The day Minneapolis burned

13Aug09

On this day in 1893, one square mile of Minneapolis vanished in the biggest fire this city has ever seen. The conflagration started on Nicollet Island, which back then was a crowded, bustling mill district. Soon the fire grew so hot—and the winds so strong—that it jumped half a mile away, to Boom Island.

I’d never heard about The Great Fire until Minnesota Public Radio mentioned it this morning.

Curious to learn more, I turned to The Internets. I found some wonderful transcripts of the original newspaper accounts, including one report that “Thomas Faloon lost his life from heart failure due to excitement.”

As I was pondering poor Mr. Faloon’s fatal excitability, I noticed a long column to the right. Titled “Minnesota disasters,” the list offered links to air disasters (9), horse and buggy accidents (8), tornadoes (30), train wrecks (32) and about 23 other ways to meet your maker. I could even “browse by disaster.” Yikes.

Although some of the accounts are grimly humorous, gendisasters.com is actually an impressive and rather scholarly compilation of historical accounts. What an interesting glimpse into how our forefathers lived (and, of course, how they died). Maybe in a few generations our stories will seem equally quaint.

It’s true that our lives are still fraught with danger. But look at it on the bright side: At least we no longer have to worry about buggy accidents or steamboat explosions. Now, that’s progress.



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