The Duluth Flood Drowned My Record Collection


On Wednesday morning I woke up to my wife telling me that my car had been flooded overnight and that I should maybe check on our basement.

Over the past few years, I have restored my basement, making it into a great room to listen to music in, like a sort of man cave. Sure, basements in Duluth have a reputation for dampness, but I thought I could beat Mother Nature.

I was wrong.

When I went down in my basement, which has a floor built an inch above the concrete just in case of any flooding, I could see that 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 to check on them. They seemed okay, so I brought them all upstairs 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 told my wife I was going to run to Menards for a wet/dry vacuum. I first went for my car parked on the street, but the seat was wet and it didn’t start. Luckily my wife’s car was parked in the driveway, which was a little higher up, and it started. There was some water that shot out of the exhaust, but I figured it was just minor.

This was all at about 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning, and because I hadn’t even turned on the television or radio yet 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 Highway 35 ramp was closed and Superior Street was a parking lot on the east end of town, so I took 3rd  Street to get to the west side of Duluth. There were a few minor signs of damage, but nothing too bad.

When I got to the west side of town 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 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 was intense. I took a few back streets, but when I emerged near 21st Avenue West 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 began to tell me that our street was now under several feet of water, my car was under, 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.

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 three 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.

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 car parked out front, a 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 my 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 $1000 or best offer. It may end up being scrapped.

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 three hundred and fifty 45rpm records were ruined. The 45s I am working on drying out, but the labels are tearing off.

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 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.

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 bended 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 a local musician read on Facebook that my record collection was destroyed. He 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 that he pressed onto vinyl. He now has 49 of them. 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 music.