Duluth deaths honored on their 55th anniversary

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Screenshot via @Duluth News Tribune twitter

A remembrance ceremony on Saturday at the Duluth Shipping Pier for the loss of three brothers and a U.S Coast Guardsman

Three teens including a Cost Guardsman died on April 30th, 1967 in Duluth, Minnesota due to being swept into the water by a wave in Canal Park.

Saturday, April 30th marked the 55th anniversary of the death of a U.S. Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate First Class Edgar Culbertson, 31, who drowned while trying to rescue Eric Halverson, 17, and twins Arthur and Nathan Halverson, 16, after they were swept into the water by a wave.

The Halverson brothers went to Canal Park after attending a youth group meeting at First United Methodist Church. The boys left the church at about 8:30 p.m. that night. The Duluth Police Department called the Coast Guard at about 10 p.m., saying that the brothers had either been washed off the pier or were stranded on it.

Two of the brothers made it to the lighthouse at the pier’s end, but witnesses saw the third brother clinging briefly to a light pole on the pier before disappearing. The other two retreated down the pier to help him, waves obscuring witnesses’ view of what happened next.

The Coast Guardsmen found no trace of them on the pier during the rescue attempt, but halfway back to shore, the lake would claim Boatswain Mate 1st Class Edgar A. Culbertson as its fourth victim that night.

For the rescue attempt, Culbertson, Callahan and Prei left about 25 feet between them on the tether, so they could pull a man up if one of them was washed off the pier. The tether snapped Callahan’s wrist and, coupled with the massive waves, he and Prei were unable to pull Culbertson in after he went into the water on the lake side of the pier. They found Culbertson’s body on the beach.

Dragging of Lake Superior failed to find the Halverson brothers’ bodies and search efforts were called off eight days later. The Coast Guard commander at the time said searching for that long was the “humanitarian thing to do.” However, he said, “it is impossible to search the whole lake.”

We must keep reminding ourselves that Lake Superior, to which we owe so much, is capable of dealing a frightful blow.”

— The Duluth News Tribune

A few reminders of their deaths can be found in Duluth.

Three Brothers Chapel was constructed at First United Methodist Church, where the Halverson brothers were members. A plaque sits on a stone along the north pier in Canal Park to honor Culbertson, noting that “his great sacrifice is an enduring example of his devotion to duty and compassion for his fellow man.”

Their deaths also resulted in the installation of the metal gates that now close the canal piers during inclement weather.

Four roses are placed near the plaque commemorating the loss of four lives. This year also marked the first time the ceremony has been held without its long-time organizer, Capt. Tom Mackay, who died last November. Mackay’s great niece and nephew, would join him every year in the memorial service.

Fellow memorial organizer Ron Johnson said Mackay was also instrumental in ensuring Culbertson’s legacy lived on by requesting that the Coast Guard name a boat after him. The 37th Sentinel Class Cutter was launched February 6, 2020, and commissioned June 11, 2020. The vessel’s home port is Galveston, Texas and its motto is “Braving the Storm.”

Rand Sola, resident of Park Point and neighbor of Mackay, said being at the ceremony was “just a small thing that we can do to keep his sentiment alive.”

“Tom was a special guy. This is a drop in the bucket compared to what he gave to his friends and his community,” Sola said.

“He was great at bringing people together this remembrance is very much in keeping with his world.”