FIRE ON THE FOURTH

Panoramic views from the wooden breakwater in Marquette’s harbor about 1887; photographs taken by James Pendill.

Wednesday, we celebrated the Fourth of July with a parade, fireworks and the Marquette County Exchange Club’s annual Food Fest. Marquette’s celebrations in 1891 were extensive and began at sunrise with a 44-gun salute. People had been streaming into Marquette for several days in preparation for the festivities. On the Fourth, the DSS&A used every available passenger car and ran 14 special trains into Marquette in addition to those regularly scheduled.

The festivities continued with a baseball game, an exhibition practice with the life boat by the crew from the newly opened life-saving station, a “military parade and skirmish drill,” wrestling contests, bicycle races and lots of speeches.

The day concluded with a fireworks display off the breakwater at 8 that evening. There was some concern for firework safety. An announcement was made “Parents are requested to notify their children not to throw firecrackers in the street during the grand parade Saturday as there will be some pretty spirited horses in line and carelessness with fire crackers might cause an accident.”

But one article from The Mining Journal’s special Fourth of July Supplement prophetically noted the day “will continue until the last piece (of fireworks) has scattered its sparks over the breakwater where the fireworks will be given at night.”

Unfortunately, while today’s breakwater is made of concrete and stone, in those days the breakwater was still made of wood. At about 1 a.m., the lookout from the recently opened U.S. Life-Saving Station noticed that the end of the breakwater was on fire near the light. It is believed that sparks from the fireworks had ignited the structure.

The Life-Saving crew along with the city firemen, bailed water directly from the lake onto the fire until the firemen were satisfied that the flames had been extinguished.

Twenty minutes after the Life-Saving crew returned to the station, the lookout reported that the flames had flared up again. By the time they reached the fire had spread and was burning around the fuel tank for the light tower at the end of the breakwater.

The crew quickly cut away the burning timbers using their fire axes, preventing an explosion. After completely dousing the fire, the crew returned to the station for a second time at 3:40 a.m.

To learn more about the other structures that have crowded the lower harbor over the years, including ore docks, coal docks, and freight docks, join the History Center’s Docks of Iron Bay Walking Tour led by Jim Koski on July 11 at 6 p.m. Prepare for a stroll from the History Center, to the Boardwalk, then down to Lower Harbor Park and back. Learn about what’s left, as well as the many structures that have disappeared and the stories that went with them. You might even discover a few secrets (some hidden in plain sight) about how the docks and the rail lines leading to them shaped downtown Marquette. $5 suggested donation. Call 906-226-3571 for more info or visit marquettehistory.org.