On a Sunday evening…

…in 1871, on this date, October 8th, disaster flared in Chicago.

The Great Chicago Fire, as rendered by John Chapin (published in Harper's Weekly)

The Great Chicago Fire, as rendered by John Chapin (published in Harper’s Weekly)

From Wikipedia:

The Great Chicago Fire was a conflagration that burned from Sunday, October 8, to early Tuesday, October 10, 1871, killing hundreds and destroying about 3.3 square miles (9 km2) in Chicago, Illinois.  Though the fire was one of the largest U.S. disasters of the 19th century, the rebuilding that began helped develop Chicago as one of the most populous and economically important American cities.

An 1868 map of Chicago, displaying the area destroyed by the deadly, devastating fire.

An 1868 map of Chicago, displaying the area destroyed by the deadly, devastating fire.

The fire started at about 21:00 on Sunday, October 8, in or around a small barn that bordered the alley behind 137 DeKoven Street.  The traditional account of the origin of the fire is that it was started by a cow kicking over a lantern in the barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary.  In 1893, Michael Ahern, the Chicago Republican reporter who wrote the O’Leary account, admitted he had made it up as colorful copy.  The barn was the first building to be consumed by the fire, but the official report could not determine the exact cause.

There has been speculation as to whether the cause of the fire was related to other fires that began the same day.

The fire’s spread was aided by the city’s use of wood as the predominant building material, a drought prior to the fire, and strong winds from the southwest that carried flying embers toward the heart of the city.  More than ⅔ of the structures in Chicago at the time of the fire were made entirely of wood.  Most houses and buildings were topped with highly flammable tar or shingle roofs. Most Chicago architects modeled wooden building exteriors after another material using ornate, decorative carvings.  All the city’s sidewalks and roads were also made completely out of wood.   The city did not react quickly enough, and at first, residents were not concerned about it, not realizing the high risk of conditions.  The firefighters were tired from having fought a fire the day before.  The firefighters fought the flames through the entire day and became exhausted. As the fire jumped to a nearby neighborhood, it began to destroy mansions, houses and apartments, most made of wood and dried out from the drought. After two days of the fire burning out of control, rain helped douse the remaining fire. City officials estimated that more than 300 people died in the fire and more than 100,000 were left homeless. More than four square miles were destroyed by the fire.

The corner of State and Madison streets showing the utter destruction.

The corner of State and Madison Streets, showing the utter destruction.

The fire also led to questions about the developments in the United States. Due to Chicago’s rapid expansion at this time, the fire led to Americans reflecting on industrialization.  The Religious point of view said that Americans should return to a more old-fashioned way of life, and that the fire was caused by people ignoring morality.  Many Americans on the other hand believed that a lesson that should be learned from the fire was that cities needed to improve their building techniques.  Frederick Law Olsmsted attributed this to Chicago’s style of building:

“Chicago had a weakness for “big things,” and liked to think that it was outbuilding New York.  It did a great deal of commercial advertising in its house-tops. The faults of construction as well as of art in its great showy buildings must have been numerous.  Their walls were thin, and were overweighted with gross and coarse misornamentation.”

A Chicago Tribune editorial published after the Great Fire, stated the obvious...and Chicagoans took that message to heart, as rebuilding began almost immediately.

A Chicago Tribune editorial published after the Great Fire, stated the obvious…and Chicagoans took that message to heart, as rebuilding began almost immediately.

* * *

Chicago is not my hometown, but I feel it is important to know some history about wherever I live.

Please click here if you want to read more about the Great Chicago Fire.

It’s been thirty-one years…

…since my first trip to Italy, and thought many of my new followers (201, now!) might enjoy sharing that marvelous experience.

Two summers ago, I scanned all the 35mm slides, Photoshopped each and every one, and produced the following video.

“People of Chicago”

That’s the title of a collection of photographs from the Chicago Tribune Classic Photos archives, containing images like this, of two brothers and their brides…

…and this, an electrologist with very shiny silk (?) stockings!

If you’re interested seeing a few ‘slices of life’ in Chicago during the 1920s through the 1940s, click here.

Just a memory now

Three years ago, I took this image somewhere in my neighborhood.  When my computer totally dumped last September, I lost the original.  Fortunately, I had a print hanging on the wall and scanned it, in order to show you this gorgeous memory of white tulips with satiny petals.

White Tulips-2009

I spent a lot of time in a darkroom…

…over 30 years ago, learning to develop and print.  Being me, I got courageous, and also learned to withstand the smell of making sepia prints (Oh, and isn’t it so easy now…with just a click or two?).

I photographed my younger son Erik’s feet (he ‘hated’ me for a long time for doing that), and while printing, overlaid a piece of what was known then as light Pellon (TM), a stiffener used in sewing.

The result was this, of which I remain very proud…and because he has passed, I can still look at those cute young toes!

Erik’s Young Feet  Copyright c. 1977  http://www.anotherthousandwords.wordpress.com

Before I was born…and then some….

Grandma and Grandpa’s house  Copyright 2012  http://www.anotherthousandwords.wordpress.com

This is the house of my grandparents, immigrants from Slovakia, where I lived from the age of 6 months until I turned 10 years old.  The photo was probably taken in the late 1930s by my father, who always seemed to have one camera or another.  He let me take my first photos at age 4 and a half (perhaps, he helped then to make me what I am?).  The woman on the back porch is my grandmother, my father’s mother Martha, to whom I owe much of my being.  I was her first granddaughter…and she loved me until and beyond her passing in 1973.

The gate in the foreground is open to my grandpa Benedikt’s garden, where I spent much time with him, learning how to plant and grow vegetables.

My Grandpa and me, 1946  Copyright 2012  http://www.anotherthousandwords.wordpress.com

Our family lived upstairs from my grandparents, who were so proud their oldest son was a Milwaukee police officer.  The upper porch collapsed in the early 1950s (it made the newspapers!); Mother and Dad plunged to the ground as she was showing him a rocker she had just refinished.  Mother’s head was saved by a bale of newspapers my grandfather saved to sell to the one we called ‘the junkman’.  The rocker obviously did not survive–I have no memory of it.  Thankfully, they both did.  She passed in 1982, at almost 63, from the ravages of ALS;  he, in 1994, at 79 and a half, from the too many strokes and multi-infarct dementia caused by a seizure in 1989.

Needless to say, as my 66th birthday nears, I miss them all…yet, they are somehow still with me.



Who have gone before me

Do not call me to them.



They insist I keep plodding


Into experiences untried,



As I balk

And grumble negatives,


Encourage at every moment.

Even in my hours of sleep.


At times, the voices.

Their voices,

Are near, at my side,

Voices wrapped

Around my shoulder

Guiding my uncertain step.

Copyright 2004  http://www.anotherthousandwords.wordpress.com