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

By A. R. Vander Vegt
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

A time for reflection

From the Editor


October 11, 2018

History is one of my favorite subjects. I don’t often share that with people, mostly because the inevitable question that follows is, “Which era?” For me, it’s not about studying a certain era. I’m grateful for experts who study certain time periods, but like in so many other parts of my life, I like looking at specific tidbits and seeing how those pieces fit into the larger narrative.

Putting together the special supplement this week dedicated to the 1918 Fire has been an honor. Lois was indispensable and I gleaned from her knowledge and the knowledge of others. I wish I could share everything that I saw, but time and space are limited. There are still stories to be told, pictures to be seen. As much as I’d like to do it all, I simply cannot.

On another page of this paper are ‘Where We’re From’ lines of poetry. I’m so grateful Rebekah Lund submitted them this week of all weeks — on the week we’re more prone to remember our pasts because of the anniversary of the fires.

As I read through what the students had written, I was struck that each one had a connection to place and people. In some lines, people and place are cozy and supple with a joy that hums softly. Other lines depict the absence of people and place.

The same thing struck me as I’ve gone through the stories in the special supplement. They are fraught with people and place — people who survived, people who were taken, a place that was changed.

More than mere stories, they depict real experiences, real feelings, real people. Real people who paved the way for our lives in Moose Lake and the surrounding areas and beyond. Taking time to read and reflect on what the fire meant for those who lived through it, for those who perished made me consider life a little more carefully, if just for a moment.

As Lois and I have talked over this issue, she shared a question with me that she often asks people who visit the depot when she volunteers. “What would you do if a fire came through now? These people had no warning; they didn’t have any clue that it was coming. What would you grab, where would you go?”

I can’t answer those questions with any certainty. Some people sought refuge in wells and root cellars, expecting they would be safe there. Others escaped to plowed fields — they survived but bore scars the rest of their lives, physical and emotional.

When I consider the resilience it took to labor on in life, I am amazed. In the movie "Casablanca," Humphrey Bogart’s character muses to Ingrid Bergman’s character that it’s a crazy time to be falling in love, as the Germans are on France’s doorstep, knee-deep in World War II. Reading the accounts from the fire feels like that. There is such heartbreak, such desolation, yet it is not without hope. And that hope doesn’t feel flagrant or detached from the tragedy. Somehow the hope is steeped in it, and the hope comes out all the richer for it.

In "The Last Jedi," which came out December 2017, there's a great moment toward the end. (No matter your feelings on the movie as a whole, there's no doubt this is memorable.) One of the Rebel fighters is about to perform a self-sacrificing act, believing that it will contribute to the cause. Someone stops him, though, risking her own neck to do so. She tells him that what the cause needs is not another martyr, but it needs people to survive. That's how civilizations are built. Not through death, but through the survivors. This is true, too, as we remember the 1918 Fire. We remember those whose lives perished October 12, and we also need to cherish those who survived, those who picked up the pieces and lived.

I hope you take time to look over the special section. Maybe it will even spur you on to do more reading — there are plenty of resources in the area, including Moose Lake Public Library and the Moose Lake Area Historical Society. Take some time to consider the lives that came before you, the ones that make yours possible.


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