Duluth, MN O'Brien Block Fire, Feb 1896


Incendiary Fire in a Duluth Business and Apartment Block.

DULUTH, Minn., Feb. 29. - For the third time within a few weeks the O'Brien Block, on West Michigan Street, was discovered on fire at 1:30 o'clock this morning. In a short time it was seen that all efforts of the fire department to save it would be unavailing, so the energies of the firemen were directed to saving life and keeping the adjoining Knowlton Block from being destroyed. The O'Brien is a business and apartment block in the centre of the city, and more than 100 persons must have been sleeping in it.

Paul Baldwin and his wife, who lived on the fourth floor, in groping through the smoke in the hall, became separated, and he secaped only by jumping from the second story. He is terribly burned. His wife undoubtedly perished.

There was a terrible panic among the roomers, and several were nearly trampled to death in the rush.

The building is owned by the American Exchange Bank, is valued at $25,000, and is a total loss; insurance, $20,000. There is an additional loss of Smith, Koors & Co., a commission firm, and M. M. Gasser, grocer, amounting to $5,000, well insured.

There is little doubt the fire was of incendiary origin.

The New York Times, New York, NY 1 Mar 1896

The Work of Searching for Mrs. Baldwin's Remains is in Progress.


Her Husband is SWeriously Burned, but Will Recover All Right.

Large crowds of sightseers, attracted by morbid curiousity, visited the scene of the O'Brien & Knowlton block fire yesterday and watched the search which is being conducted for the body of the woman who perished in the flames.

The walls are still standing, and the water thrown by the fire engines has congealed and formed great icicles, giving the ruins the appearance of a great ice palace. Two officers, detailed to guard the ruins, were kept busy all day keeping away the people who crowded around and interferred with the movements of the searching party.

Forty-eight tenants occupied the building, and by noon yesterday all had been accounted for with the exception of the unfortunate Mrs. Baldwin. At daybreak the search for the remains was commenced by a gang of men detailed by the board of public works, and who worked under the direction of the firemen. With shovels and picks the forzen rubbish in the space enclosed by the walls was turned over, and although by night nearly a third of the space had been covered, no trace of the body had been found. When the floors fell they carried everything with them and buried crockery and household utensils beneath many feet of burned rubbish.

Origin of the Fire.

The origin of the fire is still shrouded in mystery. There is considerable talk of incendiarism, but no grounds for any suspicions of foul play have been discovered. Chief Black made a careful investigation yesterday without learning any additional facts. The fire originated in the rear of the store occupied by Smith, Koors & Co. in the same place, as far as can be ascertained, as the fire which occurred a few weeks ago. There is a total absence of any wires in that portion of the store, by means of which ignition might have been caused by electricity.

"The building was a perfect firetrap," said Chief Black yesterday. "We are lucky to have escaped so lightly. I am informed that there have been eight or ten fires since the building was constructed and the department has been called out to that block three times since I have been connected with the department. I am investigating the origin as far as possible."

[illegible] was insured for $1,500.

Smith, Koors & Co., produce commission merchants, lost stock and fixtures valued at about $3,000.

The Central Produce company in the Knowlton side of the block suffered a loss something to about $200. Clark & Bidwell and the Duluth coffee and spice mill also sustained damages from water.

The Duluth News Tribune, Duluth, MN 1 Mar 1896