October 8, 1871: The Demon in the Gale

Tinder by Kevin Ryan

Tinder by Kevin Ryan

A sky of flame, of smoke a heavenful, the earth a mass of burning coals, the mighty trees, all works of man between and living things trembling as a child before a demon in the gale. To those who have seen, the picture needs no painting.”
-a history of Sanilac County

The Chicago Fire of 1871 which started on October 8th gets (justifiably) a great deal of attention, but something that is not as well known is the fact that it was only one of a number of major fires across the Midwest that burned millions of acres in October of 1871 and caused over 1200 deaths. Michigan was dealt grievous blows from “The Fiery Fiend” as fires swept across the state, wiping out or endangering entire cities, towns and villages including Holland, Manistee, Grand Rapids, South Haven and Port Huron doing millions of dollars worth of property damage and killing hundreds.

It’s probably impossible for us to fathom what the threat of fire was like in those days. This brief excerpt from a terrifying account account of the burning of Manistee might give a glimmer:

…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.

Read more of these amazing journal style entries from the history of Manistee County. The cause of these fires has been given as a hot dry summer, too many leavings from timbering operations and of course Mrs. O’Leary’s firebug of a cow. There is an interesting theory, however, that the root cause was the earth passing through the tail of a comet. You can read all about it at The Comet and the Chicago Fire where it’s noted that even a steamship passing the Manitou Islands in Lake Michigan noted that they too were on fire.

Kevin took this back in 2009 at a firefighter training in Grand Haven. See more in his Other gallery on Flickr.

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Sunset on Summer 2020

Summer Glow - Manistee by Stacy Niedzwiecki

Summer Glow – Manistee by Stacy Niedzwiecki

Here’s hoping that you get a chance to enjoy some of Michigan’s gorgeous scenery this Labor Day Weekend & also that it’s the LAST lost summer for a state that relies so heavily on tourism & travel & fun in sun!

Stacy took this back in 2008 on Labor Day Weekend. See more in her Michigan BLUE Summer album on Flickr & visit her website for more great work!

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Over the river … and over the woods

crossing-over-by-terryjohnston

Crossing Over, photo by Terry Johnston

Here’s hoping that everyone has a safe journey this Thanksgiving. The Freep reports that Thanksgiving 2016 is shaping up to be a busy one for holiday travel:

AAA says it expects that more than 1.5 million people in Michigan will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving holiday.

The auto club says Tuesday it would be the most travelers since 2007 and a 2 percent increase from last year. Reasons cited include improvements in the economy during the second half of the year, including rising wages, increased consumer spending and consumer confidence.

Check Terry’s photo which was coincidentally taken back in November 2007 bigger and view more in his Manistee slideshow.

Morning Light at the Manistee Pierhead Light

Manistee Lighthouse

Manistee Morning Light, photo by Heather Higham

Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light has an extensive entry on the history of the Manistee Pierhead Light with copious information and historical photos. Terry goes deep on Manistee’s history as a lumber port:

Although the first sawmill had been established on the banks of the Manistee in 1841, settlement in the area was not widespread until the Chippewa relinquished their reservation by treaty in 1849, and the federal government offered lands along the Manistee for public sale. It did not take lumber interests long to realize the incredible potential of the Manistee which snaked a hundred miles into the forests, and lumbermen soon began lobbying for federal funding to improve the harbor and to erect a lighthouse at the river mouth. With no appropriation forthcoming, the businessmen of Manistee took the matter into their own hands, erecting a pair of short stub piers at the river mouth in an attempt to stem the deposition of sand and silt.

In 1861, Congress instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to dispatch an Engineer Officer to Manistee to conduct a survey of the river entrance. Water depth in the opening between the piers was found to be from seven to eight feet, and a 250-foot long sand bar with a water depth of less than five feet above it was identified 600 feet off the end of the piers.

…To serve this burgeoning maritime commerce, the piers were extended an additional 150 feet in 1875, and the channel between them dredged to a minimum depth of ten feet. With the main light now standing a considerable distance to the rear of the pierheads, the decision was made to replace the shore light on the north bank with a pierhead beacon on the outer end of the longer south pier. Click to view enlarged image The new south pierhead light consisted of a timber-framed pyramidal beacon typical of the type being erected on pierheads throughout the Great Lakes. With its lower half open, the upper half immediately below the gallery was enclosed to provide a small service room for lamp maintenance. Equipped with windows, the service room also served as a sheltered area in which the keeper could stand watch during inclement weather. Standing 27 feet in height, the beacon was capped with a square gallery with iron handrails and an octagonal cast iron lantern installed at its center.

Read on for a whole lot more.

About the photo, Heather writes:

I still can’t believe I managed to drag myself out of bed this morning. There were 8 minutes of pink light – and a stunning sunrise to the east that I completely ignored – followed by about 90 minutes of interesting (if not sunrise) light.

View it bigger, see more in her Lighthouses slideshow and definitely add Snap Happy Gal Photography to your Facebook follows!

More Michigan Lighthouses and more sweet sunrises on Michigan in Pictures.

Michigan Movie Moment: Christopher Lloyd, Mickey Matson and the City of Milwaukee

Christopher Lloyd on the City of Milwaukee

Christopher Lloyd on the City of Milwaukee, photo courtesy Mickey Matson/10 West

While Michigan hasn’t become the movie mecca that was envisioned when the state created its film incentive – in large part because it was abruptly gutted – movies are still being made here. Pirate’s Code: The Adventures of Mickey Matson, was filmed in Manistee and Muskegon and premiers October 16 at the Grand Rapids Public Museum to kick off their 160th year. If you click that link, you can check out the movie trailer! It’s opening weekend of their new exhibition “Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship.”

Here’s a production skill showing Christopher Lloyd, one of the film’s stars, on the pilot deck of the SS City of Milwaukee, a car ferry that is now a museum in Manistee that plays a big role in the film.

View the photo bigger and see more and learn more about the movie at the Mickey Matson Facebook page.

PS: Every Friday & Saturday night in October, the City of Milwaukee does a really cool haunted Ghost Ship that’s a blast!