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February 18, 2008

The story of a man's life alone

DCN Reporter

Glenn Albert Bridges' small apartment contains everything he needs to live. A single bed with sheets askew fills one corner. A table that doubled as a desk sits against the opposite wall, next to a window with a view of a busy downtown Duluth street.

On top of a tall, narrow dresser, a small LCD TV, easily the most expensive thing in the room, faces the bed. His cramped closet holds a few clothes. A single light bulb casts a glow to all corners.

Outside his front door, a community shower and two bathrooms stare back from the other side of the hallway. A creaky set of stairs guides the way to the main floor, and a double set of doors leads outside, a trip Bridges must have taken many times in the 15 months he lived here.

"He'd stop in once a week and just talk," said Frank Bedard, a longtime friend and owner of Twin Ports Pawn on Second Street.

Bedard and Bridges first met almost 20 years ago, when Bedard's former partner at the pawnshop met Bridges and wanted to help him out. Bridges started doing odd jobs around the shop, and Bedard got to know him.

"He had a good sense of humor, always upbeat, generally a nice guy," said Bedard. "He was always joking."

Although Bridges stopped working at the pawnshop almost ten years ago, and was now on disability, Bedard and Bridges still kept in contact.

"I had to go look at my calendar," said Bedard. "I couldn't believe it had been a month. That was when I noticed his name wasn't on my calendar."

On a calendar, Bedard keeps track of when people come to visit him at the shop, and it had been a while since he had seen Bridges. He didn't think anything of it until he got a call in the early part of November.

The call came from Kolleen Kennedy, a Saint Louis County medical examiner investigator.

She told him Bridges had died from natural causes in his small apartment. He was 59. Bridges died in early October, but his body wasn't found until October 31. He was dead for almost a month before his landlord found him.

Bedard got the call because he was listed as a contact person in case of emergency.
Elizabeth Bluebird also knew Bridges well.

"He used to be my boyfriend," said Bluebird, voice breaking. "For over 20 years. I miss him a lot."

Bluebird was away visiting family in Winnipeg and on the Lac La Croix Reservation on the Minnesota-Canadian border when Bridges died, so she had no idea he had passed away. When she came home, she got the bad news.

"Frank, you know, from the Twin Ports Pawn, called and said 'Glenn passed away,'" said Bluebird. "I almost had a heart attack."

Bluebird said Bridges was a Vietnam veteran. He came to Duluth from Texas in the late '70s, and that's when Bluebird met him.

"He was handsome," Bluebird fondly recalled. "He was still handsome when he died."

Bridges had a history of drinking, she said. He quit for awhile when he lived with Bluebird, but she remembers when he started again.

"He said, 'Honey, I think I'm going to drink,'" said Bluebird with a hint of sadness. "He moved into the Seaway Hotel, and got chased out for drinking. He used to drink by himself. He was a loner in a way, I guess."

They lived together, lived apart, had fights and bouts of drinking. She even had a miscarriage. But she still thinks about him.

"'OK baby,' he'd say. He would always call me his wife, and we'd call each other 'old man' and 'old woman.' I still love him wherever he is. He's still mine."

Since no immediate family was available to handle the funeral, Saint Louis County buried Bridges in a small, unmarked grave in Park Hill Cemetery. Kennedy said Bridges was the fourth unclaimed death in Duluth in 2007. There was no one there to view the body or attend a ceremony.

On the day of Bridges' death in early October, it's likely he headed through the double doors, up those creaky steps, past the community bathrooms, and into his room for the last time, with no way of knowing that upon closing the door, he would never again venture into the outside world.

No friends stopped by to say hello. No family came to check up on him. All calls that were made to his cell phone were left unanswered. For almost a month, he laid in solitude, peaceful and alone.