Shoppers never know what they’ll find at Artifacts vintage store in Iowa City. Last week I found Duluth.
Artifacts is a regular stop on our Iowa City family visits and we’ve brought back a lot of great things from the place. Like the wedding ring I’m wearing right now.
The store is crammed with old furniture, vintage clothes, bizarre nick-knacks, cool art and – as their slogan goes – anything that isn’t boring. It’s a place antique lovers – 420 miles from home with limited vehicle storage capacity – should not visit.
But we always do.
It usually starts with breakfast at the wonderful Bluebird Diner. Artifacts is across the street. The store shines like a neon sign through the dining room plate-glass windows. Like someone with a throbbing sweet tooth attracted to a bakery, we know something is in there, something we will take home, something we really don’t need, but something we will love.
After greeting the shop keeper and looking through a box of belt buckles, l circled the recent furniture arrivals and moved to the back of the store. I looked at some old posters, tossed around in a collection of baseball caps and stopped at a eight-foot high book shelf.
Jen was headed for the vintage dress rack. This could be awhile.
I decided to explore a shoe box full of found photos, a stack of mostly old black and white pictures abandon by Iowa families as relatives passed on. You see things like great uncle Jim posing next to his 1938 Ford, or three ladies in poodle skirts at a picnic. The nostalgia level is high and sometimes the pictures become accidental art.
I reached up on the book shelf and plunged my hand into the box.
I pulled out maybe 50 pictures and flipped them over one-by-one on an open counter space.
On maybe the fifth picture I STRUCK GOLD.
The black and white image, no bigger than a business card, was a snapshot of the old Duluth aerial transfer bridge gondola. It had to be. There was nothing else like the aerial transfer bridge in country. The transfer bridge was the predecessor to the current aerial lift bridge. When it was constructed in 1905, the bridge ferried passengers across the ship canal in a 150-passenger gondola connected to the bridge span. In 1929, a roadway lift replaced the transfer system.
There were no markings on the back but a quick Google image search confirmed my theory: An Iowa farmer had vacationed in Duluth and snapped the picture.
I rummaged through the box for another 15 minutes in search of more historic Duluth snapshots. There were no whale-back ships floating through the canal. No skyline shots from the hills. No lake landscapes from the beach. No matter. I had already found my buried treasure.
The shopkeeper cheered my find and then hit me with the price: 50-cents.
Duluth gold is pretty cheap in Iowa.