North Dakota man visits Duluth searching for a piece of family history

On July 31, 1916, Charles Stanley Choate was swimming with friends in St. Louis Bay off a West Duluth lumberyard dock when the other boys noticed he was in distress.

Chuck Choate
Chuck Choate (left) and his grandson Brevin Such, both of Fargo, N.D., search for the of grave of Choate's uncle Saturday at Oneota Cemetery in Duluth. (Clint Austin /

On July 31, 1916, Charles Stanley Choate was swimming with friends in St. Louis Bay off a West Duluth lumberyard dock when the other boys noticed he was in distress.

Two men, swimming about 50 feet away, swam to the scene "with all possible speed," the Duluth News Tribune reported the next day. But Charles had disappeared by then, and the men couldn't find him in the muddy water.

When the body finally was recovered in 9 feet of water, it was too late, despite frantic attempts to revive the young boy.

Charles, who was described as 7 in the news story and 9 in a funeral notice a couple of days later, was buried up the hill at Oneota Cemetery. He left behind his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Choate, his older brothers Art and Elmer, and his younger brother, Clifford.

The family left Duluth behind soon after that, moving to Littlefork, Minn.


Almost 96 years after that tragic death, Charles "Chuck" Choate -- Clifford's son -- came to Duluth from his home in Fargo, N.D., on Saturday with his grandson, Brevin Such, 12. Choate, 69, wanted to see, as best he could, the area where his uncle drowned, which is near the base of the present-day Bong Bridge. He wanted to see the location of the Choate family's home on 52nd Avenue West.

He especially wanted to find his uncle's grave.

Choate, who is a laboratory supervisor in engineering at North Dakota State University, said he's not really into genealogy. But he is interested in family burial sites.

"My kids laugh at me because they think I have a fascination with graveyards," Choate said with a laugh. "But I just like to have some roots and be able to pass it on to my kids and grandkids."

Choate doesn't have any family in the Duluth area, and he hadn't been to town himself since 1991. But he'd done his research in advance, getting archival clippings about his uncle's death from the News Tribune and a map and grave location from the Oneota Cemetery Association.

Choate and his grandson stood in Section L of the West Duluth cemetery on a warm, sunny afternoon, looking for Block 3 and Lot 102, his uncle's gravesite. Choate remembers his uncle Elmer telling him that Charles was buried on a hill with a beautiful view. It's still easy to see the St. Louis River through the trees from Section L, and one can imagine that when Charles was buried the mourners could see the area where he drowned from the site.

Choate knew as he grew up about his uncle's death, but it wasn't talked about a lot. His father was only about 4 when his older brother died. Elmer, who died in 1991, was the one family member who discussed it in a little more detail.

"He apparently was there that day, and he told me that he'll never forget the sound of his mother wailing and running toward the site of the drowning," Choate recalled. The family home was just a few blocks from the dock.


On Saturday, Choate and Brevin found Block 3 with some difficulty, and examined every gravestone in that part of the cemetery. Some were well-tended; others were difficult, if not impossible, to make out.

"Brevin, you kind of scatter out here, buddy," Choate said, while examining the stones. "Here's a 1919 grave. 1913. This is certainly an older section."

After several minutes, Brevin asked: "What happens if we can't find it, Grandpa?"

"Well then, we just have to punt," Choate responded.

They didn't find the gravestone. Choate admitted that was disappointing, but he thinks there will be another attempt, perhaps with a guide from the cemetery association.

He took some pictures and video anyway, knowing that a piece of family history is somewhere on that hillside.

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