Tuesday, November 15, 2016

On This Date in Minnesota History: November 15

November 15, 1880 – Shortly before 8 p.m., St Peter, Minn., was startled by an alarm of fire at the hospital for the insane, a short distance south of the city. The whole community was aroused, and within minutes everyone was enroute to the massive structure.

Huge volumes of smoke poured from the windows, and occasionally a bright tongue of flame leaped out, serving as a beacon in the darkness for the crowds rushing to the scene.

Attendants were busy rescuing patients; little thought was given to the property being destroyed, but all seemed anxious to save human lives. The more docile patients were easily removed from the building, and placed under charge of a keeper who took them to places of safety as far from the blaze as possible.

St. Peter Hospital for the Insane1

Many patients did not seem to understand why they were being turned out of their comfortable quarters into the cold November evening, with some of them showing symptoms of rebellion. The more violent of the patients were a source of great apprehension, requiring the keepers to make great efforts to get them to safety.

After the inferno “was over, there were forty-four of the inmates missing; some were returned the next day; the remains of eighteen bodies were found in the ruins, seven died from effects of injuries, and six were never accounted for.2

“In 1881-2-3 the buildings were rebuilt, and every precaution taken to secure absolute safety from such a sad occurrence again. The origin of this fire has ever remained a mystery, as it commenced in a portion of the building where no fire was ever used for any purpose in carrying on the institution.”2

St. Paul Daily Globe; “Awful Disaster. Night of Horror at St. Peter. The Magnificent Insane Asylum Completely Destroyed by Fire. Scene of Alarm Confusion. Maniacs Turned Loose by the Hundreds. Wild Reports of Loss of Life. Number of Victims Unknown But First Reports Place it One or Two Hundred. Late Report More Favorable. But Nothing Absolutely Definite Can Now Be Told. Immense Property Destroyed. Footing Up a Loss to the State of Over Half a Million.”; Nov. 16, 1880; p. 1.




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