Courtesy Visit Duluth
More than 5,000 times a year, the free show in Duluth’s harbor begins with the blast of a ship’s horn.
A bridge, not a curtain, rises, and the honking ship passes beneath it and into the narrow Duluth Shipping Canal. Children cheer, sailors wave, and the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge takes a bow.
Since 1930, the bridge has been working two jobs. It links highway traffic between downtown Duluth and Park Point, a neighborhood on a five-mile-long peninsula.
It also stands at attention at the entrance of the canal. When ships arrive or depart, the bridge lifts its two-lane highway — all in one piece — to the top of the steel and cable bridge, providing clearance of 180 feet. The engineering involved has been making grown men and small boys marvel for more than 80 years.
In the summer, when the weather is fine, the show goes on as many as 40 times a day and reminds all that Duluth is the busiest port by tonnage on the Great Lakes.
Hotels make it easy to see the bridge in action, posting schedules daily of ships’ approximate arrival times. The bridge is a recommended sight as it is so rare; only a handful of aerial lift bridges are in operation in the world. Duluth’s is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Interestingly, the bridge’s original design was even more unusual. Built in 1905, it was an Aerial Ferry Bridge and transported people over the canal on a large gondola that hung from its frame. The gondola could make 12 trips back and forth per hour, and carried up to 350 people and several vehicles.