The Great Lakes Northwoods are frequently in use as a summer and fall getaway. Natural beauty abounds here. It, unfortunately, conceals a tragic chapter in the country’s history and a Bible was found open is one of the few objects to survive Wildfires, the worst of which ravaged a little village in America’s dairy country.
The fires left the town charred to the extent where it was difficult to imagine that town ever existed there. The conflagration spared only a few pieces of broken china and a tabernacle. A Bible did as well. The Bible was scorched by the fire and petrified by the tremendous heat, yet it was discovered intact and opened to Psalms 106 and 107.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” the beginning of Psalm 106 and 107 reads. It serves as a reminder of a dark chapter in American history almost 150 years ago, the country’s deadliest fire. A swiftly approaching fire overtook the little town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, a lumber boomtown in America’s dairyland, on the night of October 8, 1871. The fire ripped across town at breakneck speed, spewing ferocious flames and plumes of heavy smoke.
You can’t work at this museum and not feel the pain
Horrific sounds engulfed the air under an ominous orange sky that night as chaos ensued. The fire ravaged 2,400 square miles – an area nearly the size of Delaware – in about an hour, incinerating everything in its path, including countless settlements and villages. A series of flames raged across areas of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan over 48 hours beginning on October 8. They remain among the deadliest disasters in American history.
“You can’t work at this museum and not feel the pain that these people must have gone through,” Kahl, a lifelong Peshtigo resident, told Naftel. “I can’t.” “The residents got [the fire] out and everybody celebrated,” she says. “All of a sudden they noticed the sky is not grey anymore. It’s orange and red. They knew something was coming. Then the wind started and they heard an awful noise like a train was coming,” she adds.
A local town minister, Reverend Peter Pernin, wrote an eyewitness account of what it was like to live through and survive the horror of that night. The incident was not reported to government officials in Wisconsin’s capital for several days, informs Kahl. However, when Francis Fairchild, the wife of Wisconsin governor Lucius Fairchild, learned of the tragedy, aid began to arrive for people in need.
The incident continues to resonate with visitors to the Peshtigo Museum to this day
Meteorologists explain that a long period of drought, fierce winds and high temperatures all create fuel for flames — dry trees, leaves and grass. “A powerful area of low pressure in the Plains ushered strong southwesterly winds. They gusted up to 50 mph in some areas, fanning the already ongoing fires and hot spots,” Geoff Cornish explains. “It became common for weather observers to write down daily weather data. Such as high and low temps, precipitation amounts and descriptions of the sky,” Cornish says.
A biblical-scale disaster that left a petrified Bible behind, revealing a chapter about a severe fire. “When men in the camp were jealous of Moses and Aaron, the holy one of the Lord, the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered the company of Abiram. Fire also broke out in their company. The flame burned up the wicked,” Psalm 107 reads in part. Recounting a tale of a people’s fading faith in God.
The meaning of those Psalms and that chapter being immortalized by that horrible fire is debatable. Whether it is anything more or a mere coincidence no one knows. What is undeniable, however, is that what those folks endured that night. The incident continues to resonate with visitors to the Peshtigo Museum to this day.
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