Saturday, October 8, 2016

HGB Ep. 153 - The Ghosts of the 1871 Infernos

Moment in Oddity - Giant Statue of Man Eating Bag of Babies in Bern
Suggested by: Michael Rogers

There is a very peculiar 500 year old statue that sits atop a fountain in the town of bern, Switzerland. The statue is called the Kindlifresser or in english, the Child Eater. The statue features a giant holding a baby in one hand with its head in his mouth and in his other hand, he clutches a bag filled with three other very alarmed looking children. The scene is quite startling and no one is sure just who made it or why. Some claim that the giant represents the Greek god Kronos and as students of mythology know, Kronos ate his own children. Others theorize that he represents the older brother of the founder of Bern who went mad with jealousy because his younger brother was greater than he and so he ate many of the town's children. But this is just a legend. It could just be some giant from a fairy tale. Whatever the case may be, this fountain is not only disturbing, but it certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Second Opium War Begins

On this day, October 8th, in 1856, the Second Opium War begins. This war had the Qing Dynasty coming against the British and French Empires. The First Opium War had ended in 1842 with western powers signing treaties with the Chinese that the Chinese referred to as unequal treaties. This was suppose to enhance trade, but it really enhanced Western imperialism. The British really wanted to legalize the Opium trade, send Chinese people as indentured servants and open up the ports with no taxes on foreign imports. Many conflicts arose and finally came to a head on October 8th when the Chinese boarded a ship called the Arrow. The ship had been Chinese owned and was supposedly committing acts of piracy and smuggling and the Chinese arrested the crew of twelve. The British were angered because they had just purchased the ship and had it sailing under their flag. They demanded that the prisoners be released. The Chinese refused and the British attacked the forts on Canton. The French joined the British and the Americans and Russians offered support. The war ended in 1860 after several more treaties and battles, with the ratification of the Treaty of Tianjin. In the end, opium was legalized, the Chinese paid France and Britain 8 million taels and freedom of religion was granted in China.

Ghosts of the 1871 Infernos (Suggested by Ellen Martin)

This episode is dropping on October 8th because this day in history marks the 145th anniversary of a day when terrible fires wiped out cities and took the the lives of thousands of people in 1871. One fire, the Great Chicago Fire, is well known, but there were other big fires, including one that not many people know about that actually claimed more lives and that was the Peshtigo Fire. The summer had been abnormally dry and it did not take much for the fires to spark and spread. The stories about these disasters are tragic, leaving behind emotions and turmoil that seem to fuel paranormal activity. And then there is the odd twist that these deadly fires occured on the same day. Join us as we share the history and hauntings of the 1871 Infernos!

Port Huron is a city in Michigan and lies at the southern end of Lake Huron, from which it takes its name. The city was incorporated in 1857 and drew people to work in the thriving timber and shipbuilding businesses. It grew to be one of the biggest villages in the area. The city of Holland is in Michigan as well. It grew out of a settlement of Dutch Calvinists in 1847. Other churches came to the area and soon Holland was known as the "City of Churches." Manistee is yet another Michigan city and it is located on the Manistee River, from which it takes its name, off of Lake Michigan. It began as a Jesuit Mission. The city was established in 1841 when a saw mill was built there. These three Michigan cities are located far apart from each other, but they all share something in common: The Great Michigan Fire of 1871.

The city of Chicago was a nexus of industry in the late 1800s. The grand city sat between the agricultural west and the manufacturing east. The Chicago River that divided the city into three parts was bustling with commercial traffic and the city was expanding. The downtown had the courthouse and the chamber of commerce. Money and people were flowing into the city. A city built from wood. Both structurally and economically. Timber businesses left stacks of lumber in yards along the South Branch of the Chicago River. Sidewalks built from wood wound for 561 miles and 57 miles of street were paved in wood. A very dry city full of wood led to a horrible tragedy: The Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Peshtigo is a town in Wisconsin situated on the Peshtigo River, from which it takes its name. The word Peshtigo is Native American and means either "snapping turtle" or "wild goose." The area was first settled in 1838. It was incorporated as a village in 1887 and as a city in 1903.  White pine forests nearby were used to not only build the settlement, but as a means of commerce. Logging and wood products were the main business in Peshtigo.This proximity to the forest and the large amounts of wood in the city made this a dangerous place to live in the unseasonably dry year of 1871 and the result would be one of the worst natural disasters in US history: The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871.

October 8th in 1871 was a Sunday.  The summer had been hot with only about one-fourth of the normal precipitation. A great wind was blowing across the Midwest, literally. Wind gusts topped 100mph. And almost as though the stars aligned in a most perfect and macabre way for the Fire Elemental, on this one day, thousands would die in enormous fires. This is the kind of record that not even Guiness would want to record. It's the kind of coincidence that causes people to stop believing in coincidences. These great fires would destroy and forever change cities. Chicago would arise from the conflagration greater than it had been before. The other cities, particularly Peshtigo, would be affected for years to come and even build an entire cemetery for the vicitms. The elemental fire demon would have his day in a major way. This was the day that America burned.

G. Van Schelven of Holland, Michigan described what he witnessed as fire came to his town: "At 2 o’clock in the afternoon the wind turned southwesterly and began gradually to increase. The fire alarm was rung, and from this time on the fighting of the fire all along the timbered tracts south and southwest of the city, was kept up uninterruptedly. As night advanced the wind increased in force, until at midnight it blew a hurricane, spreading the fire and the flames with an alarming velocity toward the doomed city. The huge bark piles at the Cappen & Bertch tannery in the western and the Third Reformed Church in the southern part of the city, were among the first points attacked; from thence on, the devastating fire fiend had a full and unmolested sway."

This is an account from Manistee: "A bright light came up out of the south, directly in rear of the town, and the fierce gale bearing it on directly toward the doomed city. Those who resided in that part of town, including the writer, rushed to the new scene of danger, the full extent of which few comprehended. The fire had originated two miles south of the city, on the lake shore. It first came upon the farm of L.G. Smith, Esq., which it devoured. Eighty rods north the extensive farm and dairy of E.W. Secor shared the same fate, with all his barns and forage. Another quarter of a mile, and the large farm buildings of Mayor R.G. Peters were quickly annihilated. Here the column of fire divided, the left hand branch keeping to the lake shore hills, and coming in at the mouth; the other taking a northeasterly course and coming in directly south of the town, as before described. Here a small band of determined men, fighting with the energy of despair to protect their homes, kept it at bay till past midnight. But all was vain – at 12:30 o’clock the gale became a tornado, hurling great clouds of sparks cinders, burning bark and rotten wood through the air in A Terrific, Fiery Storm. Every man now fled to his own house. The fire now came roaring through the dead hemlocks south of the blocks included between Maple and Oak Streets, in the Second Ward. The flames leaped to the summits of the great hemlocks, seventy, eighty or ninety feet high, and threw out great flags of fire against the lurid heavens. The scene was grand and terrible beyond description. To us, whose homes and dear ones and all were in the track of the fire, it was heart-rending."

People had finished dinner and were getting ready to go to bed unaware that across the city of Chicago, a small fire would ignite in a barn that would change their lives and the city of Chicago forever. No one is sure exactly how the fire started, but it believed that the origin of the fire came from a barn behind the home of Patrick and Catherine O'Leary at 13 DeKoven Street. The O'Leary's lived with their five children in the cottage less than a mile from town and the barn housed Mrs. O'Leary's milking business. The theory that has developed as to the cause of the fire involves one of those milking cows. Many believe a cow knocked over an oil lamp that set the straw ablaze. A song even was written about this being the cause. But a newspaper reporter admitted in 1893 that he made the cause up. Possibly this was a rumor started as an anti-Irish slur. We'll never know exactly what the cause was, but we do know the result.

A man in Chicago wrote:  "I jumped out of bed and pulled on my pants. Everybody in the house was trying to save as much as possible. I tied my clothes in a sheet. With my clothes under my arm and my pack on my back, I left the house with the rest of the family. Everybody was running north. People were carrying all kinds of crazy things. A woman was carrying a pot of soup, which was spilling all over her dress. People were carrying cats, dogs and goats. In the great excitement people saved worthless things and left behind good things. I saw a woman carrying a big frame in which was framed her wedding veil and wreath. She said it would have been bad luck to leave it behind."

There was an early confidence in the city that the fire would be contained. The Great Fire of Chicago captured the imaginations of newpaper reporters and stories spread across the nation. Victims all had their own stories to tell, making sorting out exactly what transpired very difficult if not impossible. The fire apparently leapt across the south branch of the river and destroyed Conley's Patch. The Court House bell rang out the fire alarm, but was silenced as the building was engulfed and the bell fell from the tower. The fire moved to the north. The pumping station was burned, halting firefighting efforts. The offices of the Chicago Tribune were consumed. Only rain falling the next day, helped to put out the fire.

There were many contributing factors to the fire that raged through Peshtigo. There was the drought, but it was aggravated by the practice of Slash and Burn that farms were using to clear land. This same slash was being used by railways that left the debris along the track to dry out. Logging companies left timber in piles. The practice of burning this debris was being used and it is believed that several of these smaller fires were fueled and spread by the great wind blowing through the Midwest. There are some who believe a comet or meteorite started the fire. Robert Couvillion, a Peshtigo historian, is someone who holds to the Impact Theory and he claims that survivors described a horizontal tornado, with tremendous winds blowing fire everywhere. Could that be a meteor blast? Or could it just be the regular nature of fire blowing upward? The fire started around 8:30pm and by 10pm, the air was completely unbreathable. Peshtigo completely burned in 90 minutes. Whatever the cause, the Peshtigo Fire was the deadliest fire in American history.

When the fires were done with these cities, the devastation was unimaginable. Chicago had lost 300 residents and nearly 90,000 were homeless. Holland and Manistee were completely leveled. No one is sure how many died in the Great Michigan Fire because it was based on families reporting lost loved ones and there were hundreds of lumberjacks out in the forests of which 3,900 square miles were burned. Most historians estimate around 500 lives were lost in Michigan. Peshtigo was hit the hardest. Estimates of dead are hard here as well, but the number lies somewhere between 1,200 and 2,400 people. The area burned was about twice the size of Rhode Island. All of the cities rebuilt. Chicago obviously recovered in a big way and came to be known as the "Jewel of the Midwest."

And in times of tragedy, it would seem that human nature is generally good as reflected in an article written in 1871 in the Mainette and Peshtigo Eagle: "Thank God! even this dire calamity is net without its valuable lessons. Amid the corruptions of society and the callous selfishness of humanity, the good there is in human nature is strikingly apparent in a disaster like this. Car-load after car-load of provisions, clothing, sanitary supplies and medical supplies are pouring in, and after the first few days of suffering form want there will be plenty to relieve the sufferings of the homeless."

Ellen has visited the Peshtigo Fire Cemetery and she shared her thoughts:  "I found only sadness in the Peshtigo Fire Cemetery, almost as if the place itself was sucking any happiness out of me.  I made myself look at all of the special markers in order to honor and remember those that lost their lives in such a horrible way.  I recently found out through geneology that my Great great great grandparents and their family were survivors.  I do not know any details about their experience.  I do not know if this is haunted or not, but I would think that their must be some kind of activity with so much horror and death going on at the same time in the same place." She also recounted the story of one family, "One such is that of a young man who grabbed two of his siblings and rushed to the river.  He spent the entire night pouring icy water over their heads to prevent them from catching fire. In the morning, both siblings had died of hypothermia."

As we research and study haunted history, it would seem that most tragedies have ghost stories connected to them and there are tales of ghosts from these 1871 infernos. There are ghost towns left in the wake of these fires as well. We could not find any ghost stories directly connected to the Great Michigan Fire, but there is a ghost town. The town of Singapore had been established in 1836. It sat at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River along Lake Michigan. Once the fire ripped through, Singapore was completely burned and left. No one rebuilt and the town now sits beneath the sand dunes of Lake Michigan. An interesting twist of Fate in connection to this town occured in 1843 during a huge blizzard. The people of Singapore might possibly have starved if not for the shipwreck of the Milwaukie. They survived off its food stores.

The Holy Family Church in Chicago was clearly in the path of the great fire, but somehow it was spared and no one knows how or why. It is a mystery. Father Damen supervised the building of the church in the 1850s and he loved it. He was away on a mission when he heard about the fire breaking out and legend claims that he prayed to the Virgin mary to protect the church. A wind seemed to blow the fire in a different direction. Was this some kind of supernatural occurence and miracle? The church thinks so and they continue a practice to this day that father Damen promised to the Virgin mary. he said he would light seven candles in front of her statue in the sanctuary. Today, those candles are electric. Father Damen is reputed to haunt his beloved church and is seen walking through the nave.

On our 2015 road trip, we went through Chicago and saw the great water tower that was the only structure in the city to survive the massive fire. It is built from limestone and is just a magnificient design. It is also haunted. People ran to this building for refuge not realizing that smoke inhalation kills more people than actual fire. Many died in this structure and soon after rebuilding began, there were reports of phantom figures in the tower. Faces are sometimes seen peering from the windows of the empty building. And one man chose a quick and painless death and hanged himself on the upper floor. That hanging man is still seen sometimes to this day in an upper window. It shocks people before it disappears.

In Peshtigo, it took over a year for all the bodies to be recovered and buried. People who took refuge in the icy river died of hypothermia. Residents of the town report paranormal activity in many locations. Most experiences are with shadowy figures both during the day and night and they are usually seen along the streets. Our infamous Lady in White hangs out on a park at S. Ellis Ave. Apparently, she has long flowing hair and the kids have nicknamed her the Floaty Lady. She appears just before midnight and seems to be disoriented. Then she just disappears.

The Midwestern Paranormal Investigative Network conducted an investigation in Peshtigo. Here is what they found: "During our review of the evidence, we were pleasantly surprised with what we were able to capture.  Numerous EVP’s were recorded during the investigation.  Due to the circumstances of this location, in which an entire town was burned to the ground, much of the investigation was conducted outside.  Because of this, many of the EVPs are unable to be cleaned up to the point of presentation, as the EVP itself is difficult to distiguish for the untrained ear from the ambient noise. Video evidence can only be interpreted as inconclusive, although there was some very interesting audio captured both on an SB7 Spirit Box and an Ovilus which were quite telling and beyond the scope of coincidence.

Some of the EVP evidence captured: Vicky alone in the Fire Museum.  Vicky is heard stating she is going to set her audio recorder down while she walks downstairs  when a very breathy “Hello” is clearly heard. Vicky sitting alone at the mass grave in the Fire Cemetery.  In the beginning of the following audio clip you can hear a gust of wind, and then immediately following is a whisper, stating, “I assumed you’d come here.”  A few seconds later, Vicky is heard telling those buried there they have not been forgotten. Vicky sitting alone along the river at a spot where many of the victims died, either by drowning, hypothermia, breathing in scalding ash, or simply burning in the water.  Vicky is heard initially in this clip, and after a few seconds, and a strange hissing sound, a female voice clearly introduces herself, saying, “I’m Rachel.” (We played the last two EVPs on air)

Tori relates her Peshtigo experiences:  "Me and my mom where driving through Peshtigo, we got by the cemetery and saw an all black figure walking across the street. We stopped and they soon disappeared. I have not seen this since that day. I had seen a lot of ghost experiences while living in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. In the Brook View Village Trailer Park a lot is haunted. There seems to be little kids running through there."

Wannabe also has had experiences in Peshtigo:  "My friend and I were staying the night at another friend of ours house on Oconto ave. The day was seemingly normal but when we walked in her house a feeling terror overcame us. Later that night while we were sleeping I was awoken to a strange black figure hovering over our friend. I quickly woke my other friend up and showed her the apparition. We tried to wake her up but as soon as we did the apparition disappeared. This encounter was very unexplainable and probably paranormal. We have lived in this town our whole life and without a doubt in our mind Peshtigo Wisconsin is haunted."

Did these great fires all start on the same day and wreak havoc just by chance? Did the earth pass through the tail of a comet and these cities were hit with bits of debris? Do the spirits of those lost in these fires still walk the earth? Are the cities of Holland, Port Huron, Manistee, Chicago and Peshtigo haunted by the victims of these fires? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
The Comet and the Chicago Fire Article:

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