When Don Janicki’s aunt died last December, he inherited a treasure trove of family material and memories that he began sifting through along with items he had already acquired from when his mother passed years earlier.
As he began the tedious process of categorizing the mountain of material, he came across a shoebox full of photos and letters concerning the Superior Blues, a minor league baseball team based in Superior that played in the Northern League from 1933 to ’43 and ’46 to ’55.
“I thought it was important to get it to a source that would appreciate it,” said Janicki, 67, of Milwaukee.
Janicki found the right guy for the job in Douglas County Historical Society business manager Jon Winter.
Winter isn’t just a big believer in preserving history. He’s also a huge baseball fan, having attended every Duluth Huskies or Duluth-Superior Dukes home game since the Northern League was reinstated in 1993.
Janicki spoke on the phone with Winter last spring, and a day or two later, the Blues material was en route to 1101 John Avenue in Superior, where the Douglas County Historical Society now has them.
The photos and letters go beyond baseball. They're a snapshot of American life at such a pivotal time in the country and the world: the 1940s. While war was raging in Europe and the Pacific, back home it was baseball and young love.
The photos were taken and otherwise obtained by Superior natives: Don’s mother Eileen (Glonek) Janicki; her sister, Mary (Glonek) Pettyjohn; and their dear friend Stella Jaros. The sisters have long since passed, but the memories live on in these photos.
“They were the superfans of the era,” Winter said.
The women would have been in their 20s at the time, and their letters talk about the crushes they have on certain players. It’s good stuff, talking about one player being a “smoocher,” and how the U.S. Army wouldn’t grab him unless the Japanese were in Duluth (presumably because he was a little older) and how they were trying to get him to “pop the question.”
Janicki said the letter adds a real “human touch” to the “Superior Blues experience,” and the language is reflective of the times; reading it is like taking a time machine to the past.
“They were groupies, I mean, and I say that in a positive way,” Don Janicki said.
They certainly loved their team. Some of the pictures show the women at road games, from as far away as Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to as close as Duluth’s own Wade Stadium. There are shots of the team bus and a photo collage, perhaps focusing on one season. They clearly got to know the team well over the years, to the point where a couple photos show them getting close enough to “photobomb” a more formal team shot.
While most of the players aren’t identified, one team photo had 14 names listed on the back, including some that pop up on baseball-reference.com’s registry such as Edward Fialko, Bill Simcich and Hank Ertman. The Blues were a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox at that time. They played their games at Superior Municipal Stadium, which was located just south of Ole Haugsrud Field, on what is now the Wisconsin-Superior campus.
While the Douglas County Historical Society is known for its permanent displays — including one remembering former President Calvin Coolidge’s summer in the area, and another featuring the work of renowned frontier photographer and former Superior resident David F. Barry — there is room given to sports, including a prized Superior High School state championship basketball trophy with somebody by the name of Ernie Nevers on the back of it.
It is the type of place, each time you go there you see something you had never seen before.
In the basement, dust piles high on stacks of boxes. Between the rows of shelves and file cabinets are local sports signs, paintings and pictures from long ago.
Winter eventually plans on archiving the photos.
“They probably won’t be on display, but they will definitely be available should we do a Superior Blues exhibit,” Winter said. “If we do a Superior night at a Duluth Huskies game, we’d definitely bring scanned copies of these photos.”
And that’s more than enough for Janicki.
“The idea of mine was, these are nice to look at, but once I’m gone, they’d probably be going in the dumpster,” Janicki said. “I’m glad to see they found a good home. I couldn’t think of a better place for them.”
How to donate
If you’re interested in donating to the Douglas County Historical Society, email email@example.com or call 715-392-8449. Winter reminds people that items should be culturally significant to the area and that “we’re not Grandma’s garage attic.”
The headquarters are located at 1101 John Avenue in Superior and are open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Admission is free. The DCHS relies on donations and memberships, but walk-ups are welcome.