Discover Historical Treasures at Karpeles Museum

Celebrating 30 years, Karpeles Museum has fresh exhibits

Karpeles Museum is located across from St Lukes Hospital at 902 E 1st St in Duluth. Photo submitted.

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum is “dedicated to inspiring curiosity and encouraging learning for all.”  At their five locations around the United States and in their vaults, they hold a collection of more than a million historical documents in the categories of literature, science, religion, political history, exploration, music, and art.

Their collection includes important historical manuscripts, such as several pages from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the draft of the lyrics for “America the Beautiful” in an original poem by Katherine Lee Bates, the Ten Commandments from the Gutenberg Bible, the document of the unconditional surrender of the German Third Reich, and a handwritten letter from Christopher Columbus describing his last voyage to the New World.

Located at 902 East 1st Street (across from St. Luke’s Hospital), the Duluth building, opened in 1994, is a former First Church of Christ Scientist. The architecture, beautiful windows and lighting, and ambiance of the building make it a perfect setting for the Museum.

Exhibit space is bathed in natural light through the beautiful windows. Photo submitted.

Museum Founder Dr. David Karpeles

Dr. David Karpeles was a mathematician and philanthropist. Born in 1936 in Santa Barbara, CA, he moved to Duluth, with his family in 1942.

Graduating in mathematics and physics from the University of Minnesota, he completed his Master’s in mathematics at San Diego State University,

In 1963, he moved back to Santa Barbara to work as a research analyst for General Electric where he proposed the use of the first optical character recognition system for handwriting.

Dr. Karpeles worked toward a PhD in Religion at the University of California and a PhD in History from Atlantic International University. In 2012, he received an Honorary Doctoral degree in Humane Letters from SUNY.

He began investing in real estate and became known for offering tenants financing options to become first-time homeowners. In 1981, then-Governor Jerry Brown recognized Dr. Karpeles with an affordable housing award.

Dr. Karpeles began collecting historical manuscripts and documents, and in 1983, with his wife Marsha Karpeles, he founded Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums.

Encouraging Visitors

Matt Sjellin, Director of the Duluth Karpeles Museum for the past five years, is excited about his job every day as he prepares to rotate in new exhibits, greet the museum’s visitors, and give people a tour if they would like one.

Duluth Karpeles Museum Director Matthew Sjelin standing in front of the stage. Photo submitted.

“One of the main things I try to do is get more people in the door,” Sjelin said. He loves it when people tell him they have driven by the Museum many times before finally deciding to come in.

“It is very typical once people visit the first time to come back again when new exhibits arrive every three months,” he added.

One of the museum's model ships, the Titanic, is always very popular with visitors. Photo submitted.

He also mentioned an association with St. Luke’s. “We have had information cards about the Museum on the window sills in the hospital rooms overlooking the Museum,” Sjelin noted.

One man told Sjelin that he had been in the hospital for a few weeks and had decided to visit the museum when he got out. Nurses often refer family members of patients to take a break and visit the museum.

Exhibits and Collections

Sjelin explained the rotation scheduling and how the new exhibit takes center stage. “Whenever we finish putting out a main exhibit, we count the remaining available cases and build an auxiliary exhibit out of the replicas archive we have on site. Often, they are of a completely different subject, because the variety attracts different potential visitors. Everything around the rotating exhibit in the center stage is either permanent or a side project we are working on.”

Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” manuscript is on display. Photo submitted.

He added, “We only receive the manuscripts themselves for the rotating main exhibits. The other items in the museum are purchased on an individual basis, such as our statue of Abraham Lincoln, various statuettes, the Egyptian displays, and the model ships.”

“There is also a display of old radio and telephone equipment, a set of old medical instruments, and we have a few other things that have been donated to us over time,” he said. “We are also currently hosting the 1894-2011 collection of Duluth Central High School yearbooks that were rescued from the old school's auction by Gary Glass.”

Young Museum visitor Nora Cohen-Morse checks out part of the Napoleon exhibit. Photo submitted.

The current main exhibit on Napoleon Bonaparte will be replaced by one on Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. It will launch on July 2nd and run through September. The exhibit after that will be on Sigmund Freud, running from October 1st through the end of the year.

“Different exhibits bring different visitors and their passions. When we moved from our Biblical History exhibit (which was quite popular) over to Star Trek, just when we were reopening from the pandemic closures, I was astonished at how many people came out for that,” Sjelin stated.

Other Museum Events

Artist's receptions are always wonderful because there is an intersection of visitors that are here to both support the artist and the museum. Once people come for a reception, they tend to come back to the Museum later,” noted Sjelin.

They have held receptions for photographers and the Duluth Superior Camera Club. They have also hosted a fundraiser for some of Duluth East High School’s students who qualified to present for National History Day.

The main floor exhibit hall’s high ceilings provide excellent acoustics, making the space exceptionally well-suited for concerts and other performances. The original organ still sits in the rotunda.

The Florence Nightingale exhibit is up next at the Museum. Photo submitted.

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum invites people to host their special events such as weddings, corporate events, or other celebrations. Contact Director Matthew Sjelin at or call (218) 728-0630.

‘I have a lifelong love of learning, so it's hard for me to pin down my own favorite exhibits,” said Sjelin. “Growing up, I absolutely loved visiting the Depot and the Maritime Museums here in Duluth. The two locations really helped cement the importance of a shipping city like ours, and I have loved living in a port town. Once shipping is in full swing, you never know what country your next visitor is going to come from!”

He added, “We are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Duluth Museum this year. It is a perfect time for people to come here!”

For more information, people can go to the Karpeles Facebook page or the website at

Hours of Operation:
Tue-Fri 10:00am to 4:00pm
Sat-Sun 11:00am to 4:00pm
Closed Mondays and Holidays
Entry is free.

Back to Top
Next Post:

Duluth Flower Farm Offering Finish Line Flowers

Previous Post:

Wild State Cider + Bowlz N’ Thangz Food Truck Is The Perfect Summertime Combo

Website Brought To You By:

  • Essentia Health
  • City of Duluth Minnesota
Other Supporting Partners
© 2024 Destination Duluth