Friday, October 12, 2012

The Cloquet/Moose Lake Fire – October 12, 1918 – Part II

Often during a disaster or horrific event, things happen that would normally be ordinary, but become extraordinary because they have become attached to the event. For example, a person misses a plane that later crashes, those individuals that were out of the World Trade Center for a dentist or doctor appointment on the morning of 9/11, or the people whose cars had just passed over the I35-bridge in Minneapolis seconds before it collapsed.

I consider the fact that my great-grandfather just happened to drive into Cloquet the afternoon of the fire, and learn from the Brookston fire refugees that the fire was moving towards Cloquet, one of those extraordinary events (see my blog for Oct.1, 2012). If he hadn’t known the fire was coming, would they have survived the fire? So many rural families didn’t.

Carlton County Vidette; Oct. 18, 1918; p. 1.  Duluth News Tribune; Oct. 14, 1918; p. 1. Duluth News Tribune; Oct. 13, 1918; p. 1.

There are other events surrounding this fire that seem unusually coincidental simply because of their timing with the fire:

The first bill for selective service during World War I became law on May 18, 1917. With few exceptions, all men between the ages of 21 and 30 years of age had to register for military service. The exemptions were men whose families were dependent on them for support and those holding jobs essential to the conduct of certain industries.

By September 12, 1918, the age requirements had been extended to include men 18-to 45-years-old.1

The draft call for men who were supposed to begin army training at Camp Grant in Illinois the week of October 7, 1918, was cancelled by military authorities due to the large number of influenza cases in the army camps. Thirty-one men from Carlton County were supposed to report under this call.2


The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19 is estimated to have killed 21.5 million people throughout the world. More than 500,000 deaths were recorded in the United States. In Philadelphia, over seven hundred city residents died on October 16th alone. This was more than had died on any previous day in the city’s history; even the infamous yellow fever epidemic of 1793 had caused fewer deaths.3

About 30,000 people in the U.S. Army died from influenza, and about 5,000 in the U.S. Navy. Approximately 211,000 cases were reported in army camps. Camp Grant alone suffered 10,713 influenza victims, including 1,060 deaths in a population of 40,000.4

More deaths were caused by the Spanish flu than the total number of lives lost in WWI.5

Einar Reponen, a soldier from Cloquet, died from the Spanish flu at Camp Grant, Ill., an army training camp, before he even had a chance to fight in WWI. His body, shipped home by train for his funeral and burial on Sunday, Oct. 13th,6 arrived in Cloquet the day before the fire. Some reports say he and his army-issue casket burned with his parents’ house, while others say his casket was sitting at the depot waiting for burial.


At noon on October 11, 1918, the Duluth city commissioners closed all public buildings, churches, schools and theaters in an attempt to check the spread of the Spanish Influenza in Duluth. The city had 27 actual cases at the time.7 At 6 p.m. that same day, Superior also decided to ban all theaters, clubs, and meetings of all kinds.8 Less than 12 hours later, both cities were inundated with thousands of fire refugees from Cloquet, Moose Lake and the surrounding area. 


Army Linen Drive – The army hospitals asked for linens for soldiers in the hospitals. At least one of the following articles was to be donated by each family in Cloquet before the drive closed on October 14, 1918:9

   Bath towel            19” X 38”

   Hand towels         18” X 30”

   Handkerchiefs      18” X 18”

   Napkins               14” X 14”

   Sheets                 64” X 102”


Completed in April 1918, Cloquet’s new $100,000 high school had only its walls left after the fire.10 When built, it had been considered fireproof. 

From the Duluth News Tribune, October 18, 1918, p. 8

The public library was extensively remodeled and enlarged during the summer of 1918. The last nail was pounded the morning of October 12th.10

Built in 1900, the Zion Lutheran Church was remodeled and redecorated in the fall of 1918. Dedication services were scheduled for Sunday, October 13th.10


Ole Kolseth owned a general store on the corner of Cloquet Avenue and 14th Street. It burned down on Good Friday in April 1918. He temporarily set up shop in a small storefront on Cloquet Avenue while he rebuilt his store. His family spent Saturday, October 12, the day of the fire, stocking shelves and getting ready for the new store’s Grand Opening that coming Monday.

That same day, Mr. Kolseth went to buy insurance on his new building, but the person he wanted to see was unavailable. Kolseth decided to come back later and get his policy. He never made it. His new store burned without insurance, and Kolseth rebuilt again, forced to pay off two stores at the same time for many years.9


Did any of your ancestors survive or fall victim to a disaster?  Do you know their story?
LLet me help you find out what parts of history your family had a role in.

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2Cloquet Pine Knot; “Draft Call is Postponed”; October 4, 1918; p. 1
5Skalco, Christine and Wisuri, Marlene; "Fire Storm. The Great Fires of 1918"; (Carlton County Historical Society. 2003) p.5.
6Cloquet Pine Knot. “Einar Reponen Dies at Camp Grant; Another Soldier in the Service of His Country is Called While in Training”; October 11, 1918; p. 1
7Duluth News Tribune; “Duluth Clamps Influenza Lid, 27 Cases Exist; Emergency Ordinance Adopted by City Closing Churches, Schools and Theaters; Ban May be Lifted in Ten Days if Disease is Checked; Affected Scattered Over City”; October 12, 1918; pp. 1 & 2.
8Duluth News Tribune; “Closing Order Hits All Indoor Meetings in City”; October 12, 1918; p. 2.
9Cloquet Pine Knot; “Army Linen Drive On”; October 11, 1918; p. 1
10Niemi, Harriet. “Awfullest fire horror in state's history;” (Cloquet Public Library, 1977)
p. 3.

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