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J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

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given to this subject "much thought and study," and we may well believe that
he had after a perusal of the little volume which he wrote on the subject. He
says that the subject "has ever been in my thoughts, day and night; even in the
busy street I have passed and repassed without seeing my dearest and best friends,
being so absorbed in thought, developing this work for the Memorial Offering that
I now submit, with my heart full and overflowing with zeal, arid bequeath this
immortal legacy to Chicago."

The little volume referred to was apparently issued before the photographs
had been put away for posterity to gaze upon. He requests all persons who have
sat for their memorial photographs to send him a short biographical notice of
their lives, and a "certified family record, which might become of great value, and
the only connecting link to their descendants in proving heirships to inheritances."
At the end is printed in small type sixteen pages of names, three columns to a
page, of the fortunate sitters, whose photographs were to be enclosed in the vault.
This list he promised to extend in a later edition.

When the City Hall was demolished in 1908, to give place to the splendid new
building now just completed, the Mosher collection of Memorial Photographs was
encountered by the authorities when the contents of the vaults were about to be
removed. "Memories of many years," says the Tribune in its issue of August 12th,
"were stirred yesterday when the photographs and biographies of Chicago's pioneer
citizens were removed from the Mosher Memorial vault in the city hall to another
vault in the temporary quarters at 200 Randolph street. Five albums full of the



206 CHICAGO: ITS HISTORY AND ITS BUILDERS

faces of men whose names for the most part are now known across the continent, were
opened for a moment and then closed up again, to remain secure from light and
air until 1976. Thirty-five packages were left untouched by the order of Com-
missioner of Public Works John J. Hanberg. The commissioner even was enabled
to withstand the supplications of the spectators when it was found one package
was designated 'The Ladies.' "

There were present on this interesting occasion, Miss Louise Mosher, a cousin
of C. D. Mosher, who gave the collection to the city, Miss Valentine Smith, at
that time the city archivist, and others. The brief glimpses taken of the pictures,
however, afforded an opportunity to observe the character of the collection. "There
are no men in Chicago now with faces like those," commented Commissioner
Hanberg, (quoted in the Tribune article). "I suppose the driving life we lead
prevents it. In these pictures there is a sort of simple courtliness which is rare
now, although I do not think we are any the less polite in our intentions than
were our fathers. Perhaps the difference is that they had time to be courteous
and we sometimes think we have not. And, if you notice, nearly every face is
pleasant, humorous almost, and kindly."

Charles D. Mosher, indeed, has secured a lasting hold on fame by the gift of
this collection, and he will certainly receive the thanks of posterity for his efforts
in its formation and preservation, and he will well deserve them.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE GREAT FIRE

CLIMATIC CONDITIONS IN OCTOBER, 1871 ORIGIN OF THE FIRE HEADWAY ATTAINED

BY THE FLAMES RAPID PROGRESS OF THE CONFLAGRATION EFFORTS MADE TO

CHECK THE FIRE INTENSE HEAT GENERATED ACCOUNTS OF EYE WITNESSES

THE FORCE OF THE GALE FLAMING BRANDS CARRIED FAR TRAGEDIES OF THE-

FIRE ACTIONS OF THE PEOPLE THE FIRE IN THE NORTH DIVISION THE ESCAPE

OF THE OGDEN HOUSE NORTHERN LIMIT OF THE FIRE RAIN QUENCHES THE

FLAMES FUGITIVES F,ROM THE FIRE THE "TRUE CHICAGO SPIRIT*' THE MAYOR'S

MESSAGES THE WORLD'S SYMPATHY AROUSED GENERAL SHERIDAN TAKES ACTION

MEASURES TO PRESERVE THE PEACE RELIEF MEASURES SHELTER FOR THE

HOMELESS PROVIDED CARE OF HOMELESS PEOPLE SUBSISTENCE AND CLOTHING

FURNISHED ENORMOUS QUANTITIES OF FOOD AND SUPPLIES RECEIVED CARE OF

SICK AND INFIRM HOUSES BUILT FOR DESTITUTE CONDITIONS GRADUALLY IM-
PROVED THE WORLD'S CHARITY.

THE GREAT FIRE OF 1871

URING the summer and fall of 1871 the Middle West suffered from a
most prolonged and severe drouth. In July the rainfall at Chicago was
2.52 inches, which is 1.14 inches below normal; in August it was 2.01
inches; in September there was but 0.74 inches of rain, or 2.23 inches
below normal. 1 In October no rain fell up to and including the eighth
of the month. The weather during September and the early part of October became
very warm, and this condition, combined with the drouth, had dried up both country
and towns. In the northern parts of Michigan and Wisconsin, and on the prairies
of Minnesota great fires were burning over immense stretches of forest and
plain, destroying valuable timber lands, villages, and even hundreds of human
lives. Chicago, the commercial capital of this middle western country, was
suffering from the same drouth and heat. As day after day passed without rain
and the city grew more parched in the continued heat, the alarms of fire became more
frequent, and during the first week of October much property was burned. On the
night of Saturday, October 7, there was a large fire which started near the corner
of South Clinton and Van Buren streets. A high southwest wind was blowing, and
the flames soon spread beyond the firemen's control, burning north as far as Adams
street and east to the river. Within the sixteen acres that were destroyed were
large lumber and coal yards, which burned all the next day, Sunday, and into the

1 Bulletin of the Geographic Society of Chicago, No. 3, p. 82

207




20b CHICAGO: ITS HISTORY AND ITS BUILDERS

night. Had this devastation not been followed immediately by a calamity as over-
whelming as that which in a few hours fell upon the city, the fire of Saturday night
would be remembered as one of the city's great misfortunes. During Sunday there
were many visitors that came from all parts of the city to look upon the ruined acres
and watch the still burning piles of coal and lumber.

The illumination from the burning area had not disappeared before there was
an alarm of fire, which sounded about half past nine o'clock on Sunday evening. For
about thirty minutes the light in the southwest in the vicinity of the former night's
tire had shone more brightly than during the early part of the evening. At this
time there were in the streets on that warm evening crowds of strollers, and people
returning home from church services, who heard the alarm and saw the light. Many
who saw the fire, supposing it was but a blazing up of the ruins of the night be-
fore, paid little attention to it, and went home and to bed. Many, too, grown ac-
customed to the frequent ringing of the alarm, had now ceased to start at its
sound. This light, however, was not that of flames coming from an almost burned
out pile of debris, but of those rising from a small cow shed in the West Division,
at the corner of De Koven and Jefferson streets. Instantly they had been caught
up and swept along by a strong southwest wind that was then blowing twenty
miles an hour, and by the time the alarm was given the fire had made great head-
way. 2

ORIGIN OF THE FIRE

The cause of the fire is not known, even after the diligent investigation which
was undertaken a few weeks later. The story, now classic, that Mrs. O'Leary's
cow kicked over a kerosene lamp during the process of milking and thus set fire
to the straw in the shed, is cherished by romancers and cartoonists; others scoff
at it as a myth. Whatever their cause, the flames spread so rapidly through the
neighboring shanties, small frame dwellings and factories, that by the time the first
fire engines reached the scene, the wind had carried the fire beyond their control ;
other engines arriving were utterly inadequate to check its advance as it travelled
rapidly to the north and northeast, the high wind carrying blazing brands far
beyond the burning district, which set fire to the buildings on which they fell.
Block after block to the north and northeast were destroyed, and as the fire ap-
proached the area, two blocks square, which had been burned down the night be-
fore, it was hoped that there it might be checked. Moreover, it was felt that the
river, which had prevented the spread of the previous fire, would act as a barrier
to the advance of this one. Yet all this time the wind was carrying through the
air sparks and bits of burning wood in a course directly through the center of the
city. The heat for some space about the burning area was so intense that the
power of the wind was greatly increased in the neighborhood of the flames, and a
rushing draft from the east was created, which sent up into the air a whirling col-
umn of smoke and flame, and drove the fire backwards and to either side of its
track, even while it swept the flames forward. Just at midnight a piece of blaz-
ing timber carried by the wind fell on the roof of a small frame building at the

2 History of the Great Conflagration, by Sheahan and Upton.
Andreas, Vol. II, p. 702.




THE O'LEARY HOUSE, BACK OF WHICH THE GREAT FIRE
IS SAID TO HAVE STARTED



CHICAGO: ITS HISTORY AND ITS BUILDERS 209

corner of Franklin and Adams streets, east of the river, a third of a mile ahead
of the fire. This, with neighboring buildings, at once took fire. Almost at the
same time the fire leaped across the river at Van Buren street, burning a row of
frame houses which were near the South Side Gas Works and the Armory, where
were police headquarters. In a few moments other fires had started along the
track of the wind, each one distinct, separated one from another by blocks of build-
ings still untouched, the main column of fire advancing steadily and burning every-
thing in its path.

PROGRESS OF THE CONFLAGRATION

About twelve o'clock, with a mighty explosion, the gas works blazed up, and
the whole city was illuminated with the red glow in the sky. Some of those watch-
ing the fire then began to realize that no place in its wide track was free from
danger, from its starting point to the water works on the North Side, two miles
away. The firemen, with hose and engines, driven by the heat and the flames from
one spot to another, worked desperately but ineffectually. Even while they sur-
rounded a building or block, the fire leaped along above them, tongues of flame
shooting from cornice to cornice, or bursting unaccountably from the basement in-
teriors; the next moment with a belching roar the whole building was wrapped
in a sheet of flame.

"The two main columns sent out detachments which entered every street with-
the regularity of an advancing army. 3 Standing at the lake end of any one of
the eleven streets between the river and Michigan avenue, the spectator saw a
furious shower of living coals and fire brands sweep round the corners, followed by
a sheet of dazzling flame, which would suck into the windows and instantly fire
the buildings. At the same time the fire entering the alleys burst through the rear
of buildings on either side, swept through them, and dashing through the fronts
united in one solid, writhing, twisting column of fire, which would shoot up into
the air a hundred feet, and then, seized by the wind, leap to roofs in the next block
and fire them. The progress was aided by huge, blazing brands, which the blasts
would send crashing through windows into the interiors of buildings, or into awn-
ings, setting everything afire adjacent to them. The very goods which were
tumbled into the streets aided the march of the destroyer.

"The main column of the fire had now crossed Washington street. The Cham-
ber of Commerce, the Telegraph Office and the lofty insurance blocks were all in
flames. The Courthouse bell rang peal after peal, ringing its own knell, for the
flames speedily leaped to its dome and fired it. For a few minutes its blazing
trellis work, sheeted with flames, stood out against the sky in splendid relief. Then
in every window at the same instant, an ominous glare appeared. The flames burst
out, the dome fell in, and then a crash told that the interior walls had yielded and
the Courthouse was no more. The Sherman House was the next to go, and across
Clark street, Hooley's Opera House, Wood's Museum, The Matteson House, the
Tremont House, and whole squares of palatial building blocks melted away before
the destroyer as snow melts in water."

3 Sheahan and Upton, p. 75.
vol. n n



210 CHICAGO: ITS HISTORY AND ITS BUILDERS

EFFORTS TO CHECK THE FIRE

Soon the thought of checking the fire in front, to the north, was given up, for
not only did the flames sweep irresistibly on, leaping overhead and overtaking the
engines, which they left useless, but the wind was so strong that the stream of
water often was carried but ten feet from the nozzle before it was blown into
spray. The firemen therefore went around to the south of the fire, to prevent its
spreading in that direction. This was effective, as much property, including lum-
ber yards, was thus saved. Meanwhile great efforts had been made to check the
fire by the use of gunpowder to blow up buildings that were in its track. Soon this
was the only means left for working against the flames, as the water works took
fire from the roof about 3 a. m., and the water supply of the city was stopped.
Gunpowder, however, was as useless as water jets in the main track of the fire,
as showers of sparks and embers blown great distances constantly ignited dry
roofs and projecting cornices ahead, making these preventive measures futile.
Realizing now that nothing could stay the terrible onward sweep of this merciless
destructive power, those who had fought to check its progress by means of gun-
powder turned their efforts, as the firemen had been compelled to do, to prevent-
ing farther burning toward the south. When the reports of the explosions from
gunpowder were first heard, and it was rumored among the distracted throngs
that General Phil Sheridan (then stationed at Chicago) was in charge of the work,
there was a feeling of great relief throughout the city.

Soon after the Court House was burned, a huge column of flame swept down from
the south like a hurricane, encircling the block on which stood the Postoffice build-
ing, at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Monroe streets, where the First
National Bank building now stands. For a few moments the building resisted,
then the interior blazed up and fell in ruins, leaving the outer walls standing.
Thence the flames rushed on down Dearborn street to Madison and Washington
streets, burning the newly renovated Crosby's Opera House, where the Thomas
Orchestra was that very evening to have delighted an audience even as it does
today; the Dearborn theatre, near the northwest corner of Madison and Dear-
born streets was destroyed, the fire for the moment sweeping past the Tribune
building, then, as now, on the southeast corner of Madison and Dearborn streets.
It was a "fire-proof" structure, and many thought it would not yield, even in this
supreme test. It seemed to be the turning point of the fire, for if it remained much
might still be saved. The fire coming from the south, that from the west, and now
the great column that had circled around to face it on the north all attacked the
building; still it stood. Yet another division of the advancing flames, having left
the Palmer House in a blazing heap, now sped northward and whirled its flames
about McVicker's theatre, standing just east of the Tribune block, with but a
narrow alley way between the two buildings. The heat from the fire on the three
other sides was so intense that this final attack was irresistible.

In the midst of furnace heat, with flames on all sides, with showers of blazing
brands falling on the roof, and an underground fire working into its basement from
under the sidewalk, the test was too great. The iron shutters on the east side bent
and fell away, the roof blazed, and the interior of the building burst into flame.
With this stronghold gone, the volume of fire rolled to the northeast, destroying



ACCOUNTS OP EYE WITNESSES



CHICAGO: ITS HISTORY AND ITS BUILDERS 211

the dry goods house of Field and Letter, on the corner of State and Washington
streets, and thence reaching the great warehouses near the foot of Randolph street,
and gradually working backward over the unburned area between State street and
the lake, which extended from Washington to Harrison street, where buildings
had been pulled down under General Sheridan's directions, to form a barrier.
By this time it was after ten o'clock in the morning (Monday the 9th), and the
fire had long before crossed the river to the North Side, and was hourly driving
from their homes hundreds of families who fled farther and still farther away
before its dreadful advance.

None but an eye witness and a participator can give a fitting account of the,
sights and impressions of that night and day. Mr. Sheahan and Mr. Upton, both
associate editors of the Chicago Tribune at the time of the fire, have written a
valuable narrative of the "Great Conflagration," which has furnished much mate-
rial in this chapter, and from which quotation is here made.

"The scene presented when the fire was at its height in the South Division is
well nigh indescribable. 4 The huge stone and brick structures melted before the
fierceness of the flames as a snow-flake melts and disappears in water, and almost
as quickly. Six-story buildings would take fire and disappear forever from sight,
in five minutes by the watch. In nearly every street the flames would enter at
i the rears of buildings, and appear simultaneously at the fronts. For an instant
the windows would redden, then great billows of fire would belch out, and meeting
I each other, shoot up into the air a vivid, quivering column of flame, which, poising
itself in awful majesty, would hurl itself bodily several hundred feet and kindle
new buildings. The intense heat created new currents of air. The general direc-
tion of the wind was from the southwest. This main current carried the fire
straight through the city, from southwest to northeast, cutting a swath a mile in
width, and then, as if maddened at missing any of its prey, it would turn back-
ward in its frenzy and face the fierce wind, mowing one huge field on the west of
the North Division, while in the South Division it also doubled on its track at the
great Union Central Depot, and burned half a mile southward in the very teeth
of the gale a gale which blew a perfect tornado, and in which no vessel could
have lived on the lake. The flames sometimes made glowing diagonal arches across
the streets, traversed by whirls of smoke.

"At times, the wind would seize the entire volume of fire on the front of one of
the large blocks, detach it entirely and hurl it in every direction, in fierce masses
of flame, leaving the building as if it had been untouched for an instant only,
however, for fresh gusts would once more wrap it in sheets of fire. The whole
air was filled with glowing cinders, looking like an illuminated snow storm. At
times capricious flurries of the gale would seize these flying messengers of destruc-
tion and dash them down to the earth, hurrying them over the pavements, with
lightning-like rapidity, firing everything they touched. Interspersed among these
cinders were larger brands, covered with flame, which the wind dashed through



4 The Great Conflagration, p. 85.






212 CHICAGO: ITS HISTORY AND ITS BUILDERS

windows and upon awnings and roofs, kindling new fires. Strange, fantastic
fires of blue, red and green played along the cornices of the buildings. On the
banks of the river, red hot walls fell hissing into the water, sending up great col-
umns of spray and exposing the fierce white furnace of heat, which they had en-
closed. The huge piles of coal emitted dense billows of smoke, which hurried
along far above the flames below. If the sight was grand and overpowering, the
sound was no less so. The flames crackled, growled and hissed. The lime stone,
of which many of the buildings were composed, as soon as it was exposed to heat,
flaked off, the fragments flew in every direction, with a noise like that of continuous
discharges of musketry. Almost every instant was added the dull, heavy thud of
falling walls, which shook the earth. But above all these sounds, there was one
other which was terribly fascinating; it was the steady roar of the advancing flames
the awful diapason in this carnival of fire. It was like nothing so much as the
united roar of the ocean with the howl of the blast on some stormy, rocky coast."

TRAGEDIES OF THE FIRE

"Language can hardly convey to the reader an idea of the terrible scenes in
the streets. The struggle of humanity was more fearful even than the horrors of
the fire. In the latter there was an element of the beautiful, even of the sublime,
which continually enforced itself, notwithstanding the wide-spread destruction it
was causing; but in the various phases developed by this struggling, toiling, and
despairing tide of humanity in the streets, there was nothing which would give
pleasure.

"Great calamities always develop latent passions, emotions, and traits of char-
acter, hitherto concealed. In this case, there was a world-wide difference in the
manner in which men witnessed the destruction of all about them. Some were
philosophical, even merry, and witnessed the loss of their own property with a
calm shrug of the shoulders, although the loss was to bring upon them irretrievable
ruin. Others clenched their teeth together, and witnessed the sight with a sort
of grim defiance. Others, who were strong men, stood in tears, and some became
fairly frenzied with excitement, and rushed about in an aimless manner, doing
exactly what they would not have done in their cooler moments, and almost too
delirious to save their own lives from the general wreck. Of course, the utmost
disorder and excitement prevailed, for nearly every one was, in some degree,
demoralized, and in the absence both of gas and water, had given up the entire
city to its doom. Mobs of men and women rushed wildly from street to street,
screaming, gesticulating, and shouting, crossing each other's paths, and intercept-
ing each other as if just escaped from a madhouse.

"The yards and sidewalks of Michigan and Wabash avenues, for a distance of
two miles south of the fire limit in the South Division, were choked with house-
hold goods of every description the contents of hovels, and the contents of aris-
tocratic residences, huddled together in inextricable confusion. Elegant ladies,
who hardly supposed themselves able to lift the weight of a pincushion, astonished
themselves by dragging trunks, and carrying heavy loads of pictures and ornamental
furniture, for a long distance. Some adorned themselves with all their jewelry,
for the purpose of saving it, and struggled along through the crowds, perhaps only




MAP SHOWING EXACT LOCA-
TION AND BOUNDARY
AND ORIGIN OF THE
FIRE




From "Geography uf Chicago"

FIGURE ILLUSTRATING

CHANGES IN THE POSITION

OF THE DEBOUCHURE

OF THE CHICAGO

RIVER

The position of the outlets In
1830, and at the present time,
are shown, and also the position
of the sand-bar which caused the
deflection. (Adapted from map
of Col. T. J. Crane, U. S. Corps
of Engineers.)



CHICAGO: ITS HISTORY AND ITS BUILDERS 213

to lose it at the hands of some ruffian. Delicate girls, with red eyes and black-
ened faces, toiled, hour after hour, to save household goods. Poor women staggered
along with their arms full of homely household wares, and mattresses on their
heads, which sometimes took fire as they were carrying them. Every few steps
along the avenues were little piles of household property, or, perhaps, only a
trunk, guarded by children, some of whom were weeping, and others laughing
and playing. Here was a man sitting upon what he had saved, bereft of his
senses, looking at the motley throng with staring, vacant eyes ; here, a woman,
weeping and tearing her hair, and calling for her children in utter despair; here,
children, hand-in-hand, separated from their parents, and crying with the heart-
breaking sorrow of childhood ; here, a woman, kneeling on the hot ground, and
praying, with her crucifix before her. One family had saved a coffee-pot and
chest of drawers, and raking together the falling embers in the street, were boil-
ing their coffee as cheerily as if at home. Barrels of liquor were rolled into the
streets from the saloons. The' heads were speedily knocked in, and men and boys



Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.2) → online text (page 29 of 55)