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Central High School memorabilia auction draws ire online

With their home in new hands, volunteers who maintained a museum of Central keepsakes gave large tracts of their exhibits to Duluth-area institutions. They plan to auction the rest on Saturday, but many Duluth-area Facebook users, worried about discarding relics of the school's history, criticized the move.

Central High School auction items
Some of the Old Historic Central High School memorabilia set to be auctioned off on Saturday.
Contributed / Nordic Auction
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DULUTH — Want to bid on a taxidermied monkey? What about a vintage typewriter or desk? Any interest in a skull-less skeleton, complete with glass display case?

All are memorabilia from Historic Old Central High School, which closed in 1971, and all will be up for auction alongside 300-plus other items of educational ephemera this weekend — but not without some criticism.

Taxidermied monkey
A taxidermied monkey is one of the items up for bid at an auction of Central High School memorabilia.
Contributed

The auction raised some eyebrows on Facebook late last week after Don Ness, Duluth’s former mayor, said in a widely read and shared post that the auction wasn’t “right” and that the items should remain available to the public at large. He said Tuesday that he doesn’t want to stop the auction, though.

“It is my hope that the committee has the ability and has the inclination to say there are elements here that are more kind of central to Duluth Central’s history,” Ness told the News Tribune, “and that they would kind of recognize … that there is value in keeping those within community ownership and that they would remove those items from the auction and either retain ownership within their organization or to pass them to what would become, then, a new organization with that mission.”

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New homes for for old artifacts

The items are part of a museum collection that’s being broken up to make way for a new plan for the building, which is being renovated into 121 apartments after Duluth Public Schools leaders agreed to sell it in October 2020.

Before the sale, a small group of volunteers called the Central High School Museum Committee maintained two jam-packed classrooms worth of school memorabilia alongside, but independently from, district administrative offices and a few classrooms. They also maintained yet more Central relics in the school’s iconic clock tower.

But, when the building changed hands, the committee needed to find a new home for the museum’s pieces.

Central High School museum pieces
A collection of trophies at the Historic Old Central High School museum shortly before the museum was taken apart to make way for apartments.
Contributed / Susan Bathory

“We did the best we could,” Susan Bathory, who is a member of Old Central’s last graduating class, in 1971, and a member of the committee of volunteers that operated the museum. One of the rooms that comprised the museum is her old homeroom.

Bathory stressed that the auction does not encompass everything that the museum had, and committee members worked last summer and into the fall to find permanent homes for many of its exhibits.

“It seems that everybody’s upset that all this stuff is disappearing, but it hasn’t,” Bathory said.

Several Duluth-area institutions have received pieces of the museum’s collection.

Yearbooks dating to the school’s 1892 founding went to the Duluth Public Library to complete a collection of them there. The Saint Louis County Historical Society took plaques commemorating veterans who graduated from the school and other items of historic interest, such as old letter jackets and band uniforms. The firm redeveloping the building held onto several old trophy displays, furniture, and historic school photographs. And University of Minnesota Duluth archivists took “anything that’s paper,” Bathory said.

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Cleaning out an attic might yield an old Central cheerleader outfit or yearbook, for instance, and the museum’s collection grew with time as alumni — or their children or grandchildren — donated to it.

Committee members plan to use proceeds from the auction to supplement scholarships they award each year to graduating seniors from the school district’s other two high schools.

A sign reading 1890s public schools classroom museum
Items from the classroom museum at Historic Old Central High School will be up for auction Saturday.
Contributed / Nordic Auction

Auction is Saturday

The auction is set to be conducted by Duluth-based Nordic Auction at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the company’s headquarters at 2713 Courtland St.

A headless human skeleton in a wooden and glass booth
A headless human skeleton is among items from Historic Old Central High School up for auction Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.
Contributed / Nordic Auction

Traffic to Nordic’s website spiked after Ness’ post. Auctioneer Forest Evavold, who owns the company, said the broader response to the auction has been very positive.

“This is the stuff that people are excited to come and purchase,” Evavold said.

He said he wasn’t sure how much money Saturday’s auction would bring in. Some items are relatively common, while others are oversized and might be tricky to sell unless a buyer has room for, say, a six foot-tall blueprint machine from 1913.

“It’s just really a neat piece, but yet I don’t want it in my living room,” Evavold said of the machine. “But some scientist out in New York City would think that’s the greatest thing in the world. So there’s some variables on this one because they are so unique.”

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Six antique framed maps hang on a classroom wall near an American flag
Relief maps hang on a wall at Historic Old Central High School. They are among items waiting to be auctioned.
Contributed / Nordic Auction
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Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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