Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dark Days Behind Us: Minnesota Cities Endure


Clockwise from top left: A residential neighborhood in Cloquet following the fire, a membership bulletin touting a convention that would never come to be, a plaque on the state Capitol grounds dedicated to WWI soldiers, headlines from the League magazine regarding the flu epidemic and rescheduling of the convention.
You know the saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going"? We're pretty sure they wrote that about Minnesota cities.

OK, maybe not, but in 1918, it certainly applied.

World War I had been taking its toll on the country's troops and resources since the U.S. entered the war in April of 1917. A League resolution prompted cities to forgo all construction considered "not vital to the municipality's well being," according to a Minnesota Municipalities dispatch that winter.

In mid-October, Cloquet, Moose Lake and surrounding areas were swept by wild fires that killed approximately 500 people and destroyed a swath of northern Minnesota.

Nearly simultaneously, the state's population found itself suddenly in the grips of the Spanish flu, which killed thousands. Oy vey.

It was the flu epidemic that prompted the State Board of Health to ban all statewide gatherings. And so the 1918 Annual Convention, scheduled for October 16-17 in Rochester, was scratched on short notice. No board president was elected. No luncheon speakers took to the podium. A resurgence of the flu in December ensured that a winter gathering would not come to be either.

It was the first time the annual conference had ever been canceled.

While the grave death toll of 1918 is a part of Minnesota history forever, we're relieved to report that cities like Cloquet pulled through. And in June of 1919, League staff dedicated themselves to getting everything back on track with a full convention program to be held in Rochester.

According to an update written in February of 1919, "Members may be assured that it will be a genuine League of Minnesota Municipalities Convention when it gets underway." League members deserved nothing less.

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