By Hailey Eidenschink, Self-Proclaimed History Nerd at the Depot
If you’re looking to spend time in Duluth, and you want to get into the spirit of Halloween while you’re here, you’ve come to the right blog post. I’ve taken the time to put together a list of things to do that celebrates the off-kilter fun that “spooky season” is all about. I’ve included some picks that you won’t see on the typical Halloween guide for out-of-towners, but this is the list that I would give my friends…and we are friends, right?
Buckle in folks, because we’re starting off strong! Duluth has several beautiful historic graveyards, but Oneota is, in my opinion, criminally underrated. Open daily from 8 AM to 8 PM, this cemetery has absolutely beautiful grounds dotted with stones that tell the stories of the people who called this neighborhood home. Cemeteries are a great place to walk around in nature while learning about the history of a place, and while it might not be an activity for everyone, I know I’m not the only weirdo who visits graveyards while I’m on vacation.
After taking a stroll through Oneota Cemetery, why not kom-on-inside and warm up? See what I did there? Hiding inside an unassuming exterior is one of Duluth’s most beautiful dive bars. Kaylee Matuszak, a famous Duluthian and bonafide hole-in-the-wall connoisseur, first introduced me to this place during last year’s Homegrown Music Festival. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. All along the interior of the bar is a 1951 mural that shows West Duluth as it existed during the middle of the last century. Tons of the folks buried at Oneota Cemetery worked in the buildings of industry that decorate the barroom, and many of those buildings have now been lost to time. So grab a booth, a very competitively priced beverage, and contemplate your own mortality. Tis the season!
The Jade Fountain
The Jade Fountain began its life as a full-service bar and restaurant operated by George Wong in 1968, and after nearly 40 years of operating, it closed in 2014. In 2020, the establishment re-opened under a new vision. This reimagined Jade Fountain is now an eclectic tiki bar that immediately won me over with its kitschy charm. The bar is decorated with pieces that remain from its days as a Chinese restaurant, with tons of additional pieces that look like they were lovingly selected by your weirdest great aunt. Taxidermy, creepy portraits, and funky lamps are littered throughout the establishment, and I can’t get enough of it. The atmosphere alone makes The Jade Fountain a favorite of mine, but on top of that, the drinks are great! The Jade Fountain makes the best Mai Tai in town, and it’s not even close.
The West Theater / Zenith City Horror
Just a few doors down from The Jade Fountain, The West Theater is an absolute gem in West Duluth. Opened in 1937, this beautiful art deco theater fell on hard times in the 1950s and movies and performances wouldn’t return until 2019, after three years and $1.5 million dollars of restoration. Watching new releases in this historic theater is such a cool experience, but live performances still come through the venue on a regular basis. This October, The West is hosting Zenith City Horror’s production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I cannot recommend it enough! My mom brought me to my first live Rocky Horror show when I was 15 (thanks Terri!) and every October I do my best to make it to a production. Zenith City Horror puts on a stellar performance each year, and if you’re brave enough to buy a ticket, I promise you it’ll be the most fun you’ve ever had dodging the blast of a squirt gun in a movie theater.
Sacred Heart Music Center
Built in 1896, this neo-gothic landmark is one that could easily be overlooked by out-of-towners, but that would be a grave mistake! This now deconsecrated cathedral operates as a 400-seat venue that attracts some of the best musical acts in and out of Duluth, while being one of the most strikingly beautiful buildings on the hillside. Check out their website to look for upcoming events, and if you see anyone playing that you’re even mildly interested in checking out, snag those tickets! Once you’re inside do yourself a favor and head upstairs to look at the Felgemaker pipe organ – it’s nearly 130 years old and absolutely breathtaking. (If you can’t make it to a show, they might be willing to let you in to show you around at another time, but this non-profit is entirely volunteer run, so I can make you no promises.)
The St. Louis County Depot
The St. Louis County Depot is near and dear to my heart. For as long as I can remember my dad has had a giant print of The Depot hanging in his home office, and now all these years later I get to spend my 9 to 5 working in this incredible historic building. First opened in 1892, The Depot acted as a central transportation hub for as long as passenger rail was the preferred mode of transportation in the United States. Since the 1970s, the building has acted as a heritage and arts center for the region. There are always tons of local exhibits and fun events, but in October I run the Haunted History Tours. These tours are some of my absolute favorites to give. They include some building history and stories of staff encounters (guests might even walk out with some stories of their own). It’s part paranormal investigation and part Depot history tour. You should come, they’re really fun!
Zeitgeist / Zinema
Located in Duluth’s Historic Arts & Theater District, Zeitgeist has a great bar and restaurant, live theater, two movie screens, and some really great vibes. Throughout the year, their movie theater, the Zinema, will play a series of older releases all united by an overarching theme. Historically October features cult classic horror films, and folks, there is nothing like seeing a John Carpenter flick on the big screen. If horror isn’t your thing, be sure to check out Renegade Friday Nights on their stage upstairs. Duluth is fortunate to have hilarious local talent, and Renegade features some of our very best.
Lake Superior Visitor Center
If you’re coming up to visit Duluth, you have to do Canal Park. While you’re down by the lake checking to see if the gales of November came early or not, you should pop into the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center. The staff on site are all super knowledgeable, and if you want to talk about shipwrecks or ghost-ships, there are few people better qualified. In addition to the awesome interpreters at the visitor center, my favorite museum display gets a bit of an upgrade around Halloween. The mannequins, who are freaky any time of year, get decked out with fake cobwebs and costumes to celebrate the season. They’re just begging for you to take pictures with them!
Go to Superior! Fairlawn Mansion
Okay, it’s not Duluth, but this is my list, and I just wouldn’t feel right without mentioning the Fairlawn Mansion in Superior. The Fairlawn is the ultimate haunt for a Halloween-minded visitor to the Twin Ports. This mansion was a family home from 1890 to 1920, and then served as a children’s home for the next 42 years. The house museum has its fair share of ghosts running through the mansion, and tour guides are more than willing to talk about the things that go bump in the night. I was able to chat with Brittany Plachecki, who has spent lots of time with the spirits of Fairlawn, on the Attracted to Duluth podcast this past October, so if you’re looking for a sneak peek at some of the best ghost stories to come out of the mansion be sure to check it out.