Saturday, April 18, 2009
Saturday Rambling: 'O'Death' and The Peshtigo Fire of 1871
This week I saw an article from Rolling Stone highlighting a few bluegrass acts worth checking out. If you read the article, the first group mentioned is one named, O'Death. I was initially interested because I like bluegrass music but even more so after realizing the band is based in my home borough of Brooklyn. So are a lot of acts though. What inspired this post is the fact that O'Death has a tune about the Peshtigo Fire.
This is of personal significance because I have been to Peshtigo, Wisconsin and visited the Peshtigo Fire Museum there. It has been some time since that visit, but this tune reminds me of family vacations that included random stops such as Peshtigo.
All that aside, the 1871 fire that engulfed Peshtigo and an enormous area of Northeast Wisconsin remains our country's most deadly blaze. The story of The Peshtigo Fire is often overlooked as it occurred on the same date as the much more widely known Chicago Fire, but the details of the Peshtigo blaze are nothing short of amazing. Between 1200 and 2500 people died in the fire. An accurate death toll being impossible to calculate as a dozen entire communities were consumed along with their local population records. The gruesome details of a firestorm such as this are hard to fathom. A description from Denise Gess and William Lutz's recent Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History, "Here's a wall of flame, a mile high, five miles (8 km) wide, traveling 90 to 100 miles (200 km) an hour, hotter than a crematorium, turning sand into glass." Many that survived the firestorm did so by seeking refuge in the Peshtigo River and other bodies of water. Many that attempted to do so though drowned or were boiled alive in the intense heat.
I need to pick up that book. You can too here.
In the meantime have a listen to the tune that inspired the history lesson.
O'Death - Fire On Peshtigo - Buy Album