Dakota Datebook

A Fatal Fall

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

We have had a love/hate relationship with fire for eons. We need fire. We use fire to stay warm and cook our meat. On the other hand, even before Nero took lessons in fiddling, the threat of fire has always existed, and old newspapers are dotted with the descriptions of their destruction.
On this day in 1908, the Grand Forks Herald reported one man’s curious experience with one of these fires.
No one was certain how the fire at the St. Anthony and Dakota Elevator got started. Speculation suggested that an engine passing on the railroad tracks located nearby threw off some dangerous sparks. In any case, the fire started quickly and went unnoticed until some passers-by spotted and reported it.

Any property fire is dangerous, but this elevator was surrounded by railroad property, a coal chute, the Cargill elevator, and a string of boxcars. Everyone knew the fire had to be contained quickly before it spread.
The firefighters battled the fire tirelessly. Some of the other local men helped. One was Andy Cost of Park River.
While helping the firemen pull a hose into the air, Cost braced himself against the coal chute platform, forty feet in the air. Smoke and ash billowed over him and the other men. They were already wet with sweat, and the soot stuck to their skin. They were warm despite the cold of the air around them. There was shouting and Cost and the other men strained to hoist the hose up further. Suddenly—a loud noise, and the platform collapsed, and Cost plummeted toward the frozen ground below.
It was a 40-foot drop, a fatal fall—but miraculously, Cost survived.
He hit a projecting beam on his way down, interrupting the force of his plunge, and landed on the ground.
Cost laid there, severely injured. Those people nearby immediately called for some doctors to help him. The diagnosis: Cost had fractured two of his ribs, and also had severe internal injuries.
Firefighters were successful in keeping the fire from spreading. The St. Anthony and Dakota Elevator was completely destroyed, as was a great part of the 12,000 bushels of grain inside the building, but everything around it was saved—including Cost.
Cost lived for twelve more years—time enough to marry his wife Tina, and to join the service. He became a member of the 40th Field Artillery. He also had time to bury his older brother and to father two children before he died in 1920. He had time to tell and retell his story.

In the immortal words of Seneca, “Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.” Andrew Cost faced fire and adversity. In the end, his life was short, but it was full.
By Sarah Walker

Park River Gazette-News, Friday, November 27, 1908 p. 1
The Evening Times, Grand Forks, Saturday, November 28, 1908 p. 6
Walsh County Farmer Press, August 6, 1920, p.1

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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