My interest in writing began with an alphabet book. I was captivated with the bold, colorful letters that graced each page, fascinated with the images that accompanied each letter. The book was beautiful in its simplicity. Though I’m willing to bet there are a lot of people who can claim the same start to their journey into reading and writing, few remember it. It’s an alphabet book, after all. Most were infants when they first had an alphabet read to them. Toddlers at best.
I was 32.
My own children were young, so a friend bought us the book “V is for Viking: A Minnesota Alphabet,” by Kathy-jo Wargin. Tucked in the pages of the picture book, she had included a 2004 newspaper clipping on Wargin’s visit to the Duluth Public Library. The article was aptly titled “D is for Duluth,” as Wargin had hosted a summer library program where she asked kids to help her come up with ideas for a book of the same name.
I was instantly hooked. I stayed up hours past my bedtime brainstorming ideas and making a list of my own. With a level of confidence that comes to us only in the dead of night because one is too tired to think anything through, I put my alphabet list into an email and sent it off to the writer of the article at the Duluth News Tribune.
I don’t remember ever hearing back, but the mind game stuck with me. Every once in a while, in quiet moments when I am required to entertain myself, I’ll stare off into space and try to fill in the letters A-Z. If I were to assign each letter of the alphabet one iconic Duluth landmark, person, trait or event, what would the 26 things be?
Some, of course, are no-brainers. Aerial Lift Bridge, Lake Superior and Enger Tower, to name a few iconic landmarks. Several letters are absolutely swarming with possibilities, such as B (Beargrease, Bagley, Bayfront, Bentleyville, plus all those bridge names); H (Hartley, Hawk’s Ridge, the harbor, Homegrown); M (Maritime Visitor’s Center, McQuade Harbor, Minnesota Point); and S (Spirit Mountain, Skyline, St. Louis River and Sammy’s Pizza). They’re all good answers.
A few letters that I would think are more traditionally difficult to place have easy Duluth answers: F is for Fond du Lac or foghorn; I is for Interstate Island (with all its gulls); K is for Kitchi Gammi Park. Z would be difficult except we have a zoo (and Zinema). U will always be easy for college towns — thanks, UMD. Of course, Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum would do nicely there as well. Gichi-ode' Akiing at the corner of the Lakewalk fits beautifully for G, as do Glensheen and Grandma’s.
The Depot, Canal Park and Old Central. Train and trolley rides for the letter T. Jay Cooke State Park, Park Point and the Rose Garden. N could handle all sorts of names, such as NorShor Theatre, New Duluth and of course, the North Shore.
Here is where I felt more a need to get creative. Q? V? Y? Well, we do have that quintessential view. Vistas from every hilltop (do you see what I did there?). And nothing beats our Yummy church potluck dinners.
The letter X is likely difficult for most cities outside of St. Paul. I’m not a huge fan of the trend towards naming sporting centers after the highest paying corporation (I mean, give me a Wade Stadium any day), but I’m suddenly eyeballing the Xcel Energy Center. Here in Duluth, we have to fudge a little to create an X name, such as using abbreviations like XC skiing, or going for the classic cheat and pretending that first e doesn’t exist in words like e(X)treme cold or e(X)tra layers.
Of course, I limited myself by mainly focusing on place names. Were I to expand my criteria a bit, endless possibilities could open. I could focus on wildlife and plant names, such as the yellow perch that inhabit our lakes, or rhubarb that grace the side of every garage. A look back in history would remind us to include lost treasures such as Joe Huie’s Cafe, the Lyceum Theater and the Incline. I barely touched Duluth traits or descriptors, and I didn’t name a single person.
What would your alphabet list look like?
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.