- Series: Wisconsin
- Hardcover: 251 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1 edition (August 2, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805067809
- ISBN-13: 978-0805067804
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 10.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #556,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History Hardcover – August 2, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
In American history books, October 8, 1871, marks the massive fire that consumed Chicago. But as Gess (Good Deeds) and Lutz (Doublespeak) document in this thorough historical narrative, it was also the night a fledgling Wisconsin mining town endured a worse fate a story often overlooked in the annals of fire. Peshtigo, with a population of nearly 2,000, was obliterated in less than an hour that night by a freakish convergence of rampant forest fires and tornado-force winds. Gess and Lutz draw on a wealth of local sources, including diaries, interviews with survivors and newspaper accounts, to enliven their story and forge a cast of main characters. While the authors go into far too much detail in describing the town's founding and its politics, they render a chilling, absorbing account of the hellish events of the night itself, perhaps due to Gess's background as a novelist: " `Faster than it takes to write these words' is the phrase every survivor used. They used it to describe the speed of a fireball hitting a house and setting it into instant flames; they used it to describe the speed with which one house was lifted from its foundation, then thrown through the air `a hundred feet' before it detonated midflight and sent strips of flaming wood flying like shrapnel.... They used it to describe the sight of a small boy, separated from his family, and how he knelt to the ground, crouching in prayer before fire lit his body." The images of the catastrophe are often as unpleasant as they are vivid, but readers will sense that they are necessary and that Gess and Lutz have done an overdue service to those who suffered.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
The same day as the Great Chicago Fire, October 8, 1871, a huge conflagration swept through the lumber town of Peshtigo, WI, north of Green Bay on Lake Superior. A summer's drought, a windy day, and possibly a tornado combined to create a firestorm. The fire destroyed 2400 square miles of timber and farmland, demolishing several towns and killing some 2000 people. Peshtigo was remote, and earlier fires had destroyed telegraph lines, so although the scale of the disaster was considerably larger than Chicago's, the loss was relatively little known and quickly forgotten. Novelist Gess (Red Whiskey Blues) and Lutz (English, Rutgers Univ.; Doublespeak) gather information from letters, diaries, interviews, and local newspapers to tell the story of this disaster. In increasingly overheated language, they re-create the politics, the economic realities of a lumber town, and the special meteorological circumstances that combined to destroy an area larger than Rhode Island. Despite the somewhat turgid writing, this work is mildly recommended for libraries with subject collections in fire prevention, disaster recovery, and regional history. Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
In short, a brutally fascinating nugget of American history, proving again that fact is indeed stranger, and in this case, more lurid, than fiction.
Peshtigo is a small lumber town in Wisconsin between Green Baby and Escanaba, Michigan. The fire that struck destroyed 2,400 acres and killed 1,800 people. A real firestorm! It was the worst fire in U.S. history but did not gain much attention at all in the press because it struck the same day as the "Great Chicago Fire."
The telegraph wires got knocked down by the storm before the fire hit the town so word got out through a boat captain who had to sail to Green Bay throught the storm to make an appeal for help. The book is full of human actions which, in hindsight, led to the massive fire. This story is the history of a fire in the making as well as a human history of those people killed in the storm and those few who survived.
This book is certainly worth reading, even if you have never been in Wisconsin or never hear of Peshtigo which you most likely have not
Nothng like it had been seen since the Great Fire of London in 1666. Nothing like it would be seen again until the saturation bombing of German cities by the allies in the Second World War.
People later described the approach of the fire tornado as that of a roaring earthquake that shook the ground. The 100-mile-per-hour winds tore great pines out by the roots, leaving craters 70 feet across. They tossed a locomotive like a twig. It ignited clouds of hydrogen that had been created by the forest fires and threw them to ground in great fireballs.
The heat of the tornado reached 2,000 degrees, hotter than an atomic blast. It melted railroad lines and the wheels of railroad cars and whipped sand into melted glass. It exploded buildings and threw them into the air. It sucked the water from the earth, leaving all the wells dry.
Survivors recalled seeing humans, horses, and other animals explode in flame. The tornado flattened 2,400 square miles of forest and killed 2,200 people. Most of those who survived hid in the water under the banks of rivers and streams.
Prominent in the story is the experience of the local priest, Fr. Pernin, At the last minute, he decided to rescue the Blessed Sacrament and the chalice. He dropped his key and could not find it, so he picked up the wooden tabernacle and took it outside and put it on the wagon. He raced the horse and wagon to the river as everything around them exploded in fire. He and his horse survived though both were badly burned. The next morning, he realized that all the survivors had lost relatives and everything they owned.
The survivors, most of them blind and burnt, wandered the blistering and smoldering landscape looking for the bodies of relatives and neighbors who had not been pulverized and blown away.
Only slowly did news of what happened at Pestigo reach the rest of the world. All the attention had been focused on the Chicago fire, where 300 had died. Most of the survivors who did not die of infections and disease faced a lifetime of mental withdrawal and trauma syndrome. Few of them could speak of what they had seen.