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The super-secret insider's guide to Canal Park

DiscoveryWorld.org describes the S/V Denis Sullivan as Wisconsin's flagship and a flagship for the United Nations Environment Program. This USCG-certified Sailing School Vessel Denis Sullivan connects "learners of all ages to the Great Lakes, oceans and our world of water through experiential learning and technology." According to the website, it is also the world's only re-creation of a 19th century three-masted Great Lakes schooner. The vessel was featured during the recent Tall Ships Duluth 2010 festi...1 / 3
A typical Canal Park night scene. Image courtesy Michele Trautlein2 / 3
Canal Park's iconic "beacon" entry tower is special to Jerry Kimball, longtime head of Duluth's Physical Planning division. "The tower was designed to be a beacon to draw people off of the freeway, just like the lighthouses draw the ships in," he recently told the Budgeteer, noting the bottom was molded from stonework at Old Central High School. Kimball played a major role in planning and implementing what he likes to call the "renaissance" of Canal Park. Image courtesy Michele Trautlein3 / 3

Author's note: I have no idea if what you are about to read is true. It came into my possession a few weeks back when I was in Canal Park for the Tall Ships Duluth 2010 festival. (They were tall! Who doesn't want to see that?!) I had been searching for a primo parking spot for, like, 97 minutes -- when it comes to parking, I am like a patron of the now-defunct NorShor Experience: I refuse to pay top dollar for something when, if I apply myself, I should be able to get 20 minutes for a quarter -- and I had just found a shady spot under the viaduct near the steam plant. Suddenly I heard a harried "Hey!" (Try saying that five times fast!) coming from some nearby bushes. Thinking a Park Point rabbit had learned to talk and was summoning me over -- that's always my first thought when I hear a harried "Hey!" -- I approached with caution. Instead, I spied a bespectacled, thin gentleman waving at me from the "weather garden" over at the Northland's NewsCenter. He was holding a large envelope in his left hand. "What do you want?" I shouted across the busy intersection at him. "Shhhhhh..." came his furtive reply, followed by more arm and envelope waving. He seemed to want me to approach him, so I did.

Halfway through the crosswalk, however, this strange gentleman suddenly looked at his watch, threw the envelope down on the ground, and ran away.

"Hey," I yelled after him, "you dropped your envelope!"

But he was gone. I thought I heard him mutter "I told 'Super Dave' it would be like this," but I can't be sure. Anyway, I picked up the now-dusty envelope, opened it and examined its contents, which are reproduced in their entirety below. Like I said, I can't be sure any of this is true -- that would require research and, honestly, that seems like a ton of work on a sunny, summer afternoon -- but I present it to you anyway. Why, you ask? Because it honors a commitment to Budgeteer editor Matthew R. Perrine, of course.

And on we go....

*******

"Super-Secret Insider's Guide to Canal Park" by Super Georgie Anderson and Dave Kesslaros

Canal Park is Duluth's biggest tourist mecca. In fact, if you count the seagulls, it's the third biggest concentration of living organisms in the state of Minnesota. (The Minnesota State Fair and Brett Favre's preseason retirement/unretirement media combo day are the other two.)

Why are so many people congregating in Canal Park? The answer is fairly obvious: the abundance of free parking. Just kidding. No one really knows ... except for us. What we are about to reveal is the unvarnished truth as to why so many tourists are infatuated with Canal Park and continue to fill it to capacity every summer. We expect no reward for delivering this in-depth investigation, filled with shocking answers and facts and figures that will blow your mind -- although ... would it kill you to watch Channel 3 once in awhile? We don't think so.

Super-Secret Fact No. 1: People seem to enjoy Lake Superior.

But why? It's cold and wet -- what's the big deal? Well, it just so happens that the lake is not really a lake at all. Look closely the next time you're out on the pier and take note of the blue surface that extends from the north lighthouse all the way across the canal to the south lighthouse. You'll see a kind of wavy motion; it's not flat like water should be. The reason is simple: It's a giant subliminal special effect, similar to a "flashback" scene in a movie, and it's been designed to make you hungry or thirsty. Why do you think you need to suddenly purchase five boxes of popcorn or a dozen lime Sno-Cones from those wagons all around the maritime museum? You have no choice. You are helpless. You have been exposed to the "lighthouse wavy blue subliminal water hunger thingy." We'd tell you who designed and implemented this evil device that makes you buy snacks against your will and drop them on the ground, but then the seagulls would have to have us kil--oops, we mean, it's not the seagulls! Don't blame them! WE LOVE THE SEAGULLS! THEY'RE NOT FLYING RATS!! THEY'RE WONDERFUL. HONEST!!!

Super-Secret Fact No. 2: The Grandma's family of restaurants.

Grandma's Saloon & Grill, Grandma's Sports Garden, Bellisio's and Little Angie's Cantina -- why do you have many opportunities to give Jeno Paulucci your money when you're in Canal Park? Because he took a personal interest and invested in the area when no one else would, that's why! In the 1800s, the area known today as "Canal Park" was simply known as "Park," and all that happened was that people rode their horses down there and parked, which was boring and, after a few hours, extremely awkward. But then, in 1871, Jeno grabbed a shovel and bravely dug the canal out in the middle of the night. So he should get to do whatever he wants to do down there. And he does.

Super-Secret Fact No. 3: The location of Club Saratoga is actually the second place this fine establishment of jazz and "other stuff" has called home.

The club's original spot used to be in Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum, which sits out in Lake Superior, just off the Lakewalk. However, the cold lake water -- yes, that section of the "lake" is actually a lake -- had an adverse effect on the employees of "The 'Toga" and they weren't able to "play jazz" to the satisfaction of the patrons. After a few failed experiments (heavy raincoats, waterproofing dance floors, etc.), the management decided to relocate the club to its current location, where they've been successfully "playing jazz" for lots of tourists for many, many years. Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum was deserted and has since been overrun by hordes of wild beasts who take the phrase "go jump in the lake" much too literally -- although it is rather humorous when they try to do it in February.

Super-Secret Fact No. 4: One of the most persistent Twin Ports rumors over the years has been that the enormous clock tower that marks the entrance to Canal Park was erected as an homage to former Duluth Mayor John Fedo, but that is not true.

Actually, Fedo's indomitable spirit and leadership are represented a bit further into the park by a couple of sculptures of spitting fish. The reason the tourists flock to this memorial? The annual Soap Sud Festival held here every once in awhile. It's not a scheduled, on-the-calendar, kind of event, but it is held a few times every summer, nonetheless. In fact, there might be another one later tonight, around 3 a.m., but you didn't hear that from us.... (Note: Here a "tee hee" was scribbled down.)

Super-Secret Fact No. 5: Everyone knows the Aerial Lift Bridge is the most photographed Duluth icon in the history of photographed Duluth icons (Denny Anderson's toupee is a close second).

Many people may wonder why. After all, it's just a bridge. Big whoop, right? Well, friends, there is a whoop involved and it is a big one! A few weeks ago, we took some time (36 hours, approximately) and sat and stared at the bridge, trying to figure out its appeal. Before the officials showed up -- both law enforcement and medical -- and questioned us, we uncovered a shocking fact that no one knew before. Are you ready for this? Don't bother sitting down, because you'll just stand right up again when we reveal this big, huge, mind-blowing, life-altering, super-charged super secret:

Grab something to write with--too late! Here it is:

The Aerial Lift Bridge "super secret": Not only does it go up, but it ... also goes down.

(Interesting Canal Park trivia: In order to cash in on the success of the recent tall ships, the Goldfines were toying with the idea of adding several layers to their Vista Fleet boats and creating "taller ships." Additionally, they were going to turn these taller ships into floating Hooters restaurants and sail them back and forth under the lift bridge. Their elaborate plan fell through, however, when the city refused to change the name of the Duluth landmark from the Aerial Lift Bridge to the "Aerial Lift and Separate Bridge." True story. Probably....)

Super-Secret Fact No. 6: Canal Park seagulls are wonderful, mythical creatures that never fail to amaze and mesmerize the tourists.

Every summer, hundreds of visitors to our fair city will spend hours upon hours, captivated by these squawking delights and not caring at all about the under-reported fact that seagulls will sometimes eat human flesh if they get too excited. In fact, we understand that on a recent visit to town, the creators of the arena spectacular "Walking with Dinosaurs" spied these popular birds and are working on another interactive extravaganza: "Flying with Seagulls." The advance buzz on the show is that these animatronic marvels will be so lifelike, audiences will actually believe they're being pooped on.

*******

That was the last super-secret Canal Park fact contained in the envelope, although I have a gut feeling that more will follow. That's because, in the middle of my reading, the strange gentleman came back out and yelled, "Kevin Jacobson told me to tell you there will be more to follow." If only I knew who these strange Canal Park residents were....

Funnyman Brian Matuszak is the co-founder of Renegade Comedy Theatre and, most recently, the founder of Rubber Chicken Theater. To find out what he's up to, visit www.rubberchickentheater.com.

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