"Oh Mama, please tell me about Dr. Stephan,
And why he has scars on his arms."
The child recovering from deadly diphtheria
Still recognized signs of alarm.
So Mama began, as she rocked her dear daughter,
To tell her a story of heroes.
And down through the years, in both reading and hearing,
We've witnessed them too, Heaven knows.
* * *
The Great Hinckley Fire that first of September, the year: eighteen ninety and four,
Began with a spark from those thundering wheels on metal-railed pine-littered floor.
From hot and dry summer, this nearly-reached autumn continued the dangerous trending.
While volunteers battled each smokey eruption, another blaze called for attending.
Creation corrupted conspired to fuel it; such fierce fire foamed through the forest.
So deadly the day, that in history books slumbers, revealed both the blest and the surest.
As lumbermen left the yard, joining the battle, protecting their business from harm,
They left a young orphan boy, manning the whistle, instructed to sound the alarm
Should fire approach all the timber cut, waiting. Meanwhile, others tried to break free.
Some ran for the train tracks in hopes of escaping. And some had no option to flee.
Still trains kept on running to schedules demanding. Their service would prove sorely needed.
As all hell broke loose on that day full of sorrow, the rail men never conceded.
From one side of town, the St.Paul-Duluth depot where Tommy Dunn held to his post,
The telegraph messages clicked down the wires. He stayed, never counting the cost.
The last words he tapped on the key to the agent in Barnum, some miles along,
As fire consumed all the structures around him: "I think that I've stayed here too long."
Across town, two engines linked Eastern line train cars, the engineers Barry and Best.
They fought over lingering, boarding more people. Best kept on the brakes for the rest.
The paint ran down melting, the railroad ties burning, when finally the train made its run.
"For God's sake, keep going," the bridge watchman shouted. They ran it just under the gun.
The high bridge behind them collapsed in the Kettle, as Barry's train made it across.
Five hundred souls rescued with engineers blinded. But hundreds more lives would be lost.
Two fires converged in a hellish tornado that guaranteed doom to the towns
It licked through the tinder and jumped cross the river; and through the roar, a whistle sounds.
The train on Dunn's line from Duluth heading southward encountered those fleeing the fray.
With horror ahead him, the engineer, James Root, had no choice but backing away.
The porter serenely delivered wet towels to women whose hair was ablaze.
With Skunk Lake in sight, although bleeding and burning, Root and his crew helped save the day.
For those with no options to outrun the fire, the gravel pit slough served to save
All those who gave heed to their neighbors' advising. They managed to avoid the grave.
Survivors recovering effects of the fire had miracle stories to tell.
One mother bemoaning the loss of her infant, found him at the pit, safe and well.
From out of the smoke a team galloped, and pulling a wagon with wonders aboard it.
A stack of wool blankets and barrels of water were just what the fam'ly ordered!
For many weeks after the dead were discovered and buried in long trenches deep.
To this day folks visit the monument gravesite, and some even find themselves weep.
As far as the scars on the arms of the doctor,
He earned them while helping that day
To lift little children escaping the fire
To safety outside of harm's way.
The child that he cared for, born twenty years after
The Great Hinckley Fire of yore,
Became my dear mother who told me the story
Which I tell, as I heard before.
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