We have to take advantage of the long breaks from work to see the things in our area (6-8 hour radius) that are the farthest away. We had been planning on taking a trip over the UP and down through Michigan into Indiana for our first long break. A patient had recommended two stops one being the Peshtigo Fire Museum, the other Mackinac Island. We just so happened to be driving through Peshtigo so we made that our first stop. Peshtigo was the sight of histories deadliest recorded fire with the estimated death toll of 1,200 to 2,500 (Wikipedia numbers). Here is an excerpt from the museum brochure, “Fiery hell descended on Peshtigo the night of October 8, 1872, mutilating northern Wisconsin with a livid scar of death and destruction still unequaled in the tragic annals of the world’s great fires.
Within a few short hours the lives of 800 persons (this is the number of towns people who were killed it doesn’t count farmers and out of town folk or the big boatload of lumber workers who had just come in to work in the lumber mill that day. There is no way to know the exact number.) were snuffed out in an inferno of flame and terror. A flourishing saw mill town was leveled to a desert of smoking ashes, its streets strewn with the blackened bodies of men, women and children. Miles of rich farm and wood lands were scorched into desolation and littered with the seared corpses of burned victims.
And yet, for decades, the horrors of the Peshtigo fire remained forgotten in history, obscured by the more widely known holocaust that devoured a part of Chicago that very same night in one of fate’s grim coincidences. Chicago reckoned its toll only in the number of its homeless survivors and it’s gutted buildings, while Peshtigo measured it’s losses in stark figures of dead and injured, and total destruction.
The volunteers were very helpful in filling us in on the history and events of the fire and showed us a few of the everyday items that survived the fire. The people who survived were those who heard the church bell (fire alarm) and lived close enough to make it to the river. They stood in the river all night with the smoke clearing and heat cooling enough for them to come out late in the morning of the next day.
the museum was filled with era specific clothing, household items and furniture. There was a side room with a kitchen set up and a back room with boats and lumber equipment is that day and time. The kids favorite part however was the basement which was filled with tools, butter churns, ovens, old (very) wash boards wash machines and vacuum cleaners. So fun to see.
The day after the fire a man was found looting the dead bodies for their valuables and was sentenced to be hanged on the spot but after searching through the rubble and ash no rope was found uncharred, the man begged for mercy and it was given to him.