It was at this location on October 25, 2002, that a plane carrying U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, three campaign staffers, and two pilots crashed while attempting to land at Eveleth, Minnesota, killing all eight. The two-time Democrat Senator for Minnesota was on the campaign trail, and was due to appear in Duluth that evening for a debate, but made a detour to Eveleth to attend the funeral of Martin Rukavina, a steelworker whose son Tom, served in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
The son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, the fiery senator was described by The Economist as the soul of the Democratic Party, fighting for progressive causes, no matter the odds. Despite his leftist populist leanings, Wellstone garnered respect and admiration from both sides of the aisle for refusing to compromise his beliefs and his willingness to debate and engage with anyone. Never afraid of being the loneliest man in the Senate, he was always up for a fight, especially for the causes of peace, the environment, and health care. His election to the Senate in 1990 as a Democrat (DFL), and re-election in 1996, were the results of his grassroots campaign, which engaged the poor, minorities, and college students, most of whom had not been previously engaged in politics.
In 2002, while in the midst of a re-election campaign for his third term in the Senate, Wellstone decided to miss a fundraising event in Minneapolis, and instead, attend the funeral of the father of his DFL friend Tom Rukavina before a debate later that day in Duluth. While making its approach into Eveleth, the Beechcraft King Air A100 in which they were flying went down, killing the Wellstones, along with staffers Mary McEvoy, Tom Lapic, and Will McLaughlin, and pilots Richard Conry and Michael Guess. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) rules the cause of the crash to be “the flight crew’s failure to maintain adequate airspeed, which led to an aerodynamic stall from which they did not recover.”
The memorial has a central welcome area, which splits into two parts: On the right, is a path leading to the location of the crashed plane. The path only goes part way, on a raised wooden platform. To make it the actual site, will require walking several hundred feet through dense forest.
On the left side, there is a circular path, with placards and information on the life and impact of Paul Wellstone, starting with his parents’ escape from Russia, his education at UNC - Chapel Hill (where he was an undefeated wrestler in the Atlantic Coast Conference), his time teaching at Carleton College, his civic activism in the state of Minnesota, which would lead to his election to the U.S. Senate.
Know Before You Go
For those wanting to walk to the site of the plane crash, please note that the woods are very dense. Hiking boots are strongly recommended, along with long sleeves and long pants.
The circular trail on the left side is not paved, but is flat and fairly even.