Lake Superior is complicated. It’s in awe of its own strength, and thoughtful about its toll on humans. It’s funny, in a dad-joke kind of way. It’s quick to pick a fight with inferior subjects — and when you’re Superior, almost all of them are.
It’s been known to retweet scientists, photographers, the people who get engaged along its shore. Mostly, though, it’s a braggart.
“Without me, they would be called the Good Lakes,” Lake Superior tweeted a year ago, earning thousands of likes, comments and retweets.
It has earned the right to be cocky. The Lake Superior Twitter feed, manned by an anonymous person who claims to interact daily with the body of water, has a celebrity-level following. Its audience includes journalists, scientists, experts in tourism, political analysts.
The only lake with a larger following, Lake Superior’s anonymous keeper said, is Lake Bell. The actor from “Bless this Mess,” “Childrens Hospital” and “Bojack Horseman” has 127,000 followers.
This month Lake Superior has used its voice to celebrate surf season, list the names of the dead crewmen from the Edmund Fitzgerald, and imitate itself: “Slosh shuh flush bub bloop gargle splish,” it posted.
Without me, they would be called the Good Lakes.— Lake Superior (@LakeSuperior) June 14, 2018
Behind Lake Superior
The voice of Lake Superior is male. He is not young-young, but he’s not old either. He might be a baritone. He’s climate-minded and worries about plastic, but he is not a scientist. He grew up on Lake Superior, he said, and continues to live on Lake Superior.
He wants to retain his anonymity a bit longer, which the News Tribune would never allow in a more serious story. Just his close inner circle knows he does this.
Lake Superior, the person, considers this personae a creative outlet and has also been finding ways to experiment with his character — which is why he agreed to be interviewed, calling promptly at the time agreed upon in direct messages to the Twitter account.
He is here to inform, along with adding big waves of personality.
“Quite frankly, as a body of water, I can’t vote,” he said. “I can’t show up to a city commission meeting and neither can fish and birds. If people love me and respect me, it’s up to humans to do their part.”
Lake Superior recently retweeted a story about wetlands by Wisconsin Public Radio and a trivia poll about an old steamship posted by Michigan Tech. He retweeted a former state legislator’s sunrise photo and the National Weather Service’s chart about wind gusts.
But he has also created a story line about a love triangle that includes Gale and Bay, and has included slightly edgy fare.
“Late night buoy calls,” he posted, always a fan of the pun.
I'm not angry, you're angry. https://t.co/vTpuylI95b— Lake Superior (@LakeSuperior) October 19, 2019
The lake as a human
In his first act as the human embodiment of Lake Superior, he attended the State of Lake Superior conference in Houghton, Mich., in 2018. He made special arrangements to pay cash and his name tag identified him as only Lake Superior.
This is where he caught the attention of the organizers behind the Lake Superior Youth Symposium, a four-day event held in Duluth this past May.
Valerie Coit, communications specialist for the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Swenson College of Science and Engineering, approached him about speaking at the conference via Twitter.
“I literally DMed Lake Superior and said, ‘We’re doing this thing. It’s in your honor,’” she said. “Lake Superior responded immediately and said ‘definitely.’”
Lake Superior, perhaps more famous to the adults in the room than the not-so-Twitter-inclined middle- and high school-aged attendees, presented in a fun and engaging way about the power of social media for informing people about research being done on the lake, Coit said.
As part of the deal, they agreed to only refer to him as Lake Superior.
“The anonymity is super fun,” he said. “It’s my little playground.”
The Lake as the lake
The voice of Lake Superior has a convoluted origin story. A cell phone was dropped into the water by a fisherman. Somehow it still worked — and was still logged into Twitter. Here we are now: Lake Superior now has more than 36,000 followers. This is celebrity-level, according to a report by the Advertising Standards Authority, which puts the line between famous and not at 30,000 followers.
Claiming the handle, in real life, is a better tale. It belonged to someone else, the voice said, and it reached out to that person — who offered to trade the handle in exchange for a $50 iTunes gift card. That was about a decade ago.
“It was a slow learning curve of how to do this and how to interact,” Lake Superior said. “Then occasionally these big things happened.”
Last winter 94.9% of the lake froze over and that attracted a following.
In early 2018, another large body got big and boasty online and Lake Superior tried to squash it.
“I’m back b******,” Mt. St. Helens posted to Twitter, linking to a Forbes’ story about the high number of earthquakes that had occurred already that year.
“Maybe,” the lake smack-talked. “But you’re only half of what you used to be. And not as pretty.”
Then Lake Superior stepped aside and left the disses up to its followers, who continued to roast the mountain.
Maarja Anderson Hewitt was a follower even before she began working in media relations at Visit Duluth.
“I’ve found the account so amusing,” she said. “I love to check in.”
People talk about the lake as a person, Hewitt noted. It’s fitting that it has its own Twitter account.
Jane Pederson, marketing manager at Glensheen mansion, has had social media-to-social media interactions with the account.
“I think he does a great job of understanding why humans are interested in the lake,” she said. “And it helps that he’s funny.”
Jesse Schomberg, who works for the Sea Grant, found Lake Superior because of all the other lake-related Twitter he follows.
“They seem to be a decent advocate for the lake,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a nice break with a little humor.”
Greatest Lake of All Time
Nothing, aside from the Gales of November, whips Lake Superior into a froth more than a verbal threat to its greatness. It’s self-billed as the Greatest Lake of All Time, or GLOAT.
It took issue with Mpls. St. Paul when, in the summer of 2018, the magazine’s cover story was Lake Minnetonka. The headline was “The Greatest Lake in the Whole Darn State: Minnetonka.”
Lake Superior, as Lake Superior, wrote a letter to the editor — signed Lake Superior.
“My goal is not to minimize the reputable Minnetonka,” it wrote. “However, we must not lose perspective. It has never sank a freighter, generated lake-effect snow that accumulates 3 feet in 24 hours or provided 10 percent of the world’s fresh water.
“A more accurate headline,” it added, “would have been ‘The Goodest Lake in the Whole Darn State.’”