Mad Prank Punished
The bizarre cause of a Minot fire was reported on this day in 1916, and its sadistic culprit punished. The fire in question had occurred in the city of Minot a few days earlier and had consumed the entire Blakey-Roell block. Rumors had been floating through the city as to its cause, but no formal report had been issued by the city’s officials or fire department. Most of the citizens believed that the fire had in fact been started by someone, but it was evident that the truth of the matter was being concealed by authorities. As usual, this lack of information only made the rumors about the fire both more numerous and more incredulous. Surprisingly, though, when the actual cause of the fire was made known to the public, the truth was even more fantastic than the rumors that had ensued.
Arthur Hileman was arrested on this day by the Minot police on a charge of arson and assault in connection with the fire. Reportedly, Hileman had caused the fire as the result of a poor practical joke. A few days earlier, Hileman, who owned a small business in the basement of one of the block’s buildings, had been drinking with a few friends. When one of his pals by the name of Westegard fell asleep in the building, Hileman took the opportunity to pull a prank on the drunken man. Hileman soaked the bottoms of Westegard’s pants in wood alcohol, and then proceeded to light the pants on fire. Westegard awoke to find his legs on fire and, in an effort to put the flames out, the fire spread to the rest of the room, quickly overtaking the rest of the building. Westegard emerged badly burned from the incident, and he was rushed to a local doctor for treatment; it was deemed extremely fortunate that he did not burn to death as a result of the prank. Due to the sensitive nature of the crime, authorities decided to keep the details of the fire concealed until the testimony of the patient could be properly recorded and the culprit positively identified.
Hileman waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and was issued a bail of $2,000 by Justice Lynch. The bail was unusually high, but in light of the seriousness of the crime, it was deemed just. The tale is just one of many concerning a practical joke gone very much awry.
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican (Evening ed.). January 17, 1916: p. 2.
--Jayme L. Job