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Giant among giants slain along Congdon

October 10, 2013, I took a trip to Copper Harbor to visit the old-growth stand of white pines, many said to be saplings around the time Columbus visited America. Then while passing through Congdon Park a few days later, discovered the most amazing tree I’d ever seen appearing larger than the trees in Michigan. Looking at old photographs of the hillsides of Minnesota towns rising out of the prairies and hills of the 19th century, trees are absent throughout, scalped from the earth as far as the eye can see. Maybe some buffalo hides stacked over by the saloon, a church, a brothel, somebody feeding pigs behind the blacksmith’s shop, but no trees. This got me to wondering if Marjorie Congdon herself had protected this tree, wrapping her arms around it passionately in her lovely white dress while the press snapped photos.

There it was in the autumn light though, spiraling into the sky, a vast oasis unto itself. Through sheer fortitude, having carved its way into rock along the banks, supported precariously by one large main root, but with an all too extreme angle for its massive size. When I went down there yesterday evening, it lay a broken shattered remnant of its glorious former self. I’m guessing it fell during that last easterly storm. A dentist or lawyer nearby whilst listening to Brahms in near slumber after three glasses of wine might’ve heard it snapping smaller trees in half as it tumbled to the chasm below, shaking the earth and making the largest tree bridge ever known to man.

To gaze upon it in its former glory, to imagine where this tree had been… How many had walked by it hundreds of times never noticing, yet the lucky few who did, loathing it regardless for its imperfection. That it had the gall to grow not straight, but maleficent to the planet and God’s wishes to spite the odds while towering above twenty five generations of short lived earthlings for centuries. Maybe you know of this tree because you saw it once too?  You surely breathed its air. So here’s to you Mr Southwest Leaning Ancient White Congdon Pine. May someone make a fine statue of the mayor out of you.

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20 Comment(s)

  1. Oh, that’s sad! I love these old trees, and have been known to throw some hugs their way as I hike. This park really got wrecked by the flooding two years ago. I’m surprised any tree made it through.

    I will have to walk down there and mourn, once I am done mourning all the old trees taken out by the BlueStone development.

    emmadogs | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  2. How about Where in Duluth? Nobody knows anything about this huh? Not surprising. Here’s a hint, you won’t find it on your iphone.

    Herzog | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  3. The photo above is one I took last fall of Southwest Leaning Congdon Pine in its prime, before it fell down. You can use the background trees as a guide to determine the extreme angle she was growing at. The trees in back are growing vertically off the planet. Our tree chose the angel less traveled until a massive Noreaster about ten days ago blew it off course.

    Herzog | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  4. I’m not sure if Herzog intentionally uploaded the photo sideways, but here it is in the upright postion — the tree being upright and angled, of course.

    Paul Lundgren | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  5. No it wasn’t intentional, just lazy. I was overwhelmed with the joy of actually tracking down a photo to prove it existed to bother correcting, and figured you could all just tilt your heads. Thanks though.

    Really I expected this particular tree to be old news given its uniqueness. You had to see it to believe it. Much larger in real life. Its massive branches were all veering off to the southwest into the lean. Less than ideal for its tilt, which probably added to its demise. Trying to stay alive is what killed it. Surprised there are no recollections otherwise. I guess no one walks around Congdon much. The waterfall it now spans is prominent, and it’s going to be there a very long time unless someone logs it out. I’m only guessing it had to be over four centuries old. The question is are these trees in Condgon and Lester actually old growth/are there any early photos of these areas?

    Herzog | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  6. This should be a slightly better photo:

    Herzog | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  7. I can’t win…

    Herzog | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  8. Maybe its this one…

    Herzog | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  9. Here’s the only old-school Congdon Park image I have easy access to:

    Click on it to see it much bigger. I have no idea what year this is from.

    Paul Lundgren | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  10. Well, the thing of it is that so many old growth trees just seem to hold on, despite being rooted in rock, or growing sideways, or otherwise defying the odds. T hat is why it’s so upsetting to see human made events taking them down.

    emmadogs | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  11. I have a feeling Congdon would’ve been protected by the estate, or at least the loggers would’ve avoided the hard to get trees down the slippery slope that could’ve meant falling over a cliff into the drink. I suppose old photos of areas like Congdon aren’t littering the streets nor would someone bother to take a random photo of the forest or some crooked tree. Old photos actually have a collector value for people looking to add some antique flavor to their McMansions or pretend they have some family history, but the vast majority of them end up in the dump, lost in time with no one to add insight. It’s going to be even worse when today’s young people die and their phone gets tossed in the recycle bin. Who will load your hard drive and tell your story?

    Herzog | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  12. The trees in the Congdon postcard look like maybe a 30-40 year growth. And most of those vintage wash postcards were made in the early 20th century but not into the 1800′s. If this postcard was printed in 1920, it might reflect what began to grow back after the clearcut of the post civil war era.

    Herzog | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  13. The postcard in my previous comment has a one-cent postage rate, so that gives some clue of the era it comes from. The one below is also a one-center.

    And the double-image one below is postmarked 1925 so it’s from 1925 or slightly earlier.

    Paul Lundgren | Apr 24, 2014 | New Comment
  14. I’d say from the looks of these postcards anyway, most of Congdon was planted in the 1890s. That bridge looks brand new. I did watch Lost Duluth last night, but they didn’t spend any time on areas east of downtown. Some of the buildings that no longer exist were pretty amazing though. They said if they had been saved, Duluth would now appear like Prague and people would come from miles around to see it.

    I guess it’s fair to assume if there is any old growth in the city, it’s trees that were spared because of their inaccessibility along banks and cliffs. The film also left me with the impression of how new this country is. We’re only just now hitting the 100 year anniversary of WWI. There’s a few living who remember it. And that Duluth didn’t exist until the 1870s. Which is only twice the amount of time ago our parents have been alive.

    Herzog | Apr 25, 2014 | New Comment
  15. Paul, that first postcard was printed between 1900 and 1915, likely in Germany, but the photograph — as is true with all postcards — could have been taken well before that. The cards with the white borders were made in England or the U.S. between 1915 and 1925 (white border saved ink during WWI). After that came the “linen” cards — vibrant colors and textured card stock — until about 1939.

    Duluth established as a township in 1856; first a city in 1871 — so you are not wrong but not quite right! Congdon Park along Tischer Creek was developed beginning in 1909 on land donated by Chester Congdon in 1905 (read all about it and see more images here:

    Congdon Park: a ‘most picturesque sylvan district’

    Marjorie Congdon Dudley (1887-1971) was off to college when Glensheen was built and likely had no say in the park. Neither she nor Marjorie Congdon LeRoy Caldwell Hagen (born Jacqueline Barnes, 7.14.1932 in Tarboro, NC; aka “Maggie Wallis,” arsonist and murderer) likely never donned a white dress and hugged a tree for photographers, but I like the image!

    The WDSE documentaries Lost Duluth and Lost Duluth 2 don’t even cover 1/64 of what is in the book Lost Duluth from Zenith City Press.

    Tony D. | Apr 25, 2014 | New Comment
  16. Speaking of trees, can anyone share why those beautiful pines in front of Lakeshore were taken down?

    heysme | Apr 25, 2014 | New Comment
  17. I was wondering the same thing heysme, my heart broke a little when I saw them.

    wskyline | Apr 25, 2014 | New Comment
  18. Someone thought their business/nursing home needed to be seen from the road? I was really pissed off when I saw what they’d done. What a cock-up.

    hbh1 | Apr 25, 2014 | New Comment
  19. Thanks Tony, that was good info, and tight. Have to get the book I guess. I was close! For having BS’d my way through. Good to get the background on these linen cards. I actually started a collection, which includes Griz in Yellowstone, Wisconsin Dells, Havana, etc. They are pretty. What did they say, 1500 residents in 1869? Fair to say Duluth wasn’t much of a city proper or anywhere near by 1870 with all the mud streets and such. Many of its grander buildings not being built until the 1880s or later? I stopped and had another look at the tree today. It’s larger at the mid section than at the base because of the massive main branch that grew out. But I’d guess nearly 30 inches. Hard to tell from a distance. It is just below Fourth Street if anyone wants to climb out and measure. Is there a somewhat standard white pine width to age ratio?

    Herzog | Apr 25, 2014 | New Comment
  20. I think it is a white pine?

    Herzog | Apr 25, 2014 | New Comment

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