Back to 1893 World’s Fair
Burning of the Peristyle, Music Hall, Casino and Manufactures Building
January 8, 1894
Chicago Tribune January 9, 1894
Fire licked up a large part of the remnants of the World’s Columibian Exposition last night. The South Park Commissioners will not tear down the Peristyle, nor will touch of the wrecker defile the Music Hall or the Casino. A vexed problem that touched the sentiment of the world to the quick nas been solved. Today the Park Commissioners have to deal with ruins where yesterday proud stood.
Twenty thousand spectators saw the east end of the Court of Honor vanish in smoke and flame. The fire started in the Casino, destroyed that building, then swept northward along the Peristyle into Music Hall, and from there across and into the Manufactures Building.
For three hours the flames raged along the past end of the Court of Honor until nothing was left but charred timbers and blackened plaster. A shower of sparks fell upon the ice in the lagoon until it looked like a sea of fire; they fell upon the adjacent buildings, threatening them with destruction. It was a magnificent spectacle that drew ceaseless exclamations of wonder and awe from the spectators that crowded the grounds in the vicinity of the fire. It was the greatest pyrotechnic display of the Fair.
Manufactures Roof Catches.
But the work of destruction did not end with the burning of these buildings. Fire brands were carried to the roof of Manufactures Building and the promenade around the crown of that enormous structure was soon on fire. The wind was strong and the flames soon reached the immense wooden ventilators under the eaves and they were soon burning fiercely. The story under tho roof was in a blaze. From this and through the great holes in the glass roof fell a continuous shower of firebrands, and in twenty minutes there were over a dozen small conflagrations in the Belgian, French, German, and English sections. Firemen and Columbian Guards fought these fires so successfully that, although the facades and exhibit structures were destroyed, not more than a dozen cases containing exhibits were burned.
The goods jeopardized represented $2,500,000; the loss is not over $100,000, principally by water.
How much insurance is carried will not be learned for sone time, as many of the policies were written in foreign countries. There is little if any insurance on the Manufaetures Building and none on the Casino. Peristyle, and Music Hall.
The fire worked clear around the inside of the dome, burning itself out at 3 o’clock this morning.
As in the Cold Storage fire, life was lost in fighting it. William Mackie of Engine Company No. 61 fell from the Peristyle and died an hour later at Mercy Hospital. Three other men were injured.
Burning of the Peristyle, Music Hall, Casino and Manufactures Building
January 8, 1894
Alarm Boxes Fail to Work.
The fire was discovered at 5:30 o’clock on the second floor in the northwest corner of the Casino. C. Mason, a guard on duty in Music Hall, saw it and ran to a fire box and tried to turn in an alarm, but the key would not work, Then he went to another box and again failed. He tried a third with the same result and then a fourth. Then he gave it up and hunted up a telephone aud succeeded in getting an alarm at at last. By this thie the flames had gained a strong headway. Marshal Malley responded with one engine and turned in a 4:11 alarm.
A week ago twenty engines would have responded to the call, but owing to the changes that have been made in the arrangement for fire Protection at the Fair only ten engines responded last night. These found that they had more than they coUld contend with, so a special call was sent in, and this was soon followed by a second. It was too late to attempt to save the Casino and the firemen devoted most of their attention to saving the Agricultural Building and to checking the flames on the Peristyle.
Col. Rice was on the ground with about 240 guards. The great majority of these he sent up on the roof of the Agricultural Building to put out any blaze that might be started by flying brands; others he sent to the Manufactures Building, while still others assisted the park police and the details from Woodlawn and Hyde Park in keeping the crowd back and in performing what other duties might arise, Their assistance proved valuable in keeping the crowd back and keeping them out of the way of engines and horsecarts, and they succeeded in saving a small amount of office furniture which happened to be in Secretary Wilson’s office in Music Hall. They also rendered important service at a critical time by carrying wood when the two engines which were at the north eni of the Peristyle ran out of fuel.
Insolent Tramps Suspected of Arson.
It is more than probable that the fire was started by tramps. They have been fairly swarming in the Fair grounds since the first of the month, especially around the Casino and Music Hall. There is no guard at all stationed in the Casino nor in fact anywhere nearer that point than Music Hall, where one man keeps watch. There is also a guard in the Convent of La Rabida. About 4 o’clock in tne afternoon a dozen tramps walked into Music, Hall where Guard C. Mason Was on duty. He ordered them to leave, but they made an insolent reply and refused to go. Mason succeeded in driving them out. They went in the direction of the Casino, and in an hour after the fire was discovered. No one had any right to be around the Casino and there has been no fire there for months, but there were a number of old packing cases and a quantity of excelsior in the building, and if the fire was not started by design it could easily have been started by means of a cigar stub or the ashes of a pipe carelessly emptied in the inflammable stuff that thickly covered tho floor in places.
BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF THE WORLD’S FAIR BUILDINGS, GROUNDS AND APPROACHES
The fire broke out in the top of the Casino ①, which is the building at the shore end of the long pier. The Casino was destroyed. It seemed as if the Agricultural Building ② would go next, the wind blowing from the northeast. At the critical moment the wind shifted to the southeast and the fire, changing its course, spread north along the Peristyle ③. The Grand Arch soon crumbled and fell. The fire quickly reached the Music Hall. This was destroyed. Firebrands from the Peristyle and Music Hall set the roof of the Manufactures Building ④ on fire and the promenade caught and burned fiercely. A rain of molten metal and firebrands fell to the floor and set on fire the exhibits.
Flames Spread to the Music Hall.
The fire in the Casino quickly burned out. By 6:30 the building was all down and there was nothing left but a bed of burning embers. The guards upon the roof of Agricultural Hall had succeeded in protecting that building and at that hour there were hopes that the fire might be controlled without doing further damage. It had not yet reached the center of the Peristyle and was burning slowly. But suddenly the flames took a fresh impetus; the figures on the central arch were lighted up by a vivid glare and then the fire began its steady march northward, At this time there were only two engines stationed to check its progress in this direction. These did what they could but they had absolutely no effect in stopping the progress of the flames. Down through the center of the Peristyle is a covered arch-way tall enough for a man to stand erect in. There was no partition or other barricade, and the flames swept through the pine as through an enormous blowpipe. At 7 o’clock the tug Fire Queen was brought up where it could play on the Peristyle and two streams were brought to bear on th6 fire, which by this time was within 150 feet of Music Hall. One after another the great columns fell with a terrific crash that sent up great clouds of sparks. The five streams of water on the fire—for by this tine an engine had been brought around on the lake front—had no more effect than if they had been ten miles away. By 7:30 Music Hall was on fire in the southeast corner. Five minutes later all hope of saving it was gone, and the engine on the lake front was drawn around to dry land and safety. Another tea minutes and the whole roof in the center was on fire. Ten minutes more and it was licking around the eaves. Another five minutes and fire was bursting through every window. A strong breeze from the lake fanned the fames and they shot up into the air to a height of 100 feet or more. All the grounds as far north as the north lagoon were lighted up like a midsummer’s day at noon. The crowd that lined the shore could be distinctly seen in the bright light, and they could be heard, too, every time a statue or a pinnacle toppled on a crumbling cornice before taking a plunge into the fiery depths below. The crowd cheered as one after another the statues toppled and pitched head foremost, some back into the burning building, others out toward the lake. The man with the camera was also there, and if the energy of his exertions may be taken as an indication, he got some excellent views of the conflagration.
As soon as the fire had gained headway in Music Hall the firemen began to turn their attention to the work of saving Manufactures Building, and it was a task of no small proportions that they had before them. Cinders and burning embers were falling so thickly that the south end of the roof of the vast building was literally paved with them; indeed, two minutes before 7 o’clock a blaze had gained a foothold in the cornice over the south entrance, but, luckily, a Columbian Guard chanced to be stationed near and he put it out.
French Section, Liberal Arts Department, After the Fire, January 8, 1894
Fatal Shifting of the Wind.
The fatal moment in the fire came at 8:15 when the wind, which had been blowing steadily for several for hours in the northeast whisked around to the southeast, and the danger which hung over the Agricultural Building and the Convent La Rabida was shifted to thoe Manufactures Building. At that moment the sight from Administration Building was grand and terrible beyond description. A solid wall of smoke and flame 500 yards long in front of the spectators, showing a lurid hue over the adjacent buildings and in the reflections from the ice on Grand Basin. The French statue of the Republic seemed to stand in the midst of it all like a gigantic silhouette, with uplifted arms as if appealing for help. The wind blew furiously, and now and then made great rifts in the smoky wall, revealing the blood-red skeleton of arch and column.
As the spectators walked to the north side of the basin the scene became more and more fearful. The narrow space was jammed with fire apparatus, howling firemen, and hysterical spectators. Music Hall was then in the throes of dissolution. Its bowels were all aflame, and its obelisks and pillars were quivering in the cyclone of flame. The wind seemed to toy with it and twist it in fantastic and diabolical shapes. The scene was more weird and within the great Manufactures Building, dimly lighted with remote arc lights, its cavernous space resounding with horses and shouting firemen and its floors covered with hose. Through thte great gaps made in its roof by snow in various parts of tho building the sparks came down in showers and streams. Its vast east windows were great splashes of blood-red flame too hot for the hand to bear the heat. Looking through these windows to Music Hall a sight was beheld which could hardly ever have been equaled. The spectators were not able to stand within a stone’s throw of the great furnace of flame and witness its dreadful contortions. A small number of officials who were admitted to the gallery gazed through the window, waiting moment by moment to see what tho result would be in the great building and its priceless treasures of art and manufactures.
“Ten minutes,” they said, “will decide everything.”, The-ten minutes rolled by, and it was a quarter to 9 o clock. Then, with a rumble and a roar, the roof and all its surrounding towers fell inward into the furnace and filled the heavens with a cloud of sparks which resembled Vesuvius in action. Almost at the same time the word was sent the Manufactures Building was on fire. Great activity among the firemen was visible at once. Long stretches of hose were carried up the shaky staircases that had been built as fire-escapes. Tho other firemen seized a score of Babcocks, slung thein on their backs, and climbed like spiders to the roof. In a a splashing of streams of water was heard on the great glass roof, but it was evident that the fight for life was begun. Then it was said that the contractors who put into the standpipes into the building had lately taken them out, so that every drop of water that was carried to the dome bad to be forced 230 feet upward to reach the spot of application.
A spectator standing in Columbia behold a perfect view of the new danger. In two places on the east side and one on the west a square yard of flame appeared at a point under the promenade. Guards and officials gazed at it in sorrow. and wondered what would come of it. They said that if the standpipes had been there it would have been easy to handle it, but now it seemed as if all was lost. Within. a few moments hot coals began to drop from the dome upon the exhibits, and at one time a mass of coals as large is as man’s head dropped like a meteor on the French section, struck an obstruction and flew into a thousand pieces.
When viewed from without at a point near Electricity Building the minute figures of the firemen on the roof could bo seen through tho clouds of smoke, and it looked as if they must be to powerless to compete with the rapid movements of the flames.
Ruins of the Casino, Peristyle and Music Hall After the Fire,
January 8, 1894.
Tears for Perlityle and Quadriga.
Many expressions of sorrow arnd regret were heard as the swept on through the Peristyle and Music Hall. It was to be noticed that those who did the cheering were boys and youths. Men of mature years were grieved and thoughtful. There were many women in the crowd, and of these not a few wept. The Columubian Guards, too, were deeply touched. To them it was as though they had lost a near and dear friend, as one by one they saW the landmarks of the Exposition crumble into ruin. They wasted little time in expressing regrets, however, but hurried here, there, and everywhere doing everything in
their power to check tho of the flame”.
Loudest of all were the expressions of regret when it was seen that the Quadriga was doomed. For some time it had seemed as though the flames would be stopped before they had progressed that far. The fire burned slowly for more than ten minutes, the firemen had two streams playing on the Peristyle from the chocolate pavilion, the firemen from the north end of the Peristyle were working south as far as they could, and it seemed as though the battle might be ended there, but a gust of wind up came up, the great cloud of sparks that bad been floating down upon the lagoon shifted suddenly for a moment, the mute flames in the triumphal chariot were lighted up as though a searchlight had been turned on them for a single instant, then a dense pall of smoke hid them from view. They were seen no more for a few moments, then a thundering crash on the bridge across tbe lagoon told that the Quadriga was no more. From this point the progress of the flames was steady and swift. One after another the great columns would sway, then with a great groaning and creaking they would topple over into the bed of embers beneath, sending up still greater showers of sparks. and that would be the last seen of it. Burning cinders floated everywhere. They fell so thickly on the dome of the Administration Building that it seemed as though that structure was threatened. They also fell freely on the southern ends of the Electricity and Mining Buildings, and were to be seen settling to the ground even as far out as the Illinois Central tracks on Sixty-fourth street. They formed a beacon which could be seen from down-town, and guided a curious one to Jackson Park.
Electricity Building on left, Mines and Mining Building on right.
Crowds Well Behaved.
Beginning at 7:30 o clock every avenue of approach to the grounds was filled with crowds of people. The street-cars, elevated ears, and suburban trains were loaded down with throngs of excited people on their way to witness the great conflagration. They poured through the gate of the park as rapidly as the guards permit, and after all only a small proportion of those who applied was admitted. Nevertheless the grounds in the neighborhood of the fire was thronged with people. But they were people of tho better class. Their behavior was perfect. There was no noise, no tumult, no disorder, no disturbance of property, everything was quiet and solemn and decorous. Every person’s judgment to be that the destruction of the buildings by fire was the best possible solution of the question of What be done with them. Long before the climax was reached thousands of people had walked back home. At the very moment Manufactures Building had caught thousands of people, without the least excitement, were leaving the grounds for home.
After the Fire of January 8, 1894.
Chicago Tribune February 9, 1894
Three different attempts to set fire to the Agricultural Building at the World’s Fair were made yesterday by tramps. The third of these was an exciting and dangerous success. The southwest corner of the structure was destroyed, the fire being confined there after a hard fight.
At 3 o’clock yesterday morning the guards on duty inside the building saw some one, presumably a tramp, light a match in the easternmost aisle. They rushed to the spot only to hear scurrying footsteps, which suddenly died away as if the fleeing party had dropped through the floor. As there is a quantity of liquors stored under the floor and a trap-door leads to them it is not unlikely that that was the direction of the tramp’s flight. It is believed his intentions were incendiary.
At 9:11 a.m. Sergt. Byrne of the Columbian Guard was passing the main north entrance of the building and discovered flames in one of the great pillars on the west side of it. The staff had been off some time and some one had stuffed the hollow interior with inflammable material and set fire to it. A still alarm brought the chemical engine No. 6 and the fire was quickly put out. It started near the recess in the wall in which the electric switchboard of the builsing was located, but as there was no current on in the building the wires could not have started the blaze. It is accordingly attributed to tramps.
Ten engines responded and all were in use for a short time,
The Fire Quenn was lying in the wharf at station No. 6, which is at the east end of the Agricultural Building, 800 feet away. With the help of the Columbian Guards the firemen soon had a line of hose strung through the building from the boat. The great pumps were started and the effect on the fire was soon manifest. A much greater portion of the building would have been consumed but for the assistance of the fireboat. The engines all took water from the lagoon. The supply was imperfect, owing to the long distance to raise the water and the particles of ice which partially clogged the suction pipes.
Inside the building were darkness and many pitfalls. All the electric lights had been removed and so had a good deal of the floor. Through the gloom the Marshals’ lanterns gleamed at rare intervals. The fire hardly showed from the inside of the building and the only way to get around was to follow a lead of hose and trust to luck. Even the foremen got lost on the great dark space. The hose banked back the water and filled up the holes. All the holes contained not less than three feet of water and the man without a lantern fell in every one of them. The gallery had been flooded until it leaked like a shower bath, and if any unfortunate found a dry spot some genial fireman always chopped a hole right over him.
Slight Damage by Fire.
Little if any damage was done by fire, but there may be some by thieves. Three men were busy breaking open a case when the glitter of a star scared them. They said the case was too heavy to move and they were trying to save the contents because the water was rising. The case contained wine in bottles. They probably wanted to save the labels.
Marshal O’Malley said the fire was undoubtedly and incendiary’s work. He said:
- It was hot at the start. The wind blew the fire back into the building and it looked as if the whole place would go. I think we have been particularly lucky to hold the fire as we have done and we’re luckier still in having no one hurt. The way things fell around here was a caution. There was some sort of angel up there on that corner and it came down with a run. There were several men right below, but they dodged the angel as if it was a fiend. Well they might. It went clear through the floor. There’s not much damage done after all the trouble.
The blaze was under control at 5:30 o’clock and all but three of the engines were ordered in. One engine was kept for the greater part of the night and the firemen were busy in putting out small blazes which kept breaking out at points beneath the roof and between the walls of staff and dry timber. The space burned was 100×150 feet along the roof east and north from the corner. About fifty feet square of the roof fell in.
Few Exhibits in the Building.
There were but few exhibits in the building. Owing to the many complaints regarding the slowness with which they were moved out an extra force of men was put on yesterday and within an hour the majority of the cases were packed in wagons and taken out. A few cases belonging to Russia, Mexico, and to Dr. Wilson of Philadelphia were all that were left. What remained of the Russian exhibit was situated directly under the burning portion of the building. It consisted of two tons of flour packed ready for shipment and some miscellaneous cases of grain. The flour was ruined by water. Scattered throughout the building, out of reach of the flames, were the cases of Spanish and Mexican goods and those belonging to Dr. Wilson. The latter are intended for the Philadelphia Museum. The Mexican exhibits consist of curios and were donated to the Columbian Museum. None of the exhibits was injured. The two tons of flour destroyed by water were all that remained of the Russian exhibit. Some time ago the Russian Commissioner wished to give the flour to the city, to be distributed among the poor. He notified the Collector of Customs to this effect, but was told that the goods could not be removed until the duty was paid. The Commissioner offered to pay $20 toward the amount, but his offer was refused.
Up in a small room in the corner of the colonnade was stored a large quantity of heavy cable and insulated wire belonging to Mr. Monroe of the Insulated Wire and Cable company. Mr. Monroe had entire charge of insulating the electric wire in the Fair buildings. After the close of the Fair he stored the stuff in the Agricultural Building. He valued it at $15,000 and says it will be a total loss.
Guard Allison, who turned in the alarm, said:
- There is not a sufficient force of guards here to cover the large buildings and it is impossible to keep these tramps out. They have secret passages under the floor through which they come and go. They come here expecting to pick up anything that may be left, and the disappearance of a number of small cases is due to them. There are only three guards in the Agricultural Building, two of whom are stationed in the west and south doors, and the other patrols the building. Wednesday morning about 2 o’clock we saw a light in the eat end of the building and knowing it must be made by strangers we tried to surround and capture them. Our efforts were useless, however, for they made use of one of the numerous underground passages and escaped.
Attempts at Incendiarism.
Col. Rice was asked concerning the recent attempts to burn the Terminal Building, in which the customs offices and the storeroom for bonded goods are located. Two attempts were made last Thursday to set fire to the north side of the building. Little heaps of wood were piled near the stairways and then set on fire. The blaze was in each case discovered before any headway was gained. Col. Rice said:
- There was not the least doubt in the world as to the intention to set the Terminal Building on fire and in each case the discovery of the incipient blaze was made just in time at avert a serious fire. What the object of the incendiaries can be it is hard to guess. So far as I can see there is only one conclusion to be reached—namely: that in each case it was the work of tramps. Certainly the persons interested in the goods stored there could hardly be benefitted by the fire. In case they were destroyed it would be hard work to recover the value of the goods. Litigation would doubtless ensue and a long and tedious time would elapse before insurance could be settled. That, I think, precludes the possibility of the fires being incendiary for the purpose of recovering insuramce. Besides, there are the fires in the Agricultural Building. The one this morning came near to resulting seriously. In a few minutes the woodwork of the columns on the north side of the building would have been in flames had not the discovery been made when it was. The blaze was extinguished with a chemical apparatus. The attempt to burn the Agricultural Building could only have been made by a tramp and simply out of malice.
There is no insurance interest whatever on the building or contents. The sliding scale which was adopted ran the building insurance off in installments of 20 per cent a month long before the Peristyle fire. The only insurance interest at the time of the last fire was on exhibits in the Manufactures Building. It was small at that time, and has been reduced to practically nothing at the present time.
What the Flames Tried to Burn.
The Agricultural Building is one of the largest as well as one of the most beautiful structures of the Exposition. Its style of architecture is that of the classic Renaissance. It is situated near the lake shore and almost surrounded by the lagoons that lead into the park from the lake. Its dimensions were 500 feet by 800 feet, its longest dimension being east and west. For a single story building its design was bold and heroic. The general cornice line was sixty-five feet above grade. On either side of the main entrance were Corinthian columns 50 feet high and 5 feet in diameter. Pavilions were reared from each corner and from the center of the building, the center being 144 feet square. The corner pavilions were connected by curtains, forming a continuous arcade around the top of the building. The main entrance led through an opening 64 feet wide into a vestibule, from which entrance was had to the rotunda, 100 feet in diameter. This rotunda was surmounted by a glass dome 130 feet high. Throughout the main vestibule statuary, illustrative of the agricultural industry was placed. The corner pavilions were surmounted by towers ninety-six feet high, and above these groups of statuary. The design used for these domes was that of three female figures of herculean proportions supporting a huge globe. The building and its contents were in charge of W. L. Buchanan, chief of the agricultural department.
Ornate entrance and symbol of plenty, destroyed by the flames.
Chicago Tribune July 6, 1894
The Transportation Building was badly scorched, but hard work by the firemen—and the only work they did that appeared to any advantage—saved the Government Building from the flames.
David Anderson Is Killed.
David Anderson, Forty-seventh street and Evans avenue, was killed and E. J. Bassett, No. 6410 Starr avenue, severely injured by the caving of an electrical subway just south of the Electricity Building. They are employed bookkeepers by Marshall Field & Co., were present as spectators. As they were walking past the Electricity Building going towards the Administration Building, when the fire had nearly burned itself out, the earth beneath them gave way and they fell into the subway. Anderson was completely burned beneath the sand and planks, and Bassett only saved himself from death by clinging to the side of the subway. H. H. Palacheck, No. 1501 Schiller Building, came to Bassett’s assistance and was finally pulled from his dangerous position. He was painfully burned about the hands and head, but was not otherwise injured. Anderson’s body was not recovered for some time.
Start of the Fire.
It was a few minutes after 6 o’clock when some small boys found a little bit of a blaze in a corner of the Terminal Station. They tried to stamp it out but were not successful, and in a few minutes it had got into the framework of the walls and then all over. Firemen came as quickly as possible, but they remembered the Cold Storage tragedy and were not asked to venture to spots from whence they might have fought the fire to better advantage. In a few minutes the big station was red hot and then the roof collapsed, followed a few minutes later by the walls. Here and there stood a few pillars which, as soon as the flames burnt through their bases, tottered and fell with a crash.
Meantime burning brands that had been hurled across to that window of the White City, the Administration Building, started flames here and there around the base of the dome. They quickly burned through and the intense draught from the interior made the dome in a few minutes a furnace. It was not long before smoke came out at the top followed instantly by a roar as a big arm of fire shot into the air. People looked and watched and waited for the collapse. In ten minutes it came. There was a sort of a shifting motion around the base of the dome, and then the monster dream in gold and white tottered, stood still for an instant and then shut up as if it were a huge accordion.
The White City was almost wiped out of existence last night in three hours by fire. In the following order the buildings named were burned:
① Terminal Station; ② Administration Building; ③ Mines and Mining Building; ④ Electricity Building; ⑤ Manufactures Building; ⑥ Agricultural Building; ⑦ Machinery Hall
Interior a Roaring Furnace.
Brands from the Administration Building were hurled across to the Electricity Building, which caught fire in the south end, and while the blaze was getting a good headway there the wind had fanned a small blaze in the south end of the Mines and Mining Building into a fire that had eaten its way through the gable roof. The moment it got inside it shot the entire length of the building with the speed of an express train, and in five seconds the interior of the building was a roaring furnace. Then there was an explosion. One half of the west side of the roof and a part of the west wall were blown outward. This gave the fire full vent and it was not long before all that was left of the Mines and Mining Building was a row or two of red hot columns. These bent and swayed while the fire roared around them and one by one they fell.
By this time the Manufactures Building was on fire in the same old place—around the roof promenade. The brands had set fire to the south end of the huge roof and the fire had reached down to through the hollow walls. It took one hour to destroy the huge building. First, the roof burned half of its length. The huge girders that cost so much money and so many lives to put in place and about which there has been so much discussion as to their final disposition might as well have been made of wood. They appeared to collapse, and with them the rook sank several feet, but still did not fall until later, when the big hinges were burned through. Then with a roar that sounded like a discharge of a battery of artillery one half of that monster roof sank into the fiery furnace.
Then went the west wall. It fell inwards and was followed quickly by the east. In fifteen minutes more the other half of the roof had gone the same way, followed in the same manner by the northern sections of the wall. Occasionally a tall pillar reached its way up through the fire and smoke as if it would defy the destroyer, but its reign was brief. Its base was soon melted and it followed its fellows into the burning mass.
Destruction Is Completed.
Meantime the fire was getting in its work on the buildings at the south end of the grounds. It had got a good hold on the Agricultural Hall, and on Machinery Hall. These were soon doomed, and the work of destruction was complete.
The firemen had little to do. They were there from apparently all parts of the city, and as late as 9 o’clock hose carts and engines came flocking into the grounds. The first alarm was immediately followed by a 4-11, and then a special call for ten engines was sent out. The Terminal Station had been destroyed and the Administration dome had collapsed before the first engines got to work. Some engine companies down between the Electricity and Mines and Mining Buildings had a narrow escape when these two structures were ablaze. The men were hard at work trying to do something, but it was a hopeless case. They were hemmed in by two great walls of fire and the men of Company 18 were obliged to abandoned their engine and leave one of their horses dead on the ground—suffocated. Capt. Mergenthaler, Lieut. Kane, and Pipeman Shipper of Engine Company 63, who were at work between these two buildings, were badly choked by the smoke and for a time their situation was dangerous. They eventually succeeded in getting away.
N. K. Collins of engine No. 61 had a narrow escape from death in that terrible lane between the Mines and Electricity buildings. As his engine turned into the narrow passageway the flames from the Mines Building swooped down upon it. The men released their horses and ran for their lives. Later their engine was dragged out of the smoke and ruins and afterward did good service in throwing water on the Government Building.
When the north end wall of the Manufactures Building fell a shower of burning brands went into the air and fell on the Government Building. For an hour, however, all the firemen except those at work keeping the Transportation Building from going up had been drenching the building with water. This saved it. The brands were harmless and as the wind had shifted a few points to the north by this time the heavy sparks and long arms of the fire were carried out over the lake.
Capt. Burroughs with the Fire Queen were the first firemen to respond to the alarm. The Fire Queen was lying by the side of the Goddess of Liberty statue when the alarm sounded, and at 6:05 steamed over in front of the Administration Building by the side of the MacMonnies Fountain. Four large three-inch pipes were at once set to work, but could not check the fire. Soon afterwards Company 71 came up and this was followed by Companies 63 and 60. It was seen that the Terminal Building was doomed and all efforts were directed to saving the Administration Building. This also soon went, and burned so rapidly that both the Fire Queen and Company 60 lost all their hose then playing on the fire. With great difficulty the fireboat was backed out and moved around the lagoon just east of Machinery Hall. All efforts were now directed to saving the building, but the intense heat soon drove the firemen back, and when the building once got started it rapidly spread. The Fire Queen got stuck in the shallow lagoon, and for a few minutes it appeared as if she were doomed. Finally, in a storm of falling cinders and flying brands, all escape from the Grand Basin was cut off, and the steamer took up a position between the Manufactures and Agricultural Buildings. Company 60 was placed on the deck of the Fire Queen and both companies directed all their streams on the Agricultural Building.
In a Glorious Blaze.
A grand, a glorious ending was the expressed sentiment of the great crowd that witnessed the forest of fire. The 100,000 people congregated made the trip leisurely to Jackson Park and good naturedly walked around viewing the sight from different points. After a time the thousands became settled in favored spots and quietly gazed upon the magnificent destruction much as they gazed at fireworks displays last summer. There was no regret; rather a feeling of pleasure that the elements and not the wrecker should wipe out the spectacle of the Columbian season. When it was seen that the Government Building would be saved there were even some who thought the firemen should be called away so it might go, too.
There was no excitement of any kind. Every one was satisfied with the spectacle., and the use of “ahs” and “ohs” were about all that were heard as some beautiful cornices, a clump of columns, or a piece of statuary wavered, toppled, and fell into the seething mass. The only approach to a cheer was when the great rounded roof of the Liberal Arts Building crackled, snapped and sank to the ground. Then in one group of 5,000 there was a long sigh, in the midst of which the clear, bell-like voice of a girl could be heard: “O, it’s all over.”
Ruins of the Fair After the Fire,
July 7, 1894.
Coming of the Crowds.
But few people were present at the early scenes. At 6:30 o’clock the broad avenue from the Sixty-fourth street entrance looked much like a great bicylcle tournament. The boys and girls and men and women who had been on the boulevards and in the parks of the South Side with their wheels were the first to get to the park and bicycles were everywhere. Soon the appearance of this changed. The electric lines, the cable roads, and the Alley “L” began dumping hundreds of passengers at Stony Island avenue and the cross streets. The sight from 7 to 8 o’clock was like that on great nights at the Fair. The transportation facilities were pressed to the utmost. There were no Illinois Central trains making quick trips, and the Alley “L” was called upon to stand the brunt of the travel. All trains south were of six cars and each car was crowded to the guards up to 9 o’cock.
At first the center of interest was south of the Transportation Building. From there the crowd went down the line to the north, spreading along the lagoon, the Horticultural Building, and in complete circular mass clear around to the lake. The Wooded Island was a popular point and big crowds centered upon and west of it. There was but little save a few men left of the Mines, Electricity, Administration, and Terminal Station Buildings when the larger number of people got to the park, consequently the big Liberal Arts structure was the central feature of the evening.
Big Building Crumbles Away.
On Wooded Island and surrounding the north of the great building was probably a gathering of nine tenths of the people at Jackson Park. First the great west entrance crumbled away. As the columns and the cornices fell passing comments were made and the crowd moved north to see the north end go down. Then the great roof fell and nothing but the north entrance and the north corner towers remained. Those soon crumbled away, the northwest columns being the last to topple and fall. As these sank to the ground there was a great roar from the south as the Machinery Hall roof fell in, and with this roar and the falling of the last great columns to the Liberal Arts Building the crowd figured out that the show was over, and the trip for home began.
“Wasn’t grand?” “What a glorious sight!” “A magnificent spectacle!” “A noble end!” were the benedictions pronounced by the people as they left the grounds.
There can be no salvage from the fire of last night. All the iron not melted was torn and twisted into mangled masses that cannot well be handled much less sold or disposed of in any way. The massive girders in the Manufactures Building roof, which were supposed to to be able to stand almost anything, were twisted like wire and were even melted into unwieldy masses of metal.
Statues Reduced to Ashes.
The statues in the Administration Building, many of which were picked out to be ornaments for buildings all over the world and were only awaiting removal, were crumbled to ashes. The big pillars on the same building were split in many instances from top to bottom as the fire shot through them, and then in halves they fell.
At the north end of the Terminal Building, on the top of a high pillar, was the figure of an Indian gazing toward the north. The figure loomed through the fire and smoke until all the building had gone. Still the Indian stood there. He was black by this time and when he finally pitched forward at the same instant the Administration dome collapsed. A cheer went up from the thousands of persons who saw the scene.
Strange to say, the last fancy group at the base of the Administration dome to collapse before the main walls went down was that of “Fire Uncontrolled.” It loomed up bravely through the walls of flame, but finally, like that of “Water Uncontrolled,” and others of an allegorical nature, it succumbed, and that was its end.
The lagoons at midnight were black with ashes and brands that had blown into the water. Some tracks had been cut through the murky waters by the fireboat and a few rowboats from the venturesome persons went near to the burning buildings. The fire engines took their water from the lagoons, too, and as no plugs of a serviceable nature were near, the Government Building, the salvation of this structure was due to the services rendered by the Venetian sheet limitations.
The lake, too, was well blackened by the showers of sparks, brands , and smoke that poured over it and to the fact that the wind blew from the shore is due the saving of the Transportation Building and probably all the buildings on and near Stony Island Avenue.
Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1894
Statue of the Republic.
French’s statue of the Republic still stands unscathed amid the ruins of the World’s Columbian Exposition:
- Westward she looks; around her lies
A desolated scene,
Where mid a summer’s palaces
She held her court as queen.
Behind her mourns the inland sea;
Before her stretches far
Her prairie—empire of the West
Beyond the horizon’s bar,
Not all alone, for Egypt lifts
Her obelisk in sight;
Rome’s pillar of the fretted prows
Stands close upon her right.
Ghosts of the ages that are gone,
Prophets of days to be,
Proclaim in wisdom and in might
That Love is Liberty,
Republic hail! Though beauty dies,
The peoples shall be one.
Rejoice O World, our Golden Girl
Stands shining in the sun!
The Printer’s Ink, May, 1895
View looking west from east end of Court of Honor, showing-Statue of the Republic, with arches of Machinery Hall and the Obelisk in the distance.
Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1895
Chicago Chronicle, August 29, 1896
Just as the sun lifted its fiery head above Lake Michigan yesterday morning Mechanical Engineer Wilder of the south park system applied a match to the kerosene-soaked fuses leading to the base of the statue of the republic in Jackson park. Within five minutes the interior of the pile, standing 100 feet above the water in the lagoon. was a mass of flames, and twenty-five minutes later the charred and blackened skeleton of the once beautiful figure toppled and fell into the water.
Several days ago the south park commissioners decided that the last remaining historical design of the Columbian exposition must go, as all efforts to preserve the statue against the weather had proved futile. Park Superintendent Foster was ordered to destroy the statue, and he in turn delegated Mr. Wilder to do the work. It was decided to do so quietly, so as not create any excitement, and the hour of sunrise was chosen.
Late Thursday evening the police and fire departments were notified that in case the wind was favorable the torch would be applied to the statue at 5 o’clock the following morning. Thursday evening park employes carried piles of shavings and other inflammable material into the base of the statue. This was saturated with kerosene oil, and the workmen took their departure.
At dawn yesterday a light breeze was blowing from the west, sufficient to carry the smoke out over the lake, and which was just to the liking of Mr. Wilder. A few minutes before 5 o’clock, accompanied by three assistants, he rowed to the base of the statue. Wilder clambered through the seven-foot door and at once reappeared, carrying in his hand the fuses which were connected with the inflammable pile within. Sprininging into the boat, he applied a match to the fuses. Then he pulled away to the shore and watched the blaze.
The big statue was a mass of frame work, hollow from the base to the top. Acting as a huge smokestack, the draft quickly fanned the flames into a roaring furnace. For a time only the glow of the flames could be seen through the door at the base, but a huge column of smoke rolled from the head and shoulders of the once gilded statue and was carried over the lake, a grand billowy cloud which hid the sun from view.
The fire burned with the roar of a tornado, and in twenty minutes flames had burst through the staff about the head and shoulders, and in just thirty-six minutes from the time the torch was applied the wreck toppled and fell into the water.
Before the statue fell the boulevard surrounding it was lined with bicylcists out for a morning spin. They had seen the huge cloud of smoke and hastened to the scene. One man, all out of breath, gasped that he had thought it a total eclipse of the sun. The debris was cleared away at once and the work of beautifying the lagoon begun.
It was agreed that the city of Chicago would have until May 1,1894, to decide on the purchase of the Manufactures building for removal to the lake front.