Enger Park & Twin Ponds

Lithographic postcard, ca. 1939, of Enger Memorial Tower within Enger Park. (Image: Zenith City Press)

Enger Memorial Tower

When lifelong bachelor Bert Enger died in 1931 at the age of sixty-eight, he left two-thirds of his estate to the City of Duluth for development of Enger Park’s Grand Mountain area. He specified that the development should include a lookout tower surrounded by beautified grounds and footpaths to accommodate tourists.

In 1933 a citizen committee selected the highest point of the park as the location for the tower, and the following year the park was rededicated as Enger Park. A stone comfort station was built in 1935; picnic tables, water, sewer, and electricity were added a year later. In 1937 workers from the National Youth Administration—a branch of the Works Progress Administration that focused on providing work and education for Americans between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five—built rock benches, stone pathways and steps, campfire sites, and outdoor ovens.

Construction of the tower began in late 1937, based on a design by architect A. R. Melander. Melander’s initial design was fairly elaborate, a six-story square tower with a four-gabled roof and an elaborate entrance. A second design was similar to the tower that was built, although several stories shorter. The final design was for an octagonal tower five stories high made of native stone gathered on site. Unglazed window openings look out in every direction. At its peak—531 feet above sea level—workers installed a green light that could be seen for miles.

By 1939 the $30,000 tower was complete, paid for with funds provided by the Enger estate. Crown Prince Olav of Norway and his wife Princess Martha traveled to Duluth in June to dedicate the tower to the memory of Bert Enger. A crowd of five thousand gathered to hear speeches by the Norwegian royals and other dignitaries, including Judge Clarence Magney.

The headlines stated that the royals “captivate[ed] Duluthians by Informality.” The prince wore a simple black suit; the princess a black lace dress she described as “everyday.” He smoked casually, and when reporters pressed him on his fishing skills—a Norwegian point of pride—he admitted, “I am really not passionate about it.” He was more of a yachtsman. Martha was a typical young mother, spending a great deal of her travel time buying toys and souvenirs for her children.

The prince expressed pride in the ways that Norwegian immigrants had influenced Duluth and indeed all of America: “[Enger] is a truly Norwegian name. As the princess and I have traveled about your country, we have been greatly pleased to note the recognition that has been accorded American men and women of Norwegian birth and Norwegian ancestry.”

Over the years vandalism and neglect took their toll on the tower. As early as the 1940s, papers reported vandals shooting out the beacon lights, forcing fund drives to purchase replacement bulbs. In the 1960s, vandals dropped heavy rocks from the top of the tower, and the city had to temporarily block access to the observation platforms. In 1978, someone shot out the beacon with a .22 rifle. In 1989, vandals created a bonfire of burning tires on top of the tower.

In 2010 to 2011 the City of Duluth gave the park and tower a $400,000 renovation in anticipation of a visit by King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway. A $100,000 grant from Duluth’s Rotary Club 25 paid for new lighting. According to the Enger Park Restoration Project, the tower renovation included “repairs such as tuck pointing, plaster, concrete patching, electrical and lighting repair, weatherization, roof repair and increased accessibility.” Thanks to Rotary 25, new LED lights replaced the old beacon and other LED lights were aimed at the building itself, so that the entire tower could be lit in a variety of colors to recognize a variety of events—for example, on April 21, 2016, Enger Tower was bathed in purple light to honor the unexpected passing of Minnesota music legend Prince. Other renovations were made to the park, including the addition of a new gazebo large enough to accommodate one hundred people and new trails designed to be accessible to people of all ages and abilities. The old pavilion and restrooms were updated and the parking lot expanded.

Norway’s royal couple visited Duluth on October 17, 2011, to rededicate Enger Tower to the memory of Bert Enger. Minnesota Public Radio reported that Harald told the crowd of over five hundred Duluthians that it was “very moving” for him to follow in his father’s footsteps. The king added, “Standing here, I can easily see why so many Norwegian immigrants decided to settle here in this area, by the splendid shores of Lake Superior. They must have missed Norway and those they left behind, but I’m sure they found comfort in this peaceful and beautiful landscape. Thanks to recent extensive restoration work, Enger Tower will continue to be a symbol of the hard work and dedication of the Norwegian immigrants, and their stories will continue to be told to future generations of Americans.”

The American-Japanese Peace Bell

Enger Park’s most recent addition is the Japanese Peace Bell Garden, installed in 2010. The garden surrounds the Peace Bell, which is a replica of a cherished Buddhist temple bell in Ohara, Japan. At the end of World War II, American sailors on the USS Duluth brought the original bell home with them as a war souvenir. They had found it in a Japanese shipyard, waiting to be melted down as part of the war effort. The crew of the Duluth gave it to the City of Duluth upon their return to the United States. In 1954 a visiting professor from Japan traced the bell’s origins back to Ohara. Duluth mayor George D. Johnson, acting on a request from Japan, returned the bell. Grateful Ohara citizens renamed it the American-Japanese Peace Bell. In 1990 Duluth and Ohara became sister cities at the suggestion of Mayor Yoshihito Saito. As a gift, the citizens of Ohara had a replica bell fabricated and sent to Duluth, arranging the construction of a bell tower to house it as well. The bell and tower were placed in Enger Park, oriented so that persons who ring the bell are facing Ohara. In 2005 Ohara merged with the city of Isumi. The Japanese garden surrounding the bell was dedicated in April 2010, with past and present mayors of Duluth and Isumi City (aka Ohara-Isumi), city councilors, and representatives of both cities’ Sister City committees on hand for the celebration. Barbara Auerbach, daughter of the late Mayor Johnson, spoke of her father’s gesture in 1954, stating that he considered returning the bell “an act of common decency between people of goodwill.”

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