Luther College Moment in History #72

"On Sunday, May 31, 1942, Old Main (the second Main building) caught fire and in a matter of hours was reduced to a smoldering ruin. For the second time, fire had destroyed the stately structure which, more than any other, symbolized Luther College. Apparently a bolt of lightning struck with great intensity minutes before the blaze was discovered in the attic. Fire departments from Decorah and four neighboring communities were powerless to halt the flames, once they gained headway. Volunteers assisted faculty and students in removing valuable biological equipment from the basement, and college records, furniture, and other supplies.

"At 7:30 that evening the faculty met in the Tower Room of the gymnasium to take the measures necessary to enable the summer session, scheduled to begin the following morning, to open without delay or inconvenience. The secretary recorded that 'as flames were still rising from the ruins of Main Building, Laurence N. Field opened the meeting with Scripture reading and prayer.' Vice president O. W. Qualley (class of 1918) was chairman. Preus, who had hurried home from Rio, Wisconsin, arrived during the meeting. Administrative offices were set up in Larsen Hall, and temporary classrooms were arranged in the library, gymnasium, music hall, and Larsen Hall."

[Luther College 1861-1961, David T. Nelson, p 280-281]

To view color footage of the fire and to hear David Preus (son of President O. J. H. Preus) speaking of the event, see our video at <>.

Moment 72