March 7, 1906: Thousands of Duluthians greet the Duke of Duluth

On this day in Duluth in 1906, Duluthians turned out to greet comedic actor Nat Wills, who played the title character in the musical “The Duke of Duluth.” Wills and his troupe were in Duluth to premier the show, which had been well received in Chicago and New York, in the Zenith City. Outside of its title, the play had nothing to do with the Zenith City, but it did have “fifty pretty girls” and the songs were “extremely catchy”—and that was enough for Duluth. Nearly 1,000 Duluthians, including all of the Common Council aldermen, met Willis and his cast and crew when their train pulled into the Omaha Station. The troupe was greeted by the Flaaten’s Band playing “Hail to the Chief.” More than half of the crowd followed the hook-and-ladder fire truck carrying Wills to City Hall, where he was received by Mayor Marcus Cullum. Cullum gave a short speech and introduced city comptroller William McCormick as “Duluth’s Poet Laureate.”  McCormick read the following poem:

Oh, monarch of this rock-ribbed land,

By Gitchee Gummi’s shore;

This commonwealth of upright pine and virile iron ore

Now welcome you, with torrid heart,

To this your frigid home

For after wandering far and wide,

The Duke’s come to his own.

What, though your subjects dig and delve,

For treasures o’ the earth;

We’ve time to loyal homage pay,

To your bright court of mirth.

So, wave your scepter noble lord,

O’er warehouse, docks and mills;

As Lester Park to Fond du Lac,

Salutes the royal Wills!

Cullum then handed Wills a wooden “gilded key five-feet in length” and Flaaten’s Band struck up “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight!” You can read more about the Duke of Duluth here, and about some other Dukes of Duluth here and here and here and here.

The cover for sheet music of the 1905 Broadway musical The Duke of Duluth. (Image: Zenith City Press)