The Calaboose, derived from the Spanish term for "jailhouse," stands as a testament to a time when the enforcement of law in Duluth was as sturdy as its solid 17-inch concrete walls. In a town where partaking in illicit whisky and moonshine was the order of the day, law enforcement faced an uphill battle. Prior to the Calaboose's establishment in 1909, the makeshift solution was to confine wrongdoers in train cars by the railroad—a temporary measure that proved less than ideal.
Enter Mr. Davenport, a fellow with a knack for construction and a good sense of humor. For the princely sum of $500, he crafted this very calaboose. As fate would have it, after completing his masterpiece, Mr. Davenport indulged in some of that same contraband that landed folks behind his own bars. He earned the dubious distinction of being the inaugural guest of his own creation—a tale that has surely elicited more than a few chuckles.
Beyond its initial quirk, the Calaboose's walls hold more than just echoes of Mr. Davenport's misadventure. A notable incident involves a pair of brothers from Forsyth County, whose raucous evening of revelry culminated in a stay within the Calaboose. With the assistance of a cunning friend, a truck, and a well-placed chain, the brothers orchestrated an audacious escape by wrenching the cell door from its hinges. The dawn revealed the door on the grass, an empty cell and a wry testament to their resourcefulness.
In contemporary times, the Duluth Historical Society opens the doors of the Calaboose during the Duluth Fall Festival, an annual event held during the last weekend of September and invites curious minds to step into the past. Additionally, the Calaboose has lent its atmospheric setting to various movie productions, adding a touch of antiquity to modern storytelling.
Speaking of the Duluth Fall Festival…When the first Fall Festival was hosted in 1962 as part of Duluth’s centennial celebration, residents participated by dressing as Duluthians had in 1862. Women and children were adorned in long dresses and men who entered the costume contest were required to grow a beard. What was the punishment for a hairless face you ask? A couple of hours in the old calaboose, of course!
While the Calaboose doors stay securely latched for most of the year, inquisitive visitors can peek through the bared window for a look inside. Add it to the list for your next visit to Downtown Duluth!