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Poetry and the Fargo Fire

This is a slideshow video reading of two poems written by an unknown Fargo resident and J.H. Burke following and regarding the Fargo Fire of 1893. Please click the links below to view video presentations of these poems on YouTube.

Please click here for a reading of “Untitled.”

“Untitled”

“In our peaceful, quiet city,

(Oh what a change that day would see,)

That seventh day of June,

Eighteen hundred ninety-three;

None e’en deemed that swift destruction

Soon would come a rushing down,

Till the cry of fire! fire! Was heard ringing throughout town.

Then excitement and confusion

Reigned where peace reigned just before,

As the red-tongued, fiery monster

Madly swept the city o’er.

Bells pealed forth their notes of warning,

Mingled with the whistles’ scream,

And the fire’s roar and crackle,

Shouts of men and hiss of steam.

Onward swept the fiery tempest

Sweeping all within its track,

And it seemed no human effort

Could beat the flaming demon back.

Bravely fought the “fire ladies,”

Bravely fought man, woman, child;

But the fiery fiend was master

And on it swept in fury wild.

But relief was swiftly coming

From our noble sister Casselton,

And from other sisters near;

We soon met the monster’s frown.

Then was turned the tide of battle

And we ere the set of sun,

Had conquered the red monster;

But oh, such work as he had done.

Where once stood in seeming safety

Lovely home and business place,

Naught is left but blackened ruins

Which time alone can e’er erase

While it cost us precious treasure,

Yet it cost no precious life;

Although home’s gone, still remaining

Are the children, husband, wife.

We’ll ever hold in kind remembrance

All who helped us on that day.

And with emphasis we thank you.

It is all that we can say.

Let us offer now oblation

Until God who ruleth all,

And give heed to His commandments

Lest a worse thing us befall.

-Unknown—June 7, 1893

Please click here for a reading of “Fargo June 7, 1893”.

 

 “FARGO, JUNE 7, 1893.”

Fargo, Dakota’s prairie queen,

IN peaceful plenty lay

Begirt by fields of waving green

That sultry summer day.

Her lofty blocks of brick and stone

Seemed towering to the sky,

And cast their cooling shadows down

Upon the passer by.

The farmers from the country round

Did throng each busy street,

Their friends and neighbors greet;

For every road to Fargo led,

As did the roads of old

To Rome, when she by Tiber’s bed,

The restless world controlled.

And business men with eager face,

And keen observant eyes,

Were flitting by from place to place

As bee its calling plies;

And lovely women lent their grace

Unto the busy scene;

And childhood, with its guileless face,

Amidst the throng was seen.

When suddenly a shout was heard

Of agony and fear;

And through the noise the thrilling word

Of fire, struck on the ear.

Then other voices swelled the cry,

And soon the deep-voiced bell

Was pealing from the belfry high;

The doomed city’s knell.

And shooting up in whirling bands,

A smoking pillar rose,

Black as that, which on Egypt’s sands,

Screened Israel from its foes;

And spurting through the inky cloud,

The blood-red flames appear,

Like those which from Jehovah’s cloud,

Filled Pharaoh’s hosts with fear

And o’er their heads the south wind strong,

The blazing embers tossed

And soon the word was passed along,

“The water fails, all’s lost.”

But still they bravely stood their ground,

And did all men could do;

While overhead and all around

Naught but flames met their view.

The Fire Fiend rode upon the blast,

From roof to roof he sprang;

And round his fiery darts he cast,

And loud his laughter rang.

A sea of fire with human shore,

He saw beneath his feet;

Louder and louder grew his roar,

And fiercer grew the heat.

Twas o’er a hundred acres lay,

A lake of shouldering fire,

And perished in that swift decay

Had wall, and roof, and spire.

And homeless hundreds stood that night, beneath the drenching rain

Nor hoped nor cared to see the light

Of morning dawn again.

But one short year has passed away,

And now I stand once more

Just where I stood that awful day

Upon that red sea’s shore.

And what a change—that fiery flood

I see no longer there.

But stately blocks and mansions good

Have risen everywhere.

The massive blocks of brick and stone

The stranger doth amaze

As when Aladdin’s palace shone

Upon the sultan’s gaze.

I see the men, as good as gold,

Who’ve build again their town,

And lovely women, as of old,

Are passing up and down.

—J. H. Burke, June 7 1894[1]

[1] Masonic Library Staff. Fargo Masonic Files. Fargo: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, 1979. Print.

-Valerie Tescher

Valerie Tescher is an undergraduate student in Anthropology and History at North Dakota State University.

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