Chicago Fire

January 9, 2010
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806 North Michigan Avenue
October 8th, 1871.
Lasting two days, the Great Chicago Fire claimed the lives of over 200 individuals. The story goes, “That darn O’Leary cow! Knocking over that lantern, only to put the city in ruins!” Not many people know, however, that the Great Chicago Fire was not actually the fault of O’Leary’s cow. Those who pass by 806 North Michigan Avenue have no idea that 200-plus lost souls are still among them today.
October 8th, 1883.
As John Sullivan marched along Michigan Avenue, he passed the Water Tower just like every other day, but today he had a hard time catching his breath. He found himself standing opposite the entrance to the building, caught in a trance. He suddenly relived the feelings of loss and devastation that he felt twelve years ago, when he lost his wife and his son in the devouring flames. Chicagoans busily passed him by, as he remained stagnant in a herd, fixated upon the building he stood before. It was as if nothing could break his stare or his skewed perception of reality. His reminiscence became so real to him that he could even feel his son’s tug of his sleeve and the warmth of his wife’s hand in his. He looked to his left to see the tension in his sleeve, pulling his arm slightly away from his body. Trying to move his right hand, he realized he wasn’t just imagining his wife’s hand there. The chill that ran down his back reminded him of how much time had passed. The sun had gone down and he realized that he was alone. He called for a carriage and as he grasped the handle upon entering, he felt the searing pain that caused him to cry out. He looked at the hand that was fine ten minutes earlier, only to recognize a burned silhouette of his dear wife’s left hand, wedding band and all.
October 8th, 2009.
A couple weeks ago, I had the strangest thing happen to me. At about 9:00 at night I was walking along Michigan Avenue, approaching the Water Tower, when I felt the air around me get very, very cold. I pulled my scarf closer and crossed my arms, trying to fight the chilly air. Oddly, I realized the people around me must not have gotten the chill I did, as they continued their strides down the sidewalk. Everybody started talking at once, then, and they continued to raise their voices as if each person was trying to speak above the next. Casual conversations turned into chatter, which turned into a roar of voices in which I was unable to individualize. The roar quickly turned into an uproar, but the weird thing was that people sounded alarmed, but the body language surrounding me did not match the sounds I was hearing. My eyes darted back and forth as the roar continued to escalate and I could hear footsteps and running, the general rushing of what seemed to be the entire population. Getting closer to the Water Tower, I lost the chill I had before and unbuttoned my coat due to the heat wave that suddenly reached me. The people around me seemed to have disappeared while I was distracted with the voices I heard, and I began to sweat as the voices and footsteps faded but were replaced with the sounds and smells of burning wood. I became enveloped by the crackling, hissing and popping that turned into much more than just a campfire. I could feel the burnt air rushing into my face, like a huge match that was just struck. What I thought to be fog quickly rolled in, but I could taste the thick smoke and began to cough uncontrollably. I began to run, trying to escape the heat and the smoke, still coughing and unable to yell for help. Still, it didn’t seem like help would come even if I could have yelled because there didn’t appear to be a single person around, even within earshot. All I could hear were the roaring flames, which seemed to be behind me at this point, even though the smoke had not cleared yet. I slowed to a walk as the smoke thinned out and looked back at the disaster I had just fought through only to see the Water Tower lit up against the Chicago night sky, just like any ordinary Thursday night.





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