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Friday, August 28, 2015

A Bad Day For Becker

June 25 and June 26 were not good days in the history of Becker, Minnesota.  In only 12 hours, disaster stacked up on disaster for the small community.  Near catastrophe set the entire town on edge like an over caffeinated speed freak. 

In midafternoon, June 25, 3 pm to be exact, fire alarms rang out throughout the town.  The landmark potato warehouse, the storage facility of the Knutson and Gongoll store, began to burn. Becker did not have any type of firefighting equipment at the time.  Men fought the conflagration as a bucket brigade until responders from Big Lake and Clear Lake arrived.  While the neighboring firefighters fought the flames on the warehouse, the bucket brigade turned their attention to nearby homes and other buildings.  The gas pumps at the Hy-Way Inn were drenched with water to prevent explosion.  The shingles of the A. G. Stevens building smoldered and extinguished four separate times.  And, the flames reached the Merton Dyson home before being drenched out. More than four hours after the initial alarms rang, the fire was finally a smoldering heap of defeated destruction. 

To insure the fire was completely extinguished, George Short and Ronald Cox were appointed fire watchers.  Their job was to sit by the smoldering wreckage of the warehouse and sound alarms if the fire erupted once again.  A straightforward task, stay awake and sound alarms if the fire re-erupted.   

Early in the morning, at 1:30 am, Cox and Short witnessed a second disaster to strike Becker.  The second event came so unexpectedly, neither man moved out of the car until the crisis had passed.  A train, headed towards St. Cloud, pulling 80 cars, jumped the tracks.  The last 16 cars of the train, carrying cement, grain and dynamite lurched off the track and slid towards the smoldering warehouse and two watchmen.  The railcars came to a halt six feet in front of the car the two men were sitting in. 

New alarms blared and the entire community responded to the new disaster.  After the initial shock, Becker residents began the clean-up of a second disaster that had threatened the town.  Luckily, the train stopped short of the burning warehouse, and no lives were lost in either mishap.  Yet, in less than 12 hours, the life of the entire community Becker had twice been threatened.  Stress and excitement jumped to a new level for the residents.  Clean up of the fire and train wreck would take several weeks.  It all began on June 25 and June 26, challenging days Becker, Minnesota.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Klondike Gold Rush Impacts Sherburne County

The Klondike strain of Gold Fever infected Sherburne County in 1897.  The Sherburne County Star News noted the particular disease in August and began offering best advice for those afflicted with the virus and those contemplating an adventure into the Alaska gold fields. 
 
            In the summer months of 1897, the newspaper advised it was already too late to begin the trek to the Klondike.  Adventurous Sherburnites might reach Alaska when the goldfields would be snowed covered.  The paper calculated eight months to reach Juneau, the jumping off point for the Klondike goldfields.  The newspaper suggested adventurers time their journey so that they reach Alaska in the summer months and make the final trek to the interior during the easier summer months. 

            “Those who penetrate into the ice and snow must be rugged and hardy,” the paper warned.  “They must have money and courage, and even then they will take their lives in their hands.”  Overall, an estimated 100,000 prospectors set out for Alaska.  Historian Pierre Berton and official records from the North-West Mounted Police estimate 40 percent actually reached the gold fields.  The other 60,000 either died in the effort or surrendered and returned home

            In spite of the warnings from the press, several county citizens set out for the northern gold fields.  The newspapers noted the plans of J. A. Wagner’s journey.  The editor hoped Wagner might change his mind and stay in Becker.  “We can’t spare him,” the paper concluded.  In other columns, the newspaper reported former resident Brad Trask was rumored to have gold sufficient “to keep the wolf from his door the rest of his life.” 

             With the arrival of spring 1898, gold discoveries in the easier to access areas of Nome, Alaska altered the particular strain of gold fever.  The Klondike Gold rush faded from the attention of Sherburne County newspaper readers.  News of the Spanish American War completely eliminated the infectious gold fever and visions of valor on the battle field dominated the brains of adventure seeking men in the United States.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Commemorating National Underwear Day

August 5 is National Underwear Day.  It seemed like a good time to expose a portion of the Sherburne History Center collection.  We all have seen them. Most of us wear them.  Yet, undergarments rarely occupy exhibit space. Undergarments don't receive much attention in the fashion magazines much less the ivory tower journals of history.  Yet, here they are: the garments that keep you warm and keep you dry.  Garments that serve a very important function in our daily lives.  Here are two examples of underwear from the SHC collection.
Happy National Underwear Day!!