North Shore Quarterly: Duluth

A look from the grounds _Photo By Ryan Patchin

A look from the grounds. Photo By Ryan Patchin

Duluth is that reliable old friend that you only see once every year or two, but when you’re back—you’re back.

 Your ears start to pop and know you’ve made it. The bitterly-foul smell of the paper-mill fills your automobile while endless views, both lakeside, and a bluff-backed city-scape, add to the sensory overload.

Duluth, Minnesota is that place just far enough from the Twin Cities that you’re definitely away from home, but not away, away. Two and a half hours by car—straight shot north. Or, if you’re inclined, you could spring for the $300, one-hour each way flight to Duluth’s international airport.

I opted for auto and loaded up my wagon with my camera and a pal, and headed for the North Shore. I’m not a fan of eating in the car, but I wanted to maximize my day-trip to Duluth, so I did what I had to. With time on our side, we got into Duluth mid-day and were greeted by the D-town that I got to know years ago.

The quintessential gift shop. Photo By Ryan Patchin

She’s always undergoing improvements: a new condominium complex, a teardown to make way for a new restaurant—currently a large section of downtown is closed off, undergoing a major facelift. Those improvements are almost superficial to the greater environment in which they exist. The essence of Duluth as a whole is still intact, almost untouched. You’re still getting your old friend that’s rich in history, thick in natural wonder, and impossibly charming.

Visit Duluth was kind enough to point me in the direction of some COVID-friendly tourism options. I took them up on a trip to the Glensheen Mansion, which I’d seen from the saddle of my bicycle a number of times, but had never actually been on-property. Not only did I want a look at the mansion, but I wanted to see how the historical landmark is handling tours in the time of coronavirus.

A myriad of light sources create endless photographic opportunities. Photo By Ryan Patchin

From the moment you enter the parking lot, you’re guided into a straightforward, one-way experience that is currently self-guided. There are multiple tour-levels available, depending on how in-depth you’d like to get. I wanted to wander the full house and the grounds, to get a feel for the place.

The mansion is an incredibly well-preserved treasure of Minnesota. Ornate wood carvings appear to be holding the joint together, as you move through perfectly-lit room after perfectly-lit room. Light, both natural and artificial, work together and create a feel and personality unique to each space. For photography purposes, I would recommend walking through twice, shooting only natural light during one trip, then shoot artificially-lit spaces on the second go around. That way, you can avoid spending half of your tour adjusting your aperture and ISO settings. Hindsight.

It’s almost too charming. Photo By Ryan Patchin

The sprawling grounds of the mansion stretch to the lakefront, with many trails and relaxation outposts to be enjoyed. The grounds offer a somewhat private space where visitors and members can spend a quiet afternoon reading a book or taking in the impressive surroundings. Grab a drink or some ice cream from the snack cart and you’ve got yourself a Sunday.

Glensheen has adapted to the COVID-era by offering a safe yet fulfilling experience. Although the tour is technically self-guided, there are staffers around to guide you if needed, or to answer questions about the infamous murders that took place within the mansion. We’re all wondering. The Glensheen experience is not only an encapsulated view of life 100 years ago, but it’s reminiscent of life pre-coronavirus, offering an escape on multiple levels. Room after room, the mansion delivers a quaint calmness you didn’t know you were missing. Exit through the gift shop.

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