The Duluth floods drowned my record collection
A selection of classic vinyl sleeves laid out to dry.
Photo by Andrew Olson
By Andrew Olson
Over the past few years, I restored my basement into a great "man cave" of a music room. Sure, basements in Duluth have a reputation for dampness, but I thought I could beat Mother Nature. That is, until the worst flooding our city has seen in 40 years hit.
Last Wednesday morning, I awoke to my wife telling me that my car had been flooded overnight and that I should check the downstairs, AKA the 12'x14' home for most of my records, cassette tapes, Third Man Record Vault collection records, and some concert posters.
Our basement floor was built an inch above the concrete just in case of any flooding, but I could see the bottom of a chair had the markings of two inches of water from overnight rains. I immediately walked over to my crates of records sitting on the floor. They seemed okay, but I brought them all upstairs -- just to be safe. They were not okay, but I'll come back to that.
The new carpet in the basement was slightly wet so I decided to drive to Menards for a wet/dry vacuum. I live on South Street, which is on the east side of town and sometimes classified as the Endion neighborhood. We are at the very bottom of a hill and about 75 feet from Lake Superior. Out on the street, the seat was wet in my car and it didn't start. Some water shot out of the exhaust when I started my wife's car.
This was all at about 8 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, June 20. I hadn't turned on the television or radio yet, so I had no idea what was happening. In reality, I had just taken to the road when everyone was warned to stay off because the next round of rain was on its way.
The nearest I-35 ramp was closed and Superior Street was a parking lot on the east end of town, so I took North 3rd Street to get to the west side of Duluth. There were a few minor signs of damage, but nothing too bad.
Soon, it began to rain very hard. I took one street near Wade Stadium, but cars were turning around as a pool of water was forming on the road in front of us. After getting off that street, I took Superior Street and finally arrived at Menards.
There were a few people with carts full of sump pumps, but I still managed to get a wet vac on sale. I also grabbed a fan, assuming with just a small amount of water I could vacuum it up and a sump pump would not be necessary.
Yet again, I was wrong.
When I left Menards, it was a little after 9 a.m. There were cars on the roads and the traffic jam on Superior Street was intense. I took a few back streets, but when I emerged near West 21st Avenue, I began to see that this was a lot more than just a little rain. Bars like Curly's were under about a foot of water at their front door and it only seemed to be rising. As I turned down some streets, they were closed with sewage spewing out of them. Other streets were closed off as giant sinkholes formed and some even swallowed entire cars.
I called my wife to see if I should stop at the store for some food, and she told me that our street was now under several feet of water, my car was under too, up to its roof, and the basement was under six inches of water and rising. She told me not to drive down to our street and to hurry home. Here's the video she shot:
I couldn't get to our street so I parked several blocks away directly up the hill. While walking down the hill to my home, I had to wade through 3 feet of water on one avenue. It was more like a waterfall than a street, but eventually I trudged through the curbside rapids as I climbed the stairs to my house. Down our block, entire houses went under.
My first stop was our basement to clear out anything of value and salvage everything possible. We began to save what we could and I initially assumed that the basement would fill further. As it reached a foot we began to take buckets and remove what water we could. The water receded after about an hour and soon it was time to assess the damage.
My 1992 Celica GT, with custom Toyota metallic blue paint and only 154K miles, was a total loss. With only liability insurance and no garage to give me the time to really fix it, I can't see me getting much money for it. Even sadder is that I originally took that sporty Celica GT to my high school prom when it belonged to my aunt and was her new car. She gave it to me when I finished college as a gift and I kept it in great shape by storing it through most winters. It now is on Craigslist for $1,000 or best offer. It may end up being scrapped.
After we managed to dry a portion of the basement out, we could bring back down most of our large Rubbermaid containers that kept many of our personal belongings safe. When the main floor was again emptied, I went to finally check on my two crates of collector LPs.
It was devastating. The Beatles' White Album, a first pressing with all the posters and never played, was stuck to the Doors' first album still in its original shrink wrap. The covers for all of the albums had gotten wet and then stuck to the ones next to them. With album collecting the record itself is only part of the value. The artwork and covers are half of what makes an LP so valuable. The records will play, but years of searching for hidden gems untouched by pens, scratches, or torn labels all went to waste.
Photo by Andrew Olson
My concert poster signed by Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie, as well as an early 1980s Siouxsie and the Banshees concert poster from Dallas had extensive water damage. All of my cassette tapes, my speakers, stereo, record player, and 350 45rpm records were ruined. The 45s I am working on drying out, but the labels are tearing off.
My main floor soon became my triage for the LPs and artwork with the Beatles, Joan Jett, Doobie Brothers, the Kinks, Jimi Hendrix and other albums spread out to dry. The covers slowly curled and bent while the water dried from them and the ones inside plastic coverings stuck to the plastic. It was sad to watch the artwork tear away, but at least the music is okay.
What surprised and impressed me most came after, though.
The Little Black Books' Mark Lindquist read on Facebook that my record collection was destroyed, and donated a few of his own records to help me start my collection over. The rarest was a popular local band's 45rpm record that he gave me from his personal collection of 50. It will go into my jukebox, which luckily was on the main floor and was left undamaged.
It will be months before my basement is returned to its original condition, but with reports that these rains are becoming more common I may change things a bit. Growing up on the Mississippi River as a kid made me understand that a basement is not a place to store things of value. I had always kept strong to that philosophy until I got my 1965 Seeburg jukebox this winter and moved my stereo and records to my basement living room. It was my man cave, but now it needs new flooring and the dehumidifier fills up every few hours. Sixteen hour days working on the basement preserved its integrity, but getting it completely dry will take some time.
At least no one was hurt and material things can always be replaced... even the music.
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