J.D. Hammond held down his hat as the wind whipped around him for the umpteenth time this morning. Chicago isn't called the Windy City for nothing, he thought.
He watched the wagons and horses pass by from his green, wicker chair which leaned against the gingerbread-trimmed porch. The newspaperman and author had arrived by train yesterday from Springfield to spend a few days with his daughter, Amelia, and her family.
J.D.’s forehead pursed in pensive thought; life did not interest him since the death last year of his beloved wife, Eva. Even his newspaper, the Sangamo Spectator, didn’t bring him joy as it once had. He appointed a long time reporter friend to be the managing editor.
Throughout his years as a newspaperman, J.D. had witnessed scores of historical events. Springfield was blessed to have Abraham Lincoln as a resident. He gave J.D. a plethora of stories and interviews before and at the time of his presidency which led J.D. to write a successful book after President Lincoln’s assassination entitled, The Lincoln I Knew.
The screen door opened and Amelia said, “Here you are. You always were an early riser, papa. Breakfast is ready.”
“Amelia, what time is your newspaper delivered?”
“It should be here by now... oh, there it is,” she said as a wagon stopped and a young boy tossed a paper in front of the Victorian house.
Amelia rushed down the wooden steps, grabbed the newspaper, and gazed at the front page. In the left hand corner the date read, Sunday, October 8, 1871. The headline read, Drought Continues.
“Good morning Mrs. Kelly.” A female voice called from a wagon passing by.
“Good day Mr. and Mrs. O’Leary,” Amelia replied as she raised her hand and waved. Mr. O’Leary tipped his hat.
“The O’Leary’s live several streets to the north of us, papa. They come here every Sunday to take her widowed sister and three children to church. Come in and have breakfast, we’ll leave for services in another hour.”
The screen door opened and Amelia’s husband Robert, seven-year-old Amy, and ten-year-old Michael came out onto the porch.
“Sure is windy J.D.” Robert said.
“Grandpa, will you tell us a story?” Amy and Michael asked at the same time.
J.D. opened his mouth to respond but Amelia said, “Not now, he has to have breakfast and get ready for church and so do you, scoot. This includes you too, Robert.”
“Yes ma’am.” Robert said as he smiled and winked at J.D. who arose and followed them.
J.D. enjoyed church services with his family. The minister was an inspirational speaker. His message was, “Salvation: Accept Christ Today.”
The family’s afternoon was delightful. After church and lunch, they took a drive around the neighborhood, strolled along Lake Michigan, and listened to J.D. tell stories.
At 10 P.M., J.D. opened the front door to enjoy the night air and noticed the northern sky was ablaze. This meant fire!
“Heavens above Robert, there’s a fire in the city.”
Robert and Amelia gasped, Robert said, “J.D. let’s take the wagon and investigate. Amelia, pack a few clothes, water, and food. We may have to leave. Be back soon.”
J.D. and Robert jumped in the wagon and headed in the direction of the light. They were met by several wagons full of people who told them a fire had started in Mrs. O’Leary’s barn. Soon, they encountered hundreds of wagons, horses, and people.
“We’d better return home,” Robert said as he turned the horse and wagon around in a field. “It’s difficult to keep the horses under rein with so many rowdy people and we may have to evacuate if the fire spreads too far south of the city.”
Two hours later the wagon pulled in front of the house.
“Whew, what a trip”, J.D. said, “I thought the crowd would riot and take our wagon. I’m glad we’re home. I’ve been thinking, earlier today I met a couple named O’Leary. I wonder if it’s the same people whose barn caught fire.”
“Could be them, J.D. but there are a lot of O’Leary’s in Chicago.” Robert said as he gazed toward the fire. “I don’t think it will come this way but let’s load the wagon.”
What a story, J.D. thought. As soon as possible I’ll interview people, get the story, and wire it to my paper in Springfield. I can see the headlines, The Great Chicago Fire. This is the scoop of my life.
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