The Lakeside Monthly, January, 1872
Description of the Great Fire.
A despicable combination of a cow, kerosene, and baled hay, was responsible for it all.
The fact that early in the history of the blaze, and while its hot breath had only withered to their foundations a few of the rookeries in its immediate neighborhood, historical Mrs. Leary admitted that the fire had its origin in the manner popularly understood, is answer enough to the unreasonable doubts which have been thrown upon the story. Standing in the yard of her house—situated near the corner of De Koven and Jefferson Streets—this lady held forth exasperatingly to police, spectators curious, and reporters. Here it was that she implored maledictions dire upon the villainous bovine whose wretched hoofs had snuffed out her barn, and started the flames which were now licking savagely toward the river .
According to her statements in the early stages of the fire, and the reiterated assertions of her friends, she had taken an ordinary kerosene lamp, at about half-past nine o’clock in the evening of the fatal Sunday of October 8 in order to look after her ailing ruminant. Reaching the barn, she placed the light upon the flooring, and was on the point of putting a little feed into the manger when the cow sprawled out her heels in token of satisfaction .
An explosion; a sharp, brisk spreading of the burning oil; hay and straw eager to hand the flames up to the roof, in short, a barn on fire.
The woman hastened in feminine frenzy from the ricketty structure to alarm the neighbors; but before the desired assistance could be laid hold upon there had been consummated an alliance of the riotous elements which only He who holdeth a world in the hollow of His hand could dissolve. It was an alliance of fire and tornado; a joining of hideous natural forces in a wild compact of destruction all the more appalling when we remember the contemptible means bywhich the union was effected. To be sure, in the sadly ludicrous fright of the succeeding days, this account of the beginning of the conflagration was stoutly denied by the wailing madame. But as a whimsical fright, lest herself and her lord might be compelled to foot the bill of some hundred millions of dollars’ worth of incremated property, was acknowledged to be behind these denials, her first and less-biased asseverations must be ac cepted as the more honest ones.
Yet if the commencement of the giant conflagration was the result of pitifully insignificant causes, so were not the surrounding conditions by which the subsequent accumulation of horrors was entailed.
Burnt District Map
The R. P. Studley Company
There had been a baking of earth, trees and dwellings, in the dry air of a rainless autumn, until everything had been cooked to the crisp, igniting point. There was a fire department, wearied with the labor of subduing a conflagration which, twenty hours before, had been thrown out as a skirmish line for the mighty hosts of flame that were to follow. Worst of all, a driving gale of wind was surging up from the south west; a gale so steadily violent as to threaten disastrous hurricane, and to whip the waters of the lake into the white frenzy of a fearful storm. Against this combination of evils there was no force at hand strong enough to prevent the destruction of the sheds, dilapidated houses and shaky structures that comprised the “built up” portion of that part of the city in which the calamity was conceived. That the fire must be extensive in its reach, and completely sweep away the many wooden buildings in that quarter of the town, was obvious at the outset. But an earnest combat was, nevertheless, maintained against the enemy’s encroachments. The three alarms, which in our municipal regulations denote a conflagration of unusual magnitude, and which summon all our engines to the scene of anxiety, had rung out inspiringly upon the night. The fire department had entered upon the customary battle with the flames, as sanguine as ever of being able to hold them within reasonable confines; for an hour every one believed that nothing more serious than another broad, blackened hole in the West Division would result.
But the drenchings from the engines, and the ripping away of fences and out -houses, availed nothing toward checking the progress of destruction. The narrow streets and alleys were be ginning to overflow with people driven from their homes. The flames sullenly, but with an unequivocal certainty, were taking to themselves mightier proportions. They swung their lurid arms still further toward the river, brushing from existence every vestige of human work that lay in their path.
Soon the word began to be passed that the fire must reach the burnt district of the night before, ere any certain barricading of its march could be counted upon. A few only were reck lessly prophetic enough to aver that its constantly augmenting wrath might endanger the safety of other sections of the city. Was there not a bare, smirched area of several blocks, left by the fierce blaze of the preceding night, along the river’s edge? and who had ever heard of a conflagration powerful enough to stretch itself over such a space and threaten property beyond?
Such was the fair reasoning of those whose hearthstones were not being swiftly devastated. They saw only a magnificent spectacle; a spectacle al ready so grand as to dwarf from sight the minor episodes of humble families, wild with fright and the consciousness of suddenly inflicted poverty. But on swept the flames, and as they roared, snapped, and crackled along, in ever growing fury, they seemed to be as little mindful of the attempts at their suppression as though men were but pigmies, and their impotent engines but the playthings of childhood.
A steady cutting away of human habitations; an atmosphere so rarefied by the intense heat as to cause the cooler air from beyond to rush in with whirlwind fantasies; all the space above dancing with swirling bits of burning timber, and alive with flakes of spinning fire; the thoroughfares filled with half-dressed, frantic women, dazed children, and powerless men, all burdened with dear mementos of the wasted home, and all pushing about in pitiful uncertainty to find the resting place which was not to be found—this was the scene in the West Division as the battalions of fire held on in victorious array .
In something over one hour from the commencement, the flames seized upon the planing mills, furniture shops, and other manufactories of similarly combustible material situated a little west of the river. From them it was only a vigorous stride to several of the largest elevators, and before mid night the conflagration had enwrapped more in value in its hot embrace than had ever before been sacrificed in our brief history.
It had demolished, leaving hardly one stone upon another, an extent of thickly settled country more than enough to form a city of respectable dimensions. It had left in blistering ruins the homes of thousands of poor people. It had destroyed many places of labor in which these people earned bread for themselves and families. It had blotted out of existence a large number of the most valuable manufacturing interests of the West; and it had blown from sight forever several enormous receptacles forthe grain ofthe world.
The conflagration now hung upon the verge of the last night’s work of ruin, and it was hoped by wearied fighters and victims of its anger that here it would rest. Beyond the open space of the old burnt area was the river, and beyond that were the proud stone edifices of the business heart of Chicago. Here, all thought, the fire wraith would bow to circumstances too powerful for its fury. With tender care for the unfortunate ones, we would proceed to rebuild the devastated acres, and in a few months would show a pleased world, as we had so many, many times shown it in the past, how happy is Chicago in turning apparent evils into unmistakable blessings.
But suddenly there fell upon the sturdy complacency of the city an incubus so appalling that all its troubles in the past became insignificant. Hardly pausing to take new breath, the allied terrors of tempest and flame had leaped in fell carnival over into the South Division.
For a long time before the fire obtained its foothold in this part of the town, the savage blasts had been madly at work, dashing blazing emissaries from the melting structures in the West Division along the almost deserted ways of the business centre of the city. But with gravelled roofs, slate coverings, stone fronts, and alert watchmen, what was there of serious import to apprehend? Yet all this while Chicago was being rapidly converted into an enormous furnace. The materials were all ready for the blast, and the air of the furnace was already sucking through the huge flues of streets and avenues. The match only was wanting, and now that was applied.
The bridges and shipping in the river afforded a superb transit for the flames, and the crossings at Van Buren, Polk, and Adams Streets were soon frameworks of fire. From these, blazing in a raging wind, there was no lack of communication from the West to the South Side.
This latter was fired in two places, at a few minutes before one o’clock, on Monday morning; some three and a half hours after the origin of the conflagration in De Koven Street. The first of these was in a shed on the river bank, near Polk Street. This fire was extinguished with ease—although the structure was itself torn down, as the only method of checking the work of ruin.
At nearly the same time, the tar works belonging to the South Division Gas Manufactory, situated on Adams Street, near the Armory, were ignited. The firemen were well nigh exhausted; their engines were disabled, and the buildings upon which the fire had now fallen were of an excessively combustible nature.
In less than five minutes a square of buildings was in flames; the Gas Works were attacked; the Armory, Chicago’s principal police station, was toppling to the earth, and the legions of ruin had effected a terribly curious maneuver, with a military exactitude savoring almost of reason. They divided their forces. One army of destruction marched swiftly toward the east, and the other sped away to the north. The first was soon across Fifth Avenue, and from thence moved upon the architectural grandeur of La Salle Street. The other dashed unchecked toward the no less noble structures that lined Monroe, Madison, and Washington Streets.
A double column of fiery devastation was abroad, and the core of one of the fairest cities on the face of the globe was doomed to yield to their imperious power.
Following the track of the eastward moving column of fire, or rather giving way reluctantly to its hot encroach ments, the first great pang of sorrow came to the despairing spectators, when the flames stormed up to the Pacific Hotel.
This superb edifice, a caravansary built upon architectural precepts of the most artistic order, was six deep stories in height, and covered a full block of ground. The roof had just been placed upon it, and it was hoped that ere another year should dawn the establishment would be in readiness to receive the approval of nations, as the best hotel, all things considered, in America.
The sight of the billows of fire buffeting in, above, and around its superb lines, until it swayed and crashed in indignant protestation to the earth, was a proof against all imaginings that man had any power to cope with or mercy to hope from the terrific elements which had obtained control of Chicago. The intense heat was now continually creating new wind centres, by the rarefaction of the air, so that although the main course of the tem pest was still toward the northeast, whirlwinds of fire were formed, which gave the conflagration abundant opportunities of beating up against the gale. Thus it was that almost at the same time the Pacific Hotel was consuming, the vast railway depot of the Michigan Southern road was burned.
The twin brawlers of fire and torna do, with their appetite sharpened by the feast among the cheaper buildings of the West Division, had gnawed to ragged crusts these two imposing edifices, and were now wild for a continuation of the repast. Down La Salle and across to Clark Street they rushed, swallowing in turn the Chamber of Commerce, Farwell Hall, and the rows upon rows of elegant stone and marble structures intervening.
Gunpowder was now called into use, and as it fulminated from street to street, substantial banking houses and the most ornate of trade palaces were hurled one by one into the air. Dark chasms were thus frequently opened before the path of flame in the lines of swiftly disappearing blocks, but all to no avail. A brief hesitancy, as if to gather new energy, and then a million sparks would dance over the abyss; an hundred tongues of fire would lap across the intervening space, and with melting shutters, cracking roof, and yielding stone, another block would be ablaze.
And now, while the heavens seemed to be metamorphosed into realms Plutonian, a curious study might have been made of the powerless people, around whom all this dire transformation was working. While a few men were laboring with Trojan-like energy to save something from the impending ruin, by far the larger proportion seemed inclined to assume the character of spectators. Men who in the face of ordinary conflagrations would have imperilled life and limb to preserve their own goods and those of their neighbors, stood calmly by, and passed quaint, terse jokes upon the excellence ofthe show. “It burns well;” “Chicago couldn’t have even a fire on a half way scale;” “It lays over anything in history,” is the embodiment of the comments that were bandied. It did appear as if the consoling balm of local importance and patriotism was drip ping into every wounded fortune, and the fact that Chicago was bound to have a tip-top advertisement out of it, somewhat compensated for the swift entailing misery.
How a double column of blazing destruction started at right angles from the initial point of the South Division, at the tar works, has been noted. As they swayed along in search of further prey, these two columns threw out constant flanking lines of fire, filling in the streets, avenues, and alleys, in systematic order.
The northward moving line of ruin, chasing hotly up Market, Wells, Franklin and La Salle Streets, swallowed the cheaper buildings on the river ends of Jackson, Quincy, and Adams Streets; snuffed out the Nevada Hotel; baked to a crackling heat the stony approach to the east end of the world-famous Washington Street tunnel, and tottered from existence alike the dingy sailor boarding houses, the dens of dubious repute, and the erstwhile durable dimensions of the banking, commercial, and insurance houses that lay in its way. The coal yards, in which the winter’s stores from Pennsylvania’s exhaustless mine had just been heaped, were also enveloped in flame; and presently half a dozen or more of the grandest anthracite blazes of history were adding their glare to the illumina tions of this new Eblis.
The destruction of the Nevada Hotel, one of the most successful of the second-rate hostelries, contributed no little to the uniqueness of the occasion. This establishment was over flowing with regular and transient boarders. Of the former, a large proportion were members of the dramatic profession, attaches of city journals, and clerks in prominent positions in the leading mercantile houses. The feminine portion of the histrionic delegation were particularly vehement in their expressions of disgust at being thus unceremoniously hustled from their comfortable quarters. It was vastly more dramatic than anything at which they had been called upon to assist, in their capacity of abstract chroniclers of the times, and they did not relish it at all.
The line of fire, with its flanking supports, which was eating toward the northeast, in a capricious spirit of mercy spared the Madison and Randolph Street bridges, over which ran the main city railways connecting all portions of the West Division with the South Side. A large five-story structure, just north of the last-named bridge, was also omitted, in either scorn or pity, and subsequently stood in majestic loneliness, the only unscathed edifice in the South Division, north of Harrison Street.
That thrifty thoroughfare of wholesale commerce, South Water Street, having been reached, the omnipotent angel of ruin who hovered over the city permitted the track of fire to turn again almost straight toward the lake. And now were swept away mammoth elevators, the Lumber Exchange, innumerable warehouses teeming with the products of the world. The wines of sunny France and Italy, the teas of China, the coffees of the Indies, and the staple viands of the Orient, were quickly tossed in steaming radiance to the zenith.
At the same time there perished the substantial accumulations of Lake Street, a business avenue which for gorgeous trade palaces and the value of their storied contents was abund antly capable of challenging any equal extent of thoroughfare in the land. Millions on millions of dollars, represented in the products of every quarter of the globe, fed the insatiable maw ofthe fire. At the lake end of the street there fell several excellent hotels, including the Massasoit, Adams, and Richmond, and that “good old inn,” so revered by the appreciative travelers ofthe country, the Tremont House. The grand rendezvous of railway trains, that ganglion of tracks where centred the roads of half a dozen great companies, the Illinois Central Depot, was, in this quarter, the last seared monument of ruin left crumbling in hot protestation at the unmerited fury of the tempest. Spinning along Randolph Street, the conflagration fed heartily upon the glories of the Briggs, Sherman, Metropolitan, and Matteson Hotels; upon stately business homes, Wood’s Museum , and a miscellany of trade edifices that of themselves would have formed the heart of a small city. The scenes at the destruction of the Sherman House were marvellously thrilling. Upwards of three hundred guests were lodged in the house. At the time the fire approached there were left in active charge only the night clerk and an assistant. The night clerk was not by any means the con sequential hotel-employe of the period, but was a cool, energetic young man, with a remarkable fund of good sense.
Of the three hundred guests, a large number were ladies, unaccompanied by male escort; and of these, five were so sick as to be confined to their beds. The night clerk, having sometime before secured the valuable papers of the place, proceeded, with his assistant, to arouse every sleeper in the house. The lone women were promptly conveyed to the lake shore, and there placed in charge of policemen who took them beyond reach of further danger. The sick ladies were placed in hacks by the omnipresent night clerk, and were being driven away, when, followed by his assistant, and seized with a terrible suspicion, he rushed after and stopped them. An instantaneous counting of thin, pallid faces, and lo! only four women were there. Five had certainly been recorded in the sick book of the house. It was then remembered that one poor lady was still remaining. Back into the now trembling structure dashed the two young men, one of them snatching from a fireman an axe as he passed. Up the stairways and through the smoke-reeking halls they groped, until the door desired was reached. Two lusty blows, and in it crashed, revealing the woman half raised in terror from the bed. It was the first intimation of the horrible danger that she had received. A word of explanation, and she had directed them to the closet where hung a dress and cloak of uncommonly heavy stuff. A pitcher and basin, fortunately full of water, served to drench these garments and the main quilt of the bed, and in them was quickly wrapped the invalid. Portions of the soaked clothing were then thrown over their own heads, and in a space of time hardly longer than it has taken to pen this episode, these heroes, than whom no braver shine upon the admired annals of the ages agone, had instinctively found their way through the familiar passages of the house, into the streets. When the writer saw them placing the fainting woman in a carriage, portions of their clothing had been burned into sieve like perforations, and the hand of one was badly scorched. The hotel in a moment after folded itself to the glowing foundations, and was among the most complete wrecks of the night.
The Court House, an incongruous structure of mottled hues, and yet with fair pretensions to attention, stood alone in the centre of a large square, while the fire was tumbling to the pavement the stately edifices on two of the streets around it. That it must escape destruction was the generally granted theory. But if the acres of flame could not lay fiery grip upon it, they could, aided by the ever-howling wind, send messengers of ruin hot and fierce upon its roof and dome. Soon a huge blazing timber flew against the dome. Instantaneously the entire upper portion of the building shot into flames. In the lower portion of the structure, which did disagreeable duty as the County Jail, there were confined, on every kind of criminal charge, more than one hundred and fifty prisoners. The jailer and an assistant turnkey, at the last moment compatible with safety, opened every cell and released each inmate. Happy in the brute consciousness that the ill wind which was showering extermination upon Chicago, had, with consistent ugliness, blown a precious boon to themselves, garroters, thieves, debtors, petty pilferers, and hardened murderers, shot off into the crowds and were seen no more.
Still “eating into the gale,” the course of the conflagration pushed back upon itself until it had swept away the block upon which stood Hooley’s Opera House, the Bryant and Chase Business College, the Republican office, and other hardly less noted structures. It had already cut out the northern part of this and the next adjoining block east, and was reaching in feverish anticipation of the revel in store for it at the St. James Hotel and Crosby’s Opera House. In this latter building there were stored the instruments of three of the largest piano houses in the country, art treasures almost invaluable, and the works of decorators who had for several months been laboring lavishly at the beautify ing of the auditorium. In the renova tions of this auditorium the sum of $80,000 had just been expended, and the place, at the breaking out of the fire, stood complete, the finest temple of Thespis and Thalia in America. A luxury-loving public, who had anxiously read of its fair proportions, were to have pronounced upon its beauties on the night of its destruction. It was to have been formally re-dedicated on that same evening by the Thomas Orchestra, every seat having been sold a week before. Many of the more valuable paintings stored in this establishment were saved, but the number of dollars consumed in choice pictures alone stepped a long way into the thousands; while in the fall of the building and the perishing of its contents, there went down a valuation of over half a million.
The fire had now reached State Street, and was again working against the course of the gale, and pushing a trifle towards the south. This division of ruin, before reaching the corner occupied by Field, Leiter & Co.’s grand emporium, had laid in sweltering ashes the newspaper offices of the Evening Post, Evening Mail, Staats Zeitung, and Chicago Times, besides destroying the publishing places of many lesser places and miscellaneous publications. The office of the Journal was also soon added to the sad list, and then there remained not the home of any journal of importance save the superb structure belonging to the Tribune Company. The buildings on every corner around it had gone, and nothing but seething debris marked the sites of Reynolds Block, the Dearborn Theatre, and the store of Ross & Gossage, with the adjacent mammoth carpet warerooms belonging to other firms.
That even now a goodly portion of the business centre of the place must be left unharmed, was the almost universal theory. It was understood that the eastward-moving line of fire, which had broken from its companion column near the gas works, had spent its violence. There was then only the latter to subjugate, and with the advent of day surely this could be accomplished.
Remaining intact was the east side of Dearborn Street to the Tribune Building, and all of the fine property lying east of State until Randolph was reached.
But while this final glimmer of hope came to the hearts of the more under standing watchers of the fire, it was all too quickly shut out by the news that the flames had crossed into the North Division. This was at about four o’clock in the morning, a little before day-break.
Hardly had this announcement closed despairingly around the souls of those who had yet hoped against hope that something of value in Chicago might be saved, when the terrible tidings were whispered that the Water Works were in ruins, and that the only friend man had found among the elements in this his hour of necessity was taken from him.
There was now absolutely nothing left but to stand by and trace the path of accumulating devastation, biding the destroying angel’s pleasure that the work of calamity should cease.
All along the east side of State Street, where stood some of the loftiest marts in the city, and on Wabash and Michigan Avenues, it was considered that comparative safety was insured. How ever, many of the dwellers on these last thoroughfares, as well as those per sons who owned mercantile houses in the vicinity, took the precaution to re move large quantities of their more valuable goods to the open spaces of Dearborn Park, the base ball grounds, and the lake front. Here all was pre sumably safe, as even if the entire city burnt up, open ground could not be consumed.
And yet this very quarter was doomed to be the converging point for the two armies of fire that had parted from each other near the tar works. The march of the northward-striding line, with its slight but steady inflection to the east, has been shown. That which hurried toward the lake from the southern end of the Michigan Southern Depot had been slower in its labors, but none the less vindictively accurate in its work of ruin. It had swept from existence the shabbier structures of Third and Fourth Avenues, and had crept unrelentingly onward until De Haven Block and the towering grandeur of the Bigelow House and Honore’s two massive marble buildings had fallen into ruin.
As the three noble structures last named reeled to the ground, the day was fully ushered in. But in the murky sunlight the ruin still held on; when it would halt, who should now dare to say?
From the Bigelow House to the Academy of Design was less than a block, only a bagatelle of a stride for the giant of conflagration that was abroad. Within the walls were husbanded some of the noblest works of art America could boast. Among these were a number of paintings which had just arrived in the city, and which were intended for display at the forthcoming fall exhibition; a new work by Bierstadt, valued at $15,000; dozens of precious pieces by leading artists of other cities; and the studios, with most of the contents, of more than twenty home painters. Rothermel’s great canvas, “The Battle of Gettysburg,” the property of the State of Pennsylvania, and the grandest historical picture in the country, was cut from its frame and saved. It has been conveyed within the precincts of the commonwealth to whom it came so near proving an irreclaimable and irreparable loss.
The Palmer Hotel, one of the youngest but already one of the most famous of our world-famed public houses, fell in at nearly the same time as the Academy.
Here, near the corner of State and Jackson Streets, and upon Wabash and Michigan Avenues, was now to be witnessed the frenzied stampede of thousands. The many were breaking in crazed haste to escape from the heat, and from the sight of the horrible scenes which had grown so terribly familiar. These swellers of the panic had in most cases secured portables of real or fancied value, and were madly, selfishly eager to take themselves, their families, and their chattels, beyond the reach of the insatiable fire demon’s clutches. Some were on foot, staggering along under the weight of rich packs, and tugging at the hands of halting relatives. Others were piled, with stock from their stores, furniture, wives and children, into vehicles of every conceivable class, many of which to the insanity of the scene, there were men seeking to struggle in the opposite direction. These were merchants who, living in the extreme South Division, and just learning of the night’s disaster, were dashing in on foot and in their carriages, with a fierce determination to know if they too had been beggared while they slept.
The streets indicated were almost to tally impassable, and so frantic was the struggle of teams and pedestrians that there were often complete dead-locks, during which not the least progress was made by any one. But these temporary stoppages in the retreat were in significant in comparison to the frightful scenes which were constantly occur ring in consequence of the choking of their roads and walks. Old men were thrown down and trampled upon; children were lost from their parents; and the parents were in many cases parted from each other, never to meet again. Women were knocked to the pavement by the rearing, madly -gallopping horses; and several authenticated cases of child-birth, in which both mother and infant were instantly killed, added their diabolical quota to this newest of pandemoniums.
And all the time the fire was leaving behind, in fantastic mould, the hot evidences of its withering strength; was reaching ever forward for more of splendor to level to the earth. By the continued blowing away of buildings in its path, as it prowled swiftly east on the line of Harrison Street, its course seemed to be diverted to the north again. In this was safety; for all that lay in the north must perish as it was now perishing, and so in that direction to keep the path of the burning storm was the only hope. Up again it worked, smiting down the blocks enclosed by State, Harrison, and Madison Streets, and Wabash Avenue. Here, as elsewhere, it fed its unglutted appetite with the richest of fare, and stately churches, beautiful dwellings, and proud trade palaces were alike devoured, walls, roof, contents and foundation stones.had been hired at fabulous prices from their contemptible owners. But to add to the insanity of the scene, there were men seeking to struggle in the opposite direction. These were merchants who, living in the extreme South Division, and just learning of the night’s disas ter, were dashing in on foot and in their carriages, with a fierce determination to know if they too had been beggared while they slept.
The streets indicated were almost to tally impassable, and so frantic was the struggle of teams and pedestrians that there were often complete dead-locks, during which not the least progress was made by any one. But these temporary stoppages in the retreat were in significant in comparison to the fright ful scenes which were constantly occurring in consequence of the choking of their roads and walks. Old men were thrown down and trampled upon; children were lost from their parents; and the parents were in many cases parted from each other, never to meet again. Women were knocked to the pavement by the rearing, madly-galloping horses; and several authenticated cases of child-birth, in which both mother and infant were instantly killed, added their diabolical quota to this newest of pandemoniums.
And all the time the fire was leaving behind, in fantastic mould, the hot evidences of its withering strength; was reaching ever forward for more of splen dor to level to the earth. By the con tinued blowing away of buildings in its path, as it prowled swiftly east on the line of Harrison Street, its course seem ed to be diverted to the north again. In this was safety; for all that lay in the north must perish as it was now perish ing, and so in that direction to keep the path of the burning storm was the only hope. Up again it worked, smit ing down the blocks enclosed by State, Harrison, and Madison Streets, and Wabash Avenue. Here, as elsewhere, it fed its unglutted appetite with the richest of fare, and stately churches, beautiful dwellings, and proud trade palaces were alike devoured, walls, roof, contents and foundation stones.
Before daybreak the thieving horror had culminated in scenes of daring robbery unparallelled in the annals of any similar disaster. In fact, earlier in the history of the flames, the pilfering scoundrels had conducted operations with their usual craft and cunningness at evading observation. But as the night wore on, and the terrors aggre gated into an intensity of misery, the thieves, amateur and professional, dropped all pretences at concealment and plied their knavish calling un daunted by any fears of immediate ret ribution. They would storm into stores, smash away at the the safes, and if, as was happily almost always the case, they failed to effect an opening, they would turn their attention to securing all of value from the stock that could conveniently be made away with, and then plough off in search of further booty. The promise of a share in the spoils gave them the assistance of rascally express-drivers, who stood with their wagons before the doors of stores and waited as composedly for a load of stolen property to be piled in as if they were receiving the honestly-acquired goods of the best man in the city. This use of the express-drivers was a double curse, in that it facilitated the abstracting of plunder, while it also took up the time of teams that might otherwise have been used by the merchants. The express-wagons once heaped with the loot, were driven pell-mell through the city, adding to the dangers and the accidents of the surcharged streets, and the property was safely “cached” in the country .
Remonstrances on the part of the owner availed nothing. With no one to aid him in the preservation of his goods, or to assist in the apprehension of the villains, the merchant was compelled to stand quietly aside and see his establishment systematically cleaned out by the thieves, and then laid in ashes by the flames.
Several cases occurred in which the owners of stores came to the conclusion that if their places must go and nothing could be preserved, some decent people should have the benefits accruing therefrom. They accordingly threw open their stores and issued a loudly delivered invitation to the crowd to hurry in and take away all they might be able to carry .
The scenes of robbery were not con fined to the sacking of stores. Burglars would raid into the private dwellings that lay in the track of coming destruction, and snatch from cupboard, bureau, trunk, or mantle-tree, anything which their practiced senses told them would be of value. Interference was useless. The scoundrels hunted in squads, were inflamed with drink, and were alarmingly demonstrative in the flourishing of deadly weapons.
Sometimes women and children, and not infrequently men, would be stopped as they were bearing from their homes objects of especial worth, and the articles would be torn from their grasp by gangs of these wretches.
Reference has been made to the flow of liquor. Up to three or four o’clock in the morning there was a surprisingly small percentage of intoxicated persons to be counted in any quarter. But as the physical and mental exhaustion pressed heavier, and as the dull horror began to settle upon each soul that perhaps not one stone might be left standing upon another, the inexplicable seeking for an assuage of trouble in potent alcohol followed. Saloon-keepers rolled barrels of the poison into the street, and the owners of great liquor houses threw open their doors to the overwrought and haggard populace. Men drank then whose lips had never before been crossed by alcohol; while those who had hitherto tasted of its Lethe draughts only on rare occasions, now guzzled like veteran soakers.
This was a new accession to the woe of the event. There were hardened women reeling through the crowds, howling ribald songs; coarse men were breaking forth with leering jokes and maudlin blasphemy; women of the highest culture tossing down glasses of raw whiskey; ladies with cinder and tear-begrimed faces, pressing the cups with jeweled fingers; while of rich and poor, well-bred and boors, the high and the lowly, there were few who did not appear to have been seized with the idea that tired nature must finally succumb unless the friendly stimulant was used. All were not intoxicated; all were not drinkers. There were probably thousands who found in the taste of wine, or stronger fluids, the nerving to new deeds of heroism and quiet bravery. But the drunken phase was a terribly prominent one, and one that entailed an awful addition to the woes of the conflagration .
At about eight o’clock on Monday morning, the enormous branch of the fire which had cut its way eastward, with a pronounced deflection to the north, and which a few hours before was erroneously supposed to have been checked, almost joined its resistless power to its companion branch from which it had been cleft at the gas works. This junction was not, however, quite formed, owing to a fitful change in the artificial wind-currents which sent the line of flame that had destroyed the Bigelow and Palmer Houses, Honore and other blocks, a little to the westward, sealing the fate of McVicker’s Theatre building and the block adjoining the Tribune Building on the south.
Although taught by the cruel lessons of the night that it was hoping against hope to think to preserve any of the buildings on which the fire demon had turned his baleful eye, there were still a few undaunted workers ready to en gage in another combat with the foe. Earlier in the night, a huge tar cauldron that had been left a few days be fore by some roofers in front of Mc Vicker’s, had been laid hold of by several young men and dragged where it should be incapable of mischief. Much of the combustibles stored in the alleys was also removed, and then all was done that could be done, save to hope. At the Tribune Building, men for a time occupied the roof, sweeping away coals, while another force was alert for similar duty at the doorways and windows.
But, with exultant derision at all the puny efforts put forth to cheat it of its prey, the conflagration closed hope lessly around this block. McVicker’s naturally gave way first. The Tribune Building was not long in following, and although at first offering a stubborn front, was eventually left a haughty but none the less complete wreck. It was a wreck doubly assured, in that although presenting for days afterward a more imposing display as a ruin than most of its contemporaries, it was still so insecure as to lead to the death of men who trusted to its stability in seek ing to repair it.
The line of bookstores comprising the celebrated “Booksellers’ Row,” a handsomer congregation of houses devoted to the dissemination of universal literature than existed in such friendly neighborhood in any city upon the globe, perished at nearly the same time as the edifices whose fate has just been described.
A little further to the north was the elegant architectural pile occupied as a dry goods store by Field, Leiter & Co. During the previous hours, as the waves of conflagration were beating savagely around it, copious floodings of water had been emptied over every portion of this structure. Its internal economy included an extensive system of pipes, conduits, and hose, connected with the water mains under ground. It was through the aid of these that the drenching was kept up; and had it not been for the sad failing of the Water Works in the North Division, the unexampled furnace blasts which were howling on nearly every side of it could not have materially affected this building. Smaller structures, including the Cobb Library house, were demolished with powder in hope of saving Field, Leiter & Co.’s building. But the same weary story of unavailing labor, of hasty firing and speedy destruction, that had been repeated over and over again, ensued here. At the final surrender of this edifice, the four walls of which rolled in dismal thunder into the basement at nearly the same instant, there was seen a strangely attractive gulf of glowing iron pillars, braces, and columns, shimmering in the white and red heat of the flames.
And now, with its forces joined to the companion column of ruin which had swept away so much of wealth and beauty elsewhere, and had sent a twin-demon of fire carousing in devastating revelry through the North Side, the battalions of flame that had just accomplished the destruction of the Field, Leiter & Co.’s building, moved on toward the lake front. From Harrison Street down a portion of State Street and Wabash Avenue, a few blocks of fine buildings had thus far been spared, while a great desert of smouldering waste was stretched far into the west and north.
The allied army of flame threw out its broad arms in the direction of the lake the huge branches of fire sometimes streaming, borne upon the pinions of the gale, for whole blocks. Along the lake front and upon the base ball grounds were huddled thou sands of people; and, as has been noticed, there were also stacked in that neighborhood the richest of wares from adjacent stores, and the rarest of furniture and fittings from private houses. The goods had here been stored under the care of trusty watchers, as a spot perfectly secure from destruction, while the vast crowds of homeless people had gradually centred here for the same reason.
Suddenly it seemed that the fire had for the first time discovered this assemblage of humanity and property. The flames had feasted already upon all that was rich and rare in commerce, art, and literature; had been gorged with the proud wonders of architecture, and had tasted the sweet morsel of roasting, suffocating men, women, and children. And yet here had ventured to congregate a crowd of human beings with a few of the more precious of their stores, as if to defy, in one place at least, the omnipotent fury.
The conflagration swung its broad tongues of fire for acres, lapping greedily at the grand structures in the lower ends of Wabash and Michigan Avenues, and fairly pinning the terrified concourse between two enormous lines of fire which were steadily compressing together from their right-angle divergence. The fire fattened upon what it fed, and grew momentarily larger, lustier, fiercer. It sent off a rain of brands, burning timbers, and huge sparks, and flecked the air with myriads of blazing bits of material over the heads of the affrighted thousands.
A panic as complete as any that had reigned in other portions of the city followed. The crowd leaped instinc tively for the south, and shot along the strip of park by the lake in bare time to escape the hurricane of fire that was seeking to cut off their retreat at the foot of Washington Street. The accumulated goods took fire, and in a few minutes, with the fences, seats, and pavilion of the base ball grounds, were withered to ashes, and the ashes swirled out into the wailing waters of the lake.
Nothing remained for the fire to finish the plumb line of ruin which seemed to have been drawn along Harrison Street, but to turn back and chop away at the few beautiful blocks which were standing in a mournful fringe on Michigan and a portion of Wabash Avenues. These were several majestic churches, the imposing proportions of Terrace Row, and the numerous costly dwellings of men who a little time before might have been rated as merchant princes, but who were now alternating between a moderate competence and stark beggary. Several buildings were blown up, but it was the same tale over again. The flames would bridge the gap, and the ruin would sweep on as before.
Terrace Row was the last to yield. It was a beautiful edifice, solidly constructed, and in the face of any common fire would have refused to submit. But after burning some three hours, during which time a large share of the superb equipments of the many dis tinguished homes were transferred to a safe place, the last wall of the building reeled to the earth; and in the South Division there remained north of Harrison Street only the blocks of buildings east of Wabash Avenue and south of Congress Street, the Wabash Avenue Methodist Church, now converted into a Post Office, standing on the southeast corner of the Avenue and Harrison Street, the five-story building already named at the east end of Randolph Street bridge, and the Illinois Central Elevator just north ofthe once magnificent depot of the company.
Although the destruction proper did not commence until shortly before six o’clock in the North Division, the work of ruin in that section of the city ante dated this time in that a part of Lill’s Brewery and the Water Works were consumed between four and five o’clock.
That the Water Works should have burned at so early a period, and before the main body of the flames had reached the North Side at all, has given rise to a deal of very natural wonderment. The fact of this deplorable phenomenon taking place pointed the arguments and gave redoubled force to the assertions of those who were determined that incendiaries were responsible for the whole city’s incre mation. There is no reasonable ground, and never was, for declaring that the firing of the Water Works was due to malice. For hours the roaring wind had borne all the way from the perish ing buildings of the West and South Divisions blazing messengers of ruin in almost a direct course to the Water Works. That many of the cheaper buildings in the North Division did not take fire an hundred times was much more of a miracle than that one or two edifices were prematurely consumed. The fact that it was the Water Works that burned so carly of course attracted particular attention, whereas had a score of insignificant sheds elsewhere blazed up at one time, it would have been laid to the same causes that led to the destruction of the brewery shed, with its companion calamity.
The air of the North Division,at two o’clock in the morning, was alive with burning, flying wood; and these whirling brands, dropping upon a shed connected with Lill’s Brewery, shot the flimsy structure into a sharp blaze. From here the destruction was partially extended to the Water Works, as the attention of the engineer and his assistant was drawn away from its proper post, during which time a large shower of larger sparks than usual came pelting upon the roof of a shed close to the building in their charge. With the terrible gale which raged all the higher near the open front of the lake, it was impossible to stay the course of destruction; and soon the works were so badly injured as to check the working of the engines, and Chicago was without water at the moment when water was to her the one great thing needful.
The full work of burning out the North Division, as before stated, began at a short time before six o’clock, or a full two hours after the immolation of the pumping works had stopped the supply of water.
No less than four different spots have been designated as the precise point at which the destruction of the North Side began. All of the assertions are to the effect that the bridges were the conductors of the flames, although a few claim in addition that the shipping assisted in ferrying the fire across. The most reliable statements, and those which are numerically the strongest, assert that Rush Street bridge passed the flames over the river, and that once across they danced briskly up to the Galena Elevator, which was soon en veloped in fire.
Here, as in other parts of the city, was witnessed the strange spectacle of the wind driving the body of flame in one direction while flankers of fire ate along almost against the gale. The conflagration crept quickly west in an almost due line along North Water, Kinzie, and Illinois Streets, until a solid barrier of flame two blocks in thickness was created from the lake to the river.
Every bridge on the main channel had by this time been destroyed, and when the end of La Salle Street was reached, the heat created around its narrow orifice a suction so vehement as to pull through flames from the great warehouses on its southern extremity. The massive blocks of stone forming the towers were shattered, while the heavy masonry approaches and wind ing steps at either end were split, seamed, and cracked, and in some instances were burned to powder. As a proof that the flames were sucked through the greater portion of the tunnel, it was found, several days after, when the rubbish had been cleared from its openings and transit once more made convenient, that the wooden wainscoting, extending waist-high along its interior, had been calcined, and was at the northern end in perfect charcoal condition.
The wall of flame once built over the river terminus of the North Side, its previous tactics were abandoned, and it held straight on until it had brushed the North Division from existence. It was an enormous phalanx of fire from two to five blocks in thickness, extending from one side of the Division to the other. To seek to pass through it and strike for the main channel of the river was as far from possibility as it would have been to walk through a smelting furnace athousand fold hotter than ever was made, to scale the heavens, or to ford the lake. There was time to think of doing but one thing, and that one thing was to flee. Those who yielded to the instinct of self- preservation and rushed far to the northward as fast as quaking limbs would bear them, unmindful of friends, of relatives, or of precious mementos of their disappearing homes, were alone certain of safety .
The lighter structures with which this Division abounded gave the magnificently hideous legions of flame a glorious opportunity of keeping their lurid ranks unshaken, and the wall of fire never presented an opening until the wooded confines of the extreme northern part of the Division were attained. Sometimes a specially obdurate structure, as the Cathedral of the Holy Name, or the monster breweries of Sands, Huck, and others, would resist for a brief moment, when a slight gap would show on the face of the flaming barrier. But ere the rear of the column could pass, the ruin would be as complete as if the building had disappeared from view at the first attack.
From the expressions of some of the more intelligent of those who were making a push for the open country to the far north, the sight must have pos sessed a certain terrible grandeur that was not to be observed in the detached work of devastation either in the West or the South Divisions. Here it was straight forward and unrelenting as destiny. It was a phalanx of fire extending as far as the eye could reach to the east and the west. Behind it none could see, and as to what might be its solid thickness the stricken ones before it had no means of determining. To them it appeared as if the world itself must be on fire, and that the flames were swiftly following their course around the entire globe.
The conflagration in this Division was more unforgiving than elsewhere, for here it spared only the merest fragment. In the other two portions of the city it had been satisfied with eating away a monstrous cavity on one side of the river, and with cutting the head from the body of the second section of the town. But in the North it seemed to have determined that not a house should be left to boast itself luckier or more irresistible than its humbled fellows. How one dwelling was saved in the midst of the surrounding desolation, and how a little slice on the northwest corner of the Division was also spared, form two of the most peculiarly interesting incidents of the whole record of ruin.
The story of the preservation of Mahlon D. Ogden’s residence, a large and comfortable frame structure situated almost in the heart of the North Side, has already been fully given by the unwearying workers of the daily press. Briefly reproduced, the truth and marvel of the affair is that the building was in the middle of a block, all the other lots of which formed its elegant garden. On the streets upon its four sides were not many large buildings; while just as the fire approached it from the southwest there was a slight lull in the fury of the wind. This allowed the flames to shoot straighter into the air, and before the storm had again bent them forward in search of further fuel, the structures upon which they were immediately feeding had been reduced to ashes, and a break made in the terrible wall of fire. The exertions of Mr. Ogden and his family in covering the roof and walls of the house with carpets, quilts, and blankets, which were kept constantly wet with water from a cistern which happened to be in his place, also aided materially in the salvation of their home, which was the only unharmed building for miles. But the brief cessation of the tempest’s violence was, after all, the chief cause of this singular exception, as even the fence which was on the windward side of the dwelling was only slightly scorched.
Precisely how the corner of the North Division, lying adjacent to the river, in the extreme northwest, was saved, has not, it is believed, ever been made public.
At about four o’clock in the afternoon of the fatal Monday, Mr. Samuel Ellis, an officer of the city detective force, who will be favorably remembered as Dixon’s associate in the working up of the celebrated Ziegenmeyer case, formed a small company of his friends into a preventive squad. Ellis and the friends whom he summoned to his assistance were living in a long, handsome block on Lincoln Avenue, between Sophia and Webster Avenues. At the corner of this block, and intervening in the course of the rapidly approaching flames, between the block and the street, was a small frame house belonging to a widow lady. Divining at once that if this corner house could be saved perhaps the block in which he lived might also be spared, Detective Ellis directed and aided his little company with remarkable sagacity. There was a cistern in the yard full of water, and here was an invaluable ally able to preserve the widow’s house, if understandingly used, and if mortal forethought and energy could preserve anything in this most unsparing of conflagrations. The roof of the building, as well as doorways and window-sills, were covered quickly with a deep coating of sand which was soaked with water. Quilts, carpets, and blankets were next procured, and the cottage was fairly swathed in them, and again the friendly water was called in until they were thoroughly drenched. The fences contiguous were ripped down, and the wooden sidewalks torn up.
By this time the huge sheet of fire was close upon the busy workers, and they were forced to rush back and trust that their efforts might not have been in vain, as had been the no less arduous labors of thousands in other parts of Chicago. The fire reached sharply over and licked around the enshrouded house, but before it could dry the coverings of wet sand and cloth, the force of its strength in that quarter was spent, and a fresh of the gust tempest sent it slanting toward the lake. The corner house was saved so aLo was the adjacent block, and by this means a fragment of the North Division enough to form of itself a village, closely settled, of a very respectable magnitude.
Cheated of its purpose in ploughing away every vestige ofthe North Division, the fire drove wickedly onward in the direction of Lincoln Park and Wright’s Grove, and ceased not in its work of ruin until Fullerton Avenue, the extreme norther n limit of the city, was attained.
Here, with nothing further upon which it could riot, it at last died away into the second night of its carouse; and, just as a long-prayed-for rain came pattering coolly down, the Chicago fire passed into history.
By nightfall of Monday, a great number of refugees had collected in the cemetery at the south end of Lincoln Park, and many had endeavored to dispose themselves as comfortably as possible until the light of another morning should enable them make their final escape . But the fire-wraith hesitated not at the pollution of the quiet homes of the dead, and was soon curling the leaves and snapping the brush at the cemetery’s entrance. An other stampede was all that was left to the heart-sick multitude of living ones, who had vainly thought to catch a few hours of fitful rest upon the graves of the sleepers below, whom even this tyrant conflagration could not touch. Out from the cemetery swarmed the stricken ones, and into the park, from which they were again routed by the untiring pursuit of the wind and the flames.
The only rest was upon the chilly margin of the lake and the bleak wil derness of the open prairies. The edge of the lake was lined with its dreary quota of those who, twenty-four hours before, had gone to rest in happy homes at the close of a Sabbath differing to them from no other Sabbath which had preceded it, but which was the dividing line between prosperity and utter ruin.
Only a few of the incidents ofthe conflagration can be added to those previously given.
Mr. J. H. McVicker, proprietor of McVicker’s Theatre, going into his building by a side door from the alley, just as the flames had fully closed upon the structure, was driven back by the heat and the smoke. But on reaching the open alley, he was placed in a still more dangerous plight, being caught in one of the howling currents of air, created by the heat, which were whirling through in an exactly opposite direction from the main course of the gale. This brought a shower of sparks and burning bits of timber upon him, and before he could escape a tongue of fire was swaying through the alley. Throwing himself upon his hands and knees, he crawled out to the next street as rapidly as possible; but when he reached a place of comparative safety, he found himself almost blinded by the heat and the smoke, so that he did not regain the full use of his eyes for weeks.
At the burning of the Oriental Block on La Salle Street, opposite the Chamber of Commerce, a man remained in the third story long after the building had fired, composedly carrying his goods to a window and dropping them out, when they were thrown into an express wagon by his partner and two friends. A rope was all the while dangling from the window; and when his companions and the crowd implored him to desist from his work and leave the doomed building, he would shout back, pointing to the cord. “That is my stairway, now don’t you fret for me!” At length, after every staircase in the house was in flames, and escape by the ordinary avenues was impossible, he came to the window with some books and money from the safe which he had opened. Throwing the books to his friends, he quietly shoved the money into his bosom and proceeded to crawl out and let himself to the ground by the rope, hand over hand in the most approved sailor fashion. He was within a few feet of the pavement, when the flames, breaking through a window from an apartment under which he had been at work, burned the rope instantly to a snapping condition. It parted, and the brave fellow tumbled upon his side, dislocating his shoulder. He scrambled up and was lifted into the wagon by his friends, muttering between his shut teeth as he patted the money in his breast with his sound arm, “Three thousand dollars all safe! I guess that ‘ll settle the doctor’s bills.”
In the West Division, just before the Van Buren Street bridge, the steam fire engine “Fred Gund” had been stationed, and with but a short stretch of hose, and a perfect salamander of a pipeman, was endeavoring to do its little share toward checking the further advance of the foe. But soon the heat grew too savage for even the case hardened firemen. The hose pipe from which the water was still shooting was leaned upon a fence, and, as the horses had been taken away, the pipe and engine men were forced sadly to relinquish their beloved “tub,” and sorrow fully retire across the bridge. But there stood the “Fred Gund,” with steam up, jumping to its work as merrily as ever, while a little way in front the stream was sputtering as briskly into the flames as though it was playing only upon the flickering shed of a reporter’s “incipient fire,” or was engaged in the friendly rivalry of a peaceful “muster” with some brother engine. The steamer, rattling in every joint, was heard shaking and blowing long after the flames had shut it from sight.
The burning ofthe Van Buren Street bridge immediately after, led to a peculiarly picturesque scene. As the fire approached its western end, the men whose duty it was to swing the structure, warned everybody to leave, by an energetic tug at the bell. They then applied the turn-lever, and, giving two or three hasty spins as a starter, darted to the south side and squeezed through to the street. The bridge, by the impulse thus given, slowly swung open, but not in time to prevent the western end from catching fire. In a moment it was a grand, fantastic frame-work of flames, and in the eddies ofthe tempest and the artificial currents of heat was kept swinging to and fro, a huge specimen of grotesque pyrotechnics, which but for the overshadowing importance of preceding and subsequent events would have furnished a charming theme for description by skilled reportorial pens.
The old perverse absurdity, so common in seasons of great excitement, which leads frantic humanity to fritter away the priceless moments in the perpetration of deliberate stupidities, had a thousand illustrations during the fire. Those who threw the looking glass out of the window, and laboriously tugged the feather bed down stairs, had innumerable representative s and counter parts. A prominent legal gentleman, whose office was in Reynolds’ Block, was guilty of solemnly enwrapping a wash basin, pitcher, spittoon, and two imitation bronze statuettes, in a table spread, and dropping them over the banister of the twisting stairway at the northern end of the building, after which he shuffled back and groped around until he had loaded his arms with substantial law books, which he enthusiastically bore in safety to the sidewalk.
The Thomas Orchestra, stopping at the Sherman House, met with adventures numerous. The more interesting ones, in the present connection, were that nearly every member grasped a linen coat, a pipe, a piece of portable furniture, or something of like importance, and bore it proudly into the street, leaving the musical instruments with which their fame and daily bread were to be earned, behind them. The accomplished Miss Marie Krebs, the pianiste ofthe party, emerged from the blazing pile in a condition of complete tranquillity. She had covered her person with a dingy morning wrapper, and had secured, at the last instant, about half the score of one of Strauss’ waltzes, and she clung to that bit of sheet music with all the persistency of a woman who had saved her most sacred heirloom from destruction.
Mention has been made of the fierce rain of sparks that fell in the South and North Divisions, borne from the burning edifices of the West Side, long before the fire had reached the South Branch of the river, These sparks pelted down in a shower so sharp that it is a marvel the igniting of the other two divisions was so long delayed. As an evidence of the intensity of this blazing rain, it is recalled that the clothing of those in the streets and of the watchers upon the house tops were often burned full of holes, and in some instances were actually started into flame .
Another incident must close the list here given, although the remembrance of others is well – nigh interminable, and the temptation to recount them is difficult to resist.
At the destruction of the St. James Hotel, a gentleman, whose wife was bed-ridden at that establishment after a wearying search commenced an hour before, had secured the services of a hackman and his team for the lady’s removal. The driver had demanded the outrageous sum of sixty dollars, and not only refused to abate a penny from that amount, but was not inclined to stop and dicker, preferring to drive around the city, sure of meeting somebody whose necessities would ensure him as much, if not more, than his modest demand. The gentleman, however, was only too glad to obtain a comfortable conveyance at any figure; and the bargain was closed, and the carriage driven to the hotel. The lady was then brought down to the door, and a break was made in the crowd upon the walk to allow of her being carried to the hack.
Just at this moment up ran the pro prietor of a leading jewelry house, whose richly-stored building was but a few blocks away. Justice to him re quires it be observed that he did not understand the status of affairs. He only saw an unemployed carriage. Breathlessly addressing the tender hearted driver, he said: “Here, my man! I’ve tried for two hours to get hold of an express wagon, and it’s no use. I can make your hack do as well, I guess. I’ll give you a five hundred dollar note to let me pack it full of my goods, as many times as I can between now and the time the fire gets to the store.”
“Good enough,” answered the humanitarian of a Jehu. “Five hundred dollars is the word,” and slamming the hack door, he was on the point of leaping upon the box and driving away. A howl of anger went up from the throng upon the walk, but save for the presence of a certain trio of young men it is more than probable that the poor invalid would never have been removed, unless carried in the arms of her husband and friends.
This trio was made up of three Bohemians of the press, who, having given their valuable benediction to the office in which they had been employed, as it crashed to the ground, had concluded that a choice quantity of time was now left upon their hands in which to achieve bright acts of benev olence. Here was an unmistakable opening. A dozen quick words passed between them, and in a twinkling their coup was effected.
Two of them stepped up to the faithless knight of the whip, and ere his astounded senses could exactly grasp the situation, they had lifted him over the curbstone into the middle of the street, and were applying a judicious kicking to his perturbed physique The other burst open the door of the hack, motioned to the husband of the sick lady, and in half the time it will take to read this had seen them comfortably stowed in the carriage, received their instructions as to their destination, mounted the box, seized the reins, and starting at a tearing pace around the corner, was soon out of sight.
William S. Walker.
- South Division
450 acres destroyed including:
3,600 buildings including 1,600 stores, 28 hotels and 60 manufacturing plants
1,300 acres destroyed including:
10,000 buildings including over 600 stores and 100 manufacturing establishments
Under 150 acres destroyed
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