Yesterday, we drove south to Menominee, Mi. where two of my brothers were born, again looking for the old homesteads. Parked at the VFW, the bartender, Ken, turned out to be a distant cousin of mine. It was close to lunch time and he pointed to Colonel K’s Pasty shop and we gladly indulged.
The owner, Becky was making the pasty and wanted to know in detail how we liked her pasty. For me, it was missing some onion flavor. She shrugged her shoulders and said, some people think it has too much onion. We talked about pasty and what happens to all of us is we each have our favorite recipe from “mom” and nothing ever compares. The crust is so good, you feel quite happy to have a near perfect pasty. Above she is making a breakfast pasty with egg, cheese, potato and probably sausage. I couldn’t believe how fast and perfectly she rolled and pressed that crust.
Anyway, the choices are many, our pasty delicious and Jim learned how to pronounce pasty.
In Menominee, my dad worked at Lloyds, still going strong since 1906. The company makes wicker furniture. My parents and two of my dad’s sisters and their families all lived within walking distance of Lloyds. No one could afford a car during the depression. I came here with my oldest brother and sister in 2006 and we walked the area and found two of the places, but like idiots, we didn’t take pictures. I decided to make up for that shortcoming, without any certainty of the addresses.
My brother Bill was born at home with a mid-wife in this remodeled house that is over one hundred years old. It was Phillips Ave. then. The city changed to a numbering system about 50 years ago. In 2006, you could see some of the names imprinted in the sidewalks. That’s how we found it. Now, much of that sidewalk has been replaced. Without the names, it took awhile to recognize the place from an old picture. Phillips Ave is now 30th Ave. He was born here in a small apartment over the garage in 1938. My folks moved to Hardwood where I was born and then back to Menominee again in this neighborhood, working for Lloyds in 1943.
The house we lived in on Broadway, (now 13th St.) had been replaced by this beautiful church. It was a big old house on a slight hill. I remember my neighbor digging a hole in his yard and throwing pennies in the hole and jumping in to fish them out for me and telling me he was digging his way to China. I picked wildflowers in the neighborhood with my aunt when my brother Dan was born here in 1943. People moved around to follow the work in those days. It seems we were all over the map. By 1943, my folks could afford to have a baby in a hospital.
My great-grandmother Erieau was born here along with my great-uncles and aunts. My mother would sometimes make reference to the horrible Pesthigo Fire, but it wasn’t until I visited a Fire Museum in Arizona when I learned how horrific this fire really was. On Oct. 8, 1871, the same night as the Great Chicago Fire, Pestigo, Wi. was struck by a five mile-wide wall of flames borne on a tornado like vortex of 100 mile per hour winds that burned through 2,400 square miles of land, killing more than two thousand people in four hours. It obliterated Peshtigo in one hour and burned through, Oconto, Brown, Door, Kewaunee Counties and parts of Manitowoc and Outagamie.
Only part of a building was left standing in Peshtigo. A tornado follows a swirling path and it indiscriminately killed people in strange ways. Families heard the fire coming, and hid down inside their wells. Alll died. Survivors reported a family of six rushing away from the wall of flame and two people vaporized in an instant, even their ashes blew away while the rest lived with severe burns. Areas of sand beneath a tree were melted into glass which takes 1,800 degree heat. A train filled with wood was left as melted wheels and a blob of melted metal where the engine stood.
Plaques in the cemetery tell a part of the story.
A man sent his family across the river to a boarding house thinking they’d be safe as he helped others. He survived, the boarding house and all of its occupants did not. A man named Baggnall discovered the body of a young girl who looked perfectly formed, lying as though asleep. She was dead from one whiff of the scorching air but nothing was singed or burned under her. He cut a lock of her hair and carried it the rest of his life. He never found out who she was. The heartbreaking story of fire was only the beginning. The many maimed and burned in makeshift hospitals cared for by volunteer and neighbors. The Press arrived on the scene after the event and heard such horrific stories, they didn’t believe them and claimed they were made up. Thousands of people had no homes, clothing, food or tools. The disaster began to be taken seriously. When the Governor of Michigan allotted money to help the relief effort, he was criticized by members of the legislature for not getting permission first. These people needed everything to make it through the winter and then they needed to rebuild their lives. No fire in the United States ever compared to the violence and destruction of the Peshtigo Fire. The Museum in Peshtigo is full of wonderful artifacts of the period, but very little of the fire since…everything burned. In those days, no Red Cross nor organized relief organization came to their aid. They had to build it from this horrific experience. I bought two good books about the fire, one I bought in 2006 that was written by a priest taking notes directly from families that lived. Yesterday, I bought Firestorm Peshtigo, by Denise Gess and William Lutz. It is purported to deal with the causes and politics involved in ignoring this fire over the Chicago disaster.