On October 8, 1871 a fire swept through Peshtigo, Wisconsin, wiping out almost every building in town, killing over a thousand people, and causing the most deaths by fire in U.S. history. It happened on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire, and is something most Americans have never even heard about. Bill and I visited Peshtigo’s Fire Museum today, as well as the cemetery where a mass grave of hundreds of unidentifiable townspeople are buried.
The museum would appeal to anyone who loves history. It is free (donations encouraged) and has two friendly, knowledgeable guides who will tell you anything you want to know about the fire. There were tons of charred artifacts from the fire, artists’ depictions of how the fire would have looked, and general recreations of life in the 1870’s, which didn’t really have much to do with the fire, but that I enjoyed anyway. There were also lots of pieces of Peshtigo history not relating to the fire, like a gun from a bank robbery in the 1950’s, that were interesting. We were there at 10:00 when the museum opened, after having breakfast in the town since we’d gotten there early (but the way, the deep fried pickle chips at the Peshtigo Cafe are the best I’ve ever had) and I could have spent all day there, but Bill somehow finds these stops a little creepy, so we were back on the road by 11:00.
I highly recommend a stop in Peshtigo to anyone passing by on Highway 41.