Metz fire remembered with reading of family stories

by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor

The Metz fire of 1908 will be commemorated Sunday at the Metz Fire Trailside Park pavilion with the reading of stories from family history books that may never have been heard before.

Glory (Grambau) Kelderhouse, who lives in a centennial family home that was one of only a few structures that was not destroyed that day, will be reading the stories starting at 1 p.m. at the pavilion and she said it might take a few hours to get through. 

“Members of the public are invited and encouraged to come and hear stories that have never been published elsewhere,” Kelderhouse said.

The tragedy claimed the lives of 37 people and left 134 families, or about 700 people, homeless. 

The fire started somewhere west of Millersburg in the late morning of Oct. 15, 1908. Being fanned by gale force winds, it was nearly impossible to stop.  When the flames approached the village of Metz, a train jammed with women and children left for Posen, 5 miles away. 

At Nowicki’s siding, two miles out of town, huge piles of blazing wood lined the track. As the engine raced past the siding,  where the intense heat had warped the rails, the train left the track, leaving an open car full of refugees in the center of the flames.

Sixteen of the 50 people in the gondola car perished or were badly burned, including nine children w

ho died with their mothers. One person who survived the gondola car was Martha Hardies, who did not share her story until 50 years later. On the 115th anniversary, Kelderhouse will read her story as it was written in the family history.

Even though it became known as the Metz fire, the intense blaze reached the northern reaches of Presque Isle County, and even threatened the county seat in Rogers City. It also burned to the outskirts of the city of Alpena and jumped across Grand Lake before it finally burned itself out at the Lake Huron shoreline. 

The site is now a registered Michigan Historical Site with its own historical marker at the park.