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Duluth History

The Neptune Statue and the Tug Bayfield

Canal Park's Landlocked Oddities

By: Rob Hedburg | August 14, 2019

Did you know that Canal Park once featured a twenty-six-foot-tall statue of Neptune? The statue of the Roman god of freshwater and sea was originally created for the Minnesota State Fair in 1959 to commemorate Duluth becoming an international shipping port. The first modern-era shipping vessel to pass through the Duluth canal was the Ramon de Larrinaga. As a result, Neptune was portrayed cradling the Ramon de Larrinaga in his left arm while holding his trident in his right hand. After the end of the 1959 Minnesota State Fair, the fair board donated the statue to the city of Duluth. 

Credit: Zenith City Press

Despite being lauded by Duluth Mayor E. Clifford Mork as a “tremendous tourism attraction,” the Neptune statue caused headaches for maintenance crews. The statue itself was made of fiberglass and plastic components. Rocks tossed by both nature and humans would mar the statue, costing the city around $300 per year to maintain, or around $2,000 today adjusted for inflation. Inside, the statue contained papier mâché. This heavily contributed to the statue’s eventual destruction in 1963, when the statue was accidentally set ablaze by maintenance workers using torches to remove the statue from its supporting poles. The highly flammable materials which comprised the statue burned up in minutes.

In the same general vicinity where Neptune once stood now sits the tugboat Bayfield. Built in 1953 by the Roamer Boat Company in Holland, Michigan, the Tender Class III tug was named after the port of Bayfield, Wisconsin. The Bayfield was used by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to move unpowered barges, crane barges, and work scows in the Duluth harbor. The Bayfield operated from 1953 to 1995, when it was retired from service. In 1999 it was place on permanent display in front of the Maritime Visitors Center.

To learn more about the short-lived Neptune statue, check out this article from Zenith City Online! The Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center is free and open to the public. The center features numerous displays and provides a history of Duluth’s shipping tradition. It is located at 600 Canal Park Drive, Duluth, MN 55802.