Fire

On September 24, 2017 · 0 Comments

It seemed like wildfires burned all across the American West this summer, each one worse than the other. A fire in Montana burned so long and so intensely that many nearby towns experience perpetual nightfall for days. Amazingly, the fires of 2017 stripped an area as big as the state of Maryland. For the European audience, that equated to an area about the size of Belgium or Albania. All reduced to ashes.

Twelve Mile Circle featured a number of natural disasters previously (e.g., hurricanes, floods) so why not fire? I considered pinpointing the largest fires in recorded history. However I wanted something I could mark distinctly on my index map. Maybe I could shift my attention to famous city fires instead.

First I had to get this out of my system:



You know you wanted to see it. Or maybe that was just me. Fortunately it lasts only eight seconds.


Great Fire of London


The Monument
The Monument. Photo by Gabrielle Ludlow on Flickr (cc)

The Great Fire of London in 1666 may be the most well-known. It began in the bakery of Thomas Farriner/Farynor late at night. First it spread west and then north as winds shifted. Nearly all of the original medieval part of the city went up in flames. Firefighting techniques barely existed at the time and couldn’t contain it. The main defense involved fire breaks, literally removing anything combustible before flames arrived. However, officials didn’t move quickly enough to create breaks so the fire spread far-and-wide. Reputedly very few people died even though the fire covered a sizable portion of central London. That might have been because the city government didn’t keep good records of the poor and destitute. They may have simply been incinerated. The true death toll will never be known.

Anyone who studied English History of this time period probably remembered hearing about the fire in the diary of Samuel Pepys.

So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson’s little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge…

The fire left an indelible impression. Five years later the city commissioned construction of a large Doric column near the site where the fire began on Pudding Lane. Christopher Wren designed the monument while he did the same for the reconstruction of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The column rose 62 metres (202 feet) upon completion and it still stands. Visitors can climb to the top of the Great Fire of London Monument for panoramic views of the city. (map)


Great Chicago Fire


Impact vs Chicago Fire
Impact vs Chicago Fire. Photo by abdallahh on Flickr (cc)

The most famous fire in the United States might be the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. According to popular legend — disproved long ago — the fire began when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lamp. The disaster did indeed start near the O’Leary family’s barn on an alley behind DeKoven Street (map). However, nobody knew the true cause. The story of a clumsy cow sold a lot of newspapers so it stuck.

The fire created utter devastation in downtown Chicago, consuming more than three square miles of densely-populated neighborhoods. By the end, more than a hundred thousand people lost their homes and three hundred people lost their lives. The city’s business district laid in ruins. It might have been worse except for rain on the third day. The fire finally began to burn out as it approached more sparsely-settled areas farther away from the downtown core.

As in London, the people of Chicago created a lasting memorial near the site where the fire began. The Chicago remembrance took a much more practical turn. The city constructed a training facility for the Chicago Fire Academy on the site. Firefighters now learn how to combat blazes at the place where the city’s most horrific conflagration began.

Memories of the disaster remained strong even more than a century later. The local Major League Soccer team named itself the Chicago Fire.


Great Fire of Meireki


Meireki fire
Meireki fire via Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

I’d never heard of the Great Fire of Meireki before I started researching this article although it certainly deserved a mention. Meireki referred to the Japanese imperial era when the fire took place, specifically its third year, 1657. That put it just a few years before the Great Fire of London. This one also brought a capital to its knees, the city of Edo, now known as Tokyo. Its legendary origin put the Chicago story to shame. Supposedly the blaze began when a priest attempted to burn a cursed kimono. Actually, nobody knew how it started although the spot traced to somewhere within the Hongo district (map).

Edo suffered through an extended drought leading up to the fire, leaving buildings tinderbox dry. Wooden homes clustered tightly along narrow streets became the perfect fuel. High winds that day fanned flames widely throughout the city. Up to seventy percent of the Edo burned before the fire finally subsided. Perhaps a hundred thousand people died.

Even More Spooky

On September 17, 2017 · 0 Comments

It served me right for trying to guess what might please the Twelve Mile Circle audience. Longtime readers know that I’ve never been able to do that in the past even after all these years of trying. I probably should have waited until closer to Halloween. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this series — the exact locations of events even more than the stories themselves — and I still had a few spooky places on my mind. Bear with me one more time and then we’ll return to our regular content.

Typhoid Mary


Riverside Hospital
Riverside Hospital. Photo by reivax on Flickr (cc)

One doesn’t hear much about Typhoid Fever in the Western world anymore. This bacterial infection causes fever, headaches, body pains, weakness and rashes in its most virulent form. It might take weeks or months to fully recover. Sometimes it even kills. Typhoid practically disappeared when society started focusing on cleanliness and once antibiotics became the norm.

Some people appeared asymptomatic. They carried and spread typhoid without suffering any ill effects. That condition befell Mary Mallon, and Irish immigrant who lived in and around New York City. She cooked for several wealthy families and she didn’t believe in washing her hands before handling food. Good cooks found easy employment so she simply left each family after they contracted the disease and the cycle repeated. Outbreaks followed her several times as she switched to different families between 1900 and 1907. Authorities finally tracked her down and quarantined her at Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island (map). The hospital sat within eyesight of New York City, safely separated from the general population by the East River. Newspapers dubbed her "Typhoid Mary" and the name stuck.

Mary disavowed all responsibility and refused to be tested. Even so, the hospital released her after three years, stipulating that she must never work as a cook again. She kept that promise for a few years. Then she changed her name to Mary Brown and started cooking once again. The previous pattern of typhoid infections followed her. Once again authorities tracked her down and quarantined her, this time for life. Mary remained at Riverside Hospital from 1915 to 1938 until she died at a ripe old age… of pneumonia.


The Headless Horseman


A Ride in the Hollow
A Ride in the Hollow. Photo by Jessie Hodge on Flickr (cc)

The Headless Horseman starred in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," a short story published by Washington Irving in 1820. In this fictional account, the schoolmaster Ichabod Crane and his nemesis Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt both sought the favor of the same young woman, Katrina Van Tassel. She dashed Ichabod’s hopes one evening at a party at her home.

Crane left dejected, riding on horseback through spooky woods thought to be haunted by a headless horseman. According to the legend, a Hessian soldier fighting in the American Revolution lost his head to a cannonball and he wanted it back. The spectral figure chased Crane through the eerie forest, as Crane raced towards a bridge at the Old Dutch Burying Grounds that supposedly marked safety. The ghost threw his decapitated head towards a terrified Crane. The next day they found his horse and a splattered pumpkin, but Crane was never seen again. The story implied that Brom Bones played on Crane’s superstitions and orchestrated the whole thing to get rid of him.

Of course, Washington Irving created the story as a fictional work. However he used a real setting. Sleepy Hollow existed as did legends of a headless spirit wandering there. Irving lived nearby so he set the story in a familiar place. The area came to be known as North Tarrytown. It fell on hard times long afterwards as the 20th Century wound down and a local General Motors factory closed. That’s when the village voted to change its name back to Sleepy Hollow to hopefully draw more tourists and help the local economy. They also erected a sculpture of the Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane near the spot where the bridge stood in the story (map).


Jack the Ripper


Ten Bells, Spitalfields, E1
Ten Bells, Spitalfields, E1. Photo by Ewan Munro (cc)

Jack the Ripper terrorized Whitechapel in the East End of London for three months of 1888. The serial killer victimized prostitutes in slums, cutting throats, slicing abdomens and removing organs from bodies. As in the case of Typhoid Mary, an overly-competitive press in search of lurid headlines seized upon the story and sensationalized it to the point of frenzy. Numerous deaths were attributed to the killer, and dozens of theories spun from the imaginations of armchair detectives during the next century and beyond. Nonetheless, only five murders could be attributed to Jack the Ripper with any degree of certainty. These became known as the "canonical five" in the parlance of those who studied such things.

Much of Jack the Ripper’s London went the way of the wrecking ball a long time ago. However, a pub called The Ten Bells included a tenuous connection to two victims of the canonical five, Annie Chapman and Mary Jane Kelly. It still exists (map). Annie may have patronized the pub on the morning of her murder; and Mary Jane supposedly attracted clients on the street outside its doors.


Mothman


Mothman
Mothman. Photo by jmnecrikt on Flickr (cc)

A strange creature tormented residents near Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966 and 1967. It flew low over the treetops, a devilish figure with outstretched wings they dubbed Mothman. Allegedly it followed cars, killed farm animals and generally harassed and scared locals in a rural area outside of town near an old TNT plant. Then, on December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River that connecting Point Pleasant to Ohio collapsed. It happened during the evening when many people were returning home from work. Forty six people died. Witnesses claimed Mothman sightings that same evening and many locals blamed the creature for the tragedy. Some also claimed an appearance of a mysterious Man in Black soon thereafter, and speculated Mothman might be an alien connected to UFO sightings.

Encounters seemed to curtail although the old stories became the basis of a book called the The Mothman Prophecies in 1975 and a film of the same name in 2002. Point Pleasant loves its Mothman too. Entrepreneurs there erected a statue (map), opened a museum and started an annual Mothman Festival. Someday, as I finish my county counting efforts in West Virginia, I will stop there and see if I can spot Mothman myself.

Cigarette Hill

On July 16, 2017 · 1 Comments

I focused attention on unusual street names awhile ago. That theme played itself out over time so I left it behind for the most part. However, every once in awhile, I came across something interesting enough to mention on Twelve Mile Circle. This time it appeared in Texas. What was it about Texas? Once I found a subdivision with streets named after South Park characters. This time I found something stuck in an even earlier period of time, probably the 1940’s or 1950’s. Cigarettes had a positive image back then. Sometimes advertisers even promoted alleged health benefits (e.g., "More Doctors Smoke Camels than Any Other Brand"). In that context, perhaps, a subdivision with streets named for cigarette brands might have seemed like a good idea.

Cigarette Hill



Cigarette Hill; Dallas, Texas

Imagine the possibilities. One could live on Pall Mall Avenue, Camel Court, or Kool Avenue. Lucky Street seemed to be a stand-in for Lucky Strike. Maybe Durham referenced Bull Durham tobacco. I also spotted a Fatima Avenue. I’d never heard of Fatima cigarettes although they used to be quite popular. Liggett & Myers launched the brand in 1913 to capitalize on the popularity of Turkish tobacco. Fatima faded as the century progressed. It disappeared completely by the 1980’s.

The neighborhood earned a name, Cigarette Hill.


Hard Times on Cigarette Hill



Cigarette Hill stuck in a time warp just like the vintage cigarette brands of its street names. Its residents lived in poverty with a median household income of less than $15,000 in 2014. It also became a highly segregated neighborhood with an overwhelmingly (88.6%) African American population.

Ripple Road also traversed Cigarette Hill. Perhaps it existed as a coincidence or perhaps not. Ripple was an old type of a particularly nasty, cheap fortified wine. The television character Fred Sanford (played by Redd Foxx) considered Ripple his favorite drink. It gained "a reputation as a drink for alcoholics and the destitute."

By 2008, the City of Dallas recognized that Cigarette Hill and the larger Lancaster Corridor needed help. The local NBC television station reported on the situation that led to a Community Revitalization Plan.

…the neighborhood in the middle of the City of Dallas seems like a piece of old rural Texas. Residents complain the neighborhood has been overlooked for decades with no sidewalks, no storm sewers, few streetlights, and overgrown roads to name just a few problems… The Cigarette Hill area is very close to other Southern Dallas neighborhoods that have proper lighting, wider streets and complete sidewalks.

Still, it held a lot of promise. Cigarette Hill had ready access to employment centers and a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) rail station. It also offered scenic views from its elevated position. Revitalization efforts still continue.


Cigarettes in Sterling Heights



Sterling Heights, Michigan

I found another cigarette subdivision in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Residents there could choose from Camel, Pall Mall, Parliament, Winston, Newport and Viceroy Drives. Ironically, it also included a Tarry drive (which by one definition meant "covered with tar"). I supposed a street surrounded by cigarettes would eventually become tarry as a result. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything else about this neighborhood beyond its themed street names. It seemed from Google Street View that the houses probably dated from the 1950’s or 1960’s based on their architecture.


Pall Mall


Pall Mall
Pall Mall Circa 1900. Reproduced by Leonard Bentley on Flickr (cc)

I found myself with a little extra room left in this article. Maybe I should take a look at one of those old-timey cigarette brands. What inspired the naming of Pall Mall I wondered?

The mystery solved itself pretty quickly. Pall Mall is a street in London, England (map). It connected St. James’s Street to Trafalgar Square, running past St. James’s Square. The 18th Century brought a lot of wealthy people to Pall Mall who lived in ornate mansions there. It also became known for art galleries and auctioneers. It didn’t take a lot of effort to see why a cigarette brand would emulate its name. Obviously it wanted to trade on the high-class status of London’s Pall Mall, a good bit removed from its later namesake on Cigarette Hill.

Reaching back farther, the street got its name from a lawn game. Pall mall — the game — grew in popularity during 16th Century. Later it evolved into croquet. The street ran along an area that once hosted a popular pall mall field. First came the game, then came the street, then came the cigarette brand, and finally the cigarette-themed neighborhoods.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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