صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

ing. It was a perfect riot of wind and fire. At intervals the wind would seem to dip down from above and roll around us a hot volume of smoke, fire, and dust, such as often rolls out from the rear of an express train. For one instant only in that night did our group seem on the margin of death. When we had walked a few squares the fire seemed continuous upon three sides of us, and the open space in front seemed narrow. Suddenly a tidal wave of red flame rolled across that open place, and it rolled so long and hot that the thought came quickly: Perhaps this is death. No one of us spoke. We stood still. My own heart seemed to follow that habit hearts have of 'coming up to the throat.' The wind bounded up again and revealed once more an open street. We all walked rapidly or ran until we had gotten through that narrow gate.

"To recall this part of the great event, the reader must remember that this was not a poor man's fire. It smote the rich and middle class. After destroying six hundred great business houses, great churches, hotels, and theatres, it crossed the river and attacked the most fashionable homes in the North Division. The scene at four o'clock in the morning was most wonderful in this, that fine residences were open to anybody. The inmates had left them. Pictures, books, pianos, clothing, table-ware, ornaments, were alone, waiting for fire or some one to take them. It was not just to call by the name of thief the man or the woman who ran up a front step and looked around the parlor rapidly for something to transfer to basket or pocket. There were not thieves enough in the North Division to meet the demand of the night. If any there were, it was the most honest night any of them had ever lived. One citizen, having run back home, found a plain man coming out with his arms full of the gentleman's clothing. If the loaded man was a thief he must have been amazed at the greeting from the owner of the goods: 'That is right, my man, take anything you want, it is all yours.'


"The houses were full of varied articles, and the sidewalks and streets were rich in choice objects for which the owners had expected to find a wagon or a cart; great baskets full of dishes and plated ware, bookcases and books, trunks. costly pictures in rich frames, pianos, carpets, and rugs. And yet the crowd moved along among these things as it would move among stones or stumps. In many instances a costly piano, with its lid off, had caught sparks enough to be already on fire. Trunks were burning and letting silk dresses loose to cut high antics in the wind. "In the business blocks there was stealing of the meanest form. Where merchants were loading up into trunks valuable packages of silks, laces, and velvets, there the professional criminals were active, and merchants were robbed before their own eyes, and in return for any word of remonstrance got a threat or an oath. But in the residence portion of the burning district there were not criminals enough to ransack the houses, or appropriate even the goods in the street. Many a domestic had a furnished house given her by the retreating mistress, and Bridget was queen for an hour.

“The flames cut their first channel through to the lake in a few hours. This channel was then widened on both sides with more of deliberation on the part of the enemy. The houses which escaped the first wave had only to wait for the

second rush. Coming to La Salle avenue we found the houses still inhabited, but the inmates were debating whether they would have to retreat at nine o'clock or

ten or at noon.

"It was about four in the morning when our little group dropped out of the motley procession and went into the luxurious home of a near friend. Quite a number of neighbors had assembled, and the consumption of coffee and biscuit and butter was very great. The heat of the night had brought to the hands and face perspiration enough to serve as a fluid for mixing soot and dust into a paste for the complexion. The nearest friends were recognized with difficulty. Ladies thought beautiful now held a teacup in hands that were black as those of a coal-heaver, and polite 'thank yous' and 'if you please' came from faces which looked as though dirt had been flung into them with a shovel. And yet the coffee and biscuits were delightful. All the houses of these residence streets were thus open to passing people, and each dining-room was transformed into a restaurant.


"It must have been ten o'clock Monday morning when the flames had come so near as to make it necessary for us to move on, and for the La Salle avenue people to join the exodus. It was not necessary to run, or even to walk rapidly. It was necessary only to work toward the open fields outside the limits of the city. At no point was there a crowd or a panic, for the fire being in the centre of the city the victims could at many points pass into the long circumference. In our line of retreat there were not more than ten thousand persons; and these were spread out through many squares, reaching out toward the west. Each wagon, each wheelbarrow, each family on foot had plenty of room. My little family impressed an abandoned handcart into service, and with our living and inanimate plunder placed in this little two-wheeled affair we moved along in a manner more comfortable even if not more elegant. A man driving a fine team and having a great truck-load of valuable goods, looked down upon us with not a little air of a better consciousness, but when we informed him that his load was ablaze in the rear of the big mountain his vanity passed away, and he hastily unhitched his horses, and left all else to become a bonfire in the street. The dresses of many women and children took fire, but there were many eyes watching, and many hands ready, so that personal injuries were rare. Late in the afternoon our group reached an open field. It had been recently plowed. It contained nothing which could be burned. It offered us the one thing most needed-rest and security. Here we encamped and sat down with faces toward a mass of smoke and fire now four or five miles in breadth.


"No memory returns in more of charm than the fact that few of these homeless ones were loud in any lamentings. Families which had in a single day been reduced to poverty were glad that no child or member was missing. Many a father or mother said, 'We have lost all our property, but we are all here.' That eventful time was evidence complete that no educated person compares the ashes of a dwelling-house with the silent face of a dead child or a dead father or mother. In

those open fields, where so many of us were to pass the night, there was one sentence which made the distant column of smoke powerless, and which would make the midnight stars seem kind, the words: We are all here. Great as the love of money is, civilization has built up home ties which are tenfold stronger than the chains which bind humanity to gold; and the same civilization forbids us to compare this burning of a city with those convulsions of nature which have made the living bow in grief over those loved forms hurried by death away from each household.

"And yet this fire of 1871 was, to many excellent men, a financial blow from which they never recovered. To many homes where the father had passed his fiftieth or sixtieth year, the loss came too late to be retrievable. The family accepted the complete ruin, and soon dropped out of public sight. The city went forward, but many noble men could go forward no more. The time, the means, and the hope were gone.

"In the night of Monday, on ground which had been dried by a sun that had been unrelenting in summer and autumn, on a field where no grass remained to attract a blaze, under a sky as balmy as June, we all lay or reclined and fell into a deep sleep. This sleep had been made the more possible by the news that the fire had been checked on the south and west, and had only one or two more houses to consume at the north. The great enemy was dying out at the edge of Lake Michi-. gan. Peace came over us and we slept. At some time in the night a slight shower beat us all gently in the face. The children did not so much as wake, and the old hearts wakened only far enough to rejoice that water was coming from heaven.

"When we awoke we were in a new world. The line of Byron was reversed, and we marvelled, not 'that on a night so sweet such awful morn could rise,' but that on a night of such ashes and poverty there could come a dawn so roseate with the world's charity. The tens of thousands of sleepers sunk away in weariness and grief, but when they awoke they saw around them a great circle of states and empires all colored deeply by an undreamed of civilization."


The characteristics of the city in the days preceding the great fire were profoundly modified by the changes brought about by the destruction of such a vast amount of wealth in the form of buildings and the stocks of goods contained in them. New men and new influences became prominent as the city rose from its ruins. In the ordeal of fire old things had been brought to the severest possible test and many of them were found not worthy to survive. "Individualism," says Graham Taylor, "left its mark on every feature of the city" in the former period. "As in most new cities, each one was for himself and was a law unto himself, more than any one can be, even if he wants to be, when the place has been longer settled and the community life has ripened."

"Before the fire" and "after the fire" divide the history of Chicago almost as definitely as the Christian Era divides the World's history, says Taylor. "That eventful experience clearly marked the end of the old Chicago and the beginning of a new Chicago. And the end of the old was as essential to its growth as was the beginning of the new. No one will dispute this who caught a glimpse of the

Chicago before the fire or who afterward came here in time to see some of the things that were not burned up but survived until changed by the new spirit."

Instances are cited by this writer to show that the changes which followed the great disaster were necessary to the city's improvement. "The grades of the streets and alleys differed, apparently, as the owners of the abutting property wished or did not care. The building lines likewise wavered, at least in appearance, and as for the pavements, they zig-zagged, went up and down stairs and were of every conceivable material-brick or boards, stone or cement, cinders or clay by turns, according to personal preference or the local sentiment.

"It may be fairer to say that the physical features of the city's site and soil and surroundings left their mark upon every citizen. For all these diversities bore the common characteristics of the struggle of every inhabitant alike to find foothold amid the adverse material conditions which disputed their possession. The courage, will and staying qualities of Chicago's pioneers loom large over against such problems as the drainage of a city built on a wet soil, lying only a few feet above the level of the lake. It is no wonder that each man built the city's wall over against his own house as best he could. With no natural boundaries except the lake, it is no wonder that the city straggled off into the illimitable prairies like the improvised thing that it was.

"Moreover its early temporariness in appearance and fact was the inevitable feature of the transitional place Chicago was, while it continued to be principally a port of entry from the east and a point of departure for the west. Through most of its history it has been less of a terminal point than a transfer station, from lake to land, from vessel to railway, and from one railway to another-America's 'grand crossing' in fact. This affected the population, its constituency, characteristics, distribution. It prompted if it did not require the individualism of its earlier


"The fire made an end of the temporariness and forced permanency and cooperation, not only over the burnt district, but throughout the city's limits. Chicago then began to be one city instead of three towns. It began to cultivate a community of interest instead of the special interests of competing individuals. It began to be a permanent abode instead of a jumping-off place. It began to have some fixed standards of taste for its growth, instead of growing according to the personal or local whims of its people. It became more social than individualistic a city, not merely a dock within the harbor or a railway station at the intersection of tracks."


By John Greenleaf Whittier

Men said at vespers: All is well!

In one wild night the city fell;

Fell shrines of prayer and marts of grain
Before the fiery hurricane.

On threescore spires had sunset shone,
Where ghastly sunrise looked on none;
Men clasped each other's hands and said:
The City of the West is dead!

Brave hearts who fought, in slow retreat,
The fiends of fire from street to street,
Turned, powerless, to the blinding glare,
The dumb defiance of despair.

A sudden impulse thrilled each wire
That signalled round that sea of fire;

Swift words of cheer, warm heart-throbs came;

In tears of pity died the flame!

From East, from West, from South, from North,

The messages of hope shot forth,

And, underneath the severing wave,
The world, full-handed, reached to save.

Fair seemed the old; but fairer still

The new the dreary void shall fill,

With dearer homes than those o'erthrown,

For love shall lay each corner-stone.

Rise, stricken city!-from thee throw

The ashen sackcloth of thy woe;

And build, as Thebes to Amphion's strain,

To songs of cheer thy walls again!

How shrivelled, in thy hot distress,

The primal sin of selfishness!

How instant rose, to take thy part,

The angel in the human heart!

Ah! not in vain the flames that tossed

Above thy dreadful holocaust;

The Christ again has preached through thee

The gospel of humanity!

Then lift once more thy towers on high,

And fret with spires the Western sky,

To tell that God is yet with us,

And love is still miraculous!

« السابقةمتابعة »