There’s no doubt the subject of this mystery photo is the gondola car on Duluth’s Aerial Bridge, but what year was the photo shot?
Perfect Duluth Day’s Mark Nicklawske randomly pulled this small photo out of a shoe box filled with mostly old black-and-white pictures toward the back of the Artifacts vintage store in Iowa City. It’s likely a snapshot someone from Iowa took while visiting Duluth in the early 20th Century.
Obviously the photo is no older than March 27, 1905 — that’s when the Aerial Bridge began ferry-car service across the shipping canal.
Obviously the photo is no more recent than July 1, 1929 — that’s the day the ferry car crossed the bridge for the last time before the iconic structure was transformed to the lift bridge as we know it today.
There might be any number of clues in our mystery photo that will help date it. The two that seem to jump out the most are the automobile on the left side and what appears to be some sort of protective roof partially shown at the top of the image. Most historic photos of the bridge do not show a structure like that above the gondola car; and other photos show a different style of barrier that hangs lower.
Take that and run with it, history detectives.
Below are two old Aerial Bridge postcards. The first illustrates the gondola with no protective roof; the second shows a protective roof that is different than what is shown in our mystery photo.
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