Friday, July 03, 2009

Peshtigo Fire

We are currently in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in a place where we have no internet connection, no phone service, no TV channels by antenna, and no TV by satellite (the latter is because we are parked under a tree). But we are parked overlooking Lake Superior!

On our way here, we passed through a small Wisconsin town named Peshtigo. On October 18, 1871 Peshtigo suffered one of the greatest fire disasters in history. Of 1700 people in the town, 800 (350 were burned so badly as to be unidentifiable) died and every building was destroyed. There was no warning -- one minute everything was fine, and the next everything was fire. The conflagration has even been described as "a tornado of fire." The air itself was so hot that the only way to survive was to get into the river, even though the water temperature was 50 degrees. Ironically, people died of hypothermia, inches away from heat so extreme that it would also have killed them.

Peshtigo's disaster went largely unnoticed by the world because it happened on the same night as the Great Chicago Fire -- the one erroneously attributed to "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow." Theories have been proposed that both were caused by the same thing -- a bolide from space that broke up, dropping burning fragments over hundreds of miles. But the museum guide assured us that the cause was much more local -- an extremely dry summer, a town that was stocked with dry wood to support its primary industry, a wooden ware factory, and a simple spark from who knows where.

3 comments:

AYDIN Ă–RSTAN said...

If you are in a place where there is no internet connection, how did you post this?

Barbara and Ron said...

That was a terrible day and the letters and stories in the museum there were heartbreaking. I don't think that sculpture was there when we visited.

O. B. Sirius said...

Aydin -- the modern world is now filled with internet cafes!