STILL A MYSTERY
Explosion of Powder Magazine at Eveleth.
Sol. Sax One of the Victims Declares That no Lives Were Lost—Missing Man Turns Up—Schools Shut Down Owing to Lack of Windows—Rifle Ball May Have Caused the Accident.
Duluth News-Tribune October 9, 1900
Sol. [Solomon] Sax, a prominent business man of Eveleth, and one of the principal losers as a result of Sunday’s explosion of the Spruce mine powder house, is at the Spalding [Hotel.]
“The blowing up of the magazine was a great surprise to the people of Eveleth,” said he last evening. “Coming as it did toward evening of a Sunday night made it all the more startling. I was in Virginia when the magazine let go there a few years ago and when the one at the Spruce mine exploded Sunday night I knew in an instant what had happened. The effect of the explosion, I presume, was something like that of an earthquake, though it was more sudden and startling. The News Tribune account of the accident was correct except that I think not more than half of the glass in the town is broken and no mirrors are destroyed that I know of. The breakage of bottled goods was considerable but not as great as was at first supposed.
“There was no school at Eveleth yesterday for the reason that all of the windows in the school house are broken. [The Spruce School on Fayal Road was The man who was reported as missing and who, it was thought might in some way accidentally have caused the explosion, has returned and was not in the vicinity of the powder house when it went up. He had been out hunting and the fact that his dogs returned alone led many to believe that the man had lost his life in the accident. It is now thought that no men were around the place at the time. One theory is that a rifle bullet may have accidentally struck the powder house in such a way as to set the explosion off. It is fortunate that the shock did not set off the powder house at the Adams mine, situated about half a mile distant.”
Mr. Sax was more fortunate that most of the other people who sustained loss on that account, as he carried plate glass insurance. As the principal item of damage in the town was that to windows there will be a great demand for glaziers for a time. Mr. Sax estimates the loss occasioned by the explosion, at about $10,000. His own loss was upwards of $350 on plate glass. He sustained loss on common glass for a considerable amount also. Mr. Sax says that C. E. Bailey, D. T. Adams, A. J. Kingston, William Coss and H. Hookwith also sustained substantial loss from the breakage of glass.
The above photo appears in the souvenir booklets for Eveleth’s 75th and 100th anniversaries; the caption was: “Remains of the D. M.& N. Railroad station after it was blown up in the spring of 1902. Dr. C. W. More noted, ‘Robbers attempted to blow up the safe in the station and this is the result. The men were seen to run, as reported to me by my friend, J. H. Hearding.'”
April 16, 1902, was an eventful night for the newly incorporated city of Eveleth. It is supposed that a prisoner, M. J. Balm, set fire to his cell causing the jail to burn to the ground, costing him his life. A few hours later, unknown robbers tried to blow up the safe at the Duluth, Missabe, & Northern railroad station, but they used too much nitroglycerin—the sizeable blast rocked the community at 4 o’clock in the morning. For the second time in two years, nearly all windows in the city were blown out (the powder magazine at the Spruce Mine exploded on October 8, 1900).
The front page of the April 18, 1902, Virginia Enterprise reported it like this:
Burned in the Jail.
M. J. Balm, of Duluth, the Victim of Fire in the Eveleth Lock-Up.
MISSABE DEPOT BLOWN UP.
The new city of Eveleth comes to the fore this week as a news furnisher, the place being torn by two startling events Monday night, the city jail being destroyed by fire early in the evening, and the D. M. & N. depot was wrecked and blown to atoms by an overcharge of nitroglycerine [sic.] in an attempt to rob the safe.
The fire which burned the jail is of mysterious origin. The building was a two story frame structure and but one prisoner was confined in it at the time, and it is supposed that he set fire to his cell. Despite the efforts of the fire department the building burned so quickly that it was impossible to reach the prisoner, and his charred remains were picked from the debris later. His features were burned to a crisp and it was with difficulty his identity discovered. The officer who placed him under arrest said that he was a Finlander from the Fayal, and it was finally found that he was M. J. Balm, a miner. He was a married man, his wife and family residing in Duluth.
The destruction of the Missabe depot was doubtless the work of burglars. Pieces of the top of the safe found some distance from the wrecked depot show that two holes had been bored in the top, and it is supposed put such an overcharge of nitro in that the building was practically reduced to splinters. The depot is in the vale near the Spruce office, and the explosion was terrific, windows being broken by the concussion for blocks away. Fire started in the wreckage, but the department was quickly on the scene and the flames extinguished.
It is said there was considerable money in the safe at the time, and a considerable amount of coin and paper was picked up on property adjoining the wreck the following day. No clue to the probable perpetrators has been found.
Following the explosion, the Duluth, Missabe, & Northern depot was rebuilt on the same site: the northwest corner of Monroe Street and Carrie Avenue. D. M. & N. tracks once ended at what is now the southern part of Monroe Park. The larger rail yard of the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad and its depot were south of Fayal Road between Lincoln and Grant Avenues. In 1923, a new union depot opened that served both railroads, which merged to form the Duluth, Missabe, & Iron Range Railroad in 1938.