Saturday, December 1, 2012

Memorials to Disasters that Changed Minnesota, Part I

You’ve probably never read about Minnie Fisher,1 Ole P. Schel2 or Arthur Wolford3 in your Minnesota History books. They were not politicians, famous generals or inventors; they were ordinary people doing ordinary things until their deaths played a role in Minnesota’s history. Their names are now listed on memorials dedicated to victims of some of Minnesota’s largest historical disasters…and instigators of change.

The Sea Wing Disaster - 18901

Minnie Fisher, 18, drown in the 1890 Sea Wing disaster, one of the worst accidents recorded on the nation's inland waterways. Minnie was one of 98 passengers killed when the Sea Wing, a steamer heavily loaded with 215 passengers and crew, rolled over in the Mississippi River near Lake City, Minn. A memorial to the Sea Wing victims can be found in Red Wing’s Levee Park. Captain Wethern, who lost his wife and youngest son in the accident, survived but was later found guilty of negligence by federal steamboat inspectors.

Sea Wing Disaster MemorialLevee Park, Red Wing, Minn.

Photo taken by Pamela J. Erickson. Released into the public domain December 1, 2012,
as long as acknowledgement included.

The Wasburn Mill Explosion - 1878

Ole P. Schel was one of 18 men killed when the Washburn Mill exploded on May 2, 1878; one of the most infamous flour mill explosions in history. It "pulverized the main building, and devastated seven more. The explosion was so powerful that it broke windows as far away as St. Paul and limestone blocks from the building were thrown into yards up to eight blocks away. There was no dust catching filter in use because, although there had been several explosive incidents in Europe, no one believed that the dust could actually catch fire and explode.

At the time of the explosion, the 'A' mill was the largest flour mill in the country. The explosion served as a wakeup call for owners of other mills. This was the definitive proof they needed to start eliminating the flour dust from their operations. It led directly to the use of an 1845 invention, the dust machine, which collected dust from milled grain." 4

A memorial to the 18 victims of the Washburn Mill explosion can be found in Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minn.

The Washburn Mill Explosion Memorial, Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minn.

Photo taken by Pamela J. Erickson. Released into the public domain December 1, 2012,
as long as acknowledgement included.

Victims' names on the Washburn Mill Explosion Memorial

The Wasburn Mill Explosion

The Milford Mine Disaster – 1924

Arthur Wolford, 33, was one of 41 miners who lost their lives "in the Milford Mine disaster on Feb. 5, 1924, [one of] the worst mining accidents in Minnesota history." 5

It "is believed to have begun when a surface cave-in of six or eight feet at the mine's easternmost end tapped into mud with a direct connection with [a] nearby lake. For the men working that day, there was a single vertical shaft to the surface and life. Seven men made it. The water basically lapping at the heels of the last man out. The disaster fell upon them with incredible speed." 5

A memorial for miners killed on the Cuyuna Range in Ironton,6 Minn., includes the names of the 41 victims of the Milford Mine disaster. An investigative committee appointed by Governor Jacob Preus found that while obvious mistakes were made, management was absolved of negligence. However, the committee did suggest that several mine safety improvements be implemented.7

                             Cuyuna Range Miners Memorial, Ironton, Minn.

Disasters cause deaths, but they also bring about change—in laws, in innovation, in safety regulations, etc.  Do you have an ancestor that was killed in one of Minnesota’s natural or man-made disasters?

LLet me help you find out what parts of history your family had a role in.

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