My friend had told me this about Duke: “When we were young, we were kind of close to our cousin named Duke. At least we thought he was our cousin. Like us, he had a Norse god nickname – Ve. Right after this Christmas photo (below) our aunt and uncle moved to the Upper Peninsula with Duke and we never saw him again. Weird. When my mom was near the end of her life, Earl was helping her clear stuff out. He found a photo of what looks like triplet babies. He asked her and she gave it up – we were triplets not twins. Triplets not twins!!!! When we were three our parents asked our aunt and uncle to raise Duke because he just didn’t fit in – that’s what she said – that and my aunt couldn’t have children. There were three of us. The kid we knew as our cousin, Duke, was our brother. You can see the resemblance. This shit is weird.”
This is the Christmas photograph of the triplets.
Here is how my friend’s brother Earl found him.
After he went to Gila Bend, Arizona, to see the Space Age Lodge, Earl drove to Michigan and started driving around up North in the Upper Peninsula, Duke’s last known home.
People from Michigan are quick to use their hands to show you the geography.
Mad Monk Jim Crotty showed me the hands thing in 1996.
Earl visited Sault St. Marie, Escababa, Menominee, Houghton, Iron Mountain, and Isperning, checking libraries and high schools for any sign of Duke. No luck.
Next stop was Marquette. He was walking on Washington Street, getting a feel for the place, when someone called out – “Hey, Duke!”
Having been mistaken for his brother, he now knew that this is where Duke lived. He talked with the guy who had called him Duke and explained what was up. The guy took him to Duke’s house on Morgan Street. It was built in 1889.
They knocked on the door. Duke answered the door. Behind him in the entry hall was a glorious full-wall mural,
It was a depiction of Ve, one of ancient Scandinavian gods and, together with Odin and Vili, the son of the primordial pair of giants Bor and Bestla.
The three brothers created heaven and earth from the slain body of the primeval being Ymir and built the twelve realms. They also created Ask and Embla, the first pair of humans.
Plus “Ve” was Duke’s Norse god nickname from when the boys were young.
Duke was cool as a cucumber. “Odin, I presume. Or perhaps Loki? Come on in. We can catch up.” It had been more than 60 years since the boys had seen each other. Cool for sure, going to the Norse god nicknames.
He walked them to his kitchen. His walls were filled with high quality reproductions of paintings depicting Father Jacques Marquette.
“For a while I was all about Father Jacques. He was fluent in six different indigenous dialects. He was with the first Europeans to see the Miississippi River. He died in 1675 when he was 37. Dude had stones. Every try standing up in a canoe?”
They sat in the kitchen, ate some Better Made potato chips, and drank Vernor’s Ginger Ale.
Better Made Chips and Vernor’s, Earl learned, are each a Michigan totem / fetish / icon.
So is Faygo, a pop with over 50 flavors. Earl was perfectly happy with Vernor’s and no Faygo.
Earl recounts what Duke told him:
“My uncle and aunt tried, they really tried with me. He worked for the railroad at the port, loading cars of ore onto barges.
“They weren’t prepared for kids, they weren’t prepared for me, and I wasn’t prepared for them. Just like I didn’t fit in with my real mom and dad and you guys, I didn’t fit in with them – towards the bad I kept on turning, taking reckless chances. When I was seven they put me into the orphanage.
“It was mostly Indian kids, taken from their families so they could assimilate better with the white world. Dig that! In ’63, after I was gone, they took in a group of Cuban boys whose families wanted them out of the way of La Revolucion. It was closed in ’67. It is now remodeled and is now Grandview Apartments, a modernized building with 56 apartments and views of Lake Superior from the top floor.
“The orphanage was run by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, a religious congregation for women with a main mission of the care and education of orphaned boys. In 1875 they initiated the practice of Perpetual Adoration – the exposure and adoration of the Eucharist constantly, 24 hours a day. The streak continues today. Pope John Paul II praised perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as a precious element of the Catholic heritage.
“I hated it. I hated the nuns, everything about it. Church, class, chores. Church, class, chores. Every fucking day. They wanted disciplined, hard-working and religious children. It ain’t me babe.
“And then the strangest thing happened. In late 1961, early ’62, Gene Chandler released ‘The Duke of Earl.’ We didn’t have a lot of access to rock and roll – the devil’s music – but I had a little transistor radio they never found.
“It was first recorded by The Dukays for Nat Records in 1960. Vee Jay Records bought it and had one of the band members, Eugene Dixon, change his name to Gene Chandler and take credit for it. The Duke is Earl Edwards, the founder of The Dukays.
“That song was a lifeline for me. The song flat-out rocked me, the doo-wop, the falsetto, the relentless beat. And his duke thing really rocked me – the Duchess of Earl, the dukedom. Damn! The Earl part didn’t hurt either – I never forgot you dude.
“It was cathartic, cleansing, purgative. All of a sudden I was comfortable in my own skin, comfortable as Duke. I called my dad and said I was ready to come home. He heard the tone in my voice and said he’d pick me up.
“I went home and things were fine. Not perfect, but fine.
“I graduated from high school. I failed the draft induction physical with my Osgood- Schlatter knee and so avoided a post-senior-year all-expenses-paid trip to southeast Asia.
I went to work for Bunny Bread and just retired last year. I was in marketing. Here is something I wrote: “From the first slice to the last, nothing compares to the soft, delicious taste of Bunny Bread! A favorite of all ages, it is the bread you can count on to give you freshness, great taste, and good nutrition. That’s What I Said… Bunny Bread!“
“It was a good job. It smelled real good. So that’s my deal.”
Earl opened another Vernor’s and asked his brother, “So, tell me Duke, how come and exactly why weren’t you surprised when I showed up at your door?”
“Marquette is pretty up and down, east and west, day and night dull AF It’s cold in the winter and barely warm in the summer. Perfect weather for dull.
“I collected my Brother Jaques painting, but I was Jonesing for something a bit more, dare I say – quirky.” My eyebrows went up. My curiosity was piqued.
“There was Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth – known as Little Bavaria, Muth, and The Muth. Five hours away but worth the trip.”
“There is the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay with its Anatomy of a Murder history. Big Bay is home to the annual Antique and Vintage Snowmobile Show. It’s a kick.
“The Mystery Spot just west of St. Igance, about three hours away It was voted Michigan’s No.1 unusual attraction by readers of Michigan Living Magazine. You will experience optical contradictions and physical sensations that are hard to believe.
In IIshpeming, 20 minutes away is Da Yoopers Tourist Trap. There is a gift shop of cliched Yupper swag and a “museum” and really cool stuff outside. Big Gus, the world’s largest working chainsaw, sits on a rise pointing towards the highway. It is 23 feet long and is powered by a V-8 engine
“The Pauling Mystery Light near Watersmeet, two hours away. Although stories related to the light vary, the most popular legend involves the death of a railroad brakeman. The legend states that the valley once contained railroad tracks and the light is the lantern of the brakeman who was killed while attempting to stop an oncoming train from colliding with railway cars stopped on the tracks.”
“In Marquette itself is the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival and Wife-Carrying Contest with a prize of the wife’s weight in beer.
“To me the iron boat loading dock is a quirky cathedral. Saying that is like Guy Clark comparing the Mona Lisa and Doc Watson.
“There used to be the sunken gardens at the prison. The nuns took me there a lot and told me that’s where I was going to end up I didn’t stop my sinning.”
“There are the haunted places – very weird.
“Boomerang Retro and Radios downtown is far out, at least by Marquette standards.
“The Bon Ton Cafe – to die for. It closed in ’67. A year later, the wrecking ball. Bastards!”
“There are the two giant fiberglass cow mascots of Jilbert’s Dairy.
“Downtown on Washington Street is the statue of Phil the window washer, Phil Niemisto, who worked tirelessly, rain or snow, washing merchants’ windows and planting and caring for a public garden. I hung with that dude sometimes. A quiet fellow on a mission. He grew up in the orphanage. We had that in common.
“Very best of all is the Lakenenland Sculpture Park about 15 miles east of Marquette.
“Roadside America says: ‘Ironworker Tom Lakenen has populated his 37-acre park with more than 100 sculptures, including monsters, aliens, and dinosaurs that he says he saw while drinking. Lakenen moved them here after his home town made him take them off of his lawn,’
“Lankenland blew me so entirely completely utterly fully wholly away, I started Goggling quirky things.”
I could now see where he was heading. He told Earl that in his internet travels he found the Quirky Berkeley post on private mail boxes and in that post learned that Earl was looking for him. He told Earl: ” It was only a matter of time. If you boys didn’t find me, I knew how to find you.”
Earl asked about the FIGHT HATE sign he carried.
Duke had gotten involved with the Quakers and the Lake Superior Friends Meeting in Marquette. The “Fight Hate” sign was in response to the 2018 photo of men holding up guns at a black doll that stirred up bad things in Marquette.
So there you have it – the Reader’s Digest version of Duke’s life, He lived only five hours from Earl all those decades.