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Fiery Rumors

A Grand Rapids psychiatrist wrote to the Big Rapids Fire Chief in April of 1950 asking the cause of the fire. The psychiatrist indicated that he had a patient who claimed to have pyromanical tendencies who had access to the buildings.

Roommates of the patient, who was both a student at and an employee of the Institute, were interviewed. They reported that the young man was very nervous and was a sleepwalker. They also reported that he had seemed more nervous since the fire.

There was no further investigation on this report because the officials were convinced that the fire was not deliberately set.

A second more preposterous story came about from a telephone call from a Muskegon woman asking if there could be any connection between the Ferris fire and a fire in a Scottville lawyer's office.

The young man was very nervous and was a sleep walker.


The story back of this inquiry is very complicated, but in essence: an unmarried Ferris coed became pregnant by a wealthy male student.

Her parents received some kind of financial settlement from this man, and the case seemed to be closed.

Except, the woman caller thought that the lawyer who handled the case was the one whose office was burned in Scottville. The caller insinuated that the child's father may have had the lawyer's office burned to destroy the records, and that he may have sent the girl to the campus to burn the Institute to destroy all records that showed either of them was ever in school.

He may have sent the girl to the campus to burn the Institute to destroy the records.


The girl was interviewed, but she said the man was wealthy enough that if he was going to have a building burned, he would have hired a professional to do it.

The case was dropped.

The official report of the fire does contain one document to substantiate this theory: a letter was written to the state fire marshal from a man who asked how much of the building burned and if all the files and records of the school were lost. Except for the answer from the chief of the Fire Bureau, no other reference is made to this missive.

In the mid-1950's the school adopted a slogan "From the ashes rose the Phoenix," but immediately after the fire there was great consternation in Big Rapids. Would the school be able to go on?

As they viewed the rubble of the burned-out school, all but one of the members of the Board of Incorporators were pessimistic about the future of the Institute. Vern Eldridge said, "We will go on." He insisted that the rest of the Board agree with him.

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