Have you ever wanted to travel back in time? Not to brag or anything, but I have figured out a way to time travel. I can usually manage to go back a few decades, maybe a couple hundred years at most. I can’t stay for long, and I’ve yet to taste or actually touch a cup of tea from 1915, despite a fervent desire. I’m more like a traveler passing through, a tourist in a world different than mine, peering in from the side, presuming to understand what is going on around me.
This world can only be reached through research and imagination, and with the determination of a detective piecing together scraps of evidence. It also depends on helpful archivists, online databases and the support of public grant money and fellow dedicated history nerds. The path is sometimes long and slow, a little bit dusty, but sometimes it pulls us along with the thrill of the hunt and a spectacular find, like a full-on glimpse of faces, journals, conversations and the insides of shops. Tracking down history mysteries is an addicting little hobby.
The recent purchase of a 102-year-old building at 1917 W. Superior St. by the Duluth Folk School led to an off-hand request for more information about the building’s history. I found myself drawn into this request, spending free time browsing 1915 online editions of the Duluth Herald from the comfort of my computer desk, no dusty pages required courtesy of public access grants and diligent scanners. The new owners and I knew some facts, and now we wanted to see what that place had looked like when it was built. I had a hunch some pretty good time travel was possible.