Saturday, October 26, 2013

Remembering the Royal Charter Shipwreck

"The Royal Charter off Moelfre"
Image used with permission of E. D. Walker

(This post and the anniversary of this shipwreck is the reason I began blogging.  The blogging has slowed down over the past year as I take care of family obligations, but the anniversary of this tragedy always touches me.  I almost missed it this year because I haven't slowed down and taken time for things that are important.  It's now 154 years since my 3rd great grandfather lost his life in this shipwreck.)

October 26, 2010 is the 151st anniversary of my great-great-great grandfather, Manus Maurice Boyle's, death in the shipwreck of the Royal Charter. He worked in the coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Alice Monaghan, were both Irish immigrants and longed for a better life for their two daughters, Bridget Mary and Anna. He left Pennsylvania in September 1856 to go to Australia to mine for gold in hopes of a better future for his family. He was returning to his family from Australia in the autumn of 1859. The Royal Charter would have taken him back to Britain. No one knows what ship he was to board to return to America. No one knows what fortunes, if any, he was returning from Australia with. During the last leg of his journey to Liverpool a hurricane struck. There was no advanced warning. None existed prior to that date.

The winds that raged over 100 mph changed from East to North/Northeast and the bay (Moelfre Bay) which Captain Taylor had hoped would shelter them became the instrument of their demise. The anchors that had been weighed, snaped in the first hours of the morning of October 26th and the ship was repeatedly thrown against the rocks until it split and sank. Of more than 480 passengers and crew only 41 survived. No women or children were saved.

The valiant efforts of one of the crew, Joe Rogers, and the inhabitants of the Moelfre coast were what enabled even those 41 to be saved. The storm had caused damage to one of the Moelfre homes and as residents were repairing the roof in the early hours of the morning they saw the ship in peril. They woke the town and 28 local men made a human chain in the violent waters of the bay to attempt to rescue those aboard. Joe Rogers took a line from the ship and swam to shore, being turned back in the violent waves of the storm at least 3 times before reaching the men on shore. The rope was used in an attempt to bring those from the vessel ashore.

Sadly, many of the passengers on the ship jumped or were thrown overboard. The bulkiness of the clothes of the time coupled with the fact that many had money belts and pockets filled with gold inhibited their efforts to the deadliest of degrees. Had they abandoned their garments and treasure many more may have survived.

There was over 322,000 pounds (British monetary unit) of gold aboard the ship. This was the amount insured back in 1859 and does not include the gold the passengers kept on their persons. I do not know the equivalent in today's currency the gold would be valued at, but it would obviously be substantially higher. The large amount of money combined with the rumors of "good fortune" that surrounded the town after the wreck led to the shipwreck being called the Golden Wreck.

The village church of Saint Gallgo became the collection point for the bodies. The Reverends Stephen Roose Hughes and his brother Reverend Hugh Robert Hughes paid the local inhabitants to bring the bodies to the church, a difficult trek up the rocky shores to the church made monetary remuneration the only way to persuade the locals to take on the grim task. They saw to the burial of those killed and personally answered over 1000 letters they received begging a response regarding loved ones. The stress from this caused the Reverend Stephen Hughes' life to be cut short. He died a few years later.

The church at Saint Gallgo still exists today and each year remembers those lost in this tragedy. Monuments stand to remember those lost. A distant cousin of mine Debbie Fay Buch and her husband, Josh Buch, placed a memorial stone at Saint Gallgo Church in August 2004. It reads:

Manus Maurice Boyle
Never Recovered from the Royal Charter
Placed by the Fay Family
Hazleton, PA USA 2004

I don't sit around depressed over the fact that this is the anniversary of my ancestor's death. What would have happened had he come home with gold from Australia? My 2nd great grandmother, Anna Boyle, may never have met her husband, Martin Blanchfield, and I would never have been born. Sometimes good can come from tragedy. People's fortunes can improve or worsen causing them to make decisions that determine the outcome of their history and sometimes other people's histories. It does sadden me to know that Manus was never to hold his youngest daughter, Anna. She was born 2 months after he left for Australia. It saddens me to know that his last thoughts were most likely of a family that he would not see again in this world. Or perhaps his last thoughts were of a determination to survive and get back to them. A determination that was matched by the ferocity of the circumstances in which he found himself. It saddens me knowing that he did not die the "peaceful" death of drowning for the majority of those lost were broken on the rocks of the bay. The passengers and crew of the Royal Charter died so close to shore that even today the wreck can be seen below the surface of the waters from the bay's shoreline. Still there, resting peacefully below the water.

It is not everyone that can say their ancestor's demise was written about in books. I have read two that write of the Royal Charter. One by Alexander McKee, "The Golden Wreck: The Tragedy of the Royal Charter" is out of print, but it tells of the voyage from Australia to it's wreck, the recovery of the remains of the victims and the trial of the crew that survived. I have read the account of the shipwreck written by the great Charles Dickens (yes, I said Charles Dickens wrote about this tragedy!) in his book "The Uncommercial Traveller" (only about the first 20 or so pages of the book are dedicated to this wreck. It's a series of 34 books and this is in volume 24. The entire series tells of Dickens' travels as he IS the Uncommercial Traveller).

I take this time today to remember a man I never knew, but love nevertheless. As a genealogist it can be hard to convey to those that do not research their ancestry that while we may never have met these names that appear in our family trees, we feel a closeness that defies explanation.

Rest in Peace, Grandpa. You will be remembered by your many descendants.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tuesday's Tip - Tombstones Aren't Forever

Susan Lee's death year is completely buried.  I've danced/stomped on this grave trying to uncover it.

I've blogged before about going to photograph tombstones of my ancestors and finding stones that were slowly being eaten by the earth.  I've desperately tried to push down the ground around one of these tombstones in particular to see what a death year was.  As luck would have it there's an ant mound right near the grave as well, so any lingering visit to unearth the information results in me doing a very embarrassing get-the-ants-off-me-dance.  Less than 5 years later and the dates have gone from barely visible to gone completely.  So tempted to head to the cemetery next year with a small shovel to move away the dirt and grass and finally get a look at those dates...I'll bring a can of Raid to deal with the ants.  I think I might get odd stares if I march up to a grave and start digging though.

So my point in mentioning this is that even though there's a tombstone marking ancestors' graves right now, this may not always be the case.  As genealogists we appreciate the convenience of various websites such as FindAGrave, BillionGraves, etc especially when we're researching from afar, but we love actually visiting cemeteries, seeing, and touching the graves.  Being in the place where our ancestors are eternally at rest.  Yes, we can be an odd lot, but cemeteries are some of our favorite places to visit.

Many tombstones won't always be there though.  Those websites that we adore for convenience, but sometimes scorn because "real" genealogists get their feet dirty in cemeteries may one day be our only source to view these tombstones once they are gone.  Some disappear because they are reclaimed by the earth.  Many more are vandalized.  Regardless of how it happens, tombstones are often ephemeral.

It doesn't look like it's disappearing does it?
We'll always enjoy going through cemeteries.  They aren't going away anytime soon, but that doesn't mean a tombstone here today won't be gone tomorrow.  Don't hoard your genealogical tombstone-treasures. Share them with one of these sites. Your uploaded tombstone can and will help your descendants in the future.

This is the "Barrett" tombstone from another side.  It really is sinking

Four of my ever-sinking family tombstones
Still has a ways to go before the dates are gone, but severely leaning to
the left

Mary Quirk's tombstone is actually leaning forward quite precariously

Ella's tombstone (of the four from the picture above) is fairing the
best with only a slight forward lean.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Family Recipe Friday - Halupkie


My mom would make Halupkie when I was little.  Halupkie is another one of those family dishes that my mom made that had nothing (that I'm aware of) that had anything to do with my family history.  Or perhaps I should say it had nothing to do with her family history.  My mom's 100% Irish.  Halupkie (as we spelled it) or Halupki (as I found on the inter-tubes) is apparently a dish of eastern European origins and is quite popular in northeastern Pennsylvania.  

Get a cabbage leaf ready for stuffing
My father's side of the family was from Lithuania so perhaps this was a recipe that my mother made for him because he had it growing up.  My father referred to them as "Polish hand grenades." As I mentioned he wasn't Polish, he was Lithuanian, but I should still give my mom a call in the morning and check to be sure if she learned to make them for him.

She loved collecting recipes from her friend Linda Moyer's mom and would make them for us.  Perhaps this was one of the Moyer recipes if it wasn't from my dad's side of the family.  We grew up with family recipes that had nothing to do with our Irish heritage.  I tried corned beef once...perhaps that's why she branched out...YUCK!

Either way, this is a lovely family recipe that reminds me of happy times with my mom when I have it. She would make a much larger batch than this and would cook it in one of those large blue or black roasting know the ones with the little white flecks on them.  I wish I still had mine.  I'd post a picture.  Either way, any large roasting pan with a lid will suffice.  I altered the recipe to fit my crockpot.  It worked too.  Same taste and I love crockpot recipes (especially the ones that don't burn and this didn't).

Add a good scoop of meat (how much depends on the leaf)
One bad thing that happened was that the liquid started spitting out of my crockpot.  It was about 1/2-inch from the top when I started cooking, but it all expanded during cooking which resulted in tomato soup on my hardwood floor and on seat of a nearby chair.  Oh well.  You live, you learn.  Less liquid next time!


1 large onion, diced 
4 stalks celery, diced
2 lbs ground beef
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp pepper
1-1/2 c cooked rice
1 large head of cabbage
1 (50 oz) can tomato soup
Olive oil

Fold the sides over the meat mixture and roll up

Place the beef in a large bowl.  In a pan with some olive oil, saute the onion and celery.  Add to the bowl with the beef.  Add salt and pepper.  Generously shake Worchestershire sauce over the meat (this is not a precise measurement.  Shake enough in until it smells good and Worcestershire-y).  Add the rice and mix well with hands.

Boil cabbage until bendy.  Carefully remove cabbage from pot and remove the outer leaves of the cabbages to line the bottom of a large roasting pan (reserve some of the leaves from the center of the head of cabbage that are too small to use to cover the top of the halupkie in the roasting pan).  Continue removing leaves from the cabbage.  When this becomes difficult you can return the cabbage to the hot water and boil until it softens.  I brought my cabbage to a boil, let it boil for about 5 minutes and then turned it off and just let it sit for about 30 minutes in the pot.  It worked wonderfully!

Fill the cabbage leaves (not the ones reserved for the bottom and top of the pan) with about ½ cup of the meat mixture on the leaf and roll.  To roll the cabbage, place the meat in the center of the leaf then fold the left and right sides in, then bring the bottom of the leaf up over the meat and roll up.  Place seam-side down over the layer of cabbage that is lining the roasting pan.  Continue to make the halupkie in this manner until done.  Place the second half of the reserved leaves over the top of the halupkie and tuck the sides into the pan.

A nice cabbage roll
Pour the tomato soup into a large bowl.  Fill the empty can with water and mix with the soup.  Pour the mixture over the halupkie being careful not to overflow the roasting pan.  Cover with the lid and bake at 350 degrees (F) for about 2 hours.

NOTE:  You need to get really good sized cabbage for this recipe otherwise the leaves will not be large enough to roll the meat in.

Crockpot variation - Make the halupkie as directed above, but when adding the tomato soup/water mixture stop pouring when you get about an inch from the top of the crockpot.  Make sure the crockpot is not near anything of value or that would stain if it starts to splatter.  Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did.  As an adult I enjoy cabbage.  As a kid...not so much, but I'd always eat this cabbage!

Remember to put cabbage leaves on the bottom!

More cabbage leaves on top

Pour the tomato soup mixture leaving space at the top

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday - The Peshtigo River

The Peshtigo River - Where many ran to on the night of the fire in hopes their lives would be spared.

Memorial stone at the Peshtigo River bridge

"This bridge crosses the river that has been the heart of the community since the founding of Peshtigo.

This river provides power for our commerce and daily lives.  This river also protected some of our citizens who sought refuge in these waters during the great fire of Oct. 8th, 1871

The citizens of Peshtigo dedicate the bridge over the River In honor of those who have served and defended our country And those who protected, defended and rebuilt our community

From the embers of ruined hope, may the germs of virtuous industry spring, while nature in tears, weeping over the blackened funeral pile, shall plant, as the seasons come and go, fresh roses of Spring o'er the ashes of the dead.

The Marinette and Peshtigo Eagle
Saturday, October 14, 1871

Dedicated october 8, 2012"

Tombstone Tuesday - Mass Grave at Peshtigo

I was actually halfway through with another Tuesday post when it dawned on me to share the memorial for the mass grave from the Peshtigo Fire.  I know that my posts were "technically" done for this year on Peshtigo, but as I was scrolling through my iPhoto I saw the photos I had taken at the Peshtigo Museum and graveyard this summer.  It would have been wrong to ignore them and not share.

At the foot of the mass grave a sign to explain the necessity of a mass grave.

A transcription of the mass grave marker only because of the glare.  I think most can read it, but just in case:

"Mass Grave

This mass grave contains the ashes, bones, and bodies of some three hundred and fifty people who perished in the Peshtigo Fire.  Approximately seventy-five of these lost their lives in the Peshtigo Company's boarding house on the east side of the river.  They were so completely consumed by the fire that one could not tell man from woman or child from adult.  All, however, in the mass grave were not ashes.  Many of the dead were found bearing no trace of burns and those unidentified bodies are also buried here."

Many had no trace of burns but died anyway.  It seems incredible, but for some the fire spared them, only to have the smoke do what the fire did not.

The mass grave from a distance.  A peaceful sitting area for reflection.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Peshtigo - A Miracle From the Ashes

The statue of Mary inside the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help

This was originally posted on October 13, 2011.  As before I feel that it is a fitting tribute to end this week of remembrance on a positive note.

As promised I'm ending my posts on this historic tragedy on a miraculous note.  I'm not speaking figuratively.  I'm not saying "It's a miracle my husband's ancestors survived".  I'm grateful that they survived, and it could be viewed as miraculous, but I'm talking church acknowledged miracle! This miracle didn't happen in the town of Peshtigo.  It was across the bay in a town called Robinsonville that was also under attack by the series of fires collectively known as the "Great Peshtigo Fire"....and it's the sort of story that makes you believe in miracles if you didn't already.  A little history...

Adele Brise (also spelled Brice) was a young Belgian immigrant who came to America with her family and settled in Wisconsin.  She had originally wanted to stay behind in her native Belgium and join a convent with some other girls, but after talking with her priest, he advised her to do what any good priest follow her parents wishes and go to America with them.  He told her that if she was meant for a religious order that she would no doubt find one in the United States.  So instead of a convent Adele found herself in a heavily wooded area of Wisconsin.

Mary as Adele described
Adele was very religious.  She would walk to church every week...ELEVEN MILES to church every week!  In October of 1859 Adele experienced not one, but 3 Marian Apparitions.  The first was as Adele was walking to a grist mill 4 miles from Robinsonville with a sack of wheat on her head.  She saw a lady in white standing in her path on the trail she was walking.  She stopped, frightened and remained still until the lady disappeared before her eyes a few minutes later.

The second time was that Sunday as she walked to church.  Her sister walked with her and in the exact same place, Adele saw the lady before her in the distance.  She stopped, again afraid.  Her sister could not see the woman.  Eventually she disappeared and they continued to church.  After Mass Adele spoke with her priest about what she saw.  The priest told her that the spirit would not hurt her, but to ask in God's name what she wanted.

On the way home from mass that day, Sunday, October 9th, 1859, Adele again saw the apparition before her.  The people with her stopped as she knelt and asked the apparition , "In God's name, who are you, and what do you want of me?"  The response that Adele got was that the apparition was the "Queen of Heaven" and she commanded that Adele teach the children their catechism, how to make the sign of the Cross, and how to receive the Sacraments.

On that spot Adele's father (Lambert Brice) built a ten by twelve foot structure to mark the spot of the visions.  Not everyone believed in what Adele saw, but that did not deter her.  Over the years, as people began to make pilgrimages to the spot and as Adele began to fulfill the promise she made to teach the children, the structure grew and the land that held the school and chapel was consecrated.  The Chapel became known as "Our Lady of Good Help."

Twelve years later, almost to the day Adele spoke to the apparition of Mary, the fires erupted.  This is the account of what happened that night as printed in the book "The Chapel:  Our Lady of Good Help" (Sister M. Dominica, O.S.F, 1955):

Stained glass windows in the Shrine
"We do not propose to pass judgment on the reasons for this catastrophe, but we know that twelve years later almost to the day, October 8, 1871, the great calamity fell.  The Belgian colony which embraced a large part of the peninsula,  was visited by the same whirlwind of fire and wind that overwhelmed Peshtigo.  Here, as across the Bay, the forest fires had crept on for weeks and months, and on the same Sunday night came whirling over the Lake and Bay counties.  The Wisconsin peninsula, too, was the scene of an awesome drama.  A terrible, ten-fold wind sprang up from the southeast and fanned the smoldering fires into a mighty wave, submerging the whole peninsula into a raging sea of fire and smoke.

After weeks of fear and suspense, the hour struck and the great forest rocked and tossed simultaneously.  In one awful instant, before expectation could give way to horror, the black-curtained sky burst forth into great clouds of fire.  The day had been prophetically [sic] still; smoke and gases filled the air.  An ominous dread gripped the minds and hearts of every living creature, even the wild beasts of the forests mingled with men as both fled in terror before a great consuming roaring fire circling all within its fiery grasp.  At first the roaring blaze thundered like great cataracts among the tree-tops, but as it gained momentum, it sounded like the distant roar of the sea giving place to thunderous fury mingled with a tornado of fire.

A survivor wrote that if one could imagine the worst snow storm he ever witnessed, and each flake a coal or spark of fire driven before a terrifying wind, he would have an idea of the atmosphere at the time the fire struck.  Hundreds of families were driven from their homes, many being overtaken by the rain of fire.

Adele Brise's photo at the Shrine
'This is judgment; this is the end of the world,' was uttered by a frenzied mob dashing wildly for means of escape made impassable by fallen timber and burning bridges.  Land and sky in flames, wild confusion of the elements, while men looking on, stupefied [sic] with horror, were withering with fear.  It was indeed a terrifying spectacle.

The wide spreading track of ruin covered the greater part of the peninsula from Green Bay to Lake Michigan, and from the neighborhood of Green Bay on the south to 'Death's Door' on the north.  In the town of Green Bay, the fire entered at the southeast corner and swept on the wings of the wind to the north east.  It extended into parts of Outagamie, Kewaunee, Door, and Brown counties.  The towns of Humboldt, Green Bay, New Franken, Casco, Brussels, Rosiere, Lincoln, Robinsonville and many others were scathed with a whirlwind of flame which devoured the woods, leaped across clearings, and lopped everything inflammable in its path.  The area burned was not less than fifty miles in length and twenty average miles wide.  The burning belt widened as it advance.  Nothing could be done to stop its forward march, and the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help lay in its path.

The crucial hour had come, the hurricane of fire broke in all its fury.  Adele and her companions were faced with a momentous decision.  They were determined not to abandon Mary's shrine, and their faith in Mary's protection never faltered.  The children, the Sisters, and the farmers with their families, drove their livestock before them and raced in the direction of Mary's sanctuary.  They were now encircled by a raging inferno with no means of escape.  Looking back, they saw their buildings literally swallowed by the fiery monster.  By this time the surrounding territory was one vast sea of fire.  Awe-stricken, they thronged the Chapel grounds.  Already the Chapel was filled with terror-stricken people beseeching the Mother of God to spare them, many wailing aloud in their fright.  Filled with confidence, they entered the Chapel, reverently raised the statue of Mary, and kneeling bore it in procession around their beloved sanctuary.  When wind and fire exposed them to suffocation, they turned in another direction, and continued to hope and pray, saying the rosary.

Statues of children kneeling on the grounds of the Shrine
'Thus passed for them the long hours of that terrible night.  I know not if, supported only by nature, they would have been able to live through that awful ordeal, ' so wrote Father Pernin, hero of the 'Peshtigo Fire.'

After hours of horror and suspense, the heavens sent relief in the form of a downpour.  The fervent prayers to the Mother of God were heard.  The fire was extinguished, but dawn revealed the ravages wrought by the conflagration.  Everything about them was destroyed;  miles of desolation everywhere.  But the Convent, school, Chapel, and the five acres of land consecrated to the Virgin Mary shone like an emerald isle in a sea of ashes.  The raging fire licked the outside palings and left charred scars as mementos.  Tongues of fire had reached the Chapel fence, and threatened destruction to all within its confines - the fire had not entered the Chapel grounds."

A fire so fierce that it destroyed most everything in its path did not destroy Our Lady of Good Help.  It was 151 years after the apparition of Mary to Adele, 139 years after the miracle at Our Lady of Good Help occurred that the Roman Catholic Church finally acknowledged the visions of Adele Brise.  On December 8th, 2010 Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay announced, "I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful."

Candles lit by visitors inside the Shrine

That declaration made Our Lady of Good Help the first and only approved Marian apparition/shrine in the United States.  You can read more about the Churches declaration and the Shrine, by going to the Diocese's website here.

Within 2 weeks of the announcement my family and I were back in Green Bay visiting for the Holidays.  It is hard to convey the feeling of knowing that this happened so close to where my in-laws were.  The first Marian Shrine in our backyard.  I took my boys and my mother-in-law and we visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.  I didn't know what to expect.  The grounds were pretty, but looked like any other church.  The crypt where the statue of Mary is located, and the site of the original vision, is in the basement.  The Church built on top of it.  It is small, but I thought it beautiful.  I lit a candle to my father-in-law who had passed away earlier in the year, and to my cousin who was killed by her husband earlier in the year.  I finally lit a candle in honor of all my family's ancestors and prayed for awhile.

Crutches left behind
When I was done, and without disturbing the few others that were in the Shrine, I took out my camera and took some flashless photography to remember this place.  I took pictures of the crutches that people left behind.  Those that since 1859 came to the Shrine using crutches and left them behind as they walked away.

Our Lady of Good Help was being visited by newspapermen from the New York Times the day that we visited.  They asked my mother-in-law if she believed.  Without hesitating, she replied that she did.  A bit ridiculous if you thought about it.  Why would you visit if you didn't?  We weren't offended though.  We were glad that it was being reported on.  Glad to see that after so many years and so many people thinking Adele Brise was lying or demented that the Church acknowledged what she always knew to be true.

With everything that happened during the Great Peshtigo Fire, how could I or anyone not view what happened on that spot as anything other than miraculous!

The cemetery at the Shrine

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Another Tale from the Fire

Peshtigo Times, 06OCT1971, Sec D, Pg 8
Another story retold in the 1971 Peshtigo Times.  This family was lucky...they lost everything except each other.

"Hale One Of Fires Heaviest Losers

The largest loss of property during the fire, with the exception of the Peshtigo Company, was sustained by Levi Hale, who lost the Peshtigo House and part of its furniture, several dwellings and contents, hay, wagons, carriages, horses and cattle totalling [sic] an estimated $30,000.

Hale was a builder who rented several home in Peshtigo to other families and had built the Peshtigo House in 1859 and ran it for seven years.

After having lost all this property, he became a farmer and stock raiser on the property later known as the John Bell farm or Reber's property.  It is now owned by Ray Pavelin.  The Hale road was named after the land's original farmer -- Levi Hale.

Hale, born in Jefferson Co., N.Y. and grew up in St. Lawrence Co., came to the Menominee River during the fall of 1841.  he spent the next year prospecting in the copper mines of Lake Superior.  In 1846, his traveling brought him to Peshtigo where he followed lumbering and various kinds of work until he built the hotel.

Hannah Windross became his bride in 1856 and they had two daughters, Martha and Katherine.  She was an immigrant from England and her brother, Dr. William Windross started a medical practice in Peshtigo in 1877.

The youngest girl, called Kittie by her family, was twelve years old when the fire struck and her daughter, Mrs. Cecil Engels, of Marinette recorded the story of that family's flight from the flames.

According to that account, the quiet of the Sunday supper table was interrupted Oct. 8, 1871, when Hall suddenly excused himself and went unstairs [sic] to peer at the fire from the west window.

Peshtigo Times (Peshtigo Fire Centennial Ed) 06OCT1971, Sec D, Pg 8
'You better pack the valuables because I suspect trouble before morning.' he announced to his wife upon returning to the table.  He then went out the door to inspect the barns.

Hannah immediately began packing the dresses she had made for an anticipated trip back to her homeland.  She also grabbed a pail of over a thousand buttons which she had saved as a little girl.

But her preparations were interrupted by sudden shouts from Hale.

'Get to the creek or be burned!'

The mother and the children ran to the creek carrying what they could only to drop it when crossing the creek.

Fire was everywhere and the creek outlining the barn was their only escape.

They sat that night in the creek with large pans from the kitchen over their heads for protection from cinders.  Occasionally they lifted them to catch a breath of air.

At last morning came, and they emerged from their all-night bath, wet, cold and hungry.  They went to the stone basement of what had been their home.  Hale built a bonfire from the remains of the back fence to dry their wet clothes.

Meanwhile he went to the village to discover all his buildings were destroyed.  His consolation was that, while many of his friends had lost members of their family, he had lost none.

Descendents [sic] of Levi and Hannah Hale now living in the area include Mrs. Cecil LeBlond Engels, Marinette, Mrs. William J. Smith, Menominee, Mich., a great granddaughter, and Franklin Hodgins, Marinette, a great grandson."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Peshtigo Schoolhouse Photo

Printed in centennial edition of the Peshtigo Times, 06OCT1971, pg 6

"SCHOOL HOUSE -- This photo of the Peshtigo House of Learning was taken in 1870 -- just one year before the school and all the other occupied buildings in Peshtigo burned in the Great Fire."

It was amazing to see this picture.  And sad.  And chilling.  I sit here and wonder how many of these people survived the fire.  No names with the photo.  I can only imagine that if there were names they would have appeared with the photo.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Peshtigo - Recording the Survivors' Tales

The following is a transcription from a special centennial edition of the Peshtigo Times newspaper commemorating the Great Peshtigo Fire.  It was published in 1971 and passed on to me by my husband's family.

"Survivors Tell Of The Horrors During Dreadful Fire

Peshtigo Times Interviews Tell Of Survivors Narrow Brushes With Death

(Editor's Note:  The PESHTIGO TIMES has spent many years compiling a list of survivors, recording their experience during the fire and its effect on their later lives.  The story below is a compilation of many accounts the survivors told TIMES reporters.  Some of these people lived their entire lives in the Peshtigo area, others who moved have relatives in the area.

The largest complied [sic] list of survivors was available in 1951 just prior to the dedication of the historical marker.  At that time 44 survivors, (most in their 80s) had been located and several of them came to the ceremony.  As time passed, fewer new survivors were discovered and known survivors died.  Now, 100 years after the catastrophe, one survivor remains. Mrs. Augusta Bruce, of Stevens Point, Wis., not only lived through one of the worst disasters in the nation, but lived to reach 102 on August 4, 1971.  Several of the stories of known survivors which were published in the TIMES throughout the years are compiled and retold here.)

Memories of the crimson night of Oct. 8, 1871 did not fade despite the many years and events which passed between that night and the survivors retirement years.

The survivors, whose accounts are recorded below, were only children at the time of the fire and their memories are dependent largely on stories told to them by their parents.  For many families it was a turning point in their lives -- all property destroyed, sickness, poverty were the rewards for withstanding the night of horror.  Some could not bear to return to the area but others built new homes on the site of their first home.  Many were members of immigrant families who had come to America to homestead, seeking milk and honey.  They were pioneers and thus used to hardships so when this one came they faced it.

'Wake up!  The end of the world is coming!' the late Mrs. Amelia 'Stoney' Desrochers recalled her mother shouting.  The fire reached their home about 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, 1871.  She was five at the time of the fire.

'There had been fires all along.  The men had been fighting them.  One night a terrible wind storm came, the sky got very red.' she continued.  Then recalling her mother's prediction of the end of the world she said, 'A lot of people perished because they thought it was the end of the world.  They got tired of fighting the fire and gave up.'

But not her family.

'Mother got us up.  I put my shoes on but forgot my stockings.  When we went out the wind was blowing the sand so hard that it punched my limbs.  people told us to go to the river.  A man at the bridge ordered us to get aboard a flat-bottomed barge on the river.'

'On the way down the river, the boat caught fire on top and many jumped out and drowned.  Looking out the boat's window, I remember telling mother 'Look It's snowing fire three miles out in the bay.'

'On our way back after the fire died down we passed a place where there were many dead people laid out on blankets by the river bank.  Beside them was a little baby crying.  I'll never forget that.'

The late Mrs. Desrochers lived her entire life in the Peshtigo area.  She and another survivor Wesley Duket spent their last years int he Eklund Convalescent Home and occassionally [sic] met to reminisce.


He lived in the Sugar Bush five miles from Harmony Corners 'When balls of fire started coming down from the sky.' he said.

'My mother and father took us to the spring and wrapped us in wet quilts.  My sister saved the sewing machine by wrapping it up, too.  We had a team of oxen; one of them stayed at the spring with us and the other strayed away and burned.  We had a shed of colts and you could hear them thrashing as they burned.  My brother wanted to open the shed door but my sister was afraid he'd burn to death, too.'

'I'll never forget the next morning.  My mother and father were (temporarily) blind.  I went to see Mrs. Reinhart, our neighbor and I found her dead.  I liked her a lot and that really hurt me.  Her shawl had not completely burned and I took the corner that was left and kept it with me for many years.' said Duket.


She was only nine days old the day of the fire.  She was born in Peshtigo on Sept. 29, 1871, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lars Korstad.

Her father came from Norway in 1864 and worked to save money for his wife's passage.  She joined him three years later and they moved to Peshtigo.

Anna, the couples first child, was born at night while Lars was at work.  Their home was a one room shanty with a sawdust floor.  Sawdust was also the foundation for bedding.  Her father was a millwright for Odgen & Gardner lumber camps and mills.

The were fortunate enough to reach the river when the fire struck.

'We sat on a raft covered with a feather bed, my mother holding me and my father spilling water over the three of us as fast as he could so our clothing would not catch fire.  But mothers clothing burned nearly off her back.

'Help came from the south and even from Europe.  Each family was given $50 and free passage to any point in the U.S.  Father thought of going to California, but he chose LaCrosse.'


She was four months old at the time of the fire.  She lived with her parents and 18 month old brother on a farm six miles from Peshtigo.  Ezra Jackson, her father, was bed ridden with scarlet fever and her uncle was on the farm to help out.

'When the fire came my father was too sick to run for it and he stayed in bed until the house caught on fire and he had to run.' she recalled.

'My uncle took my brother and hurried out of the house.  My mother wrapped me in a baby blanket and told my dad to come with us.  He said we should go out onto the plowed field and hope that the fire would not reach us.'

'My uncle carried my brother with him, somewhere we didn't know. But my mother took my father's advice and hurried into the field.'

'Mother and I were saved although mother told me that my blanket caught on fire about 45 times and that she beat it out with her hands.'

'After the farm house caught on fire my father left his bed and hurried to the field to join us.'

'We were saved but my uncle and brother were lost.  My father found one of my brother's shoes and some ashes.  Most of the ashes had been blown away, but we know they were dead.' she said.

Though their farmhouse and cattle were destroyed her father rebuilt at the same site.  She lived there until she was married and moved to Green Bay.


'Dadrite' was eleven at the time of the fire, and lived in a fishing settlement, Thomaston, along the Oconto Bay Shore.  He did Nov. 17, 1957 in Dunbar at the age of 97.

'I used to come up to Peshtigo every day for the mail,' he recalled.  'I'd sail our boat to the Harbor and take the morning train up to Peshtigo, then get back home before dark.'

'It was dry, oh it was dry.  We could see the flames of Peshtigo rising above the glow of other fires that night.  It was a terrible sight.  The flames came mighty close to our home, by [sic] didn't set it afire.  My uncle lost all his buildings and the loss drove him out of his mind.'

'It was two or three days before we could get into Peshtigo after the fire -- and what a sight I remember seeing that one home standing on the east side where Bill Dolan lives now, and nothing else.  It was just being built, and only the studdings were there.'

Dadrite told of the harrowing incidents in the Harmony area, which he learned of shortly after the fire.

'Sam Woodward's experience was a tragic one.  They could see the fire coming and told their two little children to sit right by the yard fence, then ran to the road with some keepsakes.  The next morning they found the little ones still sitting there.  They must have suffocated in the terrible heat.'

Another incident Dadrite remembered illustrates the pains taken to identify the burned remains.

'A skeleton was found out near Jerral Boom, and a silver watch lay near it.  It was marked by T. A. Hay, a jeweler.  They traced Hay until he was found, and checked his watch repair records to finally identify the skeleton,' he said.

Each person experienced a slightly different series of events during the fire but for all it was a time of horror.

Grocery prices have really skyrocked [sic] since 1871.  Prices recorded in Peshtigo on July 7 of that year showed that butter was 15 cents a pound, ham, 14 cents per pound, and beans $2 per bushel."

I found it very interesting that at the end of the article they threw in information about the cost of food.  It just seemed completely out of place, but still a good reference.

The stories from this horrible night can be grim as well as inspiring.  I wish more had been published in this commemorative edition of the Peshtigo Times, but you can be sure that when I get back to Wisconsin I'll be looking through old editions trying to find other stories.  They should be passed on!