Tuesday, April 11, 2017

On This Date in Minnesota History: April 11

April 11, 1910 – Serving a life sentence for murder, a convict in the Stillwater prison known as “Sinbad the Sailor,” gave up a chance to escape during the excitement of the fire near the prison today and worked heroically to save the prison from the flames.

That the prison was not destroyed is said to be due almost entirely to his efforts and those of another convict whose name was not given out. “Sinbad” was employed at the greenhouse when the first signs of the flames appeared.

Warden Henry Wolfer’s house was saved, only suffering a severe scorching of the paint, and that the entire north end of Stillwater is not in ruins is a miracle. The estimated total loss of $65,000 is only partially covered by insurance.

Stillwater Prison 18851

Of unknown origin, the fire started at 2 p.m. in the warehouse of the Northwest Thresher Company. The flames spread rapidly fanned by a strong east wind. At 5 p.m. the fire was out and that more damage was not accomplished was due to the efforts of the Stillwater fire department, in addition to hundreds of volunteers, men, women, and children, who worked diligently to save the city.

The Northwest Thresher Company 19082

This view is across the street from the Territorial Prison on Main Street looking toward the Northwest.

Lines of hose were run over the hill. Volunteers fought behind barricades, the flames were so fierce.

Company K of the Minnesota National Guard, Captain Nolan commanding, patrolled the streets, giving the city the appearance of being under martial law. All the west side of Main Street from the Stillwater Manufacturing Company’s plant to the prison was in flames.

From Linden Street on the south as far west as the ravine, the flames swept. The employees  of the Street Railway Company helped push many street cars out of the fire zone.

A portion of the St. Paul fire department arrived by train within an hour after the first alarm was sounded, but it was thought unnecessary to remove the apparatus from the train.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Convicts Fight Fire Threatening Prison. Flames Warded From State Penitentiary by Efforts of Two Inmates. Disastrous Visitation Results in Loss of $65,000 to Stillwater. Three City Squares Swept and Citizens Put Up Heroic Battle.”; April 12, 1910; p.1.



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