Cari Anderson Reder
Snow and strong winds were predicted, but what they got exceeded all warnings. On February 22 and 23, 1922, northern winds gusted to 50 miles an hour; snow piled 22 feet high.
Omaha-Chicago and Minneapolis passenger trains were marooned. Bus service and street rail were halted. Vehicles were left where they stalled.
When it became clear that Superior was going to be snowbound, Fire Chief Ole Norman called all men in to the stations. Beds were available for only half. The others made do with rolled-up fire hoses. They remained on-duty for five days.
After 10 p.m. the first night of the blizzard, a fire was called in, possibly from a corner call box. Smoke was rolling out of 1224 Tower Avenue, Harry Hopkins’ café. They believed the fire was started by an over-stoked coal furnace in the Hopkins’ Goodie Shop, and spread to the adjoining basement of Tony Lund’s sporting goods store. Then because of the howling winds, it was not discovered until the basements were consumed.
Snow coupled with the wind continued to cover the streets. Getting seven blocks from the North Sixth Street fire hall was not easy, and more men were called to dig out the stuck rigs.
When they finally reached the scene, firefighters entered the rear of the Hopkins building and were overcome by smoke due to faulty rebreather masks—a two-hosed apparatus worn on a harness over the shoulders that weighed roughly 27 pounds. The fit was not always correct. The men were revived when taken out of the building into fresh air.
Firefighters decided to concentrate their efforts on the safety of the surrounding buildings. Tower Clothing, on the south side of Hopkins, was not on fire, but suffered water damage and a broken front sign.
Several more businesses were in danger to the north of Hopkins. At 1220 Tower, Brothers and Gilsdorf Barbers and Lindemyer Cigars would sustain structural and smoke damage. A confectioner’s shop at 1218 Tower sustained smoke damage. Owner John Branca lived above the shop with his family. It is not documented how many people were housed in the three buildings involved.
Chief Ole Norman had grave concerns for the remaining block, as the wind was still blowing at 36 miles per hour. Norman called on more than half the city’s firefighting force and equipment to keep the blaze contained. At 2:10 a.m., Lund sporting goods store flared again.
There were no fatalities or citizens injured in the fire. Because of the hour of night, most would have been in their nightclothes, making frostbite a reality and escape more of a challenge.
Firemen who were fighting the blaze all night were served a hot lunch and relieved by crews from other departments, who were kept on the scene hosing down the smoldering skeleton of the building. The brick front wall of the 1224-1222 Tower building remained standing, while the wooden interior skeleton crumbled in the early morning hours.
“Great Smoke and Water Sale,” Tower Clothing ran an ad a week after the fire announcing, “Entire stock must go!”
Men’s shoes selling for $2.15, “Nothing touched by fire.”
Opening at 10 a.m. March 2. The ad showed a photo taken the day after the fire of people gazing up at the frozen building.
Norman was publicly commended for his ingenuity. The fire department was equipped with snowshoes for each man, a toboggan with 400 feet of hoses and chemical tanks, and horses harnessed and ready to go with a sleigh full of shovels for digging.
Two months later, an April edition of the Superior Telegram announced that the buildings would be razed and rebuilt with modern brick.
Dave Johnson with the Superior Fire Department, Teddie Meronek with the Superior Public Library, and meteorologist Dave Anderson with KBJR contributed to this story.