing. At Penn State, he was mentored by award-winning director Susan H. Schulman.

“Susan directed the Broadway revival of “The Sound of Music” in the late 90s, and when I was working on the show last fall, Susan was an incredible resource. I reached out to her for advice on several occasions, and her influence was very present in the Playhouse production.”

Famed theatre director Susan H. Schulman is a mentor to Phillip Fazio. Photo submitted.

As Fazio was finishing up his MFA at Penn State, he started applying for several Artistic Director positions. Duluth Playhouse was one of several organizations to which he applied.

He said, “In December 2019, I was invited to visit Duluth for a final in-person interview. Even though there had just been a blizzard, and my Arizona bones rattle when it dips below 30 degrees, I was immediately charmed by the city and the wonderful people living here.”

He added, “I was deeply impressed by the work that was currently being done and stunned by the amount of growth the organization had experienced over the last 20 years. As I was getting a tour of the NorShor Theatre during my visit, I remember thinking how lucky I was to be up for a job at such a fantastic place with so much promise for the future.”

Since starting at the Playhouse, Fazio has directed several productions, including “The Sound of Music,” “Kinky Boots,” “Into the Woods” “Ragtime,” and “Footloose.”

Alyson Enderle as Maria with the von Trapp children performing “Do-Re-Mi” in “The Sound of Music” at the Playhouse. Director Phillip Fazio. Photo submitted.

Fazio noted. “I am constantly amazed by all the incredible talent in the Twin Ports arts community. It is astonishing that there are so many brilliant artists and phenomenal arts organizations in an area of our population size. I have always been and will always be an advocate for the arts. The better we all do, the more people in the community will want to incorporate attending arts events into their routine. The more art we all create, the more word will continue to spread that the Twin Ports is an incredible destination for a fulfilling artistic experience. “

Jack, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Baker go “Into the Woods” at the Duluth Playhouse. Director Phillip Fazio. Photo submitted.

“Participating in the arts can be a magnificently powerful experience, but it must be welcoming, safe, and inclusive. As a leader of an arts organization, I feel a deep responsibility to create a magical, joyous place for people to play, watch, and learn. I honestly have no idea who or where I’d be if theatre hadn’t become a part of my life. I do know this though, I’d definitely be a lot less happy than I am.”

“When I took this job, I said my goal for the Playhouse over the next 20 years was to bring the same artistic and professional growth that Christine Seitz brought over the last 20 years,” he said. “I believe our 24/25 season is a continued elevation of the work we’ve been doing and I cannot wait to bring it to life with everyone.”

Playhouse cast of “Annie” singing about the glories of “NYC.” Director Phillip Fazio. Photo submitted.

“Peter and the Starcatcher”

Fazio said, “Peter and the Starcatcher" is a show that has been near and dear to my heart ever since I saw the Broadway production over 10 years ago. I love how clever the creators are with the backstories for the iconic characters in “Peter Pan.’ As a director, the invitation to use imaginative storytelling techniques to bring the play to life is something that I find supremely appealing. Plus, I fell in love with theatre while watching a production of ‘Peter Pan,’ so it feels like a fitting full circle moment to return to this story so many years later. I hope audiences leave the show thinking about the value of found family and the power we all possess to shape our own destiny.”

Information “Peter and the Starcatcher”
A play by Rick Elice
Music by Wayne Barker
Based on the Novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

From the Playhouse website: “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a wildly theatrical adaptation, upending the classic story of the ‘Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up.’

Creating a clever backstory for Peter Pan and all his friends, this tale explores the depths of greed and the bonds of friendship.  From marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, “Peter and the Starcatcher” playfully explores the world of make-believe. Featuring a dozen actors portraying more than 100 unforgettable characters, “Peter and the Starcatcher” uses ingenious stagecraft and the limitless possibilities of imagination to bring the story to life.”


The Duluth Playhouse  May 24-25, May 30-June 1 at 7:30 pm
May 25 and June 2 at 2:00 pm
NorShor Theatre
211 East Superior Street  Duluth

Tickets at duluthplayhouse.org or call the box office at 218-733-7555

Audio Described performance: May 25 @ 2PM
Describer: Carol Cheslak

ASL Interpreted performance: May 31 @ 7:30PM
Interpreters: Rebecca Rick & Emily Engel

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What is it? The Mysterious Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum/The Cribs

What is it? Solving the Mystery of  Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum/The Cribs

Photo by Aaron Fagre

Some call it “the cribs.” Others know it as Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum. Some locals even grew up referring to it as the ice house.

Whatever you call it, this odd, crooked, building-like structure protruding from Lake Superior has long been surrounded by mystery and intrigue. Having the creepy term “mausoleum” in its name only adds to the mystique.

Over the years, people have speculated that it was a bunker, an illegal casino, or a fishing dock. But these theories have all subsequently been debunked.

So, seriously: what the heck is it?

Today, with help from our friends at Atlas Obscura, the DNT, and others, we finally solved this strange Lake Superior mystery.

Spoiler alert: The truth isn’t nearly as sexy or intriguing as some of the speculation. Nevertheless, let’s dive in.


The concrete structure known as Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum rests in Lake Superior, about 30 feet from Canal Park’s shoreline. Today, it serves as a convenient resting place for tired birds. In the warmer months, adventurous swimmers enjoy exploring the partially submerged edifice.

The structure was initially built in 1919 by local businessman Harvey Whitney.

Source unknown

According to the website Atlas Obscura:

It is the foundation of an unloading dock built by local businessman Harvey Whitney in 1919. In the years following World War I, construction was booming in Duluth, and Whitney sought to make his sand and gravel business more efficient.

His company - Whitney Brothers of Superior - collected sand and gravel from the Apostle Islands and Minnesota, loaded it on barges, and carried it to the shore in Duluth. But the boats often had to wait to pass through the busy canal to dock, and Harvey Whitney came up with the idea to simply unload the boats into a hopper and let conveyor belts bring it the rest of the way.

But Whitney’s idea relied heavily on one thing: the building of an outer harbor. The city had long considered building one to buffer the effects of the lake’s unpredictable, severe storms, but it never happened. As a result, boats often couldn’t safely get close enough to unload into the hopper, not to mention the toll the beating waves took on the structure itself. By 1922 the project was abandoned, left to slowly abrade in the tempestuous lake.

Whitney had invested a lot of money in the project in hopes of strong returns - he’d even expected to supply the materials for the city to build the harbor. But instead, he ended up with a pile of concrete that family members lovingly nicknamed Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum. As the marker notes: “He tried to deal with Lake Superior on its terms, and lost.”[1]

Photo by Dawn LaPointe. Radiant Spirit Gallery

Another Mystery – The Missing Pillar

Another interesting facet is the now-missing concrete pillar that has disappeared from the structure.

Source unknown.

According to a 2015 story by the Duluth News Tribune:

… Part of the structure known as “Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum” or “the cribs,” jutting out of the water of Lake Superior offshore from Canal Park, vanished sometime between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day.

It is—or was—a solitary concrete pillar that stood between the main "mausoleum" and shore. A photo shows it standing as recently as Jan. 1, but it isn't visible now.

Waves, or ice, or both appear to have toppled the nearly century-old column, a remnant of a short-lived operation to unload sand and gravel. In more recent years, the ruins have been a popular destination for swimmers and divers in summer, and occasionally some ice explorers in winter.

Tom Deschenes, who works at Canal Park Brewing Company, may have been the first to notice the column was missing. He said he had been contemplating setting up a slackline - similar to a tightrope - between the cylinder and the larger structure, sometimes called the icehouse.

On Valentine's Day morning, as he biked to work, "I was thinking the timing was getting to be about right to set up the line," Deschenes recalled. "When I looked to the icehouse, the cylinder piece was gone."

As word of the fallen landmark made its way around social media in recent days, Duluth's Jim Richardson - an avid freediver who shoots underwater videos and posts them online as Lake Superior Aquaman; find them here - weighed in with his observations.

"It was only a matter of time," Richardson reported on Facebook. "The column was composed of timbers sheathed in concrete but much of the concrete below water level was eroded away, leaving bare wood."

The column also may have had a steel jacket at some point, Richardson said, based on his underwater observations. He said the water is about 12- to 14-feet deep in that spot, so the column probably is lying on the lakebed.

The icehouse may face a similar fate someday; it already has a list that has become more pronounced in recent years.

Richardson said that his dives on the structure have revealed that the bottom crib is buckling in one corner. He said it doesn't appear to be in imminent danger of sinking further, but noted that someone with more engineering expertise would be needed to make an official determination.[2]

Mystery Solved

Well, there you have it. Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum (and the missing pillar) is nothing more than the foundation of an old unloading dock. The structure known as “the cribs” is simply the vestige of a failed logistics experiment.

As noted, some of the fantastical myths are undoubtedly more compelling than the truth, but they remain a bit creepy nonetheless.

Photo by John Keefover


Further resources:

Forgotten, but not gone: the story behind Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum | by Carly Schwieters | Medium

A piece of ‘The Cribs’ disappears in Duluth | NewsCut | Minnesota Public Radio News (mprnews.org)

Inside Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum In Duluth During Summer (mix108.com)


Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications, and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.



[1] Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum – Duluth, Minnesota - Atlas Obscura

[2] Part of Duluth's 'cribs' goes missing in Lake Superior - Duluth News Tribune | News, weather, and sports from Duluth, Minnesota

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Photographer Ryan Rumpca Captures the Adventurous

Ryan Rumpca

DD PHOTOGRAPHER PROFILE SERIES – Photographic Storytelling with Ryan Rumpca

A Duluth surfer walks back to the water access spot after climbing up the icy shoreline during a blizzard. Duluth, 2023. Photo by Ryan Rumpca.

Photographer Ryan Rumpca describes his artistic niche as the “rugged outdoor lifestyle.”

His moody, monochromatic photos depict striking North Shore landscapes, alongside plenty of images from his adventures abroad. But the overarching theme of his craft has always been storytelling.

“I see my camera as a tool to explore new things,” he noted. “I always ask myself how I can portray a story to someone through photos. I like to peel back the curtain in a storytelling sense, rather than just taking snapshots. And I enjoy telling the stories that interest me.”

Schooner Charley cruising past Wisconsin Point. Wisconsin, 2023. Photo by Ryan Rumpca.

Early Life

Rumpca was born and raised in Anoka, Minnesota. His mother, Sue, worked as an accountant, and his father, who goes by “J,” worked for a medical device company. He has one older sister, Amanda.

Growing up, Rumpca enjoyed the outdoors and athletics. He played football and baseball and liked to hunt and fish.

When determining a career path, Rumpca was torn between physical therapy and engineering. Ultimately, engineering came out on top. “My analytical brain likes to understand how things work, at both a macro and micro level,” he explained.

He graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology.


After college graduation, Rumpca took his first international solo trip - to New Zealand. There, he explored the country’s South Island for a month, while living in a rented camper van.

He was bitten by the travel bug; a wanderlust which continues to this day. “This trip was a huge foundational part of my life,” he noted.

After returning home to Minnesota, he asked himself what was next. The answer, it turns out, was Duluth.

Ryan during a photoshoot with a restored Land Rover in northern Wisconsin. Photo submitted by Ryan Rumpca

“I knew if I wanted to stay in Minnesota, my top choice for sure was Duluth,” Rumpca said. “I was looking for a place where I could balance the ability to be social - and do things like see a movie or visit a brewery – but also be able to disappear in the woods. Duluth offers the best of both worlds.”

Rumpca landed a job at Cirrus in 2017 and relocated to Duluth. He started with the company as a manufacturing engineer, and today holds the title engineering project manager. In this role, he supports Cirrus’ engineering teams with their product development.

Flying over the beautiful Park Point on a spring day. Duluth, 2022. Photo by Ryan Rumpca


Rumpca first became interested in photography during family vacations in his youth. He remembers being inspired during a trip to Alaska and wanting to capture those exciting moments. Images of rugged landscapes - viewed through the lens of adventurous travel - would become his lifelong muse.

He started out using an early model GoPro HERO3 White. This camera was a tool he used to capture both still images and videos. Later, in college, he upgraded to a Nikon D5100 DSLR camera.

In 2018, he upgraded again: to a mirrorless Sony Alpha 7 II. “This is a good, all-around camera,” he explained. “It gives you immediate feedback since you see what the sensor sees.”

A cozy A-frame cabin sits underneath the stars near the Boundary Waters. Grand Marais, 2022 Photo by Ryan Rumpca

Most recently, in 2021, he purchased a Sony Alpha 7R IV, a high-end mirrorless camera. He pairs this camera body with Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 and Tamron 70-180mm F2.8 lenses.

Rumpca is also a commercial drone pilot, and captures plenty of stunning images from overhead. For this, he uses a DJI Mavic 3 Pro, along with first-person view (FPV) drones that he builds himself.


Rumpca explains his photographic style as gritty and monochromatic. “I’m drawn to things that take effort,” he said.

“For example, the North Shore is often known for calm sunrises and sunsets. But I like to capture the North Shore – and Lake Superior – at their most dynamic. I like storms and temperature differences. I like my photos to have some grit to them.”

Exploring the empty streets of Duluth during a white-out blizzard. Duluth, 2023. Photo by Ryan Rumpca

Some of his favorite places to shoot include the Finland area, the Gunflint Trail, and the BWCA. He also enjoys taking photos while globetrotting. Some of his favorite international locales have been the Lofoten Islands (located off the coast of Norway), Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Switzerland, France, Italy, and New Zealand.

If Rumpca could give one tidbit of advice to other budding photographers, it would be to focus on style. “I would say find your style or voice, and tell the stories you find important,” he noted. “The vision of my work really changed when I developed my own style.”


In 2019, Rumpca started his photography business. He’s been busy and successful ever since.

His photos have been featured at Bluefin Bay’s gift shop, the Coho Café, Duluth Gear Exchange, and a couple of coffee shops in the Twin Cities. They are also available for sale on his website.

While Rumpca enjoys the tangible nature of print media, he tends to focus more on business-to-business partnerships. This focus has brought opportunities to work with brands and organizations like Patagonia, Explore Minnesota, The Iditarod, Bon Iver, Visit Cook County, Duluth Pack, the DECC, and COGGS, among others.

His work was noticed by Destination Duluth in 2021. His photos have since attracted 1.2 million views of his images on Destination Duluth's Facebook and Instagram pages.

Ryan at the finish line of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska. Photo submitted by Ryan Rumpca

Rumpca served as the official videographer for the 2024 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska. He also recently directed and produced a 14-minute short film, “A Line in the Snow,” which was created in partnership with Save the Boundary Waters.

This film, which features a winter dog sledding journey in the Boundary Waters, premiered at Duluth’s Zeitgeist Theater. He has a couple more films in the works, too.

The Manifested Moose Media team at the premiere of their film "A Line in the Snow"  Photo submitted by Ryan Rumpca

He has also volunteered his photography/videography skills, through capturing both the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and the Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race.

A musher covers the span of Poplar Lake during the Gunflint Mail Run dog sled race. Gunflint Trail, 2022. Photo by Ryan Rumpca


Rumpca, who lives in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood, enjoys all forms of outdoor activities. Some of his favorites include gravel biking, hiking, backpacking, stand-up paddleboarding, and camping.

As noted, he also loves international travel. His next adventure is a sailing trip to the Arctic Circle in May.

| Ryan on a -30F morning approximately 600 miles into the 1000 mile race on the Iditarod Trail in Alaska. Photo by Ryan Rumpca


Rumpca intentionally sought out Duluth as his home. As a Duluth “transplant,” he is well-equipped to provide a hearty testimonial for the area.

“Here in Duluth, we have the option to do all the things in a city environment, but also lots of remote, adventurous things,” he noted. “There’s great accessibility for either.

“We are so blessed to have the North Shore literally at our back door. You can head up to Palisade Head after work, or watch the dynamic nature of Lake Superior. I really can’t emphasize enough how much I’ve fallen in love with the area.”

Ryan’s work can be viewed and purchased at ryanrumpca.com.


Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications, and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.



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OMC Smokehouse Is A BBQ Lover's Delight

OMC Facebook Page


With a name like OMC Smokehouse (an acronym which stands for “oink, moo, cluck”), you can probably deduce that its menu includes plenty of delicious smoked meats.

Indeed, this carnivore-friendly establishment features an abundance of tender meats – including brisket, pork, chicken, and ribs - that are smoked on-site daily. These are all served up with a variety of flavorful BBQ sauces.

But there are plenty of other options, too. There are vegetarian sloppy joes and “beyond burgers” for the plant-based eaters in your life. A few catfish and shrimp dishes are available, too.

Tons of uniquely southern side dishes round out the menu, such as elote, beans, mac & cheese, grits, coleslaw, collard greens, and cornbread. Whoopie pies are available for dessert. Beverages include unique cocktails and mocktails, local craft brews, wine, fresh iced tea, homemade lemonade, coffee, and a variety of sodas.

Please join us as we Eat & Drink Duluth … OMC style!


Located at 1909 West Superior Street, OMC Smokehouse was added to the “Duluth Grill family” in 2017. The restaurant is owned by Tom Hanson, and his son, Louie Hanson, is its managing partner.

When it comes to BBQ, the OMC crew keeps it as authentic as possible. Before opening, they traveled to several American BBQ hot spots - such as Nashville’s Hattie B’s and Q39 in Kansas City – for inspiration.

OMC is located at 1909 West Superior Street, which is in the heart of the Lincoln Park Craft District.


The first thing we noticed upon entering is the amazing smells. The aroma of slow-smoked meat instantly got our mouths watering. And, old southern blues music on the stereo really sets the mood.

The color scheme includes shades of blue, teal, and gray. There is exposed brick and duct work. A combination of booths and tables are available, and there is a fire pit burning outside. Lighting inside the restaurant is dim and soft.

And, with a name like “oink, moo, cluck,” you can bet there are plenty of animals included in the décor. The restaurant includes depictions of cows, pigs, and chickens throughout.

A variety of OMC-themed merch, such as clothing, sauces, and mugs, are available for purchase

Our fellow diners at 4 pm on a Thursday included couples, groups, and families with children. The restaurant was pretty slow at 4, but started picking up around 5.

OMC offers plenty of merch for sale, including clothing, sauces, dry rubs, and ceramic mugs. Catering and take-out meals are also available.

Food and Drink

Immediately upon being seated, our wonderful server, Stephanie, offered us a helping of crispy chicharrónes (pork rinds). You can dip your rinds in the restaurant’s four signature, homemade BBQ sauces, located in caddies at every table. Sauces include:

Pork Rinds - All patrons receive a generous helping of pork rinds (chicharrones) that pair well with OMC's four signature BBQ sauces.

Chipotle-Cilantro BBQ - Notes of Rhubarb, cilantro, and adobe chilies. The perfect sweet heat.

Classic Honey BBQ - As classic as it comes. Zesty and sweet.

Bent Paddle 14° ESB BBQ - Bent Paddle’s 14° ESB was used to create this Carolina-style mustard-based sauce. A bittersweet neighborhood treat.

Alabama White BBQ - Great on anything – a tangy white BBQ sauce with a horseradish zip.

There are so many menu options at OMC. In addition to all the smoked meat dishes, there are also salads, fajitas, burgers, and fried chicken options.

Mike decided to keep it classic OMC by choosing one of their “time-honored classics.” From the menu:

We don’t mess with the classics. Smoked meat. Bun. Pickles. You pick the sauce. All sandwiches are served with one side option or add beef fat fries. OINK – Pulled pork. MOO – Brisket. CLUCK – Pulled chicken.

OMC's smoked chicken sandwich is one of their "time honored classics."

He selected the chicken. Or, “cluck,” in OMC vernacular.

The sandwich features a generous portion of tender, smoked chicken served on a soft and shiny bun. The nice thing is the sandwich comes “naked,” so diners can choose the sauce of their choice or even mix and match sauces if they’re feeling adventurous. Dill pickle slices are served on the side.

For his side, Mike opted for the beef-fat fries. OMC uses their brisket trimmings to grind and render the fat for frying these signature fries, which are on the soft side and served with a bottle of creamy malt vinegar aioli.

I chose the OMC shrimp fajitas, which are one of their newer menu choices. From the menu:

Your choice of smoked pulled chicken, smoked pulled pork, barbacoa beef, or sautéed shrimp with fajita-seasoned veggies on a sizzling platter. Served with warm tortillas, sour cream, salsa, queso fresco and guacamole.

OMC's shrimp fajitas arrive sizzling and steaming, and are served atop a mound of caramelized onions and green peppers.

This dish arrived sizzling and steaming, and includes six large, juicy shrimp, which are well-seasoned (with a kick!) and served atop a delicious mound of caramelized onions and green peppers. The sour cream, salsa, queso fresco (mild, white, crumbly Mexican cheese) and guac are served in ramekins on the side.

We both opted for local brews. Mike paired his meal with a Bent Paddle Cold Press Black, a porter/stout infused with delicious coffee from Duluth Coffee Company. I chose a Castle Cream Ale from Two Harbors-based brewery Castle Danger. This easy-drinking ale was a soothing elixir to the spicy shrimp.

We selected local craft brews from Duluth-based Bent Paddle and Two Harbors-based Castle Danger.


Our server was an incredibly friendly young lady named Stephanie Schlais, who was first hired at OMC as a busser/hostess in 2019. Stephanie is well-versed on the menu, beverages, and the nuances of those four amazing sauces.

Our server, Stephanie Schlais, has been with OMC since 2019.

Her personal favorite dish is the shrimp and fried grits. She also highly recommends the OMC smoked burrito bowl or haystack brisket sandwich.

OMC’s assistant manager, Sarah Hammack, also stopped by to say hello and inquire about our meal and experience. Everyone we encountered at OMC was very pleasant and friendly.

Assistant Manager, Sarah Hammack, stopped by for a friendly visit.


OMC offers a wide and delicious array of smoked meats and BBQ dishes (among many other choices), served up in a comfortable setting. The service is outstanding, and the staff are glad to assist you in finding your perfect dish and beverage.

This establishment is yet another home run for Duluth, the “Duluth Grill family,” and for the Lincoln Park Craft District as a whole.

OMC was added to the "Duluth Grill family" in 2017.

For more information, please visit omcsmokehouse.com.


About Andrea Busche
Eat & Drink Duluth Editor

Andrea Busche is a Duluth and regional freelance writer credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications. Her food column, Local Pairings, was first featured in Duluth.com magazine, and later published in the Duluth News Tribune from 2016-2018.


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Lake Superior Art Glass Showcases A Luminous World of Color and Light

Lake Superior Art Glass

Glass creation evokes images of blowing giant bubbles and having them “magically” turn into colorful shapes and objects. At Lake Superior Art Glass (LSAG), a glass-blowing studio and gallery in Duluth’s Canal Park, their artisans share the mysteries of creating objects in glass with demonstrations and classes.

These handmade glass flowers shine brightly with the colors of the rainbow. They are available for sale, or a class will teach customers how to make their own. Photo submitted.

For those looking for colorful gifts, the LSAG gallery is filled with shimmering pieces from over 60 artists, each with a unique take on both decorative and functional items.

Amber Nichols, LSAG's General Manager, noted that the company has 20 employees, including gallery and support staff and glass blowers.

“We all love our Canal Park location with lots of foot traffic. We tend to see more tourists in the summer and more locals for classes and shopping the rest of the year,” Nichols said.

The building has space for the studios, the gallery, and for people to watch what the in-house glass blowers are creating.

Amber Nichols is General Manager of Lake Superior Art Gallery. Photo submitted.

Shopping for Treasures

Whether looking for a gorgeous piece of jewelry, that stunning decorator piece, or a variety of beautiful and functional glassware items, shoppers find that LSAG offers something for every interest and taste.

Their gallery showcases an immense collection of curated glass artistry, featuring works from their talented in-house artists, independent artisans, and world-renowned glass artists.

Jewelry items include pendant necklaces with leaf shapes, water images, and Lake Superior-related pieces, including lake freighters, lighthouses, the Aerial Lift Bridge, waves, anchors, the BWCA, and more. Some of their earrings include leaf shapes, optic icicles, hearts, and colorful glass earring studs.

Numerous pieces have a Lake Superior theme. Photo submitted

Other gallery favorites are their colorful glass flowers, hummingbird feeders, and kaleidoscopes

Functional items are popular for gifts or for people to buy for themselves. Some options are stemless wave glasses, glass straws, swizzle sticks, martini glasses, wine goblets, blue glassware, and bottle stoppers,

Hummingbird feeders come in an array of colors. Photo submitted.

Their collectible items are a veritable menagerie of animals, birds, and fish. They also have specialty items for every holiday on the calendar.

Custom Unity Glassware

Unity Glass can be either sculptural or functional with each piece handmade and unique. Photo submitted.

Unity glassware is a unique process most often used by wedding couples. The Unity Ceremony involves blending pieces of colored glass (frits). Every Unity piece is handmade and unique. An engaged couple individually chooses their own color and then blends them together during the wedding ceremony.

Afterward, they bring the colored glass back to LSAG, and their artists use the special blend in the sculptural or functional glass items of the couple’s choice. The pieces can vary from wine glasses to vases and much more.

Make It Yourself!

Having the chance to create a beautiful glass piece and the bragging rights to say, “I made that,” draws people to LSAG for a variety of classes seven days a week.

Taking a glass-blowing class at Lake Superior Art Glass will create memories and mementos for people of all ages.

“We offer mostly beginners’ classes that do not require prior experience with glass, but people who are interested in learning more can take intermediate and advanced classes as well,” added Nichols.

Jacob Speich, LSAG studio manager and instructor, makes a Unity sculpture. Photo submitted.

Customers’ glass creations are cooled slowly in a kiln overnight and are available for pick up the next morning or can be shipped.

Kids (ages 4-13)  can make jewelry pendants. People (14+) can take classes in the flamework or hot shop studios to make a variety of glass items, such as decorative paperweights, glass flowers, and blown ornaments.

Private and group classes are perfect for bachelorette parties, Girl Scouts’ gatherings, corporate events, birthday parties, and couples’ classes for special occasions.

Artist and Entrepreneur Dan Neff

From the moment Dan Neff first started blowing glass at age 17, he was hooked. He started working informally as an apprentice to learn the basics.

Dan Neff showing several cases of his amazing vortex marbles. Photo submitted.

All through college at UMD, Neff would look for housing where he could have a glass-blowing studio in the garage or basement. In 2006, he started selling his glass objects at craft fairs, shows, and bazaars.

“I was finding out what people liked, getting feedback,” he said. “In 2011, working with the Entrepreneur Fund, I started Lake Superior Art Glass LLC. In 2012, I opened my gallery and studio at the corner of 2nd Ave. East and Superior Street.”

Dan Neff’s mesmerizing vortex marbles are incredible optical illusions of light and color. Photo submitted.

He added, “It was a great location! I loved working in the window where people could go by and watch the process.”

Neff continued to hone his craft spending time working with world famous glass masters from whom he learned some of the techniques he uses today.

In 2019, he moved the business to Canal Park. “I love having a garage door in front where we can open up, to have people see what is going on inside.”

Artist and entrepreneur Dan Neff stands proudly in front of his Lake Superior Art Glass studio and gallery. Photo submitted.

Neff’s signature items are his gorgeous vortex marbles, what he calls a “modern-day paperweight.” He, however, makes them in a perfect sphere so they can be looked at from 360 degrees. as a one of a kind piece of art.

“I love being challenged in deciding what I want to make and what I need for each marble. Everything, colors, tools, must be planned out in advance, so I have to envision a project and all the the steps to get there,” he explained.

“It is all about the process and my vision for each marble,” he added. “I enjoy watching people looking at the optical illusion inside each marble and seeing it from so many different vantage points.”

The staff at LSAG invites people to “Dive into an array of unique finds that speak to the soul, and functional favorites that marry beauty with everyday utility. Let each piece whisk you away on a journey of discovery, celebrating the timeless allure of glass art.”

For an extensive online shopping gallery, class offerings, and more information on Lake Superior Art Glass, visit their website at lakesuperiorartglass.com














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Duluth Firefighter Caleb Kittleson is Ready for Anything, 24/7/365

If you call 911 in Duluth, there’s a chance your first responder will be firefighter Caleb Kittleson.

And you’d be lucky to have him. At just 21 years old, Kittleson is young, strong, well-trained, and passionate about helping others.

In addition to fighting fires, Kittleson and his crew respond to any 911 call that isn’t a police matter. For instance, firefighters respond to medical emergencies, car accidents, water emergencies, trail rescues, and fire alarms in tandem with the Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service. All firefighters are trained EMTs, and some are paramedics.

Firefighters are even called out for dog rescues. You may have seen the Duluth Fire Department in the news recently when they heroically rescued a dog from the Canal Park harbor.

Whether called to assist a human or pet, it’s a calling Kittleson takes very seriously. “Our job is to be there for people on the worst day of their lives,” he noted. “The public puts 100% of their trust in us. We have to perform for them 24/7/365.”

Hometown of Rochester

Kittleson was born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota. His father, Gary, worked as a career firefighter with 30 years of service. His mother, Erin, worked as a nurse at the Mayo Clinic. His parents have both recently retired and have relocated to Dallas, Texas, to work for Samaritan’s Purse - a ministry-based non-profit.

A family picture shows (L-R): Caleb’s dad, Gary; sister, Carolyn; Carolyn’s dog, Quinn; mother, Erin; sister-in-law, Katie; nephew, Rui; brother, Josh; and Caleb. Photo submitted.

So, it may come as no surprise that Caleb would follow in his parents’ footsteps. But it took him a while to reach that conclusion.

“For most of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he said. “But then, the Rochester Fire Department and my high school teamed up to offer courses through the PSEO program (post-secondary education option).

“I took some classes and realized it was a pretty cool career. Growing up, having my parents as role models helped, too. I earned my Firefighter I, Firefighter II, EMT, and HAZMAT certificates when I was still in high school.”

Growing up, Kittleson and his family frequently visited Duluth and the North Shore. He fondly remembers trips to the BWCA and enjoying the Superior Hiking Trail. It became his goal to eventually end up in Duluth.

A Few Pivots

After high school, Kittleson enrolled at Lake Superior College, where he completed his associate’s degree - in fire science and administration - online. He moved to the Twin Ports in 2021. Here, he initially worked for Continental Ski & Bike.

A few detours would follow. Kittleson left Duluth twice: his first move was to Mankato after receiving a job offer. Later, he worked for the Rochester Fire Department with his dad for a while. But still, Duluth beckoned.

Caleb and his dad, Gary, work together at the Rochester Fire Department. Photo submitted.

“Neither Mankato nor Rochester offered much for my hobbies or the life I wanted,” Kittleson said. “I love golfing at Nemadji, hiking and biking on the Superior Hiking Trail, and snowboarding at Spirit Mountain. Duluth has such amazing landscapes, opportunities for my hobbies, and great people. So, I came back in 2022.” This time, he plans to stay.

Caleb enjoys some mountain biking in Piedmont last summer with coworkers. Photo submitted.


Duluth has a total of eight fire stations. Kittleson works for the Duluth Fire Department’s downtown headquarters – also known as Station 1. He and his crew of 11 fellow firefighters and an assistant chief work 24-hour shifts there.

His crew at Station 1 works from 7 am to 7 am, but they are always early. “The culture here is always to show up early to relieve the other crew,” Kittleson noted.

The firefighters are always ready to drop everything and go when called. But on a slow day, the crew works together on tasks like cooking meals, cleaning the station, inspecting their equipment and fire truck, continuing their training, and completing administrative tasks.

Since their job is so physically demanding, staying in shape is imperative. The station has a gym, and the crew often work out together.

The call for lights out happens at 9 pm. At the station, the firefighters have dorm-style arrangements for sleeping. But that certainly doesn’t mean they have a peaceful night of rest ahead.

“Sometimes we sleep all night, and sometimes we get five calls after midnight. You just never know,” Kittleson said.


Kittleson and his crew share a deep bond that goes beyond being colleagues. “You basically live at the station with your coworkers,” he said. “They become like your family.

1 Engine and 1 Tower crews are shown after a search and rescue drill in the burn building at Lake Superior College. Photo submitted.

“One of the best parts about working in the fire service is that you’re living with some of your favorite people,” he added. “You do everything together. You have to be able to trust these people with your life completely. You ultimately grow super close because you know they have your back at all times.”

Beyond Fires

It may be surprising to learn that fighting fires is just a small part of what firefighters do. “I would say that roughly 90% of the calls we go on are medicals and lift assists,” he said.

One of Kittleson’s most memorable calls resulted in him saving the life of a dog. “I went into a burning house to do a primary search,” he explained. “It was dark and smoky, and I pretty much stumbled into this dog. I got the dog out, handed him off to another firefighter, and went back to fight the fire. The dog received oxygen and survived.”

“I hope to have a long career as a firefighter,” he said. “I want to continue learning and just be the best firefighter - and person - I can be.”


Kittleson enjoys many outdoor activities in his off time, such as hiking, biking, snowboarding, and golfing. Ultimately, he’d like to settle down and start a family. But at just 21, he has plenty of time.

Caleb enjoys some golfing in Kansas City with a coworker on the way home from a fire conference in Dallas, Texas. Photo submitted.

Most Rewarding

If you have the opportunity, please tell a firefighter that you appreciate their service. Kind words and gratitude mean a lot to them. And feedback is rare.

“The most rewarding thing about this work is getting thanked by people afterward,” said Kittleson. “We often don’t know what happens after we respond to a call. So, it’s always nice to hear later that we made a difference.”


Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.

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UMD's “Natasha, Pierre and the Comet of 2012” Blazes with Energy and Joy

UMD Marshall Performing Arts Center (MPAC) celebrates its 50th anniversary with the production of “Natasha, Pierre and the Comet of 2012”

“Gonna have to study up a little bit
If you wanna keep with the plot
'Cause it's a complicated Russian novel
Everyone's got nine different names
So look it up in your program
We'd appreciate it, thanks a lot”
“Prologue,” “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”

The musical “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is based on a little seventy page “sliver” of Leo Tolstoy’s epic over 1,500 page Russian novel War and Peace. UMD ’s Theatre department is performing “Comet” for its spring production, opening on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Performing Arts Center and a reunion of past students, faculty, and administrators.

One of the most energetic casts in a UMD show since Covid, the 25-member cast lit up the stage with their unabashed joy, performing this distinctly atypical  Broadway musical. Many of them also played musical instruments throughout the show, adding to the full sound of the terrific 9-piece onstage “Comet” band.

An eclectic, sometimes dissonant, sometime lush, and always unique score was undoubtedly a challenge for the musicians and the singers. Music Director Patrick Russell did a masterful job keeping all the styles cohesive in this beast of a score, with everything from ballads to a mockery of opera, all the while conducting a company that was literally all over the house.

Throughout the evening, the cast had great fun interacting with the audience, flirting, giving high fives, and dancing in the aisles. Their full company vocals were another highpoint of the evening with both lush harmonies and fun variations of folk, rock, electro-pop, and even highly discordant “opera.”

Ryan Armstrong stood out from his first moment onstage as the ringleader and “master of shenanigans” of the company, as the audacious Balaga. Armstrong was always great fun to watch, playing his accordion, dancing, leaping, and helping to establish the Russian folk style of some of the music.

At the story’s center is the young and virtuous Natasha (Mackenzie Ammon) who has been left behind as her fiancé  Andrey (Erik Rasmussen) has gone off to war. It doesn’t take long before she falls prey to the lascivious Anatole (Tanner Longshore) who sees her as nothing more than his next conquest.

Tanner Longshore and Mackenzie Ammon are the ill-fated lovers in UMD”s spring musical. Photo by Hunter Riley, UMD

Ammon brings a youthful naïveté and a sweet soprano voice to the role, and she made her arc, from a wide-eyed child to a broken and disgraced fallen heroine believable. Her “No One Else” solo was her standout moment as she proclaimed her love for her young soldier at war.

Longshore and John Toven, playing Anatole’s partner in crime, are dashing figures in their bright red and gold-trimmed military costumes. Longshore’s movie star good lucks worked to establish him as the stereotypical wolf in sheep’s clothing. Toven was always convincing as Anatole’s smarmy sidekick, also showing his talents as a musician (guitar and viola), and with some incredible dance moves.

Aaron Dumalag and Mackenzie Ammon (as Pierre and Natasha) find that their characters’ lives take an unexpected turn by the show’s end. Photo by Hunter Riley, UMD.

In the role of Marya, the kind but firm godmother to Natasha, Olivia Nelson is eminently watchable, both in her humorous moments and in her tirades. An audience favorite from her first moment onstage, her hilarious facial expressions and body language, and later her Act II enraged showstopper “In My House,” showed her range.

As Pierre, the alcoholic, unhappy scholar, and lonely outcast who hides from the world, Aaron Dumalag portrayed the depths of despair of this miserable man, who seeks redemption for his wasted life. Dumalag has one of the strongest voices in the company, particularly in his tragic lament, the heart-rending “Dust and Ashes.”

Anatole ( Longshore) pursues Natasha,(Ammon) much to the dismay of Pierre  (Dumalag). Photo by Hunter Riley, UMD.

The show is at its best in the full company production numbers, with choreography from Lila Ann White, notable in the song “ Balaga,” an over 10-minute all-out music and dance explosion. The cast was literally “passed out” on the floor at the end, with a few of them humorously begging audience members for water. White obviously had great fun mixing up her dance style choices to go with the ever-changing score.

Three of the major technical positions were UMD seniors: Lisa Scott, Samantha Brown, and Moriah Babinski. 

Impressive work from Scenic Designer Lisa Scott, creating the spectacle of the show from the commanding chandelier/comet overhead to the red star symbol on the stage floor, and the stunning upstage “wall” of color and bold graphic design, all evoking the majesty of Russia iconography.

Samantha Brown’s lighting design even became another character in the show with some eye-popping effects, particularly with the lighting of the chandalier/comet piece. The intricate and complex lighting plot was impressive and helped to set the mood and tone throughout.

Costume Designer Moriah Babinski clad the chorus in some Russian peasant looks, mixed in with anachronistic leathers, plaid punk gear, and studded denim to contrast with the traditional early 19th-century silhouettes for the principal men and women.

Bravo to Director Thomas Jacobsen for his creative vision for this show and for tackling “Comet,” which many professional companies won’t touch because of its many staging, musical, and casting complexities. The opening night audience stuck with the intricacies of the Russian Matryoshka stacking dolls’ characters and plot to let the evening of music, dance, and most of all the love of performing from this cast, to wash over them.

“Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812”
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Dave Malloy
adapted from the novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Apr 12th, 13th | 7:30 PM
Apr 14th | 2:00 PM (ASL Performance)
Apr 17th, 18th, 19th | 7:30 PM
Apr 20th | 2:00 PM & 7:30 PM

Marshall Performing Arts Center - Mainstage Theatre
Reserved seating Call 218-726-8561 for tickets and information.
Learn more about MPAC and its 50th Anniversary Celebration

About DD Arts & Entertainment Editor

A retired educator with the Duluth Public Schools, Sheryl Jensen has been a theater director of over 60 school and community productions. Her production of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew at East High School won the National High School Theater award from the BRAVO television network.

Having written theater, music, dance, and opera reviews for the Duluth News Tribune for many years, she now is the Arts & Entertainment Editor for Destination Duluth.

















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