Early this fall, the Indian Scout and I fell into a conversation about the City of Duluth-owned stained glass window that the Duluth mayor wanted to sell to ease the budget deficit. A Duluth artist created the 115-year-old window called “Minnehaha” that shows an Indian woman.
The window and its cash value had been the object of a flurry of newspaper and television stories that described the window Indian as a “princess.” After much hand-wringing, Duluth city officials decided against selling the window.
Still, I wanted to see the princess at the center of such contention. Let’s scoot to the big city and find her, I urged the Scout.
So off we hastened to the Duluth Depot by way of Skyline Drive that runs parallel to Interstate 35. We went that way because the Scout felt compelled to take an aesthetic break.
“There are places where you know people lived years ago, places as attractive to you today as they were to them,” Scout said as he drove.
Maybe you know the area. Spirit Mountain and a couple hills dominate the view with its thousands of sugar maples turned bright yellow. The Scout stopped the monster truck near large rocks for an upland view so beautiful that it looked computer-generated. The usually acerbic, chatty Scout fell mysteriously silent when he saw all those leaves.
We spoke of our relatives from generations past who beheld the same sight, and we were glad to be alive. Long ago the Scout’s grandfather told stories of the area as a former destination for young Ojibwe men making vision quests.
With reluctance, we climbed into the monster truck that soon passed a Holiday gas station and a McDonald’s restaurant, buildings that presented a strong contrast to the earlier view.
The monster truck exited on Michigan Street toward the former Union Railroad Depot, built for railway traffic in 1892. The large Tiffany window is at the Depot Heritage & Arts Center entrance before you get to the admission desk.
The princess, standing before a waterfall, looks as though she just viewed some tragedy, or dreads the next one. Maybe the artist portrayed a sad Minnehaha because her fake fate included an early demise that had something to do with that waterfall.
The Scout stared back at the window, festering. “Minnehaha?” he sputtered, reading the title of the work.
“Ha ha?” he spit out. The Scout sizzles with resentment about the 1855 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem and any derivative of that poem, including the Indian in the window. Seems Longfellow made up a lot of stuff that still passes as authentic Chippewa Indian legend. You remember the words: By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis, blah, blah blah.
To cheer up the Scout, here’s an anonymous Internet version of the legend:
“He killed the noble Mudjokivis. Of the skin he made him mittens, Made them with the fur side inside, Made them with the skin side outside. He, to get the warm side inside, Put the inside skin side outside; He to get the cold side outside Put the warm side fur side inside.”
And so on.
Dear reader, I digress horribly.
You’d surely rather hear of the Indian in the window who many believe is based on a real Dakota woman whose name, translated, meant “Shooting Star.”
It’s Shooting Star that holds Band Member Vern “Wiggi” Zacher’s interest. That the Hiawatha legend erroneously blended Iroquois, Dakota and Chippewa legend bothers Wiggi not at all. Some Indians may see the window as classic “Indian Princess” art and sneer, Wiggi said.
Instead, the window is what it is, a beautiful portrait of a woman named Shooting Star. Wiggi, president of the St. Louis County Historical Society, appeared before the Duluth City Council in November when it passed a resolution to give Shooting Star to the Historical Society. The city is a long way from the completion of that act, but things are moving. Wiggi thinks that is good.
What’s not moving anytime soon is the window with the pensive Shooting Star, who still resides on Michigan Street by the Big Sea Water.
Deborah Locke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org