Armistice Day Parade, Football and Moonshine Mishap of 1921

In addition to the parade in Downtown Duluth, Armistice Day of 1921 featured two big football games. The Denfeld High School eleven traveled to Coleraine to play for the northern section championship, while the Duluth Kaycees hosted the Minneapolis Marines to determine the state’s professional championship. But the hilarity of the day occurred three miles outside of Floodwood.

The details and newspaper images in this post are all from the Nov. 12, 1921 Duluth Herald.

First, details on the fuzzy images above:

  • Upper left — Legion men waiting on Fifth Avenue for the word to move.
  • Upper right — Fifth Avenue West and First Street where different divisions in the line of march converged. Major Warren E. Pugh, Duluth’s chief of police, is the figure on horseback, barely visible.
  • Center — Boy Scouts division marching along London Road.
  • Lower left — National champion American Legion band of Duluth, awaiting the command to march.
  • Lower right — Section of the parade on London Road.

Denfeld’s 1921 football team — led by five all-conference players, including quarterback Bill McNelis — outscored opponents 224-61 in route to a 5-3 record and the Head of the Lake conference title. But the West Duluth griders failed to score against Coleraine, losing 6-0 in a heartbreaker.

“The game was hard fought and the result was in doubt right up to the final whistle,” the Herald reported.

Denfeld fans had an entirely different experience, however. Duluth business owners arranged for a parade of autos to bring 150 rooters to the game, including a truck that would carry 30 of them. Below is the Herald’s account of the truck’s misadventure.

Series of mishaps befalls party on way to school game

“The trip was a huge success — but we didn’t see the game,” said a member of the senior class of the Duluth Denfeld high school on return late last night from a trip in a truck which was intended to carry thirty students and four members of the faculty to the Denfeld-Coleraine high school football game at Coleraine. The truck got to a point three miles beyond Floodwood.

“We were Jonahed from the start,” said the student. “We no sooner got the truck loaded and ready to start than the seats broke down. Then we squatted on the floor. We got to a point just a short distance outside of the city when a driver of a Ford, who was full of moonshine, ran into our truck while trying to go around us. The accident did not hurt our truck, but it delayed us about a half hour. The Ford lost three wheels and was otherwise badly damaged.

“We were going along fine and had reached a point about three miles beyond Floodwood when some fellow stopped us to tell the driver he had a puncture. That settled our trip to the ball game. The driver did not have a spare tire. He had no tire tools or any other kind in the car — not even a screwdriver.

“The entire party walked back to Floodwood. We did not take the train back because we still had hopes of reaching our destination. The driver telephoned for an extra tire and that arrived at 6 p.m. The delay in bringing that out was caused by the car that started out breaking down just outside Duluth. It had to be replaced by another car.

“What did we do in Floodwood? Oh, we hired the town hall and danced and played games all afternoon.”

Meanwhile, at Athletic Park in West Duluth, a team led by the halfback duo of Russell Method and Wally Gilbert secured the Minnesota professional football championship. The Duluth Kaysees defeated the Minneapolis Marines 14-0 in front of 5,000 fans.

The Herald reported it was “the first time in the history of professional football in the Gopher state, covering a period of twelve years, that the Marines have lost the title.” The article went on to note that “every spectator pronounced it the greatest grid battle ever staged in the North.”

Method and Gilbert, West Duluth homeboys, scored the game’s two touchdowns. “On several occasions Method hurled his way through the opposing defense like a trick dog going through a paper hoop,” reporter Sandy MacDonald wrote.

MacDonald went on to speculate about a team that recently joined the American Professional Football Association and might travel to Duluth to be the Kaycees next opponent. The APFA would change its name to the National Football League in just a few months, and the team MacDonald was referring to will be familiar to Minnesotans.

“It is probable that the Acme Packers of Green Bay, Wis., will be brought here for a game on Sunday, Nov. 19, arrangements for the contest now being under way,” MacDonald wrote.

That game never happened. Instead, the Kaysees traveled to Rock Island, Ill. to face a different APFA team — the Rock Island Independents. It was the only game of the season the Kaysees played on the road and the only game the team lost.

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