Along Lake Superior by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Essay

I have just returned from a brief visit to Duluth. After strolling along the Bay of Naples and watching old Vesuvius vomit red-hot mud, vapor and other campaign documents, Duluth is quite a change. The ice in the bay at Duluth was thirty-eight inches in depth when I left there the last week in March, and we rode across it with the utmost impunity. By the time these lines fall beneath the eye of the genial, courteous and urbane reader, the new railroad bridge across the bay, over a mile and a half long, will have been completed, so that you may ride from Chicago to Duluth over the Northwestern and Omaha railroads with great comfort. I would be glad to digress here and tell about the beauty of the summer scenery along the Omaha road, and the shy and beautiful troutlet, and the dark and silent Chippewa squawlet and her little bleached out pappooselet, were it not for the unkind and cruel thrusts that I would invoke from the scenery cynic who believes that a newspaper man’s opinions may be largely warped with a pass.

Duluth has been joked a good deal, but she stands it first-rate and takes it good naturedly. She claims 16,000 people, some of whom I met at the opera house there. If the rest of the 16,000 are as pleasant as those I conversed with that evening, Duluth must be a pleasant place to live in. Duluth has a very pleasant and beautiful opera house that seats 1,000 people. A few more could have elbowed their way into the opera house the evening that I spoke there, but they preferred to suffer on at home.

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Lake Superior is one of the largest aggregations of fresh wetness in the world, if not the largest. When I stop to think that some day all this cold, cold water will have to be absorbed by mankind, it gives me a cramp in the geographical center.

Around the west end of Lake Superior there is a string of towns which stretches along the shore for miles under one name or another, all waiting for the boom to strike and make the northern Chicago. You cannot visit Duluth or Superior without feeling that at any moment the tide of trade will rise and designate the point where the future metropolis of the northern lakes is to be. I firmly believe that this summer will decide it, and my guess is that what is now known as West Superior is to get the benefit. For many years destiny has been hovering over the west end of this mighty lake, and now the favored point is going to be designated. Duluth has past prosperity and expensive improvements in her favor, and in fact the whole locality is going to be benefited, but if I had a block in West Superior with a roller rink on it, I would wear my best clothes every day and claim to be a millionaire in disguise. Ex-President R. B. Hayes has a large brick block in Duluth, but he does not occupy it. Those who go to Duluth hoping to meet Mr. Hayes will be bitterly disappointed.

The streams that run into Lake Superior are alive with trout, and next summer I propose to go up there and roast until I have so thoroughly saturated my system with trout that the trout bones will stick out through my clothes in every direction and people will regard me as a beautiful toothpick holder.

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Still there will be a few left for those who think of going up there. All I will need will be barely enough to feed Albert Victor and myself from day to day. People who have never seen a crowned head with a peeled nose on it are cordially invited to come over and see us during office hours. Albert is not at all haughty, and I intend to throw aside my usual reserve this summer also–for the time. P. Wales’ son and I will be far from the cares that crowd so thick and fast on greatness. People who come to our cedar bark wigwam to show us their mosquito bites, will be received as cordially as though no great social chasm yawned between us.

Many will meet us in the depths of the forest and go away thinking that we are just common plugs of whom the world wots not; but there is where they will fool themselves.

Then, when the season is over, we will come back into the great maelstrom of life, he to wait for his grandmother’s overshoes and I to thrill waiting millions from the rostrum with my “Tale of the Broncho Cow.” And so it goes with us all. Adown life’s rugged pathway some must toil on from daylight to dark to earn their meagre pittance as kings, while others are born to wear a swallow-tail coat every evening and wring tears of genuine anguish from their audiences.

They tell some rather wide stories about people who have gone up there total physical wrecks and returned strong and well. One man said that he knew a young college student, who was all run down and weak, go up there on the Brule and eat trout and fight mosquitoes a few months, and when he returned to his Boston home he was so stout and well and tanned up that his parents did not know him. There was a man in our car who weighed 300 pounds. He seemed to be boiling out through his clothes everywhere. He was the happiest looking man I ever saw. All he seemed to do in this life was to sit all day and whistle and laugh and trot his stomach, first on one knee and then on the other.

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He said that he went up into the pine forests of the Great Lake region a broken-down hypochondriac and confirmed consumptive. He had been measured for a funeral sermon three times, he said, and had never used either of them. He knew a clergyman named Brayley who went up into that region with Bright’s justly celebrated disease. He was so emaciated that he couldn’t carry a watch. The ticking of the watch rattled his bones so that it made him nervous, and at night they had to pack him in cotton so that he wouldn’t break a leg when he turned over. He got to sleeping out nights on a bed of balsam and spruce boughs and eating venison and trout.

When he came down in the spring, he passed through a car of lumbermen and one of them put a warm, wet quid of tobacco in his plug hat for a joke. There were a hundred of these lumbermen when the preacher began, and when the train got into Eau Claire there were only three of them well enough to go around to the office and draw their pay.

This is just as the story was given to me and I repeat it to show how bracing the climate near Superior is. Remember, if you please, that I do not want the story to be repeated as coming from me, for I have nothing left now but my reputation for veracity, and that has had a very hard winter of it.

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