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Rare Bob Dylan memorabilia goes on display in Duluth

Bill Pagel (from left) points out details of a 1961 newspaper clipping from the New York Times that contains one of the first profiles of Bob Dylan by writer Robert Shelton to Gene LaFond and Amy Grillo both of Silver Bay at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum in Duluth Tuesday evening. The clipping is a part of Pagel's extensive Dylan collection. A selection of the items are on display at Museum this month. (Clint Austin / / 3
Mike Shannon of Duluth examines a manuscript from Bill Pagel's collection of Dylan memorabilia Tuesday evening. Pagel is sharing pieces from his estimated 12 tons of Dylan history during as part of a month-long exhibition at Karpeles Manuscript Museum in Duluth. (Clint Austin / / 3
Bob Dylan signed this handwritten manuscript of the lyric s to "Talkin' Folklore Center" as being from Gallup, Phillipsburg, Navasota Springs, Sioux Falls, and Duluth. The document is a part of Bill Pagel's collection on display at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum in Duluth. (Clint Austin / / 3

It's hard to put an exact number on how much Bob Dylan memorabilia local historian William Pagel has collected, but there is an anecdote that has it measuring in tons.

Years ago, Pagel moved the collection halfway across the country and was pulled over in Nebraska for exceeding weight restrictions with his 12-ton haul. He had to ditch some of it in a storage unit before continuing north, he said. That's the closest he will get to quantifying it.

About 75 pieces including handwritten lyrics, photographs, official paperwork, yearbook inscriptions and more from Pagel's personal collection make up "Einstein Disguised as Robin Hood: Bob Dylan," an exhibition that opens Wednesday and runs through at least May 29 at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Duluth.

This is the first time Pagel has had a public showing of his collection.

"The opportunity arose," he said. "I would've done it last year if someone had asked me."

Pagel is a longtime collector whose primary interest is in Dylan's history, he said. He started the website in the mid-1990s as a place for concert information and links to other Bob Dylan-related sites, and it's had about 36 million visitors. He also owns Dylan's childhood home, a duplex in Duluth's Central Hillside that will get an official marker in front later this month.

"He'd be in the top handful of Bob Dylan collectors worldwide," said Marc Percansky, a Dylan fan-magician-concert promoter from the Twin Cities who is regularly involved with Duluth Dylan Fest activities. "It's the world premiere of his exhibit."

Pagel has selected the best-of-the-best pieces that show Dylan's roots in Duluth and Hibbing and his humanitarianism. He said it's a myth that the musician doesn't feel an affinity for his hometowns. Dylan, who turns 75 later this month, has been known to visit northern Minnesota unannounced, Pagel said, as recently as this past January.

"I'm trying to educate people as to who he was and what he's done," he said.

Doris Malkmus, director of the museum, said she was contacted by Dylan Fest organizers who wanted to use the space for a concert. Cowboy Blue Angel plays May 25. The idea for the exhibition followed.

"We have a museum and Bill has a collection that's never been seen anywhere," Malkmus said. "Bill's a real collector's-collector. There's abundant captioning and stories behind the things that are going to be displayed. It's a thing that a real Dylan enthusiast would find illuminating."

There is talk about extending the exhibition beyond the official end date.

"Bill says if he can stand to be parted from his things, maybe," Malkmus said.

Pagel's friend John Bushey, a fellow aficionado who has hosted the popular public radio program "Highway 61 Revisited" on KUMD-FM for more than 20 years, estimated that the exhibition shows just one-tenth of one percent of Pagel's collection. The two met while in a race to track down the high chair Dylan used as a baby. Pagel won, but the piece is not part of the exhibition. They couldn't find a way to display it, Pagel said.

Among the pieces:

  • A document from Aug. 9, 1962 at the District Court in Hibbing. Robert Zimmerman changed his name to Robert Dylan in front of the Honorable Christ Holm.
  • An inscription in the 1958 Hibbing Hematite yearbook. Dylan, who signed it Bob Z., penned a note to Diana Zezel, whom he refers to as "Zez." "It's too bad I had my seat moved in study hall, huh? I remember when you used to tell me about all the girls you knew about," he wrote.
  • A handwritten verse, at the time relatively unknown, to Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," which Dylan penned onto a piece of paper alongside other doodles.
  • A photograph of Dylan receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012. The musician is wearing sunglasses.
  • A library book with the lyrics for "Ballad of Donald White" written on the front page and Dylan's name written on the check-out card.
  • An acetate advanced pressing of an album with "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," "Over the Cliff" (which became "Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence") and "Freeze Out" (which became "Visions of Johanna.")
  • Photographs of Dylan at about age 3, images that show his childhood home in Duluth, his synagogue and school from around the period when he spent time in those places. There are also images of him with friends at Herzl Camp in the late 1950s.
  • The Sept. 29, 1961 New York Times review of Dylan's concert at Gerdes Folk City. "Resembling a cross between a choir boy and a beatnik, Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair he partly covers with a Huck Finn corduroy cap. His clothes may need a bit of tailoring, but when he works his guitar, harmonica or piano and composes new songs faster than he can remember them, there is no doubt that he is bursting at the seams with talent," Robert Shelton wrote.

If you go

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, located at 902 E. First St. in Duluth, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It's closed Mondays and holidays. Admission is free. The Bob Dylan exhibit opens Wednesday and will run through at least May 29. Find more information at