Where They Went To See The Future

The story of Chicago in the nineteenth century is the story of the making of America, Donald L. Miller says. A new PBS documentary based on a book he wrote shows why.

Donald Miller has never lived in Chicago, and he never thought of writing about it until he started noticing the curious ways its formative years reminded him of the flowering of Renaissance Florence. But once he got immersed in it he produced City of the Century , a sweeping history of the city from its earliest beginnings until after the 1893 world’s fair. The book was a prize-winning bestseller.

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Match Safes

Once you’ve discovered fire, you have to keep it from burning you. This is how it was managed before the safety match.

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The Flames Of Hell Gate

Her life preservers weighted with scrap-iron, her lifeboats mere decoration, the excursion steamer General Slocum left New York’s Third Street pier at 9:30 on the morning of June 15,1904, with thirteen-hundred picknickers bound for a Long Island beach. Less than an hour later, she was afire.

June in Middle Village—a time of flowers. Along block after block in that quiet section of Queens in New York, front yards glow with their colors. Roses by the thousands, the tens of thousands. And in the Lutheran Cemetery on the community’s southern fringe, sixty-one red carnations, one for each of the unidentified dead in New York’s worst disaster. Their anonymous bodies lie together in what is known as the Great Grave.Read more »

The Hinckley Fire

All through the late spring and summer of 1894 a haze of woodsmoke hung over the town of Hinckley in Pine County, Minnesota. Small fires burned unheeded in the cutover timberlands throughout the county, throughout the whole eastern part of the state. In mid-July, section gangs of the St. Paul & Duluth Railroad were out fighting fires north and south of Hinckley, and they succeeded in getting the flames under control before the right-of-way was damaged. At about the same time, a correspondent for a St.Read more »

’Twas Was The Night Before Christmas…

When up on the roof there arose such a clatter That Herbert rushed out to see what was the matter

On Christmas morning of 1929 Fire Marshal C. G. Achstetter of Washington, D.C., commenced the tedious paperwork that follows a $135,000 fire. Reaching for his office form, “Fire Marshal’s Record of Fire,” he noted that it had been a hard month: 779 fires to date in 1929, and this most recent one was number 162 in December alone. Read more »