Home > The Bonds of Unity (1917-1925) > Two early Tragedies in the Parish

Two early Tragedies in the Parish


1917 / 1919

Allouez’ all-volunteer fire department had little training, money or equipment. But when the bell sounded the alarm, their dedication and determination to protect life and property of the town’s residents and businesses were exemplary. Yet regardless of how well prepared or what their response time was, tragic accidents, fire damage, and loss of life occurred.

Take for example, the incident which led to eleven year old parishioner Michael Von Convalberg (identified in the paper as Leo Van Congert) who drowned in Allouez Bay on June 27, 1917. The child was throwing sticks into Allouez Bay from what was known as Cedar Dock near the Itasca Elevator when he accidentally fell.
A soldier on guard at the elevator was able to pull the boy out of the water with a long pike pole. Although the fire department tired to resuscitate the boy with a pulmotor for two hours, they were unable to save his life.

He was buried June 30, 1917 at St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. (See Section B, Block 19, row 7, lot 4).

Although the fire department did its best to save him, its equipment was fast becoming outdated.

In 1900 an editorial cartoon appeared on the front page of the Superior Telegram showing off the Allouez volunteer fire department and its new fire equipment. The caption reads, “The Allouez Volunteer Fire Department gets together for a little practice with its new apparatus.” Among the items was a hand-drawn two-wheeled hose cart.

As a result, fire insurance rates for homes and businesses in Allouez were very high due to the poor means of fire protection. Residents, therefore, began to demand better services.

Then tragically, on August 18, 1919, a fire at a home of Mr. and Mrs. Vermeiren, parishioners of Ss. Anthony and Margaret, ended the lives of two of their children: Mariel, 4, and Paul, 3.

Unlike the black smoke that filled the home of the Vermeiren’s, the smoke of burning incense rising from the altar during the requiem Mass at Ss. Anthony and Margaret was white and a symbol of joy and hope in Christ’s resurrection.

Using incense in the funeral also added a sense of solemnity and mystery to the Mass. The visual imagery of the smoke and the smell remind those at the funeral of the transcendence of the Mass which links heaven with earth, and allow the faithful to enter into the presence of God.

Although the funeral Mass helped parishioners deal with the tragedy, in the months that followed, the citizens of Allouez began to express their concerns to the Superior city council that they were not happy with their fire service.

A few may have even vented their concern that perhaps the children’s lives could have been saved if the fire department had better equipment. Resolution of this issue, however, and the alleviation of the lingering frustration, anger, sadness or other emotions following the tragedy did not come quickly.

In the summer of 1920 when the residents of Allouez asked the city of Superior for new fire equipment to better protect them, such as a fire apparatus in the form of a small automobile, their request was declined on grounds that the East End fire station which had just acquired a new pumper apparatus for the cost of $12,000 would serve the needs of Allouez, too.

To this day, Allouez and Itasca are covered by the East End Fire Station.