THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
Bell to Toll in Memory of the Peshtigo Fire
Issue Date: October 4, 2018
When the bell in the Fire Museum bell tower rings again this year at 8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 8th, it marks the memory of Fr. Peter Pernin ringing St. Mary's Church bell to warn the citizens of Peshtigo of the firestorm racing toward them on the evening of Oct. 8, 1871. It also marks the end of the Peshtigo Fire Museum season for this year.
As of Oct. 1, the museum curators had welcomed 5,864 visitors from 48 states and 19 countries from around the world. Besides visitors from our neighbors in Canada and Mexico and the U.S. territory, Puerto Rico, the museum hosted citizens of eight European countries and those from more distant lands including china, Japan, Australia, Israel, Korea, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.
Among comments expressed by visitors was a remark by the leader of bus tours around Lake Michigan who noted that the stop at the Fire Museum and Cemetery has proved to be the highlight of the tours. Also this season, a number of visitors noted that they were rewarded with information gleaned at the museum that aided in their genealogy searches. Local people frequently admired the appearance of the freshly painted museum. Recurring themes in entries to the museum visitors' book were appreciation for the interesting background information provided by the curators, visits from people who had toured the museum years ago and now returned with their children or grandchildren, the impressive and well maintained collection of artifacts, and the Fire Cemetery where stories at the gravesites of those who experienced the Peshtigo Fire bring reality to the fire's devastating destruction.
Even repeat visitors to the museum may find hidden treasures and surprises. In a book in the museum collection Historical Society board member, Mike Seidel, discovered a trove of stories about Peshtigo citizens who both fought in the Civil War and experienced the Great Peshtigo Fire. The book is "A History of the Grand Army of the Republic", published by the Grand Army Publishing Co. in 1888 and is based on stories taken from The Soldiers and Citizens Album of Biographical Records containing personal sketches of army men and citizens. One of these stories appears below:
Frank Olive, a member of G.A.R.Post 266 was born at Van Kleck Hill Province of Ontario Canada April 3, 1840. He came to Wisconsin in 1860 and operated as a painter in Oconto. He enlisted Oct. 8, 1861 in Oconto in Company F 12th Wisconsin Infantry. While in service he took part in the operations against Vicksburg. Later he was in the fight at Lookout and Snake Gap then moved with his command to Atlanta. He was mustered out of service in 1963 where he participated in the Grand Review at Washington.
Olive returned to Oconto and on Sept. 12, 1865 married Amelia Grandaw and they had eight children. He was engaged as a carpenter and soon moved to Peshtigo. On Oct. 8, 1871 they passed through the horrors of the fire while remaining in the river. One of his children was a baby and died after the fire.Mr. Olive states that the terrors and suffering he endured in the fire ranked higher than those of the war by all odds.
He later moved to Menominee, Mich. and was employed as a boiler inspector for the Luddington, Wells and VanSchaick Lumber Company. He was killed in an explosion of a boiler he was inspecting.
Although the Fire Museum and Cemetery closes for the year after Oct. 8, the Peshtigo Historical Society will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5 at the Drees Community Center and again for the Christmas party in December, date and place to be announced. All are welcome to attend both the Historical Society meetings which include a business meeting and coffee social and the Christmas party. Membership dues for 2019 remain at $5.