Duluth, MN Opera House Fire, Jan 1889

Duluth, MN Opera House before the 1889 fire, photo from familyoldphotos.com


Duluth's Beautiful Opera House Destroyed in an Hour.

The Lose [sic] Approaches a Quarter of a Million Dollars.

A Number of Occupants Barely Escape With Their Lives.

Rebuilding This House and Various Other Projects Discussed.


Duluth's Elegant Opera House Brought to the Ground.

A mischievous mouse nibbling matches or some such trifle, a brisk northwesterly wind with the mercury at zero, the usual lack of water at the start, some bungling apparently about laying hose and some confusion when moments were precious; such were the causes that destroyed the Opera house, Duluth's pride and joy, one of the beautiful buildings of the city, a quasi-public institution in which all felt a personal interest. Such were the causes from which sprung losses of approximately $200,000 to owners and occupants.

About 1:45 Monday morning Thomas Lannigan passing the Opera house sawsmoke coming from Gasser's grocery. He ran over to the St. Louis hotel and told Gus Bush, the night clerk, who pulled the alarm from box 47. In five minutes the chemical and one hose cart pulled up in Superior street and a little later the West End hose cart wheeled into Fourth avenue. But there were costly, perhaps fatal delays. It took several minutes to break open the front door. It took still more time to locate the fire. The chemical was brought into play, but its stream came nowhere near the flames, which at this time were entirely in the rear. The water would not flow through the pipes when first turned on, whether because the hydrant was frozen or for want of pressure is in question. Anyway the hose would not throw the water ten feet. The News reporter who went into the building at this time found no smoke in the corridors and no heat in the walls. It looked like an insignificant smoulder.

But a glance at the rear of the building showed anything but a smoulder. By the time the engines arrived the flames were bursting out from the basement door, and in a few minutes the wind had fanned it into a furnace. The hose cart which was to serve this part of the building was partly disabled by the horse's falling, and it took a long time to get a stream to the one place where water could do any good. By this time Gasser's store was a mass of flames and the fire had burned through to the wings of the Opera house stage. There was no stopping it then. In a few seconds the fire has leaped to the roof and penetrated to every part of the building. The walls began to bulge. In Levy's liquor store a series of explosions were heard as one barrel after another was licked up by the flames. There was one boom in particular like a dynamite blast which shook the earth and could have come from nothing less than atun. Half an hour from the time the alarm was giving the building was a cauldron of flames and a hundred yards away the heat was scarcely tolerable. A few minutes later the roof fell in carrying everything with it to the basement. About 3, with a tremendous crash, the Superior street front and the avenue wall fell outward, and the fire was practically over. The debris continued to blaze harmlessly and still sends up a mighty smoke this morning.

People in Peril.

A dozen people were sleeping in the Opera House building when the alarm was sounded. Chas. Hanson, the janitor, was among the first to awake. He got out his family and went back to rouse the others, leaving his household effects and all his savings - about $100 - to the fire. S. W. Mountz and his three children, scantly clad, were among the first rescued. Mr. Mountz's furniture and a valuable musical library were left. Don A. Dodge, who roomed on the fourth floor, had just time to snatch a pair of trousers, a sealskin cap, a pair of socks and a spring overcoat and fly. He saved nothing else - not even a collar button - furniture, watch and private papers be consumed - and they were. Frank Lazier had just been awakened by his brother, who was sleeping with him when Hanson came to the door. They tumbled out hastily, with incomplete toilets, and scrambled through the smoke. All but one was roused and Hanson groped his way out, rolling down two flights of stairs, a bruised and blinded hero. One was left, A. J. Whiteman, in the third corner, Hanson supposing he was in St. Paul. He was roused by the noise and confusion and ran to his door, to be met by a suffocating cloud of smoke. He closed the door and threw open a window. His call was heard, a ladder raised with difficulty past a tangle of wires and the handsome senator crawled down the ladder and was helped across the street, half dead, but not beyond quick recovery. Al Gasser was reported missing, but at last relieved his friends by appearing. Maurice aley and several others thought they saw a man fall back from a window on the alley side, after frantic efforts to escape, but no one is reported missing. Dr. Pillsbury was reported missing, but sent word in that he was alive and unscorched.