BEMIDJI (AP) -- The final chapter has closed on a tragedy that happened 78 years ago.
Gerald and Sue Flessland traveled to Calvary Lutheran Cemetery in this northern Minnesota city recently to view the grave marker for Gerald's uncles and aunt, who died as children in a house fire.
The memorial commemorates the brief lives of three of Enevald and Gina Stangeland's children: Anna Theodora, born May 27, 1911; Melvin Simon, born April 6, 1913; and Torma Norman, born Jan. 13, 1917.
All three died May 14, 1924, when their family's house burned down. Only the children's bones could be recovered. They were buried together in an unmarked grave.
Gerald Flessland -- who lives in Stanwood, Mich., and is Enevald and Gina Stangeland's grandson -- recently tracked down the children's burial site and gave them a memorial inscribed, "Loved and not forgotten."
He said the quest started when he visited the Bemidji area with his now-deceased mother, Susana Stangeland Flessland, about 15 years ago. He said his mother expressed a strong desire for a memorial.
"I said, 'Mom, I'll see that gets done,"' he recalled.
This month, with the help of several Bemidji residents, he kept that promise.
The blaze that killed the children started around 4:30 a.m. as Enevald Stangeland was tending to a malfunctioning oil lamp used to heat a chick brooder. He was coming downstairs when the lamp exploded.
His youngest child, Louise Stangeland Rath, who was 4 years old at the time, is the last surviving family member to witness the fire. She had been sleeping downstairs.
"I remember watching my father fighting his way up, but he couldn't make it," Louise said by telephone from her Pontiac, Mich., home. "It's still with me."
The fire immediately engulfed the central stairway of the house, cutting off her three brothers and two sisters sleeping on the second floor. Two other Stangeland daughters -- Elizabeth, 19, and Susana, 16, (Gerald's mother) -- were away from home.
Torjus, 20, and Emma, 14, jumped from a second floor window to save themselves.
The tragedy haunted the family the rest of their lives, Rath said. "I don't think my mother ever got over it. I don't think my father did either," she said.
Enevald Stangeland died in 1934 at age 63 of a perforated ulcer in a Pontiac hospital. Gina Stangeland lived to be almost 90, dying in 1968.
Gerald Flessland, now 68, said he remembers asking his grandmother about the fire when he was about 12. Her only response was weeping, he said.
He said he put the search for the common grave aside for some time. But last spring, about the time of the fire anniversary, he decided to take up the search again. He got a lucky break when he called Bemidji City Hall to ask for help and Kay Murphy-Schuett happened to pick up the phone.
She said she became interested in the story and, on her own time, looked up records at the Beltrami County Historical Society and eventually tracked down the burial place.
"What I have been wondering is what kind of people they would have been," Flessland said, looking at a family photo taken about four years before the fire. From Norman's expression, he guessed the boy might have had some mischief in him. He said he thinks Melvin might have been a gentler little boy.
However, the family knows something about Anna, who was almost 13 at the time of the fire. She left behind a diary that the family found.
"She wanted to be a teacher," Sue Flessland said. "She seemed to be a very caring person."
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