Effects of the Great Fire in Chicago, Oct. 8 and 9, 1871
When Joseph Battersby arrived in Chicago from his native England in 1857, he came with experience in the rapidly evolving field of photography. He set-up a studio near the corner of North Clark Street at Hubbard, where he became well-known for his portraits.
Battersby’s studio was more than just a place where photographic portraits were created. It also became a popular place for journalists, actors, and people in the arts to gather and converse. He was known as Joe to his many friends, and a lively participant in joining the conversations.
In 1868, Joe Battersby moved his studio to the West Side, securing a place near Madison and Green Streets where his family could live upstairs. It was a fortuitous move. Had he remained in his former location, he would have been burned out in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The new location was spared.
Location of the Lind Block (X), where Battersby set his camera.
1869 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
In the aftermath of the fire when the streets had been cleared, Battersby gained access to the roof of a rare building that escaped the fire – the Lind Block, a five-story warehouse located at what’s now the northwest corner of Randolph Street and Wacker Drive.
Setting up his camera, Battersby took five photographs looking east towards the lake—precisely pivoting his camera with each shot. His work was so precise, it was possible to join the images together to create a highly detailed panorama of the ruined downtown district looking slightly southeast towards Lake Michigan.
Using modern digital technology, Battersby’s original glass plate negatives have been enlarged here to an unprecedented size.
The Interior, November 9, 1871
A Poem on the Fire by Bret Harte … from a souvenir stereograph by Chicago photographer Joseph Battersby.
- Chicago, October 10, 1871
Blackened and bleeding, helpless, panting, prone,
On the charred fragments of her shattered throne
Lies she who stood but yesterday alone.
Queen of the West! by some enchanter taught
To lift the glory of Aladdin’s court,
Then lose the spell that all that wonder wrought,
Like her own prairies by some chance seed sown,
Like her own prairies in one brief day grown,
Like her own prairoes in one fierce night mown,
She lifts her voice, and in her pleading call
We hear te cry of Macedon to Paul—
The cry for help makes her kin to all.
But haply with wan fingers may she feel
The silver cup hid in the proffered meal—
The gifts her kinship and our loves reveal.