What is it with firefighters and fire, anyway? In comments to yesterday's post, you will find referenced the Australian rampaging fires of just a short while back, and the fact that at least some of them had been deliberately set by a former volunteer firefighter.
Those comments got me to thinking back and I remembered another occasion where a volunteer firefighter had deliberately set fires. Why? There wasn't enough fire-fighting business to suit him that he had to create more? Did he have a personal grudge against Mickey Gilley?
Yes, you read the name correctly. It was Gilley's, of Urban Cowboy fame, that was 'torched' in the late 1980's. Although Wiki has a pretty good writeup about Gilley's, it only mentions one arson fire. As I recall, there were two, but it was only after the second one that the culprit was discovered and apprehended!
And then I got to thinking about other strange incidents. Wasn't there one within the past very few years - in Colorado, I think - where it was discovered that a forest ranger had deliberately set a fire that got out of control? A woman, as I recall. Anyone remember that one? It was a shocker!
Fires hold kind of a morbid fascination for us all, in one way or another, don't they? In the little town of Munising, Michigan, where I grew up, there was a Beach Inn - at least, I think that was its name! ... a grand-looking* (from my memory banks) 3*** or 5***** hotel - whatever the highest rating was at the time - that sat perhaps 200' back from the Munising Bay waterfront. Once a week a cruise ship would come up to the dock and passengers would disembark to partake of lunch at the hotel and perhaps purchase a trinket or two.
But then, one year, the unthinkable happened. The Beach Inn caught fire and, despite the best efforts of volunteer firefighters from miles around, burned to the ground. I don't remember hearing anything about a suspected arson. There probably wasn't one. This would have been in the late 1940's or early 1950's.
I stood nearby, along with hundreds of other townspeople - tears streaming down our cheeks, staring at the blazing inferno. We were witnessing a vital part of Munising's history just disintegrating into ash-filled debris before our very eyes. The hotel was never rebuilt and cruise ships stopped coming into the bay. Sad.
Probably the most bizarre recollections I have of arson-related fires are those from the Keweenaw Peninsula, where my husband and I lived in 1959 and 1960. I've written a few posts about that area. Your best reference would be this one, which includes just a great link (click on "Portage Lake" in the second paragraph) to a map of that part of the world.
There had been a number of fires, all either arson-related or arson-suspected, within the past several years to historically-significant buildings - the latest of which had been the deliberate torching of the opera house in Calumet. (If you look at the map, you will see that Calumet is a little farther up the Keweenaw from Houghton/Hancock.)
Most people, unless they're from the far north, have heard very little and know even less about that part of our country. (I knew absolutely nothing about the Gulf Coast, for example, until I moved here in the early 1970's. But that's the way of it, isn't it?) That part of our country, known a century ago as "boom copperland", was a thriving and most noteworthy area. The opera house in Calumet was one of only three normally-scheduled stops in this country for famous singers - among them were Enrico Caruso and Jenny Lind ... the other two cities were New York and San Francisco.
And so, the torching of the opera house was just about the last straw for local citizenry. We were all up in arms! A massive investigation ensued and the culprits were discovered.
Who were they? They were kids! Twelve to fourteen years old - something like that. In order to become a member of the "gang", you had to burn down a famous or important building. Made us all sick just to think of such a possibility, but there it was and - worse yet - it was true!
*Grand-looking ... I've been looking back through hundreds of photographs, trying to find a good one of this hotel as it actually was. If/when I find one, I will amend this post and include it.