On Sunday, February 12, 1899, there was a fire at the South Dakota State Insane Hospital which killed 17 women patients. One of these victims was Augusta [German spelling Auguste] Boese (listed in the paper and the hospital cemetery records as Boerse) wife of Gustav Boese. With the help of Bob Broschat, Lonny Brakel, and Mildred Kissee, we have been able to obtain more detailed information about his incident. This fire affected the 17 families who lost a loved one, as well as the numerous survivors of the fire, whose accounts of the incident must surely have found a way into many family histories. We hope this page, will help any who had association with the tragedy.
Our interest in the fire started with Lonny Brakel and Mark Boese discovering in high school that they both had Poelke ancestors. Lonny's great-grandmother's sister, Minnie Matz Olson Seaton, wrote to him in 1976 about Mark's great-grandmother, Augusta: [original spelling and punctuation retained]
"Mrs. Boese was a Poelke my Mothers sister. You could write for the history of the Insane Sanatorium in Yankton, S. Dak. and ask them what year it burned to the ground. It was soon after mother took George and I to Yankton during a Fair, she could go half price. We would visit my Aunt every day and she would hug and kiss me and call me Bertha. (Bertha was Lonny's Great- grandmother.) She remembered her my age. I was bout 6 then it was right after the Fair. There was supposed to have been a dance down stairs, and my Aunt and 10 women were locked in an upstairs room [this is not quite accurate]. They were the women that did all the laundry. They wrote mother only the ashes were left. I was bout 6 years old then and I never for-got it. She had two son's [actually four]. . . . Mother said her husband put her there. . . . I don't think he ever married he raised his son's. I don't think he ever told his boys that his mother was burnt to death."
We found information about the fire and its victims scarce and scattered and felt a desire to make this information available in one place.
We were able to obtain from the hospital the doctor's notes for Augusta.
South Dakota State Hospital Cemetery Records, Utica township, Yankton County, South Dakota
The seventeen victims were identified as being buried in a common grave, Grave #38. Only 12 were identified in the list as being fire victims. The year of death for all but one was incorrectly given as 1889 instead of 1899. Anyone wishing to visit the cemetery should call the Human Services Center, 605-668-3100 in advance. Ask for HSC Security Services and they will schedule a time to assist you.
The numbered stones marking their burials are formed into a cross in the cemetery. There is a photo of the cross with the stones here.
From the "South Dakota Magazine" of January/February 2002, an article by Roger Holtzmann also contains a photograph of the small cement blocks, 17 of them, that form a cross over the mass grave of the fire victims.
History of Human Services Center, outgrowth of what began as the South Dakota State Insane Hospital.
Press & Dakotan newspaper coverage of the fire. Transcription of lengthy article from issue dated 16 Feb 1899. Published here with the kind permission of the Yankton Press and Dakotan.
Victims List, alphabetical list of the victims and the surviving nurses and attendants. Additional information where known has been added. We hope to add more information about these women and their families in the coming months.
Earlier Fire There was an earlier fire on 2 April 1882 The end of the article says, "We hope never to see its like again." My thanks to Kelly D. McCarley for information about this previous fire.
Please e-mail me if you have any questions, or additional information about the fire or any of the victims and their families.