July 19, 1881: Fire destroys the City of Winnipeg

On this day in 1881, the propellor ship City of Winnipeg was destroyed by fire in the Duluth harbor. The two-hundred foot wooden vessel had tied up to the Northern Pacific dock at 2 a.m., with most of her passengers fast asleep. Fire broke out in the engine room and was soon out of control. All the passengers safely found their way ashore, but five crewman including sixteen-year-old porter William Harvey and thirteen horses died. So that the fire wouldn’t spread to the dock, the flaming vessel was towed near Minnesota Point where it burned down to the waterline. The City of Winnipeg had been carrying sixty-two barrels of ten-year-old whiskey, each containing 60 gallons of alcohol. In 1887 an attempt was made to salvage the whiskey, but only four or five barrels were raised. Those who sampled the whiskey, said to be of an “exceptionally fine quality,” said the liquor was “just like oil.” In 1898 the rest of the wreck was removed from the bay. A newspaper report of the effort did not mention anything about barrels of whiskey.

The City of Winnipeg. (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)