Column: Spencer, Remsen incidents should teach us lessonsWORTHINGTON — There is a story which, not too long ago, would never be told in a newspaper column because everyone knew it. By this April of 2012 that story needs telling perhaps because there are so very many who do not know it, possibly to their disadvantage.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — There is a story which, not too long ago, would never be told in a newspaper column because everyone knew it. By this April of 2012 that story needs telling perhaps because there are so very many who do not know it, possibly to their disadvantage.
Spencer, Iowa, 60 miles south of Worthington, is famous for the Spencer Fair. The Clay County Fair. When the Minnesota State Fair closes, the Clay County Fair opens. It is a production bigger than many of America’s state fairs.
On June 27, 1931, Spencer stories began to appear in newspapers across the nation for another reason. Spencer burned.
Otto Bjornstad’s downtown corner drug store had fireworks piled on a table 40 feet long midway in the center aisle. Roman candles. Sky rockets. Bottle rockets. Firecrackers. Cherry bombs. Sparklers.
A boy never publicly identified came into Bjornstad’s with a lighted punk, as the story goes. He examined something on the table; “I don’t know if this is a punk or a sparkler.” Someone said, “Light it and see.” He did. When the sparkler began suddenly to sparkle, the startled boy tossed it away and into the inventory of fireworks.
Before another 60 seconds went by, sky rockets and Roman candles were exploding in all directions. Fire erupted on every wall. People inside ran to safety.
There was a wind, with gusts up to 35 mph. Embers and flaming bits from Bjornstad’s Drugs began to settle on the canvas awnings of Cummings Drugs across the street. Very quickly, two buildings were afire.
Through the passing of the next hour, 80 businesses, offices and apartments along two blocks in the heart of Spencer’s business district were in flames. Tar on main street melted and burned. The Des Moines Register dispatched an airplane with a case of dynamite. Fire fighters used the dynamite to explode Spencer Dry Cleaners. At last there was a gap the fire could not leap.
Those things happen. You know.
July 4, 1936. Remsen, Iowa, 90 miles south of Worthington. An almost exact replay of the Spencer tragedy except that, at Remsen, flames spread to a residential neighborhood and houses burned.
The Iowa legislature at last concluded it is possible to have a full, happy, rewarding even joyous life in Iowa without firecrackers. The sale and use of personal fireworks in Iowa was banned.
Switch now to Cedric Adams, born at Adrian, reared at Magnolia. In the 1940s, the 1950s, Cedric Adams of the Minneapolis Star and radio station WCCO was Minnesota’s most famous resident. He was a radio news broadcaster, variety show host, newspaper columnist, journalist. Through a succession of years he produced more than 50 columns and radio/TV broadcasts every week.
Cedric was human and often humorous. One part of his daily column was, “Thoughts While Shaving.” He involved himself in no political issues, with one exception.
On his newscasts in the wake of every Fourth of July Cedric Adams reported on kids burned, injured, sometimes blinded, by fireworks. Occasionally deaths were attributed to fireworks. House fires and garage fires were blamed on fireworks, on embers falling on roofs.
Of course Cedric Adams knew of Iowa’s experiences at Spencer and Remsen. “Iowa’s got the right idea,” he said. Most certainly we can live full and happy and good and rewarding lives in Minnesota without backyard sky rockets. We can save a lot of kids from a lot of woe.
Cedric roused and marshaled his legions of readers and listeners. They pressed legislators and candidates. Fireworks were banned in Minnesota.
All of this becomes timely for the fact that Minnesota’s legislature is considering seriously a proposal to open Minnesota to fireworks sales once again. Minnesotans can’t drive to Iowa for fireworks but they can drive to Wisconsin, the argument goes. Minnesota money is flowing into Wisconsin. (The debate seems to overlook fireworks sales in South Dakota.)
Well: the campaign song for every politician these days is Cut-a-Tax. We could Cut-a-Tax on every house in Minnesota by directing a river of sales taxes from sky rockets into St. Paul.
There also will be kids hurt once again. Fires. Maybe a death one year, a couple of deaths another year.
There’s no escaping this.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.