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This January's unrelenting cold is familiar to any baby boomer who grew up in Minnesota. My siblings and I walked the five blocks to Assumption grade school in Richfield in all weather in the 1960s. Heavy snow and subzero mornings were common. Yet I can't recall Assumption canceling a single school day because of snow, let alone cold, and no parents I knew of ever drove their children to school. Kids living in the surrounding neighborhoods bundled up for the 10- to 20-minute walk, overseen by mothers at one end and nuns at the other.
In second grade, during a week in which the mercury fell to 30 below zero, a walker arrived late and found he was unable to remove his frozen choppers. Sister Rosalie walked him over to a radiator to defrost the unbending leather shells and – I swear! – braced one hand against his chest and, using her other hand, had to pull mightily to free each hand. Bradley Shaw, can you confirm this memory?
A similar cold snap in January 1904 warranted a front page story in the Minneapolis Tribune, with the obligatory mention of a far colder January decades before.
FROST BITES AND FROZEN WATER PIPES COMMON LOCAL TOPICS.
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The drug stores have been doing a thriving business during the last two days in all sorts of guaranteed remedies for frostbites, frozen ears, noses, fingers, toes and all other freezable portions of the human anatomy. Even the oldest inhabitant has been compelled to crawl out of his hiding place and tell about the cold first of January in 1863, “when it was real cold and the soldiers in the Union army were liberally [perhaps the reporter meant "literally"] frozen.” Relief is in sight at least for a short time, and the weather-wise say that the conjunction of the planets which caused this cold has gone by, and that another world is being troubled by similar conjunctions.
Other weather prophets say that the present cold snap is caused by a plumbers' trust; while others remark that a syndicate of rich men have bought up all the cola in the world, and have turned off the natural steam heat of the earth, and are holding out on the coal for large and juicy prices.
The government forecasters say that the crest of the wave has passed, and that the weather will moderate shortly. The busiest men in Minneapolis the past two days have undoubtedly been the plumbers. The quick decline in the temperatures Saturday caught many a householder unawares, and the pathetic calls for immediate assistance which greeted the plumbers' ears Sunday morning rendered the Sabbath anything but a day of rest for them.
Yesterday [Monday] there was not a plumber in Minneapolis who wanted work that was not busy doctoring some frost-bitten pipe, which had been unable to withstand the pressure exerted by jack frost.
For tales of hard luck it is but necessary to step into the first plumbing shop and listen to the troubles of this man whose cellar resembles a skating rink, and that man who has to wade in water up to his knees to get to the kitchen stove and start a fire to thaw things out.
|A Minneapolis winter's day in 1900: Four small houses lined 4th Avenue S. at 4th Street, with the Guaranty Loan Building, later known as the Metropolitan Building, in the background. Can anyone identify the four-story building at right? (Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library's Minneapolis Collection)|
One hundred and twenty-five years ago, the Minneapolis Tribune offered early proof that the children of our state are above average. Meet Leonora, Birdie, Willis, Tootie and dozens of other up-and-coming youngsters of the Flour City.
The Pride of Minneapolis Mothers
In a bustling, growing city like Minneapolis it is not often that the little people can make themselves heard outside of their own homes. The unjustice of this has influenced the Tribune to present to its readers this morning 50 of the wee young ladies and gentlemen of the city, who will be heard from in later years. This galaxy of childish beauty will interest young and old alike. The Tribune regrets that no more space in this issue can be devoted to the introduction of Minneapolis youngsters to the public, as there are many more on the list just as handsome and as jolly as any that are here presented. The only thing that can be promised is that another page in an early issue will have to be devoted to them. And now for a glance at the little people who make their first public bow today.
The Tribune described 5-year-old Belle Stearn of 417 Second Av. N. as "a talented little lady." Click here for a photo gallery of all 34 children profiled by the newspaper.
That section of young America which lives in Minneapolis resembles its father and mother in some respects and differs from them in others. It differs from them, in the majority of instance, because it was born in the Flour City – a thing which comparatively few persons who have arrived at the dignity of a parent can truthfully say.
The child, however, whose picture is published today, is a native of this city in the majority of instances. The Minneapolis “kid” resembles its parents in that it has their life and activity and enterprise. The boy or girl gets as a birth right, that which the parent gained only when he had come to man’s estate, in some active part of the country and had migrated to Minneapolis and caught the spirit of the city. The spirit which leads the men of Minneapolis to build the largest mills, the tallest building, and shout the loudest for his city, leads the Minneapolis boy to indulge in jackstones at a most tender age, and the Minneapolis girl to rocker her doll’s cradle before she is hardly out of her own. The climate of Minneapolis agrees with the children. Health statistics show this no less than the ruddy faces that one sees on the streets. The bracing atmosphere gives them good lungs and keeps the proper color in their cheeks. The little folks are a big part of the population. The school statistics show this and all that is needed for ocular proof is the announcement of a street parade headed by a brass band. The youngsters are alive with enthusiasm for their city. They are irrepressible, active, enterprising and wide awake.
Everybody, of course, thinks their own is the best. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be the proper class of citizens for Minneapolis or for respectable society anywhere. It’s all right. Here are some of the scions of the families who will be leaders in the city when its population is 1,000,000.
Minneapolis Tribune copy editors of 1886 faced a challenge beyond anything we encounter in today’s newsrooms. Day in, day out, the big story on page one required a half-dozen or more subheadlines. Let’s give it up for the anonymous craftsman who managed to write 13 dramatic and informative subheds for the story below. At the same time, he could have done a better job editing the story, which is filled with overwrought prose, tangled syntax and contradictory assertions. My favorite is the writer’s habit of saying a scene is impossible or “too piteous” to describe — and then describing it in great detail. Must be an 1880s thing.
Which is not to say that the tornado that hit St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids on April 14, 1886, was anything but a disaster of historic proportions. It is the deadliest tornado in Minnesota history. More than 70 people were killed, and Sauk Rapids was all but blown off the map.
[Originally posted June 16, 2008. I'm reposting in connection with a presentation I'm giving at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Stearns County Historical Society in St. Cloud. Free to members; $5 for nonmembers. Details here.]
|Unroofed: The first house struck by the tornado in St. Cloud. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
[SPECIAL DISPATCH TO THE TRIBUNE]
St. Cloud, April 14 – This place was today the scene of the most terrible calamity that has ever visited the Northwest. It is impossible yet to say entirely how terrible it is.
|St. Cloud’s rail yard did not fare well. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
The morning was stormy. Last night a severe thunderstorm passed over us, and during the forenoon there were frequent showers with occasional flashes of lightning and the noise of distant thunder. Soon after noon the storm grew heavier and became severe at 2 o’clock, but seemed to have again passed off by 2:30. Shortly before 4, however, the air darkened again, and sharp gusts of wind, bringing sudden showers of rain and hail, shook the city. Nothing of any moment, however, occurred until about 4:30. The air was then dark and thick, and growing momentarily darker. Suddenly the sky toward the southwest deepened from dark to absolute black. The air was close and sultry; but still no one seemed to fear anything more than an ordinarily severe thunderstorm.
Your correspondent was standing with a knot of men in the shelter of a doorway looking at the blackening sky. Some one jestingly suggested a cyclone. Then the talk turned lightly on former cyclones – these at Rochester, New Ulm, Highmore; and reminiscences of the ruin caused by the storms went round. Meanwhile the wind had dropped and the rain ceased. Everything was still and close. Your correspondent walked up the street – his back toward the threatening quarter. Suddenly a cry arose, and people rushed from door to door. Simultaneously came another fierce, sudden burst of rain-laden wind. Fiercer and fiercer it blew. Turning to the southwest your correspondent saw
|More of the devastation in Sauk Rapids. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
A Solid Mass of Cloud,
dense black except where it was tinged with a strange greenish color, sweeping apparently towards the city. The lower end of the cloud appeared to rest on the ground, being narrow. Thence it broadened upwards until the top of the funnel – or inverted pyramid – covered half the sky. But there was not much time to study it. The wind, already a gale, grew momentarily worse; first a tempest, then a tornado. Above the wind one could hear the crash of houses, the breaking of timbers and the shock of falling walls. It was probably only a few seconds while the storm was passing; but they were terrible seconds – utter blackness and an inconceivable din of crashing buildings and roaring storm. Then came the rain again – not in drops, or bucketfuls, but sheets – driving before the gale like vertical sections of solid waves of water. Then the air slowly lightened. The sky towards the southwest had grown gray again, and the terrible, black mass blotted out the northeastern horizon. The cyclone had passed.
Around where your correspondent was no damage was done. All the buildings still stood. It had fortunately missed the central business section in the city. As fast as possible I made my way towards the northwest part of the city, which is chiefly
Made Up of Residences.
Everybody else (those who were not still hiding, terror stricken, in cellars and corners of their houses) rushed in the same direction. Turning a sudden corner we found the road apparently barricaded halfway down the block. It was the edge of the cyclone’s path, and three houses which had been together were in ruins across the street. Climbing over the wreck were a dozen men and women. On one side a knot was gathered where a child lay stretched on the sidewalk – dead.
|The tornado flattened much of Sauk Rapids. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
From there on the scene was terrible. Description is impossible. One every side lay piles of ruins, where there had lately been comfortable, happy homes. From some, strong hands were lifting the dead and insensible. From others the shrieks of persons still imprisoned were heart-rending. Block after block was desolated. Yet here and there, in the very central path of the storm, houses stood – not always the stoutest or largest, and with no other reason why they should have escaped the wreck of their neighbors than the caprice of the storm as it passed.
After the Storm,
The whole population of the city had crowded to the ruined quarter. Business men rushing to their homes, found in their stead masses of ruins. Some found the bodies of their wives and children already extricated from the wreck. Others came in time to help them out, and save their lives. Others only in time to help to lift out their corpses. Not a few had to wait for hours before they knew whether the heaps of shattered timbers in front of them covered all that they loved on earth or not.
Some of the scenes were too piteous to be described. A mother who had been down town came back only to stand by and listen to the shrieks of her buried children grow fainter and fainter, as the workers above tried to make their way to them. In another place your correspondent saw a girl carried away raving and apparently hopelessly insane as the moving of a timber disclosed her mother’s face – pale, save for the blood which had flowed from the blow that had killed her. On every side friend was calling for friend; child for parent; parent for child, and strong men sat on what had been their homes and sobbed like children over the bodies of their wives. It is too horrible!
|The ruins of a school in Sauk Rapids. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
In all some thirty dwelling houses are destroyed – and not one of the thirty but in its fall either killed or horribly mutilated some of its inmates. Cutler and Webb’s brewery is completely demolished. Round this and the Manitoba freight depot (which also lies in ruins) surged the greatest crowd. It is impossible to say yet who may not lie dead in the ruins of either. The brick house of John Swartz is merely a chaotic pile – close beside it a frame house sands unroofed, but the walls still standing.
The path of the cyclone seems to have been about 600 feet wide – cut as clean as a swathe in a hay field. Sauk Rapids has also suffered badly. The bridge across the river is down. It is impossible yet to learn what the loss of life has been.
All the while that the search went on the rain descended in torrents. Now and then it clears for a space; but soon thickens again. Overhead there is a continual rumble of distant thunder, and vivid flashes of lightning ever and again throw the desolate scene into awful relief. It was some time before any organized system of working on the ruins could be arranged. Every man was doing all he could, but the confusion was hopeless. The mayor and city officials worked well, and the members of the fire department. Assistance was promptly telegraphed for to St. Paul and Minneapolis. The work of searching in the ruins was not unattended with danger, for in many places the dismantled walls still stood, rocking in the wind, and at intervals the crash of falling timber was heard over the cries of the wounded and the wailing of the bereaved. More than one person has been hurt in this way in trying to save others.
Many of the dead bodies taken from the ruins are mutilated beyond recognition. As nearly as it can be ascertained now the number of dead in the two places – for Sauk Rapids has suffered at least as badly as St. Cloud – is 30, and about a hundred more are more or less mutilated. The court house here is unroofed and the county records are exposed.
|Sauk Rapids courthouse was reduced to a pile of rubble. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
|Two stores once stood on this site in Sauk Rapids. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
An enterprising Minneapolis Tribune reporter scoured downtown elevators to blow the lid off an unfortunate trend.
|These hatless bellhops rode the elevators at the Nicollet Hotel in about 1924. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
|This is Mrs. Manley Fosseen -- Carrie to her friends and family -- in 1936. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
|The wearing of hats was probably de riguere for well-heeled men passing through the lobby of the Dyckman Hotel in 1933, when this photo was taken. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)
More than a century ago, “all ‘copy’ of every description” passed through the hands of the Minneapolis Tribune’s night editor. It was a critical job in the production of the morning newspaper. But the workload was heavy, the pressure relentless, the technology primitive and the hours abominable. Here’s our third installment of the Tribune’s two-page spread on “TO MAKE A PAPER.”
|"THE NIGHT EDITOR AT WORK."|