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.

Contact me at:

For more information on my Family History Research services, visit and click on Family History Research in the left-hand column.

On This Date in Minnesota History: December 1

December 1, 1942 - Char-Gale, a sheet metal and furnace company based in Minneapolis, opened a plant in St. Cloud one week before Pearl Harbor and eight short days before the United States entered WWII. “The company originally hired men but as the need to fill jobs increased they were forced to seek help from across state lines, and even hire women. Prospective employees were paid 50 cents an hour for training classes which they took at St. Cloud Technical High School. During the war the company was contracted to build airplane fuselages for the C-46 aircraft. During its peak the company employed about 1,400 men and women.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

On This Date in Minnesota History: November 30

November 30, 1889 – Shortly after 10 o’clock this evening, smoke was seen issuing from the Minneapolis Tribune building at 4th St. and Nicollet Ave. Later in the evening, the eight-story building was totally destroyed by fire and seven men were dead -- one of them having taken a revolver out of his pocket and shot himself in the head rather than face death by fire.
The Sunday Tribune; “Fire’s Fearful Fatality”; Minneapolis, Minn.; December 1, 1889; pp.1 & 6.

4th St. and Nicollet Ave. in downtown Minneapolis today
Photo taken by Pamela J. Erickson. Released into the public domain November 30, 2012, as long as acknowledgement included.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

On This Date in Minnesota History: November 29

November 29, 1971 – A press conference was held at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport two days after the well-mannered hijacker D. B Cooper jumped off Northwest Flight 305’s “rear stairway, presumably wearing a parachute and carrying a bag holding $200,000 in cash.”

FBI Poster of D. B Cooper

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On This Date in Minnesota History: November 28

November 28, 2003 – “DNA evidence [confirms that Minnesota native and American Aviator Charles] Lindbergh, who made the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, had a secret, second family in Germany with a Munich hatmaker, Brigitte Hesshaimer. Anton Schwenk, a spokesman for the family, announced [today] that DNA tests, conducted by the LMU Institute in Munich, had established a 99.9 percent likelihood that the most famous US airman of the 20th century was the father of Dyrk Hesshaimer, David Hesshaimer and Astrid Bouteuil. [This information] puts a considerable dent in Mr Lindbergh's image as a wholesome family man. He and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, had six children together during a 45-year marriage.”

Charles Lindberg


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On This Date in Minnesota History: November 27

November 27, 1969 – “The Vikings shut out Detroit, 27-0, at Tiger Stadium to clinch the franchise’s 2nd division title. The victory over the Lions was the 10th of a 12-game win streak, the longest in the NFL in 35 years. Minnesota finished the season with the NFL’s best record (12-2) of ’69.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

On This Date in Minnesota History: November 26

November 26, 1986 – Minnesota Attorney General Hubert (Skip) Humphrey III filed suit to “protect the public from misleading ads about a diminutive imitation of Santa Bear, the Yuletide bruin bombshell of the Dayton Hudson Department Store Co. The state is alleging that Direct Marketing Enterprising, Ltd., a New York mail order firm, has duped consumers around the nation by touting its (7-inch) Santa Bear as the original for $5, while Dayton’s and Detroit-based Hudson’s sell their 15-inch model for $10 with a $50 purchase.”
Minneapolis Star and Tribune; “Suit calls NYC Santa Bear an impostor”; November 27, 1986; p. 13B.

Dayton’s Santa Bear

Photo taken by Valerie Morawetz.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On This Date in Minnesota History: November 25

November 25, 1906 – In Hibbing, an unknown foreign gentleman passed five phoney checks, “each for $70.00 and each drawn in favor of Henry Lewis and signed by the Republic Iron and Steel Co., per C. T. Fairbairn, and attested by L.G. Jenks, treasurer,” who had been dead for several months. The foreigner had hand printed the checks himself, including the border, using a pen. He was taken into custody by Officer Little, but managed to sneak out the back door of one of the victim’s saloon while the officer was interviewing the victim.
The Hibbing Tribune; “Makes Own Checks, Several Saloon Men Swindled By Unique Forgery, All Pen Work, Caught in Act of Passing a Check But Eludes the Officer”; November 29, 1906; p. 1.