The King of Neptune Statue
The King of Neptune was a 26-foot gold colored statue depicting the god of freshwater and the sea: Neptune. For four years he reigned over Canal Park in Duluth, Minn., from 1959-1963. Then, in just five minutes time, he disappeared forever.
A Celebration of Duluth
To understand the fate of the King of Neptune Statue, we need to go back to the beginning. In 1959 something pretty important happened in the city of Duluth. The modern Seaway opened up which allowed Duluth to be designated a Foreign Trade Zone, attracting international freighters into the Twin Ports. As you can imagine, this was a huge deal! Not just for Duluth, but for all of Minnesota! To this day, Duluth is the farthest-inland freshwater seaport in all of North America, according to the Duluth Seaway Port Authority Website. So, this port being opened meant a huge boom to Minnesota’s economy.
According to ZenithCity.com, the state celebrated this monumental accomplishment by constructing a large gold-colored statue of Neptune, the Roman god of freshwater and sea. The statue was built to be on display at the 1959 state fair in celebration of Duluth’s accomplishment.
A New Home in Duluth’s Canal Park
After the state fair ended, on October 29th, 1959, the King of Neptune Statue made his way to Duluth. Once at home, he was mounted atop of a concrete pedestal in Duluth’s Canal Park near the North Pier.
The King of Neptune was quite massive and impressive! As mentioned before, he was painted gold and stood 26-feet tall. That is the equivalent of a two and a half story house! In his right hand, he held a trident. In his left arm, he cradled a replica of the freighter Roman de Larrinaga, which was the first ocean-going vessel of the modern era to pass through the Duluth ship canal and under the Aerial Lift Bridge.
As you can imagine, he was a popular attraction in Duluth’s Canal Park. Visitors took photos with him and sat at his feet on the concrete base. Mayor E Clifford Mork declared that The King of Neptune Statue was “a tremendous tourist attraction.”
Issues with The King of Neptune Statue
However, while he was incredibly popular with tourists, the Neptune statue was a maintenance nightmare. According to ZenithCity.com, The statue was made of fiberglass and a “Weatherproof plastic component”. Due to his proximity to Lake Superior, the statue was frequently getting damaged by waves and rocks. As well as rocks thrown by “misbehaving children”. City maintenance workers were constantly patched and repainting the Neptune statue. This was costing the city about $300 a year to maintain (close to $2,000 in 2008, adjusting for inflation).
Luckily for the city, on June 4th, 1963 at 5:45 am The King of Neptune Statue stopped being a problem for the city. In what can only be described as an abrupt and concerning way.
The Statue Is Destroyed
You see, because of his maintenance issues, The King of Neptune Statue was to be removed from his base and brought in to have major repairs performed on him. In order to remove him from his base, a maintenance worker used a blowtorch. Turns out, the statue was comprised largely of papier-mâché on the inside. Sparks from the torches and the internal supporting pipes set the highly flammable papier-mâché ablaze. The prized statue burned within minutes, leaving behind just a pile of ash.
Thus, the King of Neptune Statue in Duluth was destroyed forever. Year later, the tugboat Bayfield was placed where the statue once stood. Very few people may even remember this magnificent statue as he was only in Duluth for four year. For those of us who never knew of his presence there, looking at pictures of him is quite jarring! This large statue stands out in quite an impressive manner. So, he may be gone, but the photographs live on!
Listen to the Statues of the North Shore podcast episode featuring The King of Neptune: