Storm Claims Four Lives: 50 Years Later

Special Report: Deadly Storm

DULUTH, Minn. – 50 years ago wicked weather caused a tragedy that is still breaking hearts today.

“I didn’t know what was happening up here and the tragedy that was unfolding,” said Capt. Tom Mackay, a friend of storm victim Edgar Culbertson.

As Sunday, April 30, 1967, came to a close it took four lives with it.

Three young men, 16-year-old twins Nathan and Arthur Halverson and their older brother Eric Halverson, were looking for an adrenaline rush after attending a church event at First united Methodist Church.

“The brothers had gone down, unbeknown to anybody at the church, had gone down and decided that they were going to go from light pole to light pole,” said David Grant, who was in youth group with the boys. He describes them as being great friends.

“We, you know, had fun. I mean we did mischievous things like teenagers do,” said Grant.

But this night mischievous fun ended in tragedy.

“Two of the three had made it to the end when the third one got hit by a rogue wave,” described Grant.

A mission to prove they were invincible claimed the lives of the Duluth East students.

“The first two brothers that were safe went back to help their brother,” Grant continued.

As the waves swept the brothers away local heroes stepped up.

“All three of them, were the type that if asked to do something like they did on a rescue attempt, they were the type that would do it,” said Mackay.

Edgar Culbertson, Richard Callahan and Ronald Prei were in the U.S. Coast Guard and stationed in Duluth.

Tying themselves together they set out on a rescue mission.

“I know Casey, I remember his arm was all busted up from the rope,” said Mackay.

For Edgar Culbertson, it was more than an injury.

The husband and father of two lost his life.

Capt. Tom Mackay, a Park Point native, knew them well from socializing at the Sand Bar. He says Culbertson was “a great guy.”

Ed’s memory lives with him and he makes it part of his life’s work to ensure these four lives are never forgotten.

“I took it upon myself to preserve the memory of the three boys and the tragedy and also especially the memory of my friend Ed,” said Mackay.

Every April 30 you’ll find Mackay placing four flowers at a plaque in Canal Park recognizing Ed’s sacrifice. It’s just one thing he’s done to keep the story living on.

“We call ourselves Romeos, retired old men eating out,” Mackay says of his lunch group.

The group put together a ceremony in 2007 in honor of the 40th Anniversary, but not many showed up.

A Coastguardsman who was working with the Marine Safety Unit at the time took on the project.

Kevin Rofidal organized a ceremony two years later.

“There were hundreds of people on this pier and speakers, a military band, bagpiper, there was a salute by about 10 riflemen,” said Mackay.

This salute is not the only way Northlanders are honoring these victims.

“This beautiful chapel that we’re in was built in memory of the four,” said Grant.

A chapel inside First United Methodist Church was dedicated to the three brothers and Culbertson.

“To bring a visitor to church in here and explain to them what the chapel is about brings tears to my eyes,” said Grant.

 

It’s an accident that now serves as a reminder for a safety.

“Through the tragedy, we now have gates on the piers so that during a large storm people can’t go out there, as tempting as it might be,” said Mackay.

Some will always wonder what could have been if those gates had been there that night to shut out the opportunity for adventure.

“What could they have accomplished, where would their lives have taken them? What kind of family would they have brought up? Their lives were cut short,” said Grant.

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