Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Rebekah Lund
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Kalevala area remembers 1918


October 11, 2018

Rebekah Lund

John and Janice Gran recreated what the scene may have looked like at the Red Cross hospital during the Fire of 1918.

The historic Finnish Church (Suomalainen Kirkko) north of Kettle River is set up like it was during the 1918 Fire, thanks to local residents John and Janice Gran. The church was used during the fire and the 1918 flu epidemic as a hospital, which was set up by the Red Cross and the National Guard. The couple lives near the church, and John's family lived in this area during the 1918 Fire.

"My uncle Harry Gran and his babysitter, Esther Perala, both died in the 1918 Fire," John said. The two suffocated while trying to escape the fire by hiding in a well on the property just north of where the historic church now sits.

The Grans are very involved in preserving local history and encouraging community events, especially at the church, so it is fitting that they decided to do something to honor the 100th anniversary of the fire. "It's important to remember what happened," John said.

They recreated the scene after looking at a picture of a different, but similar church that was used as a hospital during the fire. "There aren't many survivors left," Janice said. "So we had to use the picture to get an idea." Most records from the hospital were also lost in either a flood or a fire in Superior, according to the couple, so they had to be resourceful in recreating the scene.

The couple set up an old cast-iron, potbelly stove in the center of the church where it would have been sitting originally, a resting area with a bed and a privacy panel, a check-in table, a medicine cabinet area, and a pantry area that would have been used for provisions. Their neighbors, Lyle and Judy Madsen, generously donated much of the antique furniture that was used in the project.

If you visit the church, you will also see the restored wooden chairs from the original building. "The chairs had to be thrown outside for the winter over 1918-1919 to make room for the hospital," John said, so they sustained a lot of damage, but were restored afterward and are still functional; they even have hat-holders underneath the seats for the men's top-hats.

Rebekah Lund

Just north on Highway 73, John and Janice have also honored those buried in the West Branch Cemetery who died in 1918 or 1919 with simple, handmade crosses that say "1918" across the top, and "Remember" down the middle. They aren't sure if all of those who died at that time were victims of the fire or flu, although many probably were, but they will still be remembered.

Both the church and cemetery are open for visitors for a few weeks after October 12, the official anniversary of the 1918 fire in our area. The church will also be part of the Moose Lake Area Historical Society bus tour on Sunday, October 14. Some people have visited already, as shown by the guestbook. "Stop in and sign the guestbook," the Grans said. If you haven't already, it is definitely worth the visit. It is important for us to remember those who came before us and experienced tribulation and relied on community to get through it. Thank you to the Grans for making it possible.


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