Casket Quarry: what’s in a name?

Casket Quarry in full conditions (note climber, upper left)

Casket Quarry—it sounds ominous, threatening, even…dangerous? In fact, while climbing is exciting to be sure, it’s also super fun for folks of all ages and skill levels, and, using proper gear and techniques, quite safe. Insurance companies consider playing soccer to be a more injury-prone activity. So how did Casket Quarry get that unfortunate name?

Concrete Burial VaultIn the 1970s, when Duluthians first started ice climbing here in earnest, the adjacent property (where Epicurean Inc. is currently located) was occupied by the Polaris Wilbert Vault Company, a manufacturer of concrete burial vaults. These were essentially concrete liners for graves (the casket went inside). Nevertheless, these things looked a lot like coffins and were stacked all along the railroad tracks below the quarry.

As climbers trudged up to ply their skills, they couldn’t help but consider the presence and irony of the empty, casket-like vaults. Since the place didn’t have an official name other than “the quarry,” the climbers soon began to refer to it as “the quarry by all the caskets” and then “casket quarry.” The earliest reference in print is in the first edition of Superior Climbs—the original climbing guide to the North Shore—published in 1984. Although “Casket” Quarry may reinforce stereotypes about the perceived risks of ice climbing, among climbers, the name has always been applied tongue-in-cheek.