East of Ely - The Manitou Boogie, Part One

In 1993, I was invited to spend three days at Frank Befera’s cabin on Manitou Lake north of Fort Frances, Ontario. Some of you might have known Frank, a World War II veteran who served with the 5307th Composite Unit deployed in Burma, aka Merrill’s Marauders, where he was battlefield promoted from corporal to captain. I came to understand just why that happened after getting to know Frank better that week.
Frank Befera was one of those Iron Range larger-than-life icons with sharp predator eyes that could scare the bejesus out of a three hundred pound miner. He made his fortune in broadcasting after the war, and became best friends with Walter Mondale along the way.


From the miscellaneous drawer - Phone books

City phone books. The older ones trace the progression and regression of a community. Most people toss them when they are replaced. Now with so many folks switching to cell phones, keeping old phone books allows one to stay in touch with those who only have land lines. I’ve kept a few.



In April of 1932—eighty-six years ago—Ely lost four prominent men in an airplane crash near Duluth. One week prior to that the same pilot and one passenger crashed a plane on Finn Hill near Chandler Location. On that occasion both Herbert Kurvinen and “Dutch” Fuller walked away only somewhat injured although one would have never known it by the totally wrecked plane.
Theron “Dutch” Fuller, Herbert Kurvinen, Toivo “Toby” Somero, and Matt “Bill” Somero all perished instantly when the later flight crashed. The four, all close friends, were on their way to Detroit to the National Aircraft Exposition. The plane was loaded with about 50 pounds of printed material advertising Ely area resorts.
The plane took off from the ice on Shagawa Lake amidst a throng of local residents who came to wish them well.


East of Ely - The night Steve came to town

by David Krikorian


East of Ely - Why you don’t mess with Ely

The other night I posted a sunset picture of downtown Ely on a social website and the response left me speechless. At first glance, the locals who responded typified the residents of any upper Midwestern city. Yet such enthusiasm seemed atypical when you consider that it occurred on the last night of April after a month-long, drag-out fight with the unrelenting beast of winter.
This response also revealed the points of view from two distinct generations: those who grew up during the mining era and those born after.
To paraphrase one of the area’s original characters, there was none of that “kwitchurbeliakin’” response between the generations, as folks revealed an appreciation for the past and current resident’s lives.
In fact, many responders had no time to dwell on the past, but chose to use the post as a forum to discuss a more pressing issue: Ice Out.


From the miscellaneous drawer - by Anne Swenson

Dylan Thomas, in his plea to his aging father, wrote: “Rage, Rage against the dying of the light...”
And that is what I was going to write about this week. But Tuesday, after work, I phoned an old friend and we chattered about her life, her husband and the active, meaningful work she is still doing after 65.
And that evening, I phoned an even older, long-time friend I hadn’t heard from in a while. In her 70s, she too is still working and actively engaged in the management of a Chicago-based firm. We had a lot to talk about - our jobs, friends, families and future.
This is not the world in which we grew up. Would a nuclear disaster, a war, change things? Is that what our world was based upon long ago?
I don’t know.
New statistics are startling - 66 million more men in the world than women? Are there more people on earth than earth can sustain?
And from there the questions become even more revealing for the contemporary world.


East of Ely - About my two pet snowmobiles

Now that the local thermometers have begun to thaw, my oddball mind has decided to focus on a time when I was the proud owner of two snowmobiles. I was never much of an authority on snow machines, but I cared for mine with unusual fondness. Each machine was unique among the range of models developed over time, and designed with a specific purpose, one had speed and the other versatility.
The first snowmobile I owned was a sprinter, a black and gray Yamaha Exciter built in 1978. I’d often tried to imagine how a Japanese piano manufacturer could evolve into a maker of fast snowmobiles, yet with 56 hp the thought was jostled out of me as soon as I pulled the starter cord and revved up its 440 engine, reaching breakneck speeds of forty-five miles-an-hour plus. Yet the one thing that Yamaha never got right was starting in extreme cold, and for that I carried plenty of Liquid Fire® and Heet®.


From the miscellaneous drawer - by Anne Swenson

ON BURNTSIDE LAKE in the late 1940s, this 50-something couple came to visit their daughter Dee who was working at Camp Widjiwagan. It was the start of a long and happy connection to the area.


Trout Whisperer - Little knife soup

Little knife soup
Sunshine is out the west door, and it’s the only door on the cabin, so today that door is wide open. I can see those warm golden rays shinning a bright white light off the melting snow.
The scene warms my heart.
He is sitting in his rocking chair, she is in the small kitchen making a pot of chicken wild rice soup. They’re both listening to the stereo. For those old enough to know what one is, or to even own something like that these days, is rare. As rare as one Doc Watson song after another, and they’re both in this little log-walled snug room.
The space is warm. I pull up a chair, we make our polites. In a moment I have a mug of tea. She doesn’t offer me milk, she knows I take it strictly as tea. To her man, a dash of milk is ladled in and handed to him.
They smile at each other.


East of Ely - Antifreeze for the Soul

Maple syrup tapping comes late to Northeast Minnesota, but the sap flows as well as it does in New England. I partook in this annual gathering over the years that I lived along Lake Superior, loving every minute despite long hours of jug tending and fueling the everlasting fire that distilled sap water in an old tub into dark golden syrup.
This ritual bridged the gap between late winter and early spring with friends and family, beginning each day as the sun cast its first light and heat that pumped the forest to life with drum rolls from mating woodpeckers knocking their brains out.
Little did we realize how our syrup making ritual was tied into an adaptation that enabled these hardwoods to survive the harsh winter of the northwoods.


Subscribe to RSS - Columnists