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Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA


By The Associated Press.
MILWAUKEE, Wis., Oct. 29. - In the great fire which swept over this city for ten hours last night forty-six acres of business and residence property, valued at $6,000,000, were burned, upward of 3,000 persons were made homeless, and four lives were lost...

At 3 o'clock this morning the fire was under control and practically out. The territory burned out is in the shape of a slightly obtuse triangle, with the apex at Blade & Co.'s on the river, one side Detroit Street, another Menominee Street to Milwaukee Street and then to the Milwaukee River, and the base Lake Michigan. Roughly, it is a space two-thirds of a mile wide and three-quarters of a mile long.

The most brilliant feature of the conflagration was the burning of the towering elevator and malthouses of the Hanson Malt Company. The elevator, after smoking from the upper windows, suddenly burst into flames, and from the lower windows to the top of the high ventilating house it was all ablaze. As a heavy blast of wind struck it the flames swept clear across the street, and in an instant the malthouse proper, with its tall tower, broke out in spots of flickering fire. The elevator was so strongly built that it maintained its form long after the hottest period was past, and from the lower floors the burning grain poured into the street like the downpour of Niagara.

Then from the windows of the large malthouse and from the caves came jets of bright green flame - gas from the heated malt. It was not long before the entire building was ablaze and the roar was tremendous. A large ventilating wheel in the upper story was burning and whirling away like a huge St. Catherine's wheel.

The scenes along Buffalo Street when the fire was just beginning to sweep that thoroughfare were exciting in the extreme. The residents came rushing from their houses to gaze upon the mountains of flame which were rolling down upon them, many of them not seeming to think that the fire would come near to them. They had in many instances scarcely time to change their minds on the subject. With the speed of a race horse the flames come on, and then the man who had thought his house was safe could catch a glimpse of it wrapped in flame as he fled around the nearest corner.

In one place an old man was seen desperately tugging at some furniture, trying to get it through the front door. A passing fireman hurried to his aid, and by the time he had reached the doorway the street behind him was filled with fire, and both men narrowly escaped through the rear door. In some places people were more fortunate, that is, they managed to have their household goods consumed upon the sidewalks or in the gutter instead of in their houses. Many were forced to drop their parcels and run for their lives.

One little tow-headed tot fled frantically along Buffalo Street directly in advance of the approaching fire, which was going twenty feet to her one. Clasped tightly within her tiny fists she held a man's silk hat. As she fled sobbing and screaming down the street a big policeman made a dash for her and gathering her up ran into an alley.

Near the corner of Milwaukee and Buffalo Streets was a little frame cottage upon the porch of which a man was standing as the Associated Press correspondent came by. "I have just paid for it and furnished it," he said, "and she's done for now."

"Can't you save anything?"

"What good will it do for me to try? Do you think I could ever carry it safe out of that?" pointing to the red rush of flames which was already at hand.

"This is all I have saved," said a young fellow to the reporter, as he pulled from his pocket a pair of gold bracelets. "Last night I had a house, and it was full of furniture, too. This is all I can show for it now. I heard somebody in the street call out that the fire had got beyond Rud & Kip's and I stepped out into the street to see. Before I could turn around the fire was on me. I made on wild rush back into the house to see what I could get, and this was all I had time to snatch up. Even then I had to jump out of the window and run for it. I have heard people talk about the speed with which fire can travel, but I never thought that one could go anything like this. It was awful.

"When I looked at it first it was three squares away, and before I could draw my breath, almost, it was over my head. Fortunately my wife was not at home. She never would have got away if she had been."

At the extreme south end of the fire-swept district was enacted with were, perhaps, the most thrilling scenes of the entire night. It was here that freight houses, roundhouse, and freight cars of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway were situated. When it became evident that no human power could prevent the flames from sweeping the city clear to the lake, the railroad men made desperate efforts to save what they could of the company's property.

A switch engine was run across the bridge and coupled to a train. Before a move could be made the fire had swept directly across the tracks and, fastening upon the cars nearest the bridge, began its march onward. The engine gave a jerk, the brakemen threw themselves flat upon the tops of the cars to avoid inhaling the flames, and the running of the fiery gantlet was made. The engine and most of the cars passed through safely, but some of them caught fire.

The engineer endeavored to drag his blazing train off the south side, but the police were upon him and compelled him to push back the burning train into the flames from which he had drawn it. There was nothing else to do, for to leave the cars to the south of the river meant danger and possible destruction to a portion of the city hitherto untouched. Once more the men went back into the furnace and dragged out a train of cars. Once more it caught fire. They pushed them back to be consumed. Again and again they made the attempt, now and then saving a few cars, but oftener losing them all. It was a gallant and desperate thing to do, and the brave fellows stuck to their work as long as there was the chance of saving a single car.

As soon as the sun was fairly above the horizon to-day the people who had fled last night for their lives came swarming back to find out what they had saved, or rather what had been left for them. The expression on the faces of many of them as they looked out over the fire-swept space which had twelve hours earlier been a busy and populous district would have been ludicrous if it had not been tragic.

A type of the desolation and hardship which the fire wrought is the case of Henry Wolaher, who conducted a sausage factory on Buffalo Street. He was worth $1,200 over and above his debts last night at sunset. When it was light this morning his worldly assets were the clothes he had upon his back, two keys, and one cuff button - nothing else. He stood this morning looking down into one of the holes which marked where a house had once stood and remarked:

"It does not seem possible that a man can get so poor so quickly. Last night I had a good business, owned my house, barn and wagons. Now I have not one penny in the world, and this is all I have with which to begin life over again." and he pulled from his pocket the keys and cuff button. "Last Spring," he continued, "my wife talked me into dropping my insurance, and I did it. Last night I had in the house $150 in cash, and now I cannot buy a single loaf of bread, or ride on a street car. When I saw the fire coming I grabbed the $150 and gave it to my wife, telling her to run with it. She got excited and threw it on the bed and picked up my old overcoat and ran away with that. There is where the bed stood." and the man's eyes ran over as he pointed to a twisted mass of springs which lay in the black hole before him. "We had no chance to do anything but look and run." he continued. "We got out, but that was all."

One buxom woman who gave her name as Wilhelmina Norren, sat beside the place where she lived yesterday and viewed complacently the total absence of anything of her worldly goods which can be of use to her hereafter. "I don't care," she said; "I saved my piano. Me and my brother, we saw the fire coming, and I told him that we must get my piano out. He said he wanted to save something that was some good, but I made him help me. My piano had casters on it and it was not large, and we just shoved it along. It's over there, now," waving her hand toward a partly-demolished house a square and a half away. And there it was, somewhat blistered as to sides and back, but in good condition still.

The Chicago and Northwestern had a big gang of men at work in their yards this morning to clear away the wreckage. The view to the east of the warehouse, where something like 400 cars were consumed, resembles nothing so much as gigantic brush heaps. Trucks of the cars are standing on tracks, lying across them and between them. How the heavy iron things ever got into such positions cannot be imagined, unless one accepts the explanation of a brakeman who swears that he saw the flames "life them up and fling them around." However that may be, they are certainly piled up in endless confusion. In many places the steel rails, which were spiked to the ties, were warped so badly that they must be replaced, and here and there east of the warehouse are spots where the ties have been almost burned out from under the rails.

The only cargo that showed up after the fire had done its work was one of Hubbard squashes. They came through without being totally destroyed, but they were exceedingly well done. It will be several days before the Northwestern can do more than guess at the extent of the damage it has suffered.

Nothing remains of Hansen's malthouse but the walls and two immense piles of well-cooped grain, most of which will be a total loss. The other business houses saved absolutely nothing beyond the contents of their vaults, and in some instances not even that.

Several hundred business men assembled at the Chamber of Commerce at 9 o'clock this morning to take prompt action to relieve the sufferers. President Bacon said money would be necessary, but, first of all, temporary quarters for the homeless were needed, and these must be provided immediately. Subscriptions were called for, and within twenty minutes nearly $50,000 was raised.

Mr. Bacon announced that a committee ought to be appointed at once to see that the total of the subscriptions be raised to $100,000, and a committee of twelve, with Mr. Bacon as Chairman, was selected. The committee will hold meetings every morning and afternoon until the work is finished.

There are now so many hundred people homeless that it was decided to open the doors to the Exposition Building for their accommodation. The Third Ward school building was the principal place of refuge for the homeless families early last night, but later on they scattered, and were for the most part taken in by kind-hearted neighbors. Some went to the Northwestern Station and others to the St. John's Cathedral, and tired little ones slept there curled up on the pew cushions.

The people of Milwaukee have as yet made no special call for aid, and it is as yet undecided whether or not they will do so. Mayor P. J. Somers said, "Of course, we would like to take care of these people as well as we can without troubling outsiders, but they need clothing, bedding, and food; they need it badly, and they need it now. The main thing is to call for them speedily, and the more help we have the better we can do this. We will be more than grateful, I assure you, for any help that our neighbors can extend to us. Milwaukee had always been generous to people in distress, and while we make no claims upon anybody, we will be highly pleased to receive any aid they see fit to give."

The New York Times
New York, New York
October 30, 1892

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