Listen: Portrait of a Superior hero
Archive Dive is a monthly podcast hosted by reporter Maria Lockwood. Episodes dip into the archives of historic events, people and places in Superior and Douglas County with local historians.
We follow the trail of a portrait of a local veteran who lost his life in World War I. The portrait of Henry Blomberg was taken down during a renovation of Old Main on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus. But the name for the portrait was lost. Years later, the portrait’s identity was discovered.
In this month’s episode, retired librarian and local historian Teddie Meronek joins Telegram reporter Maria Lockwood to guide us through the mystery. Meronek was familiar with the name Henry Blomberg, but while working at the Superior Public Library and looking through a 1916 yearbook for what was then Superior Normal School, now UW-Superior, a mention of Blomberg caught her eye.
“I went to the back (of the yearbook) and saw a list of names and it was a chart that said ‘Senior Class Statistics,’” said Meronek. “I came almost to the bottom and there’s Henry’s name, Henry Blomberg. His ‘activity’ was Sunday car rides. His ‘destiny’ was, and this one still makes me tear up, his destiny was heaven and that just stopped me in my tracks because the reason I knew Henry’s name was I knew that the first Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Superior was named after him and to have a post named after you, you have to have died.
"Here he was, it was 1916 and we were only a couple of years from the war and our involvement in World War I and his destiny was heaven. Once I saw that, I thought I have to find out more about this man because how did they know that? Doesn’t it seem strange? I guess it hit me that way," Meronek said. "I’m sure the people who did it never thought anything about it, they just thought he was a really nice guy and this is where he’s going to end up, but I just thought, 'This is like a prophecy.'”
Blomberg was born in Superior on Aug. 3, 1892 and after moving with his family to Aitkin, Minnesota, returned to Superior in 1914 to attend college as 22-year-old non-traditional student. During his time on campus, Blomberg was an active in sports, the student newspaper and was president of the debate team.
He also joined the Wisconsin National Guard, and after his 1916 graduation went with a group that was patrolling the United States/Mexico border. After graduating with a two-year degree in education, he spent a year teaching in Virginia, Minnesota. The U.S. would soon join World War I and having registered for the draft, Blomberg went to Texas to train and would eventually go into battle in France in 1918 with the U.S. Army’s 32nd Division. Blomberg performed many acts of heroism, including in the battles of Juvigny and Argonne. It was at Argonne on Oct. 5, 1918 where Henry lost his life, just five weeks before the end of the war.
After his death, Lt. Blomberg was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross which, after the Medal of Honor, is the nation's highest military honor. (Superior native Dick Bong also earned the Distinguished Service Cross in 1943).
Blomberg’s friends with the Superior Normal School debate team commissioned a painting of him, at a cost of about $300, and presented it to the college, where it hung in the auditorium for many years. But during a renovation, the portrait was taken down and put into storage and in the process, the name plate was lost. Without the name plate, it would be difficult to identify the person in the painting.
Almost 100 years after Blomberg’s death, Meronek wrote an article about him, and in this episode, she shares how her writing helped lead to the rediscovery of the portrait, which now hangs with a name plate on UW-Superior’s campus.
“That just makes me happier than anything I think I’ve ever done in all my time at the library,” says Meronek. “Every time I’m in Old Main, I stop and say hello to Henry.”
New episodes of Archive Dive are published monthly. Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts. Episodes are edited and produced by Duluth News Tribune digital producers Wyatt Buckner and Dan Williamson. If you have an idea for a topic you’d like to see covered, email Maria Lockwood at email@example.com .