Saturday, September 3, 2011

Firestorm at Peshtigo

                Our son-in-law grew up in Southern Door County and a few years ago he recommended Firestorm at Peshtigo, a new book about the Peshtigo fire.  Both Russ and I were  especially interested in the accounts of how the fire jumped across the bay to parts of Southern Door county, so we got the book through interlibrary loan and both read it.  The book is very well researched as survivors wrote and shared their stories over and over throughout the years.  While planning our end of August trip to Lake Superior and the UP, we decided a trip to the Peshtigo Fire Museum would be a worthwhile detour.  
Mass grave marker
 Obviously maintained by a community or local historical society, the museum and cemetery is quite informative.  Binders contain copies of letters written by survivors and these were obviously used by the author for her book.  Few remains survived the fire, but those that did were quite impressive.  A Bible was found near the city hotel where many people had run for safety, only to all die.  The charred Bible is a solid block – think large charcoal briquette- but through its blackness you can tell it was opened to Psalm 105-106.  Obviously someone was praying or reading scripture, possibly outloud to comfort others as the fire approached.  Much of the museum holds general artifacts from the late 1800s and early 1900s collected from the area.  Naturally I was interested in two old quilt frames, not the typical round ones for hand quilting or the room sized ones set up for quilting bees.  These frames had bars and gears similar to the frames used today for machine quilting.  Obviously, homemade they were quite inventive. 

One of the quilt frames

 I also found a quilt that had a direct connection to the fire.   Wrapped in a soaked quilt, tiny Carrie was saved from the smoke and heat of the fire.  Although that quilt is not part of the museum, she grew up to be a quilter and one of her quilts was donated by the grandniece who received it and lovingly used it over the years.  The growing up years of Carrie have been fictionalized in several children’s books including one book about  the fire.
Russ and I really enjoyed this side trip on this special vacation.  What made this vacation so special?  For one, it had several connections to books that I had enjoyed. Two, it had something special for Russ (shipwrecks), and three, it centered around Lake Superior, one of my favorite places.  The final reason -- this vacation happened on the last days of August and the first days of September, days that in the past I would have been sitting at school in-service meetings and then dealing with the first days of school.  Isn't retirement grand?

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