Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chicago Storm, August 5, 1862. Reads like our storm of last night.

We have been experiencing some severe thunderstorms in the Chicago area this summer. I came across this article in the Chicago Tribune, dated 5 August, 1862.  If newspaper people could still write like this, I might renew my subscription.

“One of the most terrific storms which has ever visited this section of country swept over Chicago yesterday afternoon and evening. About noon great masses of threatening clouds, piled up in the most fantastic shape, began to gather at almost every point of the horizon, cumulating in cones and pyramids, in a few minutes changing to spiral whorls, and again massing like a vast army for a final desperate charge - all the time traveling and approaching each other with inconceivable rapidity.”

“About three o’clock, a heavy black bank of clouds...came racing up from the west with a velocity almost like that of a flash of lightning. Almost instantaneously it grew dark. The entire heavens were clouded over. Blinding clouds of dust filled the air; sticks, stones, leaves and boughs of trees flew in every direction. The advent of the gale announced itself by a hollow moaning, followed by a full and unmistakable development of its presence.”

“Hugh trees were bent to the ground; smaller trees, more especially cotton woods, were thirsted of at the base as one would twist a straw. In every part of the city, branches were snapped off like pipe stems. Chimneys, steam pipes, signs and awnings flew about indiscriminately. Tin roofs were rolled up like scrolls. Flags were to torn to ribbons, and flag-staffs came tumbling down into the street...” Dry goods boxes, barrels and bales went insanely rushing through the streets in the most reckless manner, as if playing John Gilpin."   (Not sure what playing John Gilpin means.)

“The wind was no respecter of persons even, and bare headed men were as plenty as black-berries, and unfortunate ladies were rendered en dishabille in the most shocking manner. For fully half an hour the gale prevailed without abatement, accompanied in the mean time with a drenching shower, with the surroundings of heavy thunder and vivid lightning. The tempest spent itself about half past four. The wind died away.”

“The oldest settler cannot remember a more terrific thunder storm...It was a grand gathering of the storm clans, and they charged with banners flying, rattling with musketry, booming and crashing with cannons, and lighting up the whole sky with their fiery signals. The rain poured in broad, drenching sheets. For fully two hours the heavens were in one continued blaze of fire.”

"Sharp Parrots, growling rifles and booming columbiads pealed, crashed and rumbled incessantly in a manner which might have driven Napoleon crazy with delight...Upon Bremer avenue, a two story house being raised and resting upon piles was tumbled into the middle of the street, the inmates narrowly escaping injury. W. H. Dillingham, the druggist at the Orient House, corner of State and Van Buren streets, received most unhandsome treatment. His whole store front was devastated, and scarcely a vestige of a window remains. Finding such a ready access, the wind played the very mischief with drugs and bottles, involving Mr. Dillingham’s purse to the extend to three hundred dollars."

Quite a storm and interesting reporting.

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew's Society

1 comment:

  1. From the dim reaches of my mind, I'm thinking I read where a "John Gilpin" was akin to tag although played when one was inebriated. I know I've run across the term in reading, but can't precisely remember where.