The Many Dukes of Duluth

From actors to ambassadors, and of course baseball players, Duluth has had many "Dukes"

The cover of Thomas Shastid’s to-volume 1926 novel The Duke of Duluth. The figures above the clouds are the great “water carriers.” (Image: Zenith City)

Duluth’s Literary Duke

In 1926 the two-volume novel The Duke of Duluth hit the streets of the Zenith City, penned by Dr. Thomas Shastid, a prolific writer and eye doctor once called “America’s forgotten historian of opthalmology.” Shastid theorized that Abraham Lincoln was colorblind and predicted that human evolution would eventually eliminate the left eye and move the right to the center of the face. His Duluth novel was not well received.

Shastid grew up in Pittsfield, Illinois, where his grandfather was friends with Lincoln long before Abe entered politics. The future ophthalmologist self-published his first work in 1880 at the tender age of 13, a collection of poems titled Newspaper Ballads. A year later he released a second collection titled simply Poems.

In the 1890s Shastid attended medical school at Harvard and returned to his hometown to practice medicine, later moving north to Galesburg. Both towns were part of Illinois’ Pike County. During this period he wrote two memoirs, 1898’s A Country Doctor and Practising in Pike in 1908, and also began a side career as a legal and science writer. Between 1906 and 1936 the years he wrote three books on medical malpractice, three on opthalmology, and was a major contributor to the eight-volume American Encyclopedia of Ophthalmology, During the latter half of the 1920 he turned his thoughts to ending war, giving speeches and turning those talks into five small books.

Thomas Shastid in 1889, when he was 22 years old. (Image: Zenith City)

In 1937 he published How to Stop War-Time Profiteering (1937) and an autobiography titled Tramping to Failure. The well-travelled Dr. Shastid liked to consider himself a hobo of sorts. In the memoir he refers to himself as “The Tramp” and called his home, which he purchased from August Fitger, “Tramp’s Rest.” Apparently the Tramp’s life was successful enough to warrant a second autobiography, published in 1944 under the title My Second Life.

Some time after 1908 Shastid made his way to the Head of the Lakes, at first setting up shop in Superior and eventually crossing the bay to Duluth. It was here, between 1923 and 1926, that Shastid published three novels. The first, 1923’s Simon of Cyrene (1923), is an allegorical tale of the life of Simon of Cyrene. He followed that a year later with the morality tale Who Shall Command Thy Heart? Then, in 1926, Shastid released a two-volume novel titled The Duke of Duluth. It was to be the first in a quartet of novels titled “The Nobility of the Midwest” that would include The Earl of Superior, The Marquis of Minneapolis, and The Sieur de St. Paul. The Duke was the first and last published; it is unknown whether he even began any of the other books.

The bookplate Shastid had glued inside the cover of The Duke of Duluth. The love interest of the novel’s hero calls Duluth “Mount Service.” (Image: Zenith City)

The Duke in question is archetypal everyman John Smith, who travels from Safe Center Iowa to Duluth to receive a surprise inheritance from a deceased uncle. At the lawyer’s office he meets his shiftless cousin Claude Tyrone, nearly identical in appearance to John but his mirror opposite when it comes to morals. Claude only likes to obtain things “in the easiest way.” Our hero also meets Jean, the lawyer’s secretary and a direct descendant of Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Lhut and an Indian maiden. (du Lhut was famously known as a love-lorn bachelor who never wed and had no children; Shastid’s knowledge of Duluth history is full of misconceptions—he also credits Proctor Knott as first calling Duluth the “Zenith City of Unsalted Seas.”) Jean is a big fan of Duluth, which she refers to as “Mount Service.” She lives on the bluff above the Incline Railway with her mother in a house she calls “Glory Cottage.” To Jean, the clouds over the lake are the great Water Carriers, which bring fresh Lake Superior water to the fields of the western plains, growing the grain that flows back to Duluth and out over the lake to the rest of the world. (Shastid apparently did not notice that the prevailing winds in Duluth come from the west.)

For all of his love for Duluth, and Jean, John quickly leaves the Zenith City. He uses his newfound wealth to enroll in the same Illinois college that Claude attends. There, after an awkward arrival, Claude dubs John the “Duke of Duluth” in jest. But the joke isn’t revealed until nearly the end of the book, as John later explains: “It is a custom in Minneapolis and St. Paul…to rechristen a man who…esteems his own abilities and situation in life pretty highly, ‘The Duke of Duluth.’”

We found this photograph on the Perfect Duluth Day website. According to the online discussion, the person who posted it purchased the photo in about 2005. On the frame an inscription reads, “The Duke of Duluth,” and on the back is the name Gustav Munding, a blacksmith who lived in Cloquet from 1885 to 1910 and was more likely the owner of, not the subject of, the photograph. The ensuing comments on PDD mention that the same photo hangs in the Northeastern Saloon & Grille on Dunlap Island in Cloquet and was captioned “Happy Days,” likely in celebration of the end of Prohibition. Is it further evidence that the phrase“Duke of Duluth” refers to someone who thinks too highly of himself? (Image: Perfect Duluth Day)

Shastid’s idea of what defined a “Duke of Duluth” may have some reflection of the truth in it. Two of the books’ reviewer use a similar explanation of the title. One stated, “whenever anyone is supposed to esteem somewhat too highly his own appearance, ability, desserts or station in life, he is termed by courtesy ‘The Duke of Duluth.’” The second wrote, “Whenever any person is included to esteem his personal appearance, ability or station in life too highly, he is termed ‘The Duke of Duluth.’” The same reviewer later sates that “this expression, ‘The Duke of Duluth,’ is given an entirely different meaning from that which it normally bears.” (Emphasis added.) Though no use of the term could be found elsewhere, the phrase “Duke of Duluth” may have been used derogatorily at this time, and was perhaps inspired by the 1905 musical of the same name, in which a boastful hobo is mistaken as “the Duke of Duluth.”
Within weeks Claude manages to get John expelled and obtains his cousin’s riches using a forged will. John pulls himself up by his bootstraps by buying a popcorn stand, and soon is back on top, a successful businessman and fully reinstated student.

One day John’s watch, inherited from his father, goes missing. He receives a tip that it is in a pawn shop in Duluth. He returns to the Zenith City for one day and is accused of murdering a Jewish pawn broker. Thinking he has no defense, he flees town and takes to “tramping,” but remains well financed, drawing from his bank when cash is needed. He quickly meets Bo (as in “hobo”), a seasoned tramp. Bo teaches John the tricks of the trade, and they travel together for a while until Bo is killed hitching a ride on a train. John ends up in Montana, where he finds a family farm run by an elderly woman and her drunken son. John not only gets the farm back into shape and profitable, but he reforms the alcoholic as well, simply by giving him a solid beating. Finally, while watching the “water carriers” arriving from Gitchee Gummee to end a drought, John has an idea that will allow him to return to Duluth—and Jean—and keep him out of the penitentiary.

Duluth’s Thomas Shastid in 1940. (Image: Zenith City)

Without going into detail, John’s plan involves revealing that he has a nearly identical younger brother, Jim, living in Superior—a fact unmentioned in the book’s first 635 pages. This results in a mistrial, which it turns out wasn’t necessary to free John anyway, as a note in a bottle—written by Claude’s accomplice, who drowned in a shipwreck—washes ashore, explaining how Claude framed John. And oh, by the way, Jim is engaged to one Claudia Allouez, a direct descendant of Claude Allouez, a French missionary and the first European to settle at what is now Superior—Superior’s Sieur Du Lhut, if you will. And of course, shortly after his acquittal John is approached by a man who informs him he is indeed a duke—a real duke—the Duke of Durmline, a fictional European principality. John naturally turns down the title. Oh and you know what else? All those evil things Claude did? Turns out he had an extra bone in his brain, which made the otherwise ethical Claude a scoundrel. How did they find out? Why, at a party where the photographer mistakenly used x-ray film, of course! Claude would be just fine after a little surgery—and, oh yeah, he is John’s twin and they were separated at birth. Finally, John and Jean could get married and settle into a life of service in their beloved town of Mount Service, er, Duluth.

The cover of Shastid’s second autobiography, My Second Life. The author considered himself a “tramp”—not the cover art, with the tramp carrying his belongings in a bandana tied on a stick—”like an American Nat Wills tramp of 1905,” Jack Kerouac might say. (Image: Zenith City)

Like his first book of juvenile poems, The Duke of Duluth was probably self-published; indeed, most of Shastid’s books were likely financed by the author. Shastid’s publisher, George Wahr, was a bookseller in the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Wahr made most of his living selling supplies to University of Michigan students and tracking down rare volumes for its faculty. Whar also operated “a lucrative publishing business which printed tracts on various subjects.” Likely this was a service Wahr provided academics who were out of publishing options. On Shastid’s book, Wahr is called “Publisher to the University of Michigan,” as opposed to “University of Michigan Press,” suggesting an unofficial relationship between Wahr and the college. Wahr is listed as publisher on Shastid’s anti-war theories, his later autobiographies, and all three novels—everything he wrote during that time that was not about opthalmology. And no publisher with his eye on the bottom line would produce a two-volume book of fiction: If a reader didn’t enjoy the first volume, she was unlikely to purchase the second.

Although he wrote the book during the heart of the Jazz Age, Shastid is much more of a 19th-century Romantic than a Modern. Overwrought, Shastid’s novel never fails to use seven words where one would do and the author apparently never met an adjective he didn’t like. The dialogue, when not a racist portrayal of Irish or Jewish stereotypes, is painfully tone deaf, and the plot lines are implausible to the point of ridiculousness. His overuse of exclamation points must have strained the contents of the typesetter’s job case. Hemingway would have hated him.

But for all his literary foibles, the text betrays Shastid’s deep love for Duluth. He describes the lights along the ore docks as the “string of pearls around the neck of a beautiful young woman” and considers the ship canal the “gate to the world.” His hero dreams of a gleaming white “University of Duluth” that he hoped to help build at the top of the bluff.

The home Thomas Shastid purchased from August Fitger in 1928, two years after the release of The Duke of Duluth. Shastid called it “”Tramps Rest.” (Image: Fitger’s Complex)

Henry Adlard, former pastor of Duluth’s First Unitarian Church, wrote a positive review of the novel, but even he had to admit “the story could have been made shorter without loss. It might then have been produced in one volume and so reached a larger audience.” It might also have appealed more to Duluthians if its protagonist had spent more time in Duluth.

Shastid never did write the other books in his proposed series. He died in Duluth on February 15, 1947, at St. Luke’s Hospital. He was 80 years old. His executor had his extensive library sold off, and while making an inventory of books found hundreds of unsold copies of the Duke of Duluth in the attic.

[Editor’s Note: You can read both volumes of The Duke of Duluth here: Volume 1, Volume 2.]

 

The Equestrian Duke

One of the many Dukes of Duluth was a steeplechase racehorse like those pictured above. (Image: Public Domain)

New York hunter and jockey James Park owned a horse named the Duke of Duluth he raced in steeplechase events beginning in 1912. Steeplechases were sponsored by hunting clubs. Considering the year, it is likely Park named his horse after the 1905 Broadway play.

In New York, Park was considered “one of the best known of the cross-country riders hereabouts.” In 1915 he and his five-year-old Duke of Duluth, called by the press Park’s “favorite hunter,” won the Rats Cup at Wheatly Hills by three lengths. Two weeks later the pair took home the $300 prize of the Greentree Steeplechase Handicap.

The following September Park raced the Duke at Belmont, winning the seventh race of the Brook Cup Handicap Steeplechase. It was a lucky race for the Duke: falls by other riders put him into second place with just two jumps to go. After the final hurdle he was even with the leader, Kehto, who he outpaced in the stretch. The Duke won by a length and a half.

A few weeks later the Duke ran in the two-and-a-half mile Autumn Steeplechase handicap sponsored by the United Hunt Association. He jumped out to a fast lead, and within the first half mile had left his opponents ten lengths behind. He held the lead for two miles, but in the last four furlongs two of his contenders nearly caught him. In what the <New York Times> described as “one of the most thrilling finishes seen in steeplechase in many years,” the Duke came across the line just a head in front of  M. J. Shannon, who crossed a half-length ahead of Skibbereen. The Zenith City’s namesake took home both the Stone Gash Cup and a $1,000 purse after beating four other horses.

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herb Lewis earned his “Duke of Duluth” nickname skating for the Duluth Hornets before he moved on to the NHL’s Detroit Redwings. (Image: Public Domain)

The NHL’s Duke of Duluth

Thanks to Herbert A. Lewis, there is a Duke of Duluth in the National Hockey League’s Hall of Fame. Lewis, a native of Calgary, Alberta, joined professional hockey in 1921 at the tender age of 15, skating for the Calgary Hustlers. He played two years for the Hustlers and two more for the Calgary Canadiens before finding his way to the Zenith City to don a Duluth Hornets sweater in 1925. The left winger was a star in the Zenith City, and press in rival cities began calling him the “Duke of Duluth,” likely because of Shastid’s novel of the same name [link to story], published in 1926. When Lewis left to play for the Detroit Cougars in 1928, the nickname followed him.

In 1930 the Cougars changed their name to the Falcons, and two years later they became the Red Wings. Lewis became the team’s captain in 1933 and in 1934 played in the NHL’s first All-Star game. During his tenure with Detroit he was part of a line that included right winger Larry Aurie and center Cooney Weiland, a threesome legendary Toronto Maple Leafs coach Conn Smythe called “the best line in hockey.” When Marty Barry replaced Weiland as the line’s center in 1935,  they improved, leading Detroit to its first Stanley Cup championship in 1936—and its second in 1937.

A playing card featuring a caricature of Herb “Duke of Duluth” Lewis. (Image: Public Domain)

Lewis left the Red Wings after the end of the 1938 season and joined with the Indianapolis Capitals as the team’s head coach, playing his first two years as well. After retiring Lewis moved to Pampano Beach, Florida, where he became a successful oil man. During his career Lewis racked up 148 goals, 161 assists, and 309 points during 483 regular-season games, not including the 13 goals and 10 assists he racked up during 38 playoff games. In 1989 Lewis was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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Duluth’s Ambassador Dukes

In 1941 (some records indicate as early as 1939) the Duluth Chamber of Commerce began the Chamber Ambassadors program, designed as a way for the chamber to show support for business and civic progress, complete with a marching unit and a drum corps. Chamber officers Robert S. Mars and Dr. William A. Coventry chose Edward Lee, Jr., to lead the group. Lee came to Duluth in 1935 and started Lee Foods, a food distribution business. He helped Jeno Paulucci launch his empire by helping him sell canned bean sprouts and later founded Northern Frozen Foods and Upper Lakes Foods.

In 1945 the Ambassador Program began selecting a “Duke of Duluth,” adding a Duchess the next year. This royal court dressed in blue-and-gold capes and represented Duluth in regional parades, riding in a car behind the marching unit and drum corps, who were decked out in “red Mackinaws and red Scotch caps” in the winter.  The Duke and Duchess appeared at other events and escorted VIPS such as Bob Hope and Betty Grable, showing off the Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas. They would present dignitaries with “Ducal Decrees” from the “Duchy of Duluth.”

That’s no duke! That’s Gene Erickson in 1956, dressed up as Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Lhut (as he spelled it) to represent the city’s namesake during the city’s Centennial. An ambassador, yes, but no Duke of Duluth. Please share your memories, and any photos you have of Duluth’s ambassador dukes, in the comments below. (Image: Herb Dillon)

Dr. Coventry became the first Duke (1945–’46), followed by Dennis F. Donavon (1947), Donald Baxter (1948–’49), Glen E. Weld (1949–’50), Warner Griggs (1951), Earle J. Andree (1952), Lee R. Farmer (1953), James R. Fisher (1954), Alexander McDougal Castel (1955), and Thomas Bell, Jr. (1956–’58)

Duluth’s Duchess’s included Shirley Elden (1946), Marion Norland (1947), Bonnie Lou Jones (1948), Jackie Galvin (1949), Lorry Welsh (1950), LaVonne Anderson (1951), Mary Ann Myhre (1952), Lizettte Barber (1953), June Feick (1954), Patricia Rogge (1954), Carol Agre (1955), Sandra Puglisi (1956–’57), and Marilyn Nordstrom (1958).

In 1959 the chamber handed the Ambassadors program to the Duluth Jaycees. The Jaycees Ambassadors continued to appoint a Duke, but not a Duchess. Instead, they selected a “Miss Duluth.” The Ambassadors’ marching unit and drum corps disbanded at this time as well.

J. Palmer Harbison was the first Duke appointed by the Jaycees, followed by Douglas A. Bourgeois (1960), C. Leo Carlson (1961–1963), John R. Olmanns (1964–1968), and David Allison (1969). The program was reportedly suspended in 1970, but we did find information on Sanford and Gertrude Berg which states that the couple was selected as the Duke and duchess in 1976.

In 1978 the Chamber resurrected the Ambassador program but without the Duke or Duchess of Duluth. We would have loved to have displayed some photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Duluth in full regalia, but the Chamber of Commerce has misplaced its files on the Ambassador Program.

From actors to ambassadors, and of course baseball players, Duluth has had many "Dukes"

6 Responses to The Many Dukes of Duluth

  1. i HAVE SOME INFORMATION ON NAT M. WILLS AS HE WAS IN OUR FAMILY, A RECORD BY VICTOR ENTITLED “NO NEWS OR WHAT KILLED THE DOG” WE HAVE A COPY OF IT AND ALSO SOME PICTURES OF NAT WILLS. HE LIVED CLOSE TO FREDERICKSBURG IN WASHINGTON D C. A OBIT DATED 1-1-1884 IS FOR SALLIE WILLS WIFE OF JOHN, HIS FATHER IS IN A LETTER.

  2. There have been many more Dukes of Duluth since the days described here. The Duluth Ambassadors, a booster group associated with the Duluth Chamber of Commerce, elected (or appointed) a Duke of Duluth each year from the late 1930s through at least the ’50s. They wore Hudson Bay (striped) wool coats and represented the city throughout the area and state. They also conducted an annual beauty pageant to choose a Duchess of Duluth to accompany the Duke. Then there were the Duluth Dukes, of course.

  3. Thank you for publishing the summary of the article about Nat Wills’ reception in Duluth in 1906! I would love to read any other local articles from that time that feature Nat Wills – are there online archives of the News Tribune by chance?

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