Hotel Pathfinder Postcard

Hotel Pathfinder Postcard

Any historian focusing on the history of Fremont, Nebraska, will find themselves devoting days, if not weeks, into researching the Hotel Pathfinder and the tragic events of January 10, 1976.

Though my birth-date would occur over a year later, as a children my generation would hear stories of the devastation from teachers, relatives, and local story tellers. Growing up many of us heard survivor stories second if not first-hand. All of us heard “I remember where I was when…” stories from our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Once, while sitting at my grandmother’s table, she pulled out pictures (in color even) of smoke billowing out of the hotel, hoses on the ground, and firemen trying to put out the flames and rescue survivors. I don’t remember if she or my grandfather took the pictures.

A parish priest I once spent a summer working for told me of the grief a colleague had gone through standing amidst the devastation looking up at people still trapped inside. He had felt helpless seeing them in agony, calling for help from their windows, and there there was nothing he could do but pray. Inevitably some did not survive.

Aside from the stories and anecdotes I’ve gathered from newspapers, friends, and family, I was fortunate to find a postcard from the hotel (pictured in this post) many years ago in an antique store. I had long collected postcards from the Fremont area and always found this one particularly fascinating, and a little eerie, as it gives a rare glimpse inside the building.

History

Below is the history of the Hotel Pathfinder as I have collected on Railroad Crossing Wiki. I’ve also included direct links to sources and articles for more information.

The Hotel Pathfinder stood at the corner of 6th and Broad for 59 years and served an important role hosting guests and community functions.

The first hotel built on the site was the three story Occidental Hotel at a cost of $20,000 in 1873. The Occidental was purchased by E. L. Enos in 1881 and renamed the Enos Hotel.[1]

In 1915 the growing community required a larger hotel so in 1917 the six story Hotel Pathfinder was built with 115 rooms and a capacity of 360.[1] A postcard from Hotel Pathfinder in the 1970s boasts: “Located in downtown Fremont. Coffee Shop, Dining Room, Cocktail Lounge, Top of the Stairway Ball Room, Colorful, re-decorated rooms. Live Entertainment. Apartments Available.” Other businesses occupying the hotel included Brown Bag Drug Store and a barbershop. Various meeting rooms also were available for functions such as organization meetings.

The morning of January 10, 1976, a hotel maintenance worker smelled gas and management attempted to contact the gas company. The gas company could not be reached so the police department was contacted. The police department referred the hotel back to the gas company. When gas employees were finally reached, they arrived on site to confirm the detection of gas. There was only time to evacuate the kitchen before the hotel exploded and erupted into flames at around 9:30 a.m.[2]

The explosion forced its way up the elevator shafts immediately spreading to all six floors. The blast could be felt as far away as the Fremont Mall, located 20 blocks to the northeast[3], and even by a pilot flying a plane in the vicinity. Windows in the downtown area were blown out by the blast or shattered from the tremors. Large chunks of concrete were forced up due to the fact that the basement extended underneath the sidewalks. Debris came down on nearby buildings, cars and, in come cases, by standers.

Many who survived the blast were still trapped in their rooms requiring the use of limited ladders and bucket trucks. Some could not be saved. According to the Fremont Tribune, “Eighteen people died in the blast and two more died of injuries later.”[4]

About Chad Leigh Kluck

Chad Leigh Kluck
Originally from Nebraska, I am a history and railroad enthusiast currently living near Saint Paul, Minnesota. I enjoy trains, photography, and nostalgic memories, as well as the history of transportation, agriculture, eateries, breweries, and railroad towns. More...

3 Comments

  1. Yvonne Fritz
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    I worked at the Pathfinder Hotel in Fremont Ne at the time of the explosion of Jan 10 1976.
    I was a waitress in the cafe they had there. My sister in law also worked there as a waitress & cook.
    The morning before the sxplosion when I enter the kitchen to pick up my food orders, to carry out to the customers, I noticed a gas smell in the kitchen. i mentioned it to my sister in law and she said she smelled it to, that it must been coming from the stove.
    i dont know if she told the owner anything or not tho.
    That night after work, I had a headache and felt nausated. I was scheduled to go in the next morning at i think 6:00 am, or when it opened, it was years ago so cant say exact time, just remember it was at opening shift to be there.

    When I woke the next morning, I still had thta headache and was very nauasated, i knew i couldnt make it to work without getting even more sick to my tummy from the ordor of the food smell cooking. So I called in and told them that I wasnt able to make it in.
    I went back to bed to be awken by a loud noise, it was so loud that it shook my windows and i felt as the bed shook too. I jumped out of be dthinking there must been a bad car wreck. I looked outside, and seen alot of smoke in the air to the south of me.
    my husband had came home from work, I was upstairs, I heard him yelling my name, he sounded shook, so i hurried downstairs, he said he was so relived to see that i was okay, I said why, whats wrong? Then he told me about the hotel exploding as he thought something happened to me,as eh k new i was suppose to work that morning. He said he stopped there told them that his wife worked in the cafe, was i in there, they told them they didnt know, but there was people still trapped in the building. He came home figured he call to get information, and seen i was at home and was so relieved.
    Our Lord was watching over me that morning. We both thanked God that I was okay.
    Found out next day the reason for me being nausated was due to I was pregant with our son,, which we didnt know till then.
    God kept both me and our unborn son safe from any harm that day. So miracles do happen.
    That was a horrible day in Fremont Ne, my heart goes out to all the people who lost a loved one that January 10, 1976.
    Thats a day that I will never forget, and I am thankful to still be here all these years after that horrible & tragic morning.

  2. Susan Swearingin Andersen
    Posted January 26, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    That was a day I know I’ll never forget. I lost my mother, Muriel Swearingin, in the explosion. She was there for a meeting that morning. My father, my sister, and I spent the day at the hospital where they were bringing the injured from explosion. Unfortunately, she wasn’t one of them. That was the longest day I’ve ever spent in my life. At the end of it all my Dad had to say, “Let’s go home”. We all knew what that meant. She wasn’t found until the next morning. I was 18, a freshman at UNL. I miss her greatly. She had a tremendous impact on my life. She loved God and had a very special, precious walk with Jesus. Never take your loved ones for granted. Share them and the things they taught you with your children. Let their legacy live on through you.

    • Posted January 26, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Susan, Thank you so much for sharing. Yes, I truly believe in making sure we let legacies live through the actions and lives we share.

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