A GREAT CALAMITY.
Yesterday Morning’s (December 17, 1897) Conflagration the Most Disastrous in the History of the City of Grand Forks. Perished in the Flames. Mr. and Mrs. A. C. Howe Victims of the Fire – The Hotel Dacotah Block, the Nash Building and the Mercantile Company’s Building Entirely Destroyed – The Property Loss will Reach Nearly Four Hundred Thousand Dollars with an Insurance of $220,000 – List of Losses and Insurance.
Bleak desolation, a mass of crumbled brick and other debris, with here and there a section of brick wall, and clouds of smoke rising skyward is all that remains to mark the site where twenty-four hours ago stood the magnificent Dacotah, the finest hotel west of the Twin Cities, and the elegant Peerless and Nash brick blocks, occupied respectively by the Grand Forks Mercantile company and Nash Bros.’ wholesale grocers. A more complete ruin could scarcely be imagined.
The conflagration briefly announced in yesterday’s Herald in the short space of two hours blotted out of existence these three large buildings, the pride of Grand Forks, with their contents, scarcely anything whatever being saved.
But the saddest of all is the loss of human life. Mr. and Mrs. A. C. Howe are now known to have perished in the flames, the latter because she would not leave her husband to perish alone and was unable to save him.
The fire is a most disastrous one for Grand Forks, as well as the most destructive in the history of the city. It will be a long time before the elegant Dacotah is replaced by as substantial a building and its importance to Grand Forks can hardly be over estimated.
THE FIRE’S BEGINNING.
At 4 o’clock yesterday morning there was no sign of fire in the Nash building, where the fire originated. Twenty minutes later the interior of the first story, occupied as a ware room by Nash Bros. for the storage of fruits, etc., was a mass of flame, and smoke which were rapidly spreading to the upper floors. Charles Rogers, who lives at the Brevoort across the street, was up with a sick child and glancing out of the window a moment before noticed a small blaze in Nash’s and turned in an alarm. The fire department responded promptly, but by the time they arrived Nash Bros.’ store was already beyond saving. Just about this time W. Buttery, who lived on the third floor of the Nash building, was awakened by the noises of the fire and falling boxes and barrels below him. Mr. Buttery had had some experience in a fire, having lost everything he had and having barely escaped with his life in the Syndicate fire only a few months ago, and decided to act promptly.
Hastily donning a few garments he aroused his wife and child and after knocking at the doors of the others living on the same floor he started with Buttery and their child to make their escape by the stairs, but
FOUND THEIR WAY BARRED
by flames. Then Mr. Buttery thought of the iron doors which connected the third floor of the Nash building with the third floor of the Dacotah and finding it fastened, tried the only available way of escape left, through a rear window which was forced open, and then by dropping a distance of about ten feet to the roof of the Nash Bros.’ cold storage plant, and thus they finally effected their escape. By the same route all the others living on the floor excepting Mr. and Mrs. Howe escaped, without saving anything but what they had on. Those thus escaping were Mrs. McVane, Mrs. Burns, Miss Hougan and Wm. Welch. When Mr. Welch awoke and realized that there was a fire in the building, he hastily donned his clothing, but by this time the heat and smoke in the hallway were almost intolerable. He was obliged to crawl on his hands and
Knees to avoid suffocation. He heard a woman’s voice calling pitifully for help to
“SAVE MY HUSBAND!!”
but could not locate the direction of the voice and did not know who it could be or where. Now, however, he is almost certain that it was Mrs. A. C. Howe. That she and her husband both perished is now beyond question. Mrs. McVane called Mrs. Howe to come with her when she left, but Mrs. Howe replied that she would not leave her husband until he was safe. Officer Ziskin states that while the fire was still confined to the first floor of the Nash building or rather just as the flames were breaking through into the second floor some one said there were people living in the upper story. He tried to get up the stairway, but it was then too late on account of the flames. Then he went into the Dacotah with the idea of opening the iron door connecting the hotel and Nash building, but was unable to find the door on the third floor. Thinking he had made a mistake he went up another story with no better success. As he was coming down past the third floor he noticed the
FLAMES IN THE HOTEL,
just breaking through by the hall way from the Nash building. He rushed down stairs and reported this fact to the clerk and then rushed up through the hotel arousing the guests.
About this time, Officer McGouvran, not knowing that the flames had broken through into the hotel started up to make sure that the fire door between the hotel and the Nash building was closed, but found the flames already pouring through with a rush which carried them clear down the length of the hall. The progress of the flames from this time was fearful. Indeed it was scarcely fifteen minutes before the entire hotel building was in flames. In the meantime superhuman efforts were being made to rescue the people in the hotel. The hotel was equipped with a fire alarm system with gongs in all the rooms, but in some cases the guests were tardy in realizing the import of the ringing bells. The fire escapes were made to do good service in rescuing people and many of the guests found these the only available way of escape. The servant girls employed in the house occupied rooms on the fifth floor in the rear and their
ONLY WAY OF ESCAPE
was by the iron fire escapes on the outside, without even time to dress themselves. With the temperature in the vicinity of 25 below zero at the time many of them suffered severely before they reached shelter. A number of them had their hands and feet frozen. One young woman, Miss Louise Sundahl, fell from the third story and was very severely bruised, but fortunately sustained no broken bones. A delay of ten minutes more in arousing the inmates of the hotel would have resulted in a fearful loss of life, but fortunately so far as known all were finally rescued, but scarcely any one saved anything except such clothing as they put on in their hasty departure. The books and contents of the safe were saved and Col. And Mrs. Viets secured a few personal effects from their room, but everything else in the hotel was burned.
The following is a complete list of the guests stopping at the hotel at the time:
GUESTS AT THE HOTEL
A. Miller, wife and two children, Mrs. F. W. Clark, Mr. and Mrs. C. F. Kittridge, Ledru Guthrie, M. H. McGowan, C. H. Doyon, Alfred Cooley, Mrs. Weil, Mrs. Ripley, J. H. Brada, Mrs. Burr and son, C. H. Jenks and wife, J. Nelson Kelly.
H. A. Olmsted, Minneapolis; W. B. Dixon, St. Paul, C. W. Latimer, Portage, Wis.; G. K. Dike, Nash, N. D.; Miss Blanche Fontaine, Chicago; Mrs. E. C. Carruth, E. C. Carruth, C. J. Fisk, J. G. Hamilton; P. A. Perry, Fargo; F. H. Beach, Minneapolis; George Barthell, St. Paul; C. E. Jones, Fargo; F. F. Stokes, city; T. F. Hastings, St. Paul; O. L. Sauterun, Grafton; S. F. Knight, Minneapolis; F. W. Hendrickson, Chicago; A. Hendrickson, M. H. Wheeler and wife, Chicago; G. F. Thompson, S. C. Hazlett, Minnapolis; C. H. Anhier, Fargo; F. W. Clark, St. Paul; W. C. Boyce, Fargo; J. C. Bloom, Chicago; A. Hineman, Chicago; A. L. Maser, Chicago; D. G. Holbrook, Sioux Falls, S. D.; C. P. Smith, Minneapolis; E. J. Shaughnessy, St. Paul; H. L. Helseth, Fargo; G. J. Lovell, St. Paul; H. J. Bergemann, H. S. Collins, St. Paul; G. H. Garnett, St. Thomas; E. O. Burtness, Mekinock; George E. McHie, Chicago; Kenneth Murray, Northcote; J. J. Penfield, St. Paul; J. F. Pierce and wife, New York; John McVeigh, Sergent Aborn, C. Emory, L. F. Clark, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Walker, “The Woman in Black” company; Otto Peterson, Baltimore; Miss Delia Stacey, James Packaye, Harry D. Pearson, New York; F. B. Leach, Thompson; Fred Reynolds, Duluth; A. J. Lammues, Stillwater; William O’Brien, St. Paul; G. F. Thompson, H. M. Lewis, F. H. Beach, Minneapolis; W. C. Boyce, Fargo; H. A. Olmsted, Minneapolis; H. J. Bergeman, St. Paul; J. T. Lard, Winnipeg; F. W. Wetherbee, St. Paul; Rev. Joseph Lavigne, Neche; John F. Parker, Chicago; A. C. Kurz, Milwaukee; C. S. Huchins, Minneapolis; C. P. Smith, Minneapolis; H. J. Watt, Bismarck; Joseph P. Taggart, St. Paul; A. L. Miller, St. Thomas; O. M. Corwin, St. Thomas: J. S. McCurdy, Moline, Ill.; J. E. Blom, Chicago; Alex Franne, New York; W. H. Ryerson, Minneapolis; W. C. Young, Bathgate; O. B. Hale, Crookston; T. A. Whitworth, Fargo. While the flames were spreading with such fearful rapidity through the Dacotah the fire was also eating its way rapidly in the opposite direction through the elegant Peerless building occupied by the Grand Forks Mercantile company with its mammoth stock of groceries and that structure was also a sure victim of the destroyer. By 5 a. m. this building, the Nash building and the Dacotah were one
SEETHING SEA OF FIRE,
the flames leaping high in the air above the buildings and lighting up the entire city as bright as day. The conflagration was now assuming fearful proportions and the utmost exertions of the firemen were required to save the Bartholomew block across Alpha avenue, and if this had fallen a victim to the fire demon there is no telling where it might have stopped.
The casings of the windows in the Bartholomew block caught fire several times from the intense heat.
THE FIRE PRESSURE FAILED
at this time, owing largely as is supposed to the elevator supply and service pipes in the Dacotah, four and six inches in diameter, breaking off and allowing the water to escape with a rush into the basement of the Dacotah, where it could do no good. Seven three inch streams were playing on the fire with a pressure at the pump house of 100 pounds, but the force of the water was scarcely sufficient to reach the third story of the Bartholomew block. A hose was taken up into the building and through one of the windows the firemen by relays
FACED THE INTENSE HEAT
and kept the upper portion of the block from burning, while other firemen fought the flames from below and finally saved the block. A slight change in the wind at the time carried the flames and heat westward and endangered the Security block, Brevoort and other buildings on that side of the street. The heat broke nearly every plate glass on that side of the street, but the buildings were finally saved. On the north a substantial fire wall between the Peerless and Shutt blocks saved the latter building, and by 6 o’clock the fire fiend had done his worst.
Comparatively little was saved from any of the buildings burned. As before stated, scarcely a vestige of clothing or personal effects were saved by any one in either of the burned buildings. Nash Bros. secured a very small portion of the goods and fortunately had considerable of their stock store in the Shutt building, so that they will not be badly crippled. Their books are still in the safe and there is little hope of their being of any use after going through yesterday’s ordeal. Frank Lycan was very fortunately successful in saving the valuable books and papers of the Mercantile company, but not a dollar’s worth of goods was saved, excepting such as had not yet been unloaded from the cars. W. W. Fegan saved nothing except two of his show cases and a few articles. Most of the fixtures were removed safely from Austin’s barber shop, but Robt. Bergh saved nothing from his drug store but some show cases and some of the small sundries. Some of the people living in the Bartholomew block moved out their effects when that building was threatened.
Nothwithstanding the disastrous fire yesterday Nash Brothers have made speedy arrangements to take care of the vast amount of orders which they have received before and since the fire. They have suffered an enormous loss it is true, but everything considered they are in a far better fix to handle their trade than most people would suppose. The old Mercantile building, adjoining was not damaged in the least and as they have a lease on the building they will remove to remainder of their undamaged stock, and continue business as if there had been no fire. They have now on hand a complete line of sugars, Christmas trees, apples, crackers, cider, salt, matches, starch, syrup, raisins, prunes, dry peaches, apricots, buckwheat, beans, corn meal, rolled oats, rye, flour, figs, pearl barley, etc. Monday they will receive a carload of oranges and bananas, besides numerous other articles suitable for the Christmas trade. They have also ordered a stock of cigars, tobacco, etc. Mr. Nash last night told a Herald man that they will soon be prepared to fill all orders, and until such time as everything shall be adjusted they ask the indulgence of their many patrons.
THE MERCANTILE COMPANY
The Mercantile company opened temporary offices in the St. John block yesterday.
Secretary Lycan of the Mercantile company, stated the The Herald last evening that it would be impossible at this time to give an accurate statement as to the condition of their stock. “We have been particularly fortunate,” said Mr. Lycan, “in having just received and placed in our warerooms several cars each of sugar, molasses, syrups, etc. The railroad companies are needing cars badly and have very strongly urged shippers to promptly unload cars, consequently we have less goods ‘on track’ than usual. Nothing but inventory would disclose the exact amount of our stock. We intend to resume business on a larger scale than ever and will be ready to fill orders again within fifteen days, from a complete new stock. We have received more than a score of telegrams today from our customers saying that they would continue their patronage and asking us when we will be ready to fill orders. We are in way discouraged and have a very large faith in the future of Grand Forks as a distributing centre and very soon we will give the city the largest wholesale grocery in the northwest. We happened to have on track five cars of sugar and two of merchandise coming in regular shipments from the manufacturers. Our loss on stock will run from $85,000 to $95,000, with insurance of $65,000.
W. W. FEGAN
has temporary quarters in the office of the Great Northern express company and will be ready for business with a complete new stock within a few days.
A NOBLE WORK
A noble work was done yesterday by the ladies of the Union Aid society and others in looking after the comfort of the poor unfortunate servant girls at the Dacotah, who barely escaped with their lives. They were temporarily taken care of at the Brevoort and were ministered to by the ladies. Mrs. Bolton and Mrs. Chase made a canvass of the city in their behalf and returned with a carriage load of clothing. Mrs. C. F. Kittridge distinguished herself in her efforts to make the girls comfortable and was ably seconded by Mrs. A. A. Ladd, Mrs. Canniff, Mrs. Birkholz, Mrs. Halliday, Mrs. Begg, Mrs. Platky, Miss Fry and Mrs. Winship and others. Dr. Taylor kindly gave his professional services in making those who were suffering from frozen hands, feet and other injuries comfortable, and took occasion to hand the president of the Ladies’ Union Aid a $10 bill to be used for the girls. Benner & Begg contributed $10 in trade and others made generous donations. Mayor Dinnie authorized the officers of the Union Aid society to procure anything needed for the unfortunate sufferers and the city would liquidate the bills. Several of the young women living out of town desired to go to their homes and the Great Northern kindly supplied transportation for them.
The Hotel Dacotah which for the past eight years has been the pride of Grand Forks, was opened on Monday evening, Sept. 16, 1889, with a banquet which was attended by most of the prominent men of the state. The project of the erection of a mammoth hotel, which should be substantial, commodious, first-class in all its appointments and an ornament to the city had been discussed for a number
of years, but without result, until early in the year 1888 one or two of the gentlemen who subsequently formed the board of directors interested themselves in the matter and finally engaged the services of Architect Harry G. Carter of Minneapolis, to make a set of preliminary plans. Other business men were interested in the project, a site was selected and the property purchased, and a stock company arranged with the following incorporators: A. S. Brooks, M. L. McCormack, George A. Eastman, George B. Clifford, J. S. Bartholomew and William O’Mulcahy of this city, and F. T. Walker of Dubuque, Iowa, who has since deceased, each holding equal interests. On the 25th of July the following officers were elected: President, A. S. Brooks; vice president, M. L. McCormack; secretary, George A. Eastman; treasurer, George B. Clifford. On the same day ground was broken for the new building with appropriate ceremonies. The building was constructed of Grand Forks cream brick 125×125 feet and five stories high above the basement. The brick work was completed on the 23rd day of December, and work on the interior was carried on without cessation during the entire winter. Mr. J. W. Ross of this city, had superintended the construction of the building.
DEATH OF MR. AND MRS. HOWE.
Early yesterday morning it was reported that Mr. and Mrs. A. C. Howe had been rescued from their rooms in the Nash building and taken to the home of a friend. But during the forenoon inquiries as to their whereabouts without locating them aroused the horrible suspicion that both had perished in the flames. Many rumors in circulation gave false hopes that they might yet be located, but as the day lengthened and the various rumors were traced it became almost evident that Mr. and Mrs. Howe had lost their lives. When a thorough canvass of the city by a score of Mr. Howe’s Masonic brethren failed to locate them, there was no longer any reason for hope and the fact was painfully impressed on their friends that both were dead. Mr. Howe’s son Charles, who lives in Chicago, was notified by telegram last evening. Mr. Howe, who has for years been connected with the firm of Nash Bros., has been a sufferer for nearly a year from rheumatism. At the time of the Syndicate block fire last winter Mr. and Mrs. Howe occupied rooms in that building, and it was with the greatest difficulty that Mr. Howe was rescued at that time, being carried out by friends just in time to save his life. They lost all their personal effects at that time. A little later Mr. Howe went to the sanitarium at Battle Creek, Mich., and the springs at Mt. Clemens for treatment, but without receiving much benefit and he returned home but a few days ago a great sufferer from the disease than ever.
Mr. and Mrs. Howe had lived in Grand Forks for the past ten years and had a host of friends here. Mr. Howe was a member of the G. A. R. and Masonic fraternities, and Mrs. Howe was a member of the Eastern Star chapter.
TURNED IN THE ALARM.
Benny Ford, a call boy at the Great Northern round house, came to the Herald block at 10 minutes after 4 yesterday morning to call Engineer McMahon. As he went down on the street on his return he noticed the flames coming out of the Nash building and quickly turned in an alarm from Box 5.
The firemen had a hard siege of it.
It is possible there may be other victims in the fire.
Hale & Elgas carried $69,000 of the insurance on the burned buildings, and had $47,000 insurance interested in the adjacent property which was damaged.
Alderman Stewart carried two girls down the fire ladder, and to a place of safety.
Mrs. Will Anderson left her gold watch and diamond ring behind in her hurried departure.
Wm. Welch lost everything he had including all of his furniture, books and personal effects.
Mrs. Lillian Burr in her hurried departure from the Dacotah left behind a new $150 seal skin cloak.
The fire interfered with the telephone service in the north end of the city to quite an extent yesterday.
Some pilfering was reported from goods piled up in the street. Officer Sullivan located some of the stolen goods.
Every plate glass window on the west side of Third street is broken from Opsahl’s to the city hall by the heat of the flames. Some damage was also caused by water turned on.
It is stated that one of the mind readers who visited the city a few months ago prophesied that Grand Forks would see the greatest fire in its history within a few months. Queer.
The conduct of the unfortunate girls who had so serious a time in getting out of the burning building is very highly commended and the bravery shown by them under the trying ordeal was very commendable.
W. W. Fegan has wired for a new stock of goods and for a few days will be located in the Great Northern express office. He saved his show cases and what cigars he had in them, but loses 150,000 cigars. Insurance $2,500.
John Austin, proprietor of the Hotel Dacotah barber shop, is in St. Paul, but his chairs and mirrors were all safely carried out. He has been notified by wire, and will probably be home in the morning to look up a new location.
The Peerless Machine company have arranged for temporary headquarters in the Great Northern Express office. Charley Cummings reached the fire soon after it started and was able to save nearly everything movable in their office.
Mr. and Mrs. C. T. Kittridge lived on the fifth floor of the Dacotah. Mr. Kittridge carried his wife down the fire escape. They had to leave all their personal effects including a fine piano. Mr. Kittridge’s hands were badly blistered by the frosty iron work of the fire escape.
There seems to be a difference of opinion as to when the fire made its entrance into the Dacotah. But as near as could be learned last night the flames from Nash Bros. found it easy reaching through the windows across the narrow court separating the two buildings into the Dacotah.
Mrs. C. H. Jenks who occupied rooms on the fourth floor of the Dacotah, when the alarm was given dressed herself and after giving the alarm to Mrs. Kittridge and others broke the windows at the end of the hall leading to the fire escape with a chair and went down the fire escape as sprightly as though she had been a young girl.
Chas. Doyon and June Cooley occupied a room near the west corner of the Dacotah on the third floor. They found escape by the stairs cut off and threw their mattresses down into the court between the Dacotah and the Nash building, intending to jump onto the mattresses if compelled to vacate before assistance reached them. If they had there would have been no possible escape for them. But they made a rope of bed sheets. Mr. Doyon started down the rope which was suspended from the front window. He had gone but a short distance when the rope parted and he fell to the ground. Very fortunately without receiving any more injuries than severe bruises and a bad shaking up. A ladder was then extended up to the window and Cooley came down the ladder.
Miss Everest of the “Woman in Black” company, in a jest asked the bell boy where the fire escape was and the accommodating boy showed the lady and another member of the troupe who occupied the room with her the fire escape. When the alarm was given Miss Everest aroused everyone in the vicinity of her room and led the way down the fire ladder. (Grand Forks Daily Herald, Saturday Morning, December 18, 1897, Volume 17, Number 42)
Holocaust for Six
It Is Believed That A Number Perished In The Grand Forks Fire. Hotel Dacotah in Ruins. With it Go a Number of Wholesale and Retail Business Blocks. Three-Quarter Million Loss. Firemen Have a Lively Fight to Save the Remainder of the Business Section.
Chicago, Dec. 17. – A special to the Record from Grand Forks, N. D., says: At least six persons lost their lives in the burning of the Hotel Dakota here this morning. The names of the head could not be learned, except those of Mr. and Mrs. Hawe.
On the third floor were two commercial traveling men who are believed to have perished, and a dining room girl and a railroad man whose name in unknown are also missing. The register is burned and the number of dead cannot be definitely fixed.
Grand Forks, N. D., Dec. 17 – Hotel Dacotah, the pride of Grand Forks, was this morning burned to the ground, together with the buildings occupied by Nash Bros., wholesale grocers, the Grand Forks Mercantile company, wholesale grocers, the Peerless Mercantile company’s office, and W. W. Fegan, wholesale cigars. It is believed that A. C. Hawe and his wife were burned to death, as, up to a late hour this evening, no trace of them had been found. Mr. and Mrs. Hawe occupied apartments over the store of Nash Bros.
The fire was first discovered about 4 a. m. by M. Buttry, who occupied apartments on the third floor of the Nash building. The floor of his room was already hot from the fire, which had got a good start down stairs, and he effected his escape through the hotel, which was the adjoining building. The fire department was in East Grand Forks, assisting the firemen of that side at a fire in Arneson’s store, and considerable time was lost in reaching the fire on this side, and, before anything could be done, the interiors of three buildings were a mass of flames.
The hotel was a five-story building, and the Nash and Mercantile buildings, three stories each. There was a brisk north wind, and the temperature was 20 below zero. Although both pumps at the water works pumping station were put at work, it was found impossible to get a stream high enough to do any good, and the best that could be done was to protect adjoining property, and this was done with great difficulty. The fire leaped with great rapidity, and it was impossible to do more than save the lives of the occupants.
The hotel was well filled and the guests were compelled to make a hasty escape, in many cases coming down the fire escapes in the biting air clad in their nightclothes. The heat from the burning buildings was intense, and flames fanned by the blowing wind leaped across the street and threatened the destruction of the entire business center of the city. Plate glass windows in the vicinity were cracked by the heat and wood work in the buildings across the street was repeatedly set on fire. Residents of adjoining blocks smashed their windows and with brooms, blankets, etc., beat out the fire that caught on the casing and frames.
The only goods saved were a few boxes of groceries from Nash Bros.’ stock. The entire contents of the other buildings were destroyed.
Nash Bros. carried a stock of $150,000, covered by about $75,000 insurance, and the Grand Forks Mercantile company had about the same stock and insurance. The hotel building, which is 100×150 feet in size and six stories high, cost about $225,000. The proprietors of the hotel, Viets & Dow, had about $25,000 invested in furniture, on which there was $12,000 insurance. The hotel building was well insured, but for how much cannot be learned at present. The buildings occupied by the two wholesale concerns are worth about $50,000 each, and are both insured.
All of the business buildings are the property of the Security Trust company, a corporation with its head office at Nassau, N. H., and which is now in the hands of a receiver. These buildings were valued at from $300,000 to $350,000, and all were insured for an amount not now to be learned. They will probably not be rebuilt. The burned district is the business part of Grand Forks, and the blow to business interests is a most severe one.
Nashua, N. H., Dec. 17. – The dispatches received today, announcing the burning of buildings at Grand Forks, N. D., owned by the Security Trust company, of this city, caused gloom here among the holders of stock in that organization.
The hotel which was burned cost $174,000 and was built with trust company money. The company loses about $154,000 on the building. The Peerless building, also built with Security Trust money, was mortgaged for $20,000, practically the value, and the loss on this will be total. The Nash building was in the name of Frank F. Anderson, of this city. It was built with the trust company’s money and bore a $12,000 mortgage.
The total loss of the company is about $175,000. The insurance amounts to $85,000, making a net loss of $90,000. (The Saint Paul Globe, Saturday, December 18, 1897, Volume XX, Number 352, Page 3)
St. Paul Folks Singed.
Several Had Close Calls at the Hotel Dacotah.
A dozen or more of the guests at the Hotel Dacotah at Grand Forks, which was destroyed by fire early Friday morning, were St. Paulites. Of the number nearly all were traveling passenger agents for various railroads, and the families and relatives of the gentlemen who were known to be at Grand Forks last Thursday were greatly worried until telegrams were received announcing that they were all safe.
H. S. Collins, traveling agent for the Omaha road, who was at the hotel the night it burned, telegraphed his wife Friday morning that he was all right, and yesterday Mrs. Collins received a letter from her husband stating that he had managed to save all his personal effects, and was out of the hotel before there was any immediate danger. He explained in the letter that he was on the third floor of the hotel, and, his room being near a stairway, he made his way out without serious trouble.
G. J. Lovell, traveling agent for the Wabash line, in a letter to his sister received Saturday says the fire was a terrible one, and he saw more excitement in the short space of half an hour than he had ever before experienced. Mr. Lovell was on the second floor of the hotel, and fortunately for him had his overcoat in his room. He was aroused by the smoke and cries of fire, and, hastily dressing, threw his satchel out of the window and then hurried to a fire escape. The smoke which filled the hall of the hotel was suffocating, and those of the guests who were obliged to make their exit by the fire escapes were put through awful tortures. The night was bitter cold, and for fifteen minutes, which seemed like that number of hours, a number of the guests, including half a dozen women, were obliged to remain standing on the iron fire escape waiting until ladders could be procured to take them down from the second story of the building. As nearly all the guests, as well as the help employed in the hotel, were clad only in their night clothes, their sufferings can be imagined. Guests on the third and fourth floors, Mr. Lovell writes, were obliged to get wet towels and hold to their faces in order to save themselves from being overcome by the smoke.
A gentleman who was at the hotel at the time of the fire and who reached St. Paul yesterday said the burning of the hotel was one of the most exciting experiences he had ever been through. He was sleeping on the second floor and was aroused by the noise and smell of smoke. The hotel people, he said, claimed that the alarm bells in each room had been sounded, but, if such was the case, which he doubted, he did not hear the one in his room. The fire, which started at 4 o’clock, burned rapidly, and before 6 o’clock the hotel and the block in which it started were completely destroyed. The cold was intense, the thermometer registering 28 below, and, as about forty persons, including the guests and help, escaped from the building in their night clothes, the scene, he said, could be better imagined than described. On the fourth or fifth floor of the hotel were ten members of the “Woman in Black” company, which included four or five women. Owing to some delay in procuring ladders to connect with the fire escape, which stopped at the second floor, the members of the company were kept standing on the iron fire escape for some minutes. The result was that the hands and feet of some of the guests were badly frozen, and as they descended the flesh from their hands and feet was torn from the members and left sticking to the iron steps. The half-clad and almost frozen persons were cared for in neighboring hotels and buildings and furnished with clothing. Those who had thrown their effects and clothing from the windows of the rooms before leaving the building were in numerous instances as badly off as those who made no effort to save anything, for nearly everything that reached the ground was either lost or stolen. The fire, the gentleman said, started a sufficient distance away from the hotel to have afforded ample time for all the guests to have been notified and to have escaped without any trouble or difficulty, but in the excitement the hotel people lost their heads, and this caused all the trouble. As he was informed, the hotel proper connected with the building in which the fire started by a hallway which was not in use, and this accounted for the hostelry filling up with smoke so quickly.
W. B. Dixon, agent for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad, who was given as a guest at the hotel at the time of the fire, seen yesterday, said he left the house Thursday night, and was not in Grand Forks at the time. The family of Thomas P. Hastings, traveling agent for the Chicago, Burlington & Northern, who was also stated to have been in the hotel at the time of the fire, received a letter Saturday which conveyed the information that he left Grand Forks Thursday night.
The following were the Twin City people at the hotel when it burned: St. Paul – F. W. Clark, E. J. Shaughnessy, G. J. Lovell, H. J. Bergeman, H. S. Collins, J. H. Penfield, William O’Brien, F. W. Wetherbee, Joseph P. Taggart.
Minneapolis – H. A. Olmstead, F. H. Beach, S. F. Knight, G. F. Thompson, S. C. Hazlett, C. P. Smith. (The Saint Paul Globe, Monday, December 20, 1897, Volume XX, Number 354, Page 2)