Dreams of Old Places

A Personal Essay

Wisconsin Highways 2 and 53 converge in the uplands east of Superior.  From here, you see Duluth climb a hillside of 1.1-billion-year-old rock that geologists call “the Duluth Gabbro Complex.”  Nearer still, Superior, Wisconsin, my hometown, sprawls back from Lake Superior, the Great Sweetwater Sea, as though, like the author of this reminiscence, unsure of who it is.  With the way things are going in Superior, who wouldn’t be confused?  Churches have closed, destroying ethnic parishes.  The makeup of old neighborhoods has changed.  Long-established businesses have shut down.

Moreover, we cannot shake the reputation of having the highest rate of alcohol consumption per capita in the country.  According to a story in the Duluth News Tribune, we also have “the oldest housing stock in the state . . . 11th oldest in the nation.  About 54 percent of homes in the city were built before 1940. . . . Before 1995, Superior didn’t have an inspector assigned to enforce more than 60 ordinances related to housing, health, zoning and property maintenance.”  During some months, we receive 14 percent of the available sunlight.

Adding to our woes, Central High School, where President Calvin Coolidge had his Summer White House in 1928, will soon be razed.  Atop a column on the school’s front lawn, which faces one of Superior’s...

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