With apprehension, Ford tuned in Saturday evening to see, like many others in Duluth, just how our history would be treated. Would it be respected? Or exploited for entertainment?
“Some of my concerns were relieved and others remained,” Ford told the News Tribune Opinion page afterward. “I appreciated the short statement that trespassing is against the law, (but) the show failed to mention that a man, his wife and dogs live at Nopeming. The man is the groundskeeper for Nopeming. Trespassers pose potential harm to this family, especially if they come unaware and armed to protect themselves. …
“Unfortunately, due to the nature of the show, the focus was on the death and not the life of the facility, or the future hopes for the facility,” Ford continued via email. “It was strange that (the show’s stars) wore gas masks while at Nopeming (while the local people being interviewed did not). I felt that they were trying to make it look as though it is in a worse condition.”
Perhaps they were but not once did the show suggest Nopeming was ever an insane asylum. It also didn’t really turn up any ghosts — just lots of creepy, dark passages; a few banging noises you might expect from a long-unheated, crumbling, 103-year-old structure; and a couple of bugs or dust particles that floated past floodlights and that the show tried to pass off as paranormal activity.
Nopeming opened in 1912. Its remote location on the back side of Spirit Mountain offered isolation from Duluth’s general population and plenty of healing fresh air and sunshine for hundreds of tuberculosis patients. By 1971 the facility was a nursing home.
St. Louis County closed Nopeming in 2002, and in 2009 a group of local volunteers operating as Orison Inc., a nonprofit, took over. They still hope to transform the facility into an agriculturally focused charter school serving children with special needs. The Opinion page attempted to contact several Orison board members Monday for this editorial. None returned phone calls.
Like Ford, Dan Turner watched Saturday’s episode not sure what to expect. Turner provided historic photos to the show and was one of the locals interviewed on camera. He had researched and written detailed articles about Nopeming for Zenith City Online (zenithcity.com). And he features Nopeming on his substreet.org photography website.
“Overall I thought the episode did a fine job representing the history of Nopeming,” Turner told the Opinion page. “I feel like they balanced the interviews and info snippets well with the actual ghost-hunting footage. … There were some factual errors that seemed to support the narrative of the episode, namely that the name ‘Nopeming’ predates the establishment of the hospital. In reality, the name was the result of a citywide naming contest. … It was a distortion but not fatal to the episode. …
“Duluth itself was depicted as a long, narrow road through an expansive forest that ends at the Aerial Lift Bridge,” Turner continued. “Oh well, the producers succeeded in conveying the area’s beauty. … I’m pleased with the way the show depicted the current situation at the sanatorium. Hopefully the appearance will ultimately dissuade potential trespassers and open the building up for more paying visitors. It was built with tax money, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Duluthians should be fighting to save Nopeming.”
And Duluthians — some of whom worked at Nopeming, were patients at Nopeming, or had family members and ancestors who either were treated at or were residents there — can be relieved their community’s history and this piece of its past weren’t exploited for entertainment by a parachuting-in national cable television show.