Weekly series leading up to Ox Cart Days Events at the Carnegie

I will end this series leading up to Ox Cart Days activities at the Carnegie on Aug. 17, 18 and 19th.  This follows up from last week’s article about our Crookston firefighters and some history behind this necessary group of people who are trained to save lives.  Interesting to learn what happened during the three-day fire fighters convention held in Crookston as recorded in the Polk County Weekly Journal on June 13, 1901. “The firemen’s convention has been the all-absorbing event of the week in Crookston. The streets have been crowded all the time and a jollier lot of men never hit the pike for a good time.  Well behaved in every instance, sober, polite, gentlemanly, but full of fun this style of hilarity was commendable and contagious.”

    “The hotels were taxed to accommodate the guests, but they were all cared for without difficulty, though many slept in cots. Every visitor in the city is praising the local firemen and Crookston people in general for their success in entertaining the crowd and the hearty good will everywhere expressed.”

    “A large delegation headed by a guard of honor composed of Col. Cobham post G.A.R. escorted by the band met the Great Northern train upon which [Minnesota] Gov. Van Sant arrived. He spent the early hours looking over the state experiment station. The party consisted of several leading citizens and a number of the visiting delegates, and all were deeply interested in the work being done there under Supt. Hoverstad.”

    “The Association “wet test” and the work and ladder races with $100 purses hung up at the end of each one of them, $65 going to the winner and $35 to the second.  In the Association “wet test” the teams of 16 men each ran 100 yards with the carts, unreeled the hose, connected with a hydrant, broken connections in the hose, attached a nozzle and turned on a stream.”

    “Crookston made a beautiful run, a successful break of the coupling, attached the nozzle in record-breaking time, and although they waited nearly 10 seconds for water, complete the operation in 35 seconds.”

    “The hook and ladder race, there is a 150 yard run with the trucks, raising the 30 foot ladder and getting a man to the top. The time of this was much closer, Bemidji made a pretty run and got a man to the top in 35 seconds. Crookston followed and despite a slight slip in raising the ladder did the trick in 32 seconds. Hallock, too, had a little hard luck with the ladder and secured the last place with a record of 36 seconds.  Crookston boys won first place in all of yesterday’s events as they did the day before.”

    “The coupling contest was won by Fred Haris in 4 ¼ seconds, with is ¼ second under the Association record. In the ladder climbing contest there was a tie with Crookston and Hallock. Time: 7 ¼ seconds.  The hub and hub race of 200 yards was won by Crookston in 22 seconds, breaking the world’s record.”

    After reading all about the competitions, I wonder if firefighters today have similar events going on.  The importance of a ¼ of a second means that time counts.  If you see a fire truck with their sirens blasting and lights whirling, it is imperative that you quickly pull over to the side of the road.  These firefighters are trying to get to the fire in great haste in order to beat their foe.  

    Reading through the newspaper accounts of fires in the late 1800s and early 1900s, I have learned that fires were a major enemy to the early settlers in Crookston and surrounding area. Back then, the pioneers did not have the technology or equipment we perhaps take for granted today to go quickly to a fire to put it out. In addition, the roads were not as good for the running teams with fire hoses and other necessary tools to get to the emergency.  The fire fighters needed to congregate to learn from others how to defeat their dreaded foe of fire.  

    That is why it was important that Crookston hosted fire fighters from all over the state of Minnesota in June of 1901. Imagine having 2,000 extra people for a large convention in Crookston today! (Indeed, it would be an excellent problem to have for Crookston’s hotel and restaurant industry!)

    When these many Minnesota firefighters gathered in 1901, they might have discussed huge fires they had witnessed amongst themselves, swapping stories of tragedies that happened in their hometowns. Certainly one element was arson. Sometimes the culprit was caught and paid the consequences, other times not.  Businesses might have taken out fire insurance to protect their losses in the case of a fire, accidental or arson. If they did, it was usually to cover $500 of damage. Often there was no insurance and unfortunately total loss to the owners. Other times the newspapers would share the heroics of someone who was quick thinking and put a fire out before it became an out of control blaze.

    From both the Polk County Weekly Journal and the Crookston Weekly Times, I will give you an idea of what was common fire news 120 years ago.  For example, on Dec. 31, 1891, it was documented that a man was found guilty of burning a Fisher elevator. I wonder what the back story of that incident was. The journalist wrote, “The jury in the case of George O’Brien charged with setting fire to the elevator at Fisher, on trial at the time of going to press last week, brought in a verdict of guilty and O’Brien, was sentenced to four years in the St. Cloud reformatory.”

    On July 21, 1898, a young boy by the name of Harold Ray was saved from burning by a hired girl. On Feb. 3, 1900, two men by the names of McAdam and Kelley burned to death in East Grand Forks saloon fire. On July 7, 1900 there was a big blaze in Sampson’s butcher shop. On Oct. 27, 1900, four escaped death in a morning house fire. They were Mr. and Mrs. Bert Hallet, Vernie Hallet, Cora Ebbighausen. However, two of the Hallet family members were injured in the fire.

An arsonist was caught according to a Polk County Weekly Journal documentation of Jan. 10, 1901. Apparently, an incendiary device started a fire in Fosston Woolen Mill. “The flames were extinguished by the application of a few buckets full of water before any material damage resulted from the elements which would have destroyed the plant only for the timely discovery” of the fire.  Subsequently, “On Monday morning the owners of the mill caused the arrest of a young man named Carver, who had formerly been in the employ of the company but who had been discharged about two weeks ago.”

    Another blaze was recorded in the paper on Jan. 10, 1901 when a hotel fire at the old Windsor Hotel at East Grand Forks burned down the morning earlier. “Firemen worked hard to save adjoining buildings from destruction, loss partly covered by insurance.” Fortunately, the owners had $2,000 insurance but the loss of building amounted to around $4,500.

    The journal continued, “About 6:00 yesterday morning fire broke out in the old Windsor hotel at East Grand Forks… The flames spread so rapidly that nothing whatever of the contents could be saved and the entire two-story frame structure was soon reduced to ashes. The flames had gained such headway that it soon became apparent that there was absolutely no hope of saving the building.”

    “An adjoining building, a saloon had a close call and was a number of times on fire. When it was found by the fire boys that the burning hotel was beyond saving, their energies were directed to stop the fire from spreading further...to check the flames where they did, was only accomplished after a desperate fight. The owners of the lots upon which the hotel stood, propose to rebuild as soon as the debris can be cleared away and will put up a solid, two-story brick block.”

    I was surprised to learn that as early as Jan. 26, 1901, the railroads had fire extinguishers. A headline reads, “Tagley puts out boxcar fire with extinguisher.” A month later, in Feb. 21, 1901, The Polk County Weekly Journal reported, “Fertile restaurant badly gutted by fire, that the fire was confined to the inside of the building is largely due to the effective work of the fire laddies, and the owners of the restaurant feel themselves under obligations to the department.”  Sadly, in April 13, 1901, the Crookston Weekly Times reported, “Maggie Riggers dies in fire at her Ada Millinery Store.”

    The McKinnon brothers who had early built up brick buildings in Crookston, on the corner of Robert and South Main suffered loss on their farm.  In June of 1901, they also suffered loss on the McKinnon block $14,000 damage due to fire.” Soon after that, because of lightning, a fire destroyed a large Allan J. McKinnon barn.  

On Aug. 22, 1901, during harvest season, seven men were sleeping in the McKinnon barn. Here’s the rest of the story, “a bolt of lightning caused the destruction of the large barn on the McKinnon farm, loss aggregates $1,200, insurance $500. At the time of the occurrence, there were seven of the men engaged in harvesting on the premises who were sleeping in the hayloft, but none of them were injured. The manager, Ed Lucas, said that while he was not actually stunned by the bolt, he felt as if he had fallen a 100 feet through space.”

    “There were 20 horses in the barn at the time and none of them were in the least injured. They building contained about 20 tons of hay and this at once caught fire. The men hastened to get to the stock, and every animal was gotten out safely. All the feed in the barn, some harnesses many smaller tools and about 75 chickens were burned.  The building and contents were valued at $1,200 and the firm carried insurance amounting to $500.”

    After reading through all the aforementioned fires, you get an idea of what goes on in the head of any firefighter today.  They hear the stories, they know the danger and yet they want to save lives and buildings against their arch enemy, FIRE! Same is true today as it was 116 years ago according to the 1901 newspaper accounts.

    I conclude with this series and hope you can join us to get fired up at the Carnegie during Ox Cart Days. We will be open starting on Thursday, Aug. 17 from 10 to 5:00, Friday the same hours and on Saturday from 10:00 to 3:00 p.m.  Come see the firefighter’s memorabilia along with all of the local art and photography talent we will have on display as well.