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It commenced about half-past twelve-noon. It was communicated to an ice house, from a fire built in the yard of a frame building, at the south east corner of Second and Ferry streets, for the purpose of heating wash water. The engines were on the ground promptly, and manned by as noble companies of firemen as can be found in any city ; but a deficiency of water deprived them of the mastery over the raging element, which would have been achieved in a few minutes, could a supply have been obtained. The buildings in the immediate neighborhood were mostly frame-very dry and combustible. The fire soon crossed Second street-communicated to the cotton manufactory of James Woods, which, in a few minutes, was enveloped in flames, with all the stock and machinery. A desperate effort was made by the firemen to arrest the fire at the brick house adjoining this large building; but all human effort was powerless—the flames increased with the increasing wind, which now became a hurricane, blowing from the south west, and carried the fire to the roofs of numerous buildings in a few minutes. A dense mass of human beings now thronged the streets and avenues in the neighborhood of the fire-the roofs were covered with men and women, faithfully plying water from buckets, to extinguish the falling fire; but the course of the raging element was onward. It soon reached Water street-spread furiously to Market street, widening in its course, until it reached Wood street, where it extended in width, from the Monongahela river to Diamond alley, acquiring an intensity of heat without a parallel. Fire-proof buildings, as they were supposed to be; fire-proof iron safes, as they were denominated, proved utterly inadequate to defend against the accumulating heat. Efforts to remove goods were rendered almost powerless by the crowded state of the streets, and many who succeeded in removing their effects, placed them in the road of the fire. Some, who removed their goods three times, had them finally burnt; and many who were assisting their friends in the lower part, returned to the burning remains of their own houses in the upper part of the city, so rapidly did the fire progress after it reached Wood street. At this point, it threatened the steamboats, which were moved out into the river; the Monongahela bridge immediately took fire, on which large quantities of goods had been deposited, and in ten minutes and a half from the time it caught, every arch fell into the river, creating a smoke and steam, almost suffocating to those who were near it. The wind then changed to the west, and drove the flames, in one broad, unbroken sheet, horizontally, so as to fire almost every thing in its course up the Monongahela river, until the work of destruction ceased for want of fuel, having reached the terminus of Kensington, a suburb of the city ; covering nearly sixty acres, in its destructive course. By the force of the heat, the fire was gradually spreading side ways towards the north, when the wind suddenly changed to that point, and drove the heat towards the river, and prevented farther damage. The public buildings destroyed, were : Philo Hall, occupied by the Mayor and City Police, Board of Trade, and Philological Institute; the Bank of Pittsburg, supposed to be fire proof; Union Meeting House ; Baptist Meeting House ; Methodist Meeting House, for colored ed people ; Western University; Scotch Hill Market House, and injuring the Gas Works considerably. The Monongahela House, Merchants’, American, and many smaller hotels, were consumed—the first named being covered with a metal roof. Individual losses were, in some instances, as high as two hundred thousand dollars.
From the best information I can obtain, there were about eleven hundred buildings destroyed, about five millions dollars worth of property consumed, and near sixty acres of ground burnt over, nearly two-thirds of which has since been built upon; and, in most instances, the buildings are better than those that were destroyed. The greater portion of the damage was done from two to five o'clock. No language can fully describe the scene that passed during those three hours. I was just recovering from a protracted illness, and unable to work; but was calm and collected, except for a few moments, when I had reason to fear my wife had perished in the flames. The exhibition of human nature, under the fiery ordeal, was various—in some instances, painful to behold—in others, such as to induce a smile in the midst of despair. Almost every moment, some one would be carried by where I sat, who was sick, had fainted, or had been injured. Some stood, serene as a summer morning; others shed floods of tears ; others screamed, whilst the hyena and jackall thieves were freely and industriously helping themselves to goods that had been saved from the fire. The roar of the conflagration, and the consternation of the multitude, forced upon my imagination that more awful scene—the last and terrible day of the Lord, when the elements shall melt with fervent heat.
I observed some throwing looking glasses and crockery from the upper stories into the streets, to save them ; many crying for help, too much agitated to help themselves. One gentleman, hearing a lady crying bitterly, wringing her hands in agony, went to her aid—when she exclaimed, “Do save my Mary in the second story!” He rushed through the flames for her child, as he supposed, when lo! her Mary proved to be a pet cat! The lady had displayed her tenderness for puss, and the gentleman his courage, gallantry, and humanity. He kicked the cat and cursed its mistress, and did not again risk his life for any of the feline ladies. A volume might be written, relating hair-breadth escapes; feats of courage and of folly; presence of mind, and the reverse, which would interest the reader; but which would too much encumber this book.
It is remarkable, and should inflame our hearts with gratitude, that no more lives were lost. But eleven are known to have perished in the flames. The time of day and time of year, were evident and striking tokens of mercy, mingled with this awful calamity.Had it occurred at the same hour of night, thousands, especially children, must have perished; and had it been in the midst of a severe winter, the amount of suffering would have been incalculable.
With the magnificent donations that were promptly forwarded, and the energy of the inhabitants, all bent on amassing wealth, the effects of the fire have measurably passed off; and many are in better circumstances than they were before they were burnt out.
Here is my throne, my kingdom is this breast,
Men or women who make a throne of vanity, a kingdom of self, and feast on the volatile breath of sycophants; are like a balloon, nothing will inflate them and cause them to rise, but the gas of flattery; any thing solid operates upon them with a centripetal force. When inflated, the more ignorant sometimes seem to feel as important as the Khan of Tartary, who is houseless, yet, when he has finished his repast of mare's milk and horse flesh, causes a herald to proclaim from his seat, that the other potentates of the world have permission to eat their dinner. Those who feast on flattery are to be pitied; those who flatter, should be despised. The one, by proper discipline, may have the unfortunate propensity corrected, perhaps cured; the other is the indulgence of a base disposition to accomplish unhallowed purposes. The person who flatters, only to betray; is meaner than badly kept October sauer kraut, alias, sour krout, the next July; and worse than a cut worm in a corn field. To love flattery, is weakness; it is nauseating as an emetic, to the truly wise. To flatter, betrays a small mind, or the stooping of a great mind to accomplish a dishonorable purpose; perhaps to gratify a hellish passion. Flatterers, like the bee, carry honey and a sting at the same time; but, unlike that insect, they poison the flowers on which they light. They often possess the cunning of the fox, and always his mean