Monday, October 8, 2012

The Great Peshtigo Fire?

Detail of Currier & Ives Lithograph.
Obtained from the Chicago Historical Society.
It's Fire Prevention Week this week and it is so designated because today marks the anniversary of the start of the Great Chicago Fire. You know, the one that (probably wasn't) started by Mrs. O'Leary's cow? (Or was the real culprit Peg Leg Sullivan, him who lived across DeKoven Street from the O'Learys?)

At least 300 people died in the Chicago Fire, and another 100,000 were left homeless. Estimates of property damage were in the vicinity of $200 million -- and that was when $200 million was really worth something.

But there was a far deadlier fire that also started on October 8, 1871.

About 250 miles north of Chicago, straight up U.S. 41, lies the little town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin.

The fire that started there on October 8, 1871 killed some 1,200 to 2,500 people.

The picture at right, obtained from this very informative site, is of a mass grave containing the remains of some 350 unclaimed bodies. Whole families were wiped out in the Peshtigo tragedy.

A nearby converted church houses the Peshtigo Fire Museum.

This map, obtained from the Wikipedia entry on the Peshtigo Fire, shows the enormous area involved in the fire.

You can see from the map that the fire was on both sides of Green Bay. The fire was so strong and intense it actually jumped across the bay.

One area that was not involved in the fire, though it was in the path of the flames, was the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, in New Franken, Wisconsin.

Many believe that the Virgin Mary appeared at this site on October 9, 1859 to a Adele Brise, a young Belgian woman. A church and school were built there because the Virgin told Brise to teach religion to religion to children. According to the website of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay:
When the Peshtigo Fire spread across Green Bay on Oct. 8, 1871, area residents walked around the chapel grounds all night praying the rosary and carrying a statue of Mary. Everything outside that five-acre area was burned.

Every year on Oct. 8 people reenact the procession at the Shrine.
And there were also huge, deadly fires in Michigan that also started on this day in 1871.

So if you're looking for something to commemorate today besides Columbus Day, there's a lot to remember.

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