May 11, 1928: Explosion in Woodland kills two

On this day in Duluth in 1928, an explosion of fireworks in the Woodland neighborhood killed 19-year old John Erikson and severely injured Everett Campbell, who owned the illegal fireworks factory where Erikson was employed. According to Heidi Bakk-Hansen, “This was no minor explosion. The mushroom cloud could be seen in downtown Duluth, and those from the neighborhood knew immediately what had happened. The explosion blew several buildings off their foundations, cracked chimneys, broke dishes in nearby kitchens and blew out every window on one side of Cobb School, which was in session at the time. The accompanying fire lasted some hours.” Campbell, who had crawled into a nearby swamp after the blast, died five days later, leaving his pregnant wife Lilybell a widow. Subsequent lawsuits brought by her neighbors soon rendered her financially destitute. Childhood friends told newspapers that Campbell “had a fascination with blowing stuff up from the time he was old enough to light a match.” He worked as a motorcycle-riding itinerant preacher who made some extra money manufacturing and selling bootleg fireworks from a stand at the junction of Howard-Gnesen and Calvary Roads. Read more about the history of Woodland here.

Caption: Everett Campbell, Woodland resident, itinerant preacher, and bootleg fireworks manufacturer. (Image: private collection of Diane Oesterreich.)

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