News: Loyal Fire (Christenson)

Contact: Allan Wessel

----Source: Marshfield News-Herald (Date Unknown) (From Leona Albert Collection)


Searchers Despair of Finding Trace of Bodies of Other Victims

Tragedy Took 6 Lives

Loyal, March 30 (Special) One large grave was prepared today in the little Catholic cemetery of this village to receive the bodies of Mrs. Frank Christenson, 35 and her three small children, Robert, 10, Jane 4, and Marie, 3, four of the six victims who perished in a fire of undetermined origin which completely destroyed the Kehrberg store and apartment building here early Saturday Morning.

Funeral services will be conducted at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning by Father Anthony Aurit. Meanwhile searchers began to despair of finding any trace of the bodies of Mrs. Matt Bever and Mrs. Jarjorie Shober, the other two victims of the tragedy. Authorities said today they believed now the bodies may have been cremated in the basement of the Wepfer drug store where 10 tons of coal were stored.

District Attorney Hugh G. Haight and Corner H. A. Frank, of Clark County, announced that no official inquest will be held unless evidence is found that contradicts their belief the fire was of accidental origin. Witnesses maintained under questioning that the blaze appeared to have started in the Christenson apartment or in an adjoining hallway near the stairs leading down to the street entrance. The Christenson and Bever homes were a mass of flames before the fire crept into other living quarters.


It was not until late Saturday afternoon that searchers came upon the charred remains of Robert and Marie Christenson, mutilated of head and limbs. They are believed to have left their mother's side when Robert sought to lead his sister out of the roaring furnace. Blinded by smoke they are thought to have plunged through an opening where fire had burned away the stairs leading from the apartments to the street. The positions in which their bodies were discovered gave credence to this theory.

Mrs. Christenson with Jane, stood at a window when firemen arrived on the scene. Flames were roaring about them and their hair and clothing were afire when they were taken from the building down ladders. Dr. M. McGonigal gave them first aid and then ordered their removal to St. Joseph's hospital at Marshfield where they died 20 minutes apart.

At the hospital Mrs. Christenson regained consciousness long enough to receive the last rites of the Catholic church. She expressed desire to die, knowing that two of her children had perished in the flames, but up to the last moment she was firm in her belief that her youngest daughter, Jane, was not so badly burned but what she would survive her injuries. The child, however, died shortly after her mother. While being brought into the hospital the little one said to attending nurses; My name is Jane, will you please give me a drink." Those were her final words.


Mr. Christenson was not at home having started for Madison the day before on a business trip. Learning of the tragedy from friends, who reached him by telephone, he started immediately for Marshfield, but became stalled in snow drifts at Camp Douglas. A group of Loyal residents met him there and brought him to Marshfield but he reached the hospital too late to see either his wife or daughter alive. He then continued to Loyal where he joined scores of onlookers peering eagerly into the ruins of the fire where villagers toiled feverishly in a search for bodies. In a topical manner he heard close friends relate the details of the tragedy that wiped out his entire family. His only reply was "I can't believe its true."

In the apartment of a relative across the street from the destroyed Kehrberg building sat Matt Bever, gazing wistfully out of a window while searchers carried on their gruesome search for bodies. Pensively Bever recounted his version of the tragedy to a News-Hearld representative. "There isn't much to tell you," he said. "About 2:30 or maybe it was a little later, my wife and I were awakened by the odor of smoke. Mrs. Shober, who was spending the night with us was sleeping on a davenport in another room. We rushed to a rear window and shouted for help to a group of men who placed a ladder at our disposal. I crawled out the window so I could assist my wife and Mrs. Shober down the ladder. A moment later, there was an eruption of flames at the window. That was the last I saw of my wife, or Mrs. Shober."

Bever, a native resident of Loyal, was married four years ago last September. His wife whose maiden name was Mary Fleming, was born and raised in Sauk County, near Madison. She was 23 years of age.

Meanwhile other occupants of the building, aroused by the odor of smoke which penetrated to every part of the building escaped. One or two are said to have received slight burns, and one woman, Mrs. Herman Kehrbert, received slight injuries when she fell down part of a flight of stairs. Every able-bodied person in Loyal was on hand to render whatever service they could. Homes were thrown open to those who had been driven out in nothing but their night clothing and who lost everything in the blaze. Physicians were in readiness to do their part.

Members of the Loyal fire department worked heroically to save adjoining buildings and succeeded well in their task, although occupants of a home adjacent to the burning structure moved out all their furniture when flames and toppling brick provided a constant menace to safety.

Telephone linemen, arriving early Saturday morning, labored unceasingly to re-establish disrupted communication service and by nightfall practically all the trouble was remedied.

Today preparations were being made by the affected business firms to begin business anew in other quarters. Several buildings were being placed at their disposal. The Marshfield News-Hearld and the Greenwood Gleaner placed their plants at the Disposal of the Loyal Tribune, whose publishing equipment was destroyed entirely in the fire. Owners of the newspaper, a weekly publication, said they would avail themselves of one of these offers so that their paper could be issued without interruption.


Representatives of insurance companies are expected here tomorrow to adjust the loss. Meanwhile owners made no statement as to whether or not they will rebuild. Erected in 12898, the destroyed Kerhberg Building was the largest structure in Loyal. It was intended originally to be a hotel and hardware store but was never used for that purpose. The interior of the third story remained practically unfinished.

Mrs. Frank Christenson, a victim of the tragedy, was 34 years of age. She was daughter of the late Henry Horn, who established the first drug store in Marshfield. Her three children, who perished with her were all born in Loyal. Only one of them, Robert, attended school here.

Marshfield News-Herald (Date Unknown) (From Leona Albert Collection)



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