July 18, 1933: Death of Duluth Fire Chief Sievert Hansen

Today marks the 1933 death of Duluth Fire Chief Sievert H. Hansen of kidney failure. Hansen joined the DFD in 1898 and was assistant chief in 1927 when Chief John Randle died. Hansen was next in line to be chief, but his appointment was controversial. According to Duluth Fire Department historian Jarry Keppers, “Captain Wallace A. West thought he would make a better Chief. West somehow persuaded Public Safety Commissioner James E. Frobisher to appoint him as Chief. Fortunately for Hansen, other members of the City Council did not agree” and Hansen was ultimately named chief. Interestingly, Hansen’s name appears on the 1925 and 1926 rosters of the Duluth branch of the Ku Klux Klan, as do the names of two Duluthians who were serving as city councilors in 1927—and at the time the council only had five members. The following is an excerpt from Zenith City Press publisher Tony Dierckins’s new book Duluth: An Urban Biography about the Klan in Duluth in the 1920s:

“Following the 1920 lynchings, most of Duluth’s few African Americans fled. Those who stayed did so in the shadow of the Ku Klux Klan. In July 1922 the Duluth Herald reported that a Klan chapter had organized in Duluth the previous year and boasted of having recruited 1,500 members. The group said its goal was the ‘preservation of American ideals and institutions and the maintenance of white supremacy.’

“Rosters of Duluth Klan members in 1925 and 1926 obtained by Catholic diocese bishop Thomas Welch each list about 250 names. Historian Richard Hudelson describes the group as pro-Norse, anti-immigrant, and anti-Catholic, explaining that much of the Duluth chapter’s work ‘appears to have been focused on urging Catholics from public office and replacing them with KKK members and sympathizers.’ The listed names were entirely ‘Anglo, German, and Scandinavian.’ Members lived from West Duluth to Lester Park, but with ‘relatively high concentrations in Lakeside and eastern parts of the city.’

“They included schoolteachers, school board members, a city clerk, a municipal judge, government officials, and a Methodist minister. More than half were war veterans, and several belonged to the police and fire departments, including future fire chief Sievert Hansen. Other prominent names included city commissioners Phillip Phillips and William McCormick and county commissioners Joseph Becks, namesake of Becks Road, and Arthur Cook, who ran the county poor farm. George W. Johnson, then representing Duluth in the Minnesota House of Representatives, later became the city’s mayor. Local activity dwindled after 1926, when the chapter’s central organizer absconded with its funds.”

Learn more about Duluth: An Urban Biography here.

Sievert Hansen, Duluth Fire Chief 1927–1933 and a member of the Duluth chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. (Image: Zenith City Press)