Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chicago has Burned

October 8, 1871, the conflagration began. Churches not in the path of the fire opened their doors for prayer. They prayed for rain but it came too late to stop the flames. In fact, it was a cold rain and only added to the misery of those on the prairies. What was lost? Everything! The heat was so intense there was no smoke. “Heat like that of the most intense furnace was generated, which swept across the city, leaving nothing in its wake but here and there a blackened and tottering wall, or a chimney.”

“Among the Scottish casualties is the death of John Clark, aged 71 years, who perished in the burnt district while striving to escape from the fire. He was the father of Robert Clark, Chief of the Chicago Caledonian club, an old and much respected citizen of Chicago, a native of Forfar. The old gentleman had returned but a few weeks previously from a pleasant visit to his relatives in Scotland. William George died of his injuries a few days later.”

The Society Managers’ Report was written shortly after the fire. It was brief because “all the books, papers, reports and property of the society have been destroyed with all the banners, flags, seals, pictures, and emblems, amounting to one thousand dollars in value, entirely swept away.” Everything was stored in the court house because their quarterly meetings were held there.

Monument Plans

Those of you who have visited Edinburgh will have seen the monument to Sir Walter Scott on Princess St. In Chicago, there was a move to construct an exact replica of that monument. Dr. John D. Carr, was the president of the Scott Centenary Celebration. The monument in Edinburgh was designed by C. M. Kemp who had been paid $20,000 for his work in 1812. The descendants of Mr. Kemp owned the design and had decided that one monument could be constructed in the United States. Chicago had been offered that privilege. Dr. Carr had the plans in his possession on September 17, 1871 and they were to be on display at his office at the McVicker Theater Building. That building, along with the plans were destroyed in the fire. A statue of Robert Burns would later replace the monument to Scott.

Some of the destruction included: 17,450 houses, 104,500 homeless, 2,104 acres burned, 2,400 stores & factories lost, 121 miles of sidewalks. 8 bridges. The city waterworks, 1,642,000 bushels of grain, 2,000 lampposts, $222 million in property, 73 miles of roads, paved with wooden blocks. The death toll was placed at 300 but probably many more were actually killed.

Annual Dinner

On December 2, 1871, members of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society met for their Annual Dinner honoring St. Andrew. Our records say it was held at the Briggs House. (Some sources say the Briggs House was destroyed in the fire.) They came wearing clothes that smelled of smoke and in some cases may have been borrowed. Men once wealthy had been reduced to poverty. Prior to the dinner a business meeting was conducted and General John McArthur was elected president. Each member had a “sprig of heather imported from Scotland for the occasion.”  George Anderson was called upon to recite “Tam O’shanter.” “He declined, saying, after the great calamity he had no heart to recite a poem abounding in such tender associations. He took the occasion to present a ram’s horn, handsomely mounted, and ornamented with many Scottish devices.”  That ram’s horn can be seen today in the Scottish American Museum.

This same Annual Dinner will be held on November 22, 2014 at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. Click here for information.         

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

November 1 - Next meeting of History Club
  • Charles Gonzalez and his Dad talk about their visit to France on D-day, 2014 and have pictures and stories you will enjoy.
  • John LeNoble will talk about the American Flag & we will say the Pledge of Allegiance
  • Beth Brown will lead us in patriotic songs
Reservations are helpful call - 708-447-5092

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