July 18, 1916: Sinclair Lewis and wife arrive in Duluth

On this day in Duluth in 1916, Minnesota novelist Sinclair Lewis and his wife Grace Livingston Hegger, an editor for Vogue magazine, pulled into town in an automobile and stayed for two weeks. They had left Lewis’s hometown of Sauk Center, Minnesota, the day before, and came to Duluth after first touring some Iron Range communities. Sauk Centre and Duluth ware essentially the midway point of the couple’s “coast-to-coast jaunt by automobile” that would take them from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast. The couple left the Zenith City on August 3 and planned to be in California by November before embarking on an ocean voyage to “the Orient.” During that auto tour, Lewis began taking notes which would eventually become his 1920 novel Main Street, which won him great critical acclaim. Two years later he came out with Babbit, a satirical novel satirizing American commercial culture set in the fictional Midwestern town of Zenith which many people mistake as a stand in for Duluth, the Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas. Actually, Zenith was modeled after Saulk Centre. Lewis returned to Duluth in 1943 after divorcing his second wife wife, purchasing the John & Julia Williams House at 2601 East Second Street from Dr. Edwin Webber, owner of West Duluth’s Webber Hospital. Lewis brought along his girlfriend and his mother. He left in 1945, and two years later published a book that may well have been about a fictionalized Duluth, the 1947 novel Kingsblood Royal, which is set “Grand Republic, Minnesota,” and is considered by many critics to be “an enlarged and updated version of Zenith.”

Sinclair Lewis and his first wife Grace taking a break on the steps of their camper-trailer during their 1916 coast-to-coast honeymoon trip, which brought them to Duluth on July 18. (Image: Public Domain)