Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Dylan-Woolson Connection

The Albert Woolson statue in front of the Depot.
For years I've been going to events at the Duluth Depot that houses the Duluth Art Institute, Historical Society, Train Museum and Playhouse. It's strange to think that all this time I've walked past this statue that sits out front without ever wondering who it was or why it was there. This summer I decided to check it out and learned that it's a Duluthian named Albert Woolson, who at the time of his passing was the last living veteran of the Civil War.

He was young when he entered the service, only 15, as a drummer boy in Company C, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment. When he died in 1956 Life magazine ran a seven-page story about our last connection to that war between the states. (You can read more at Wikipedia.)

This summer I took photos of the Woolson statue intending to write a blog post about this man when Saturday, at the 100th anniversary of the Duluth Armory, Don Dass of the Dylan Way Committee told me the most fascinating anecdote about how the kids in the Central Hillside would parade past the elderly Woolson's home each year. What makes it intriguing is that young Robert Zimmerman lived just a couple houses down the alley from Woolson and had almost certainly been part of that children's parade. Here's Don's account along with a map showing the Zimmerman home and its relation to the Woolsons:

Hand-drawn map shows relationship of the two homes.
"A few years ago during Dylan Days I heard a story from a woman who owned an art gallery in Canal Park. She had gone to kindergarten with Robert Zimmerman at Nettleton and she said it was the tradition for students to parade past Albert Woolson's house on either Veterans Day or on his birthday. (She couldn't remember which it was.) I thought that was a remarkable coincidence even before I read the November 11, 2015, article about Woolson in the DNT and noticed a picture of him standing outside his home with a lot of small children gathered before him. I thought of that story I'd been told and realized that here was photographic evidence of those occasions. In reading the piece I came across the address where Woolson had spent his later years -- 215 5th Ave. E. Close to Nettleton and even closer to the Zimmerman home at 519 N. 3rd Avenue E. I had to make a little sketch so I could verify what was just coming together in my mind. Dylan and Woolson lived on the same block, shared the same alley, scarcely a stone's throw apart. I find it almost beyond ironic that the last officially documented survivor of the Civil War and Bob Dylan lived not only in the same smallish city, but apparently actually lived almost next door to one another."

Young Robert Zimmerman lived upstairs here till age 6
Now here's something cool. If you use Google Maps here's what you will see when you do the "Street View".  (Mr. Woolson lived on the East, or right, side of the brick duplex.) Now, if you turn to the right and go to the end of the block, then make a left, go up the hill to the alley and look left, there's the house where young Dylan lived the first six years of his life. The alley referred to above is on the left side of this house.

Next May if you're in town for Dylan Fest, and the celebration of Bob Dylan's 75th birthday, you might enjoy taking a side trip up the hill to this house and that alley alongside it.... remembering that the oldest survivor of the Civil War lived his last years "a stone's throw away."

Is it possible these early memories of the old Civil War veteran played a role in Dylan's writing Cross the Green Mountain for the Civil War trilogy Gods and Generals?


1 comment:

French Family Blog said...

Very nice piece Ed. Here is another clip to the Cross the Green Mountain song - this is a video featuring Bob and his band amongst other Civil War troops…enjoy… https://youtu.be/Iw8YjVrRNRU