Two weeks ago, I asked for help with an answer to this question: When did the top of the Milwaukee Road Depot tower disappear?
The generally accepted date, according to Wikipedia, is 1941, after the building had been damaged by wind. But after a bit of searching, I couldn't find the date. It seemed a bit of a mystery.
Thanks go out to the many readers who called, texted and e-mailed me about more than just the fate of the tower topper. We now know more about the rich history of the once-loved cupola.
Several readers wrote to say that before the 1941 wind storm, the tower suffered a fire, specifically on May 1, 1938. According to the Minneapolis Star, the fire "failed to force Mrs. Alice Riggs, 2537 33 Avenue S., from her switchboard on the third floor just below the blueprint room, where the fire started. She donned fireman regalia and held her post."
The blaze was "quickly extinguished," and while it did cause $5,000 worth of damage, it wasn't the reason that the tower lost its top.
Erik Johnson, keen in the ways of historic building permits, found references to the tower in Hennepin County Library archives. According to Card #303, "American Lbr. & Wrgs. Co." got a permit to take down the top on a "pass. depot" for the grand sum of $2,000. The permit was issued on May 12, 1941.
Tom Murphy did some searching of his own, using variations on the Milwaukee Road name, and found a story from the May 29, 1941, Minneapolis Morning Tribune:
"For northbound travelers on Third Avenue S., who have been wondering what's wrong with the loop skyline, here's the answer. The top of the tower on the Milwaukee station has been torn off, and is being replaced. The old ornamental copper top, underpinned with wood, has been exiled to the weather since 1898, and rotting of the wood had made it insecure."
The story goes on to name some of the men who helped take it down. Gene Norton, Ted Tischer and Frank Rogers on the top of the tower on the job.
There's another old photo of the tower, from the June 17, 1941, edition of the Minneapolis Star. It shows the tower looking like it does today, with no cupola.
Sadly, the photo accompanies a story about steeplejack Ted Tischer falling 35 feet to his death while working on the tower.
"The fall occurred when a rope supporting a bosun's seat high in the air, by which he could raise or lower himself, broke as he was suspended below the top of the tower," according to the Star.
Now we know that the tower was likely shaved because the top was decrepit, not because of wind, although a good gust in 1941 might have hastened its end. We also know that a man lost his life removing what was left of the top.
The story notes that Tischer had repaired the flagstaff high atop City Hall just a few days before he fell on the Depot job.
If the City Hall tower ever topples, there should be no mystery about exactly when it happened. At least not for 100 years or so.