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June 19, 1909: Five Men and 68 Horses Die in Fire

On this day in Duluth in 1909, five men died trying to save 68 horses trapped inside the Board of Trade Building’s livery stables. The deceased, who were trapped in the basement and died of asphyxia, included William Nichols, 55, Charles Dryer, 45, Adolph Rock, 50, P. Peterson, 27, and Hjalmer Kampbring, 27 (first identified as A. Gustafson). All of them worked at the livery. The deaths came as a shock: firefighters had thought the building was empty of people when their efforts began, so no attempt was made to locate the stable workers. A “chute” lead from the basement, where the horses were stabled, to the street above. Nichols’ body was found at the base of the chute; inside the shoot, Adolph Rock’s body lie next to that of the horse he was leading out at the moment he was overcome. The newspaper articles do not report how many horses the men guided to freedom, and the stories all referred to the horses as “dumb brutes,” as if to remind readers the the “real” tragedy here was the loss of the men, not the horses. Police Chief Chauncy Troyer blamed the deaths on the stable owner’s failure to comply with an ordinance for proper exits. Meanwhile, local funeral homes and the stable had to fight off crowds of “mostly morbid onlookers” who wanted to see the bodies. The cause of the fire was never determined. A blacksmith had been working at the stable, but had extinguished his torch at least ten minutes before the flames were spotted. Spontaneous combustion of the horse’s hay was considered, but never determined.

A postcard of Duluth’s 1895 Board of Trade building made between 1900 and 1915. (Image: Zenith City Press)d of trade

Workin’ on the Rail Road…book…

Thanks to everyone who turned out to Glensheen for our annual February of Wednesday night Zenith City on Taps—and of course thanks to Glensheen’s fantastic staff for hosting the event and making it free for anyone who wants to attend, and to Bellesio’s for bringing the beer and wine. Next year’s presentations will include “Prohibition…