On February 12, 1939, 4000 fans - or more accurately, 3999 fans and I - watched a hockey game between the Duluth (MN) Firemen and the Superior (WI) Police. (Or maybe it was the reverse.) It was held inside the Duluth Amphitheater. The place was packed because free tickets had been distributied to all the boy scouts and school police in town and, possibly, to other groups.
At some point during the game, we heard screams from the top of the bleachers direcly across the ice from us. We looked up and saw what appeared to be smoke rising from above the bleachers. "It's a fire," someone yelled.
Along with thousands of others, my kid brother and I got out of there fast, leaving through the lobby, which was a low-ceiling building attached to the front of the amphitheater. Once outside, Warren and I looked frantically for my older brother, Howard, who was no where to be seen.
By then we realized that the building was not on fire. The roof was callapsing in slow stages and what had appeared to be smoke was really dust flying off of the upper rafters as they collapsed. We heard the sounds of other parts of the roof coming down. And then there was a gigantic noise as air came rushing out through the lobby into the street area where we stood. Apparently, air trapped under the collapsing roof was pushed with great force through the low lobby building which then constituted a relatively small opening for the escaping compressed air.
Then we saw Howard, whose curiosity had outweighed his fear. He had stayed inside to watch the action. He claimed that the last rush of air had virtually thrown him out via the lobby "opening".
Miraculously, no one was killed in what could have been a tragedy - in large numbers. The fact that the roof fell in stages rather than in one swoop gave us time to get out, and most of did not stay around to watch.
For years after that, the damaged amphitheater sat untouched and one could see that a major part of the roof was gone, but with a part of it still hinged along the original roof line and sagging with part of it resting on the rink floor.
Four and a half years later (the winter of 1943-44) I was in training at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA. One of my hut mates (from Illinois) told me that his uncle was the contractor who built the amphitheater. His uncle resented rumors of faulthy construction, claiming the collapse was due to leaving tons of snow that had accumulated on the roof. I never knew if this was true but on rought days after crawling though cold, wet, Georgia mud or dealing with similar inconveniences, I would needle my hut mate by saying, Haven't had so much fun since the Amphitheater caved in.