[1871 Autograph Letter Signed; Anna M. Bartlett’s Eyewitness account of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871].
“She [Chicago] was the pride of the entire West, but now is among the things that were….”
Hannah Smith received a letter written on November 26, 1871 from her cousin who survived the Great Chicago Fire—“…never again do I want to behold such misery, suffering, and destruction.” Anna M. Bartlett’s letter can be hard to read at points from staining; her eyewitness account is harrowing. [The letter in full:]
My dear Hannah – What kind of a cousin do you take me to be anyhow. I am ashamed of myself anyhow, for not answering long long ago, your very kind letter. I have but the one excuse the seeming lack of time. Still it’s too bad that I should neglect you, for you and all of the family were so kind to me, the least I can do would be, to write occasionally, but forgive me Hannah, this time. As I have told you before, We have a great deal of company, and consequently go a great deal. South Bend [Indiana] is [faded word:] such very large place, but quite a gay one for its size. Father and my Step Mother both went away on a trip this past season, and I started early in September, to be gone at least two months, but the Chicago fire drove me home. I had been in Milwaukee Wis. visiting some weeks and had arrived in Chicago only the Friday before the fire and intended remaining some time to visit with friends that lived in the City, but it seemed fate had decided it should be otherwise, for when I think of it, I feel very thankful that I escaped alive. I was visiting on Michigan Avenue which was in the south part of the City, and was in danger all of the time. Alltho, the house where I was did not burn, yet the anxiety and fear that we felt, [this portion, faded but transcribed, thus:] lest it should be more [?] was almost unendurable. I saw the whole thing from beginning to end, and [end of faded, transcribed portion] certainly, never again do I want to behold such misery, suffering, and destruction. It is impossible to form a correct idea of it all from the reports you may have read. Chicago is said to have been great, on sensations, and by not trying, she has beat the world on fires. She was the pride of the entire West, but now is among the things that were. How are all the good people of Litchfield Corner? [Maine?] I do wish it it were possible to step in and spend a few hours with you this afternoon. Wouldn’t we have some good long talks though. Letters are very unsatisfactory to me. I can’t write as I would talk. Please remember me when you cut the Thanksgiving Turkey and all the good “fixins”. [This portion, faded but transcribed, thus:] I am a true Yan[kee?] [indistinct words] to the custom of [indistinct words] dinner. I shall [indistinct words] that is the custom [indistinct words] same Minister that you had when I was in L–d [Litchfield?] and is Mr. Smith still in the Academy? I had a letter from Aunt Julia this past week, and she speaks of the severe sickness of Aunt Mary. I am sorry to hear it, wish I could be with her and take care of her. I suppose Lizzie Baker and Henry are still in Boston, or has Lizzie committed matrimony. If she has, all I can say is – “deluded creature”, oh dear, oh dear! I am expecting every day to get the pictures you promised – Mary’s, George & Lyman’s and yours, did you give the one to Sarah Paine, I sent, if so, remind her of her promise. Hannah, do you ever hear anything from your New York friend, or has “some other man” taken his place. I often wonder what you are doing with yourself. I can scarcely [indistinct word] and the other from Chicago, won’t three of us have a jolly time if it’s in the same house. The Boston girl is an old schoolmate, and a lovely person. Did Georgie make you the visit this summer? You spoke of inviting her. But it is late and I must close. Write me whenever convenient. I shall always be glad to hear from you. Love to the family – Sincerely, Anna M. Bartlett
Bartlett’s post-traumatic reaction to the fire is embodied in her description of it. She refers to “fate” and to the fire’s having driven her home, as though she was destined to witness it. Her gratitude for escaping alive from the disaster is tempered by a reflection that Chicago itself did not escape. A poignant, even wistful, reflection on the city that was, but is no more.
Description: [1871 Autograph Letter Signed; Anna M. Bartlett’s Eyewitness account of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871].
South Bend, Ind. [Indiana], November 26, 1871. pp. ALS. 8vo. Folds; light foxing; staining; fading affecting legibility to four lines of content, which we have painstakingly transcribed; good.