Smelt run inspires a lark along Duluth's LakewalkA few hundred people gathered near the base of Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge on Sunday to pay an oversized tribute to a diminutive creature.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
A few hundred people gathered near the base of Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge on Sunday to pay an oversized tribute to a diminutive creature.
A stilted, green-skinned sea deity wielding a trident kicked off the festivities shortly after 4 p.m. by announcing: “We are gathered here today on this hallowed ground by the great water … in honor of smelt!”
A show ensued, with brass band, elaborate puppetry, spirited dancers and an air of whimsical adventure. Comical fishermen with papier-mache heads chased after their elusive silver quarry with nets and buckets. After an appearance by a golden-crowned piscatorial character dubbed the Smelt Queen, the event paraded down the Lakewalk toward the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe for a fitting culmination: a smelt fry feast.
A beaming Ben Larson soaked up the show and gave it a hearty endorsement.
“I couldn’t be any more enthusiastic,” said the Duluth resident. “It’s a good excuse to dance and celebrate something that’s seasonal and uniquely local. I hope this lasts for another 20 years.”
Anton Jiminez-Kloeckl, one of the event’s organizers, aims to grant Larson his wish.
“We have dreams of this becoming an annual tradition,” Jiminez-Kloeckl said.
His partner in the endeavor — called the Magic Smelt Puppet Troupe — was puppet maker Jim Ouray. The two have been organizing workshops to teach stilt walking, puppet building and performance since February in preparation for Sunday’s festivities.
“We’ve had a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of creative people helping out,” Jiminez-Kloeckl said. “We’ve enjoyed support from throughout the community.”
Even though preparations for the event began months ago, getting ready for Sunday’s performance required a final push.
Jerree Small of Superior said she spent an all-nighter putting the final touches on her fisherman mask and outfit. With a chance of rain in the forecast, she decided an extra coat of paint would be well-advised to keep her papier-mache handiwork from possibly turning to mush.
But local skies cleared in time for Sunday’s performance and parade.
“It’s very exciting. The sun even came out for us,” said Rae Lynn Monahan of Duluth as she gave a bit of final direction to a school of fellow smelt dancers.
“This is a celebration of the abundance of food we get from Lake Superior and a celebration of spring’s return,” Monahan said.
Dennis Nordine, another participant in Sunday’s production, said the quirky nature of the event just might provide it with staying power.
“This seasonal smelt run is an interesting thing to wrap an event around, and it’s a great way to welcome spring in,” he said.