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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