The Duke of Duluth (Various)

Various Dukes of Duluth

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. Help us fill in the gaps in our history of this program.

Story by Tony Dierckins; originally posted on Zenith City Online April, 2014.

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