The Republic from Columbus, Indiana on October 7, 1971 · Page 26
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The Republic from Columbus, Indiana · Page 26

Columbus, Indiana
Issue Date:
Thursday, October 7, 1971
Page 26
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r THE REPUBLIC, COLUMBUS, INDIANA. THURSDAY. (K T()BK K PAGE TWENTY-SIX That Chicago Fire I mm n By RALPH NOVAK NEW YORK - (NEA) -A fire usually dies when the last orange-red lappings of its life cease and it disappears, returning to the mysterious place whence it came. But the great Chicago Fire of 1871 is still living, flickering in a ghostly kind of existence that is marking a 100th birthday today (Oct. 8). The fire was born the Indian summer evening of Oct. 8, 1871, a Sunday, in the modest surroundings of a ramshackle barn in an Irish neighborhood south of the center of the city. Quickly escaping the O'Leary family's wooden barn and greeting the aid of a strong northerly wind, it grew and spread, attacking the city of 334,000 people. Before it went away late the next night, almost of its own accord, it had destroyed the heart of Chicago, killed an estimated 300 people. made 100,000 homeless, caused close to $200 million in damage as it destroyed 18,000 buildings. There have been deadlier fires. One of them occurred the night after the Chicago blaze began, nearly destroying the town; of Peshtigo, Wis., near Green Bay, as it killed 1,182 people, the most of any fire in modern times. And in 1904 a fire in the crowded Iroquois theater in Chicago killed more people 602 in an hour than the whole 1871 disaster had. What made the Great Fire live was its melodrama. It was a fire with heroes and villains. It evoked images of panicked crowds fleeing to the cooling waters of Lake Michigan against the backdrop of a sprawling city burning in a mad rage. It was the sort of thing that was likely to and did inspire a fictionalized movie account, "In Old Chicago," a 1937 epic with Tyrone Power and Don Ameche. The 100th anniversary has brought forth a series of literary attempts to portray the fire definitively. The biggest revelation, that Mrs. O'Leary's cow didn't cause the fire after all, comes in a commemorative issue of Commerce, the magazine published by the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry. According to tradition, the fire started when a cow, irritated by some injudicious milking by Mrs. O'Leary, kicked over a kerosene lantern and ignited a hay mound. Mrs O'Leary herself always denied the charge but she took the blame anyway and was often depicted in drawings as a witchlike hag who looked as if she didn't mind having the fire. The Commerce article, however, theorizes that it was actually a neighbor of the O'Leary's, Dennis "Peg Leg" Sullivan, who started the blaze when he sneaked back into the O'Leary barn to enjoy a nightcap in a soft hay pile and, mistaking the hay pile for his pipe, acci-dently lit it. People may still argue about the fire's origin but everybody agrees that the next three days were chaos. Two Chicago writers, Herman Kogan and Robert Cromie, have put together an illustrated picture history, "The Great Fire: Chicago 1871" (G. P. Putnam's Sons), a portrait that captures the disaster and includes these vignettes: A pressman fleeing the burning Chicago Tribune building ran into John Mc-Devitt, a local billiards champion, who was heading toward his favorite billiard parlor as the flames roared all around him. The pressman grabbed McDevitt's arm and urged him to turn around but McDevitt shook loose, said, "Oh, the hell with you" and continued on his way. He died in the fire. A group of members of the elite Chicago Club were breakfasting the morning of Oct. 9, disdaining the blaze, when the club building on Michigan Avenue caught fire and they were forced to escape to the lakefront. But before they left they carried with them a sofa, a bottle of whisky and some cigars so they could be comfortable as they waited out the end of the fire. A harried husband ofjered a hack driver $60 to save him and his invalid wife but before they could climb aboard the hack a jeweler rushed up and offered the driver $500 to save his inventory. The hack man slammed his door and was about to follow the jeweler when two men yanked him from the driver's seat and Dut the sick woman and her husband into the hack. Then a third bystander drove them to safety. With fear of looting widespread and some looting actually taking place, Allan Pinkerton, head of the Pink-erton police, issued a handbill that read: "Any person Stealing or seeking to steal any of the property in my charge or attempting to break open the Safes, as the men cannot make arrests at the present time they shall Kill the Persons by my orders, no Mercy Shall be shown them, but Death shall be their fate." The fire finally burned itself out, with some help from a rainstorm on Monday night, having destroyed 2,124 acres on t which only a few scattered buildings were left standing. (Though the city fire department, fatigued after a long dry summer fighting fire after fire, had made blunders at the start thai kept it from bringing the flames under control, the blaze had been contained east of the Chicago Rivei preventing the whole city from being consumed.'; In some respects tin was a blessing. By neet the rebuilding job quickly, r e m o v i n g traces of the fire In And the opportunity to from scratch gave Chic chance to become a l ground for many country's best architect place where Louis SulL Auditorium and I Llovd Wright's house built. Today the fire is a: a hopefully unifying of civic spirit, as a icp of man's vulnerabili'v marketable coinmmlii alive, crackling ami i. and laughing in the autumn air of tin f night. ssil u ent inosi ,' : 1 ' O ' ! ei'ti;. ! !H The Great Chicago Fire It was 100 years ago, Oct. 8, 1871, that the first few flames began clawing at the inside of a small cowshed on a quiet Chicago street. They were the beginning of one of the most spectacular disasters in history, the Great Fire, which lasted three days, killing 300 people and destroying the heart of Chicago, then a city of more than 330,000 people. No photographs taken during the fire itself have ever been found but drawings, such as those immediately above and at left, show the terror that gripped the burning city. When the fire was over, little was left, as the photo at top shows, but the city rebuilt quickly, eventually evolving into the modern metropolitan giant shown below, dominated by the sky-piercing John Hancock Center. (Illustrations courtesy Chicago Historical Society, Chicago Sun-Times) A . I , .. What a Sight ' Sea of Fire Sort-of-Loeal Really Makes Girl Good EDITOR'S NOTE: This is another in a series of articles being republished from the weekly "Horse and Buggy Days" column of Mrs. Laura Long in observance of Bartholomew coujity's Sesquicentennial. Mrs. Long's column was written exclusively for this newspaper from 1953 until her death in 1967. By LAURA LONG Originally Published April 19, 1956 Now that our Auditorium Series is almost upon us, it seemed a good time to look at what the town had to offer in entertainment more than a half century ago. There are those who think that life was a barren waste, as far as entertainment goes, in those long-ago times. But we can prove that this was not the case. For instance, if you were reading The Republican on the evening of March 4, 1902, you could come upon this interesting item: "The Blondells, Eddie, of 'Cheerful Idiot' fame, and his beautiful wife, Libby Blondell, both now starring in the Katzenjammer Kids, stopped off in this city this morning to visit the scenes of his boyhood. He is the guest of W. B. Schnur. The Katzenjammer Kids will be presented in Franklin this evening, the company having passed through here this morning on the way to that place. "Eddie Blondell's true name is Levi Bluestein and he was a resident of Columbus many years ago, living with his father at the foot of Washington street. He is the best artist in his line on the stage today. "For several seasons he and his wife starred in 'The Cheerful Idiot,' a comedy from Mr. Bluestein's pen. He also wrote his present play. He will soon appear in another comedy written by himself, entitled 'Through the Center of the Earth.' "Mrs. Blondell is one of the finest appearing women on the American stage, and her beauty brings forth much favorable comment in every town in which the Blondells play. "Eddie is a brilliant young man and it is said that he had Heavens All Ablaze' NEW YORK - One hundred years ago on Oct. 8, 1871 fire broke out at the famed O'Leary bam in Chicago. Whether the ensuing holocaust was caused by Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern as is popularly believed or by some other mischance is not definitely known. Whatever the cause, the flames were soon hopelessly beyond control and eventually left only the charred skeletons of more than 15,000 buildings ana snuffed out the lives of hundreds of men, women and children. How much damage was done bv the blaze? What were the observations of eyewitnesses? How were some structures miraculously spared while others were leveled. Here are. some vital (and mortal) statistics on the fire. ome 250 livesvere lost. About 92,500 men, women and children were made homeless The buildings destroyed totaled 17,450. Dollar losses added up to almost $200,000,000. And approximately three-and-a-third square miles of the nation's second biggest city were demolished. Many have given little credence to the cow story. They say it was a cigarette tossed by a tramp who used the O'Leary barn as his bedroom that night. Others believe that the extent and ferocity of the 17-hour holocaust was due to prevailing weather conditions such as a warm and dry summer with only half the normal amount of rainfall, as well as a stiff, dry wind. ' Huge flames belched out of seemingly innocent puffs of smoke. Metal was heated to a grisly green iridescence. Staunch brick walls toppled like tissue before the apparently inexhaustible force of the heat and flames. As one eyewitness put it in a letter: "We are in ruins. All the business portion of the city has fallen a prey to the fiery fiend . . . Had you been with me all night and all day seeing this hell of a fire doing its awful mission then you could realize how these ruins came. "What a sight: a sea of fire, the heavens all ablaze, the air filled with burning embers, the wind blowing fiercely and tossing fire brands in all directions, thousands upon thousands of people rushing frantically about, burned out of shelter, without food, the rich of yesterday poor today, destruction everywhere." One particularly dramatic incident was the destruction of the old courthouse. It was a solid building erected in the center of an open square. And even when the flames approached its handsome facade, the feeling was that the building could not go. Soon, however, an enormous burning timber attacked the wooden dome of the courthouse. Within a short time, only hot scorched walls remained of what had been regarded as an unassailable structure. At another burning building, a pregnant woman fled for safety. In a few minutes, she gave birth to a child on the sidewalk. The infant was suffocated almost immediately after its birth. The crowds, who dared to come close enough, prayed or just stared in shocked disbelief. Sturdy buildings bowed before the onslaught of flames. Even an abbreviated list of the buildings destroyed sounds like a "who's who" of the great merchants, industries and other enterprises of yesteryear. One outgrowth of the fire was the inauguration of Fire Prevention week on Oct. 8, 1911, its anniversary. Few people today realize that Fire Prevention week is still observed each year by Presidential proclamation on the date that marked the conflagration's anniversary. On an even more practical basis, the Chicago fire also resulted in the inception of safer construction codes and the modernization of fire de partments throughout the country, j amassed a snug fortune from his productions. He is an old-time playmate of Mr. Schnur's. The two, when boys were1 very actively engaged in giving plays in haylofts, and many of the residents of this city will remember having attended them." Maybe so. But what still more more "residents of this city" liked to remember was when the Blondells became The Three Blondells, the third member of the team being, a long-legged gangling child named Joan, whose feet took naturally to dancing and whose face was as fair as her mother's and whose mind was as bright as her father's. Sometimes Columbus people would go East, and they would see the Three Blondells, and after the show they would go back to their dressing room and tell them all the Columbus news, and the long-legged girl would smile at them and dance a bit, "showing off" because her parents asked her to. And they didn't know then that this girl would become one of the truly great ones of Hollywood. But that is the Cinderella story of a movie actress named Joan Blondell. Still if your taste didn't run towards the Katzenjammer Kids, there were the melodramas. This was the golden age of melodrama, and hardly an evening could be spent in the theatre without suffering the agonies of a train wreck or a flood or a runaway horse or a saw-mill murder. You hissed the villain and applauded the hero and sighed over the lovely heroine and it didn't worry you in the least that the characters spoke a language that was seldom used except in the most formal letterwriting. The best of them, probably, was Poor Relations, by Sal Russel. But there was also one called The Telephone Girl, and another, The Country Kid. i It was also the day of burnt-cork-faced minstrels. Exactly one month after the Blondells had appeared in Franklin, the Young Men's club staged a home talent minstrel that set them up in business as a charitable organization. the headlines announce: Bigger Success Is Impossible The Young Men's Club Cover Themselves With Glory. The curtain went up to show a beautiful scene, painted blue sea, painted sand, but very real Hamilton To Speak In Jennings, BVown U.S. Rep. Lee H. Hamilton will be guest speaker Friday night at dinners in Nashville and North Vernon, while planning to visit the Bartholomew county-Columbus Sesquicentennial luncheon at Lincoln school here Saturday. Scheduled to be guest of honor at a Ninth district REMC dinner at the Ramada Inn motel in Nashville at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Mr. Hamilton also plans to speak before a Jennings county Democratic dinner at 8:15 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus hall in North Vemon. i. tables and chairs and parasols. The chairs were lined up in a row along the beach and the official "end men" were you have guessed it sitting on the chairs at either end. There 1 He caricatured N') were, no doubt, the usual j national - ami k. numDer ot loca loKes which the ; neures ana mm: fiddle Hut musical trio de part of the musical and the curtain George Silber' .; paper, unfortunately, does not report probably fearing a libel suit! But the songs are all listed and you might like to know what they were singing then. Helen Mobley's father, Dave Behrman, sang "I Would Say the Same to You." Alex Foster sang "Rosie" and Orin Gaston "Has Anybody Seen Our Cat?" which brought down the house win sang sne Lives in Alabama" and Herbert Chrisler, "If I Only Had a Dollar of My Own." Charles Doup was more ambitious. He attacked "The King of the Winds," and came out victor, from the rave notices. And then came the olio. Now you may not know what an olio is, and if you look the word up in the dictionary it will probably say "hodgepodge, made up of odds and ends." Do that greeted him received impcrson i Prince Henry ot had been touring i private train, and 'i come through Coluiv' reporter from the H had boarded the tram all the wonders ; Henry's private pul'i not let the word give you trouble. It merely means vaudeville, or the vaudeville part of a minstrel show. Walter Doup, Nanine Parker's father, who had created the beach scene, and who was the official scene shifter, got in the way of a scene that was being set and was knocked down. Bink Schnur's orchestra had to play their overture, "Whoa, Bill!" several times over while the Musical Trio, Cook, Dean and Bell, hunted in, vain for a bottle that was a part of their act with musical glasses, and they had to play that overture without the help of the first violinist, for someone had maliciously cut the strings of his Lyle ;c o I u in l i ., But nothing ,.:.; - audience as much .is t- neighbor being mad-' n d i. Perhaps ' the l ai personations t'.s !! louder guffaws then e en i Henry. And no douU ".'urn Dean and Bill took n.i" were still laughing The boys wen u-however, and had nnio props for their a I man : musical glasses, ,'i;lv;, M bells, etc. No iwusn ,i, . mentioned, howev: p.., missing bottle was :,rv, . And the boys knew who ha-: it. and knew it personal spite 1 In even taken up at the council meeting hu! refused to prosecu'c There were l eeui!' -c h a u t a u q u a c a r lecturers before wmnt and church orgamat If! concerts and recitals, were the modes tainment in the da; radio and TV and Auditorium Sen entertainment, as m - invention, the wei V ! long, long way in tin centurv And aren't . An.: -r .Ate 1.4. " X SM ;i j, - .-v.;... hi J".. 1 VI- Ml. - JOAN MAKES GOOD Taking after her parents, Eddie and Libby Blondell, Joan Blondell has risen to the top in the actinc profession. Here she's congratulated by her stepson, Mike Todd Jr., backstage following her recent opening in the starring role in "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds"1 on Broadway. Miss Blondell's father lived in Columbus when he wo-, a boyr

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