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Man tumbles over highest waterfall in Minnesota, take two

The path on which the rescue squad carried Nyhuis out of the state park. Courtesy of Nyhuis.1 / 7
The article the Two Harbors Chronicle and Times published about Nyhuis's fall in 1964.2 / 7
The article the Sheboygan Press published about Nyhuis's accident and his handwritten notes. His parents lived in Sheboygan, Wis. at the time.3 / 7
The photo taken by Gronvall just before Nyhuis fell. You can see him at the very top right of the photo. Courtesy of Nyhuis4 / 7
The high falls last winter from about the same spot Nyhuis was standing in when he fell. Bob King5 / 7
Nyhuis enjoying his vacation before the accident.6 / 7
Gronvall on the Isle Royal ferry before the accident. Courtesy of Nyhuis.7 / 7

Paul Nyhuis contacted the News-Chronicle recently to see if we had any record of his fall from the Baptism Falls High Falls in 1964. In conversations with Nyhuis over the course of several days it was learned that he had fallen over the cascade, the highest in Minnesota, bounced off a rock face and plunged into deeper water. Though he hit a rock ledge that bruised his hip and broke his arm, the collision probably saved his life by deflecting his body away from the rocks at the bottom of the falls.

A search through the archives produced the story, which was originally published in the Sept. 3, 1964 issue of the Two Harbors Chronicle and Times. According to Nyhuis, however, nearly all of the details reported in the story were wrong.

First, they claimed that it was James Gronvall who fell into the falls. Gronvall, Nyhuis's friend, was there when Nyhuis fell, but was taking pictures . He helped find a phone to call for help.

The Chronicle and Times article also said the victim fell 25 feet. In fact, the High Falls are between 60 and 70 feet high.

Finally, the article said that the victim "lost his footing" before tumbling into the falls. At the time, Nyhuis said he thought that was the case at the time.

"I figured that I must have slipped and was embarrassed about it after teaching water safety to kids all summer at a camp near McGregor," he said in an e-mail.

During a later visit to the park, he discovered that the bank had actually collapsed under him. As the bank fell into the river, it took him with it.

After Nyhuis tumbled over the falls, he swam to shore to avoid going over the next set of falls just downstream. Gronvall helped Nyhuis out of the water and treated him for shock. Then Gronvall asked a family nearby, the Engebretsons, for help. They sent their son to Highway 61, where he found a phone and called for assistance. The Silver Bay Fire Department and Rescue Squad responded, carrying a stretcher and equipment 1.5 miles to the River where Nyhuis waited. They then carried him out of the park and took him to the Reserve Mining Company infirmary, where was treated for his broken arm and bruised hip.

"I am indebted to the rescuers from Silver Bay," Nyhuis said via e-mail.

Gronvall and Nyhuis had been camping and hiking in the area at the time of the accident when the park was called Baptism River State Park. It later became a part of Tettegouche State Park.

Nyhuis, who now lives in Cottage Grove, Minn., went on to become a physics and astronomy professor and then worked for ten years in pastoral care at the Crossroads Church in Woodbury, Minn. He and Gronvall are still friends.

Nyhuis said the incident initiated a lifelong fear of heights.

If any of our readers know more about the folks who helped rescue Nyhuis, give us a call at the News-Chronicle office.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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