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August 9, 1922: The funeral of Duluth musician Jens Flaaten

On this day in Duluth in 1922, over 5,000 people gathered to say their final farewells to local musician and band leader Jens Flaaten. At the time Flaaten had been the director of the Lyceum Theatre’s Orchestra for more than 25 years. He also had his own band and was known as the “father” of Duluth’s Third Regiment Band, a popular group of musicians representing Duluth’s national guard which he had directed for 16 years. Flaaten’s body was lain in stated in the Lyceum’s foyer for public viewing while during what the Duluth News Tribune called “the greatest [wake] ever accorded a citizen of Duluth in the annals of public ceremonies to its departed celebrities.” As the body was removed from the foyer “virtually every member of the Musician’s union” played Chopin’s “Funeral March.” All other Duluth theaters closed for the day in honor of Flaaten. Flaaten had been struck by a car in the intersection of Superior Street and Fifth Avenue East—just outside of the Lyceum’s doors—and dragged fifty feet. Before police arrived the driver of the car—Charles Lyons—gathered up his body, put him in the car, and drove to the hospital—but doctors said he died en route. Besides the Lyceum Orchestra and Third Regiment Band, Flaaten was involved with the Normanna Chorus and Orpheus Singing Society and for fourteen years acted as president of the Northwest Norwegian Singing Association (Flaaten was a Norwegian immigrant, as was his brother Gustav, another Duluth musician who established the Duluth Civic Orchestra, predecessor to today’s Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, in 1931). Lyons was charged with third degree murder, but the Flaaten family asked for clemency on his behalf and it was determined that Lyons was not speeding at the time of the accident.

Jens Flaaten. (Image: Duluth Public Library)