The Chicago Fire of October 1871 destroyed much of the city—including the offices of The Little Corporal—but not Chicago’s famous entrepeneurial nature. (These “relics” are still treasured by collectors.) The safe which the editor wryly offers for a memorial was “new, and as reliable as any in the market” (December 1871; p. 186)—and probably not as reliable as advertised.
“ ‘Relics of the Fire’ ” (from The Little Corporal, March 1872; pp. 109-110)

[From the editor’s pages]

The fire that came near burning us all up, started a new trade; and as it ’s mostly in the hands of the boys, I ’d like to tell you in what droll yet sad things it deals.

The big stores, of course, were full of goods, from cellar to attic, and when—in that awful night—the brick walls fell in, everything was buried beneath them. In a few days, before the ruins were done burning, boys began to poke and dig among the piles of brick and stone, as they always do—and, by the way, can any of you Little Corporal boys tell me why they do?

This time they brought up various half-burned articles, which were readily bought by the bystanders, and before a week the new trade was in full blast. Now you can

p. 110

scarcely pass a corner in the business streets, without being saluted with the cry:

“Relics of the fire!” and funny things you ’ll see, spread out on the sands.

Hardware stores furnish whole kegs of nails welded together, yet retaining the shape of each nail; papers of tacks and screws melted in the same way, making curious paper weights; dozens of forks firmly soldered together; and wonderful stalactites of iron.

Stalactites—perhaps you know—are formed like icicles, while the metal is melted.

Crockery stores furnish cups and saucers, bronzed by fire; piles of plates melted together; fancy bottles with a sentimental droop of the head to one side, as if they ’d been faint; unbroken egg glasses with the tops bent over together as though they were about to collapse, but thought better of it.

Then the grain warehouses furnish exquisite bits of charcoal, made of wheat, every grain perfect and glossy, as though polished.

The toy shops—alas! how can I tell the tragedies there! Dolls with glass eyes melted out; wax dolls with complexion melted off; long haired beauties, with not a hair to their heads; all black and horrid. Square blocks of beautiful glass marbles welded together, and bent as though made of wax; chunks of china dolls, of all sizes, joined for life in grotesque ways. But, saddest of all, china babies in bath tubs, who it seems are packed in pairs (one turned upside down on another, as you put a cover on a dish), fastened together in such a way that one of the unfortunate babies must always sit on its head!

It is proposed to build a monument in one of our parks, of the burnt out safes, among them, perhaps the one which held the Little Corporal’s books and papers, while they burned to ashes.

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