February 22, 1888: Four die in dynamite explosion west of Downtown Duluth

On this day in Duluth in 1888, four people were killed and 13 others injured in a dynamite explosion on Fourth Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues West. Construction crews were blasting away rock through a hill on Fourth Street to maintain the road’s grade when some dynamite went off prematurely. The blast “hurled rough pieces [of rock] in every direction, some which struck the unlucky laborers with fearful violence, while others more ponderous rolled upon their victims.” Those who could immediately began helping the wounded, and within thirty minutes three teams of men were carrying the “mangled bodies of the eight most seriously injured” to St. Luke’s Hospital All of the dead—Andrew Grytdall, Aaron Erickson, Andrew Eklund, and A. Mattson—were unmarried laborers in their twenties. The severely wounded included Charles Mattson, Leander Anderson, Jacob Tolenen, Jacob Nels, and Severt Quam; all would survive. The dynamite had been packed into a hole that had been previously used, but not all of the dynamite had gone off the first time around. So the hole was cleaned and refilled and repacked—a common practice, at least according to construction foreman Ole Londborg. The workers put the blame of the accident on Londborg. Many did not trust this “repacking” method and refused to work that portion of the road after the first failed attempt. Apparently Londborg “had taken three green men…who knew nothing about the history [of previous attempts] and who went willingly to work, bringing death upon those below.” Londborg even arrested and thrown in jail, but the contractor considered repacking safe, and considered Londborg “entirely blameless.” An Ely mine captain, however, was quoted by the News Tribune as stating that “it was the rule with an iron company to discharge a man if he was caught drilling a hole into which a charge had once been put” and said there would have been no tragedy if they’d have simply drilled a new hole. An inquest into the incident found Londborg was not responsible for the accident.