An American Story (Part 18)

At this point I suppose his revelation should not have surprised me.  I let out a deep breath, watching the faint mist of my breath condensing in the night air.  I shrugged up my shoulders, shivered rather more violently than I was expecting,  and then starting rubbing my feet again.

“Ok, so that’s all the info on those pieces?”

“Yes, pretty much.”

“So, when did this fire happen?”

“Well, at about two o’clock in the morning on January 29th of 1889 a fire started in the basement of the opera house and spread fairly quickly.  It consumed the entire building and also burned down the  post office next door.  Almost everyone got out alive, except for our historian, who’s body was found early the next morning as they sifted through what was left of the building.  Part of it, the entire front almost, had actually collapsed into the street and caused the evacuation of the hotel across the way.   The rest of the building was still standing though, and they found his crispy remains curled up in bed.”

“And all of these items, including your candlesticks there, survived this fire?”

“You bet they did.  He kept all of it in several heavy chests and they managed to withstand the heat and the water from the fire brigade.  They might even have been lost after that, however rather fortunately another  resident at the opera house was one of only three members at the time of a group that called themselves the Old Settlers Association of the Head of Lake Superior.  A lofty name huh?”  Vann gave me a raised eyebrow and I agreed silently with a nod and he continued.

“I don’t think that group quite knew what they were all about, just judging from a few documents I dug up, but they were definitely interested in the history of the area and were familiar with the work the historian had been doing.  They claimed most of the non-personal items in his rooms, including some having nothing to do with Tom Sexton, for themselves as part of their historical research.  The authorities apparently let them get away with that, although the how or why of that is lost to history as far as I could tell.  Anyway, the settlers association group recorded every item as part of their society collection a few days later.  After that, years later, the items passed on into the hands of the St. Louis county historical society up there and later to the one for Lake County, which is where Two Harbors is located.”

“And so it just sits there today, in their collection?”

“Pretty much.  Like I said, it’s not like it is on display or anything. It’s all boxed up and kept on one of the many shelves in this small building that suffices I guess for their idea of a historical society.  They don’t have much of an appreciation for the history behind the story.”

“I guess not.  So, if I wanted to, I could go up there and check this stuff out?”

Vann whistled softly. “Well, it wouldn’t be that easy.  It took me a bit of time to get access to it just because they aren’t necessarily really friendly to strangers wanting to poke around in their collection.”

“I wonder why that might be?”  I answered, throwing a knowing look his way.

“Yeah, sure whatever.  I get it that I probably proved their point in a way.  Still, I don’t think they really want people poking around.  They seem to think they know what they have and what they think should be out on display and that’s it.  But, if you work on them long enough I guess they warm up to you.”

“Or they might not, at least not now.”

Vann snorted.  “I really don’t think they know that anything is even missing.”

I stood up and wandered off into the darkness, a little bit apprehensive about the coyotes I had heard earlier, although everything had been dark and still out there for quite some time.  When I returned Vann was standing up and walking around in circles.

“Getting cold?”  I felt slightly bad about the fact that my voice betrayed a slight edge of satisfaction.

“Not hardly.  I’m trying to stay awake,” he answered, just a little bit gruffly.  I’m usually out by now, I have to get moving early in the morning you know.  That’s when the early bird cops cruise around looking for what might be called vagrants.”

I held up my hands.  “Sorry man, I know I’m keeping you up.  We have to be near the end though, don’t we?”

“Not looking for anymore side-tracking?”

“Hardly.  I mean, I’m interested in this whole thing really but I am seriously wiped out too.  I’ve got this headache that keeps creeping back on me and I feel like I could drink about three gallons of water.  You don’t have anymore of that gum do you?”

Vann handed me two pieces and I slammed them into my mouth, this time shoving the wrappers into my pant pockets.   I offered my thanks but he just waved it off.

…to be continued

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