Victims of 1910 Stockyards blaze paid tribute at last
December 23, 2004
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter Advertisement
Ninety-four years to the day after the Stockyards fire that killed 21 Chicago firefighters, John Rice stood on the same spot Wednesday, his frozen hands clutching the photograph of the great-grandfather he never knew.
Somehow, Chicago was only now getting around to dedicating a memorial to Rice's great-grandfather, former Fire Marshal James J. Horan, and the 20 other men who died when a warehouse wall came crashing down Dec. 22, 1910.
That's even though it was the largest loss of life for firefighters in Chicago history and the most in the nation until Sept. 11, 2001, when 343 New York City firefighters died at the World Trade Center.
"It's like the Iroquois Theater or the Eastland, where people really didn't want to remember something so horrible," Rice said.
For Rice, Mayor Daley's dedication Wednesday of the moving bronze statute at Exchange and Peoria marked an emotional end to a five-year odyssey.
'His life was remarkable'
Like the rest of Chicago, nobody in his heartbroken family wanted to talk much about the man they called "Big Jim," a 6-foot, 250-pound hulk of a man who tooled around in a two-cylinder motorized vehicle at a time when the Fire Department was still stuck in the horse-and-buggy era.
Rice reconstructed the fascinating story after plowing through old newspaper clippings compiled by the Chicago Historical Society and boxes of records in his great-grandfather's office.
"It was a mystery in my family no one ever talked about. I thought, 'I've just got to find out. Is this just a sad story, or is there more about his life that I would find inspiring? It turned out his life was remarkable," Rice said.
Rice described his great-grandfather as a "dynamic, progressive" leader who drove the Fire Department's only motorized vehicle, tried to motorize the entire department and fought to improve working conditions. Appointed fire marshal at 47, just four years before his death, Horan was a pal of White Sox owner Charles Comiskey.
Sought plaque in vain
"After he died, they unlocked his office and found all these notes from children asking him to flood their backyards for ice skating rinks. And he had put 'Okay' on all of these letters, and he had written a memo saying, 'Please have these rinks done before Christmas, so the children can skate during their holiday.' "
The $170,000 Stockyards memorial -- 75 percent of the money raised by Chicago firefighters -- was the brainchild of retired Chicago Fire Capt. Bill Cattorini, who was assigned to a nearby firehouse.
Cattorini said he launched the fund-raising drive in 1998 after putting out a house fire at the same address. When a battalion chief reminded Cattorini that 21 firefighters had died there in 1910, he and his men got back on the rig and searched the area for a plaque or some other kind of tribute.
"There was none. So we started thinking about what we had to do to recognize that," Cattorini said.
Retired firefighter Bill Cosgrove, who joined in the fund-raising drive, said artist Tom Scarff "tried to capture the moment as the wall came crashing down" on three firefighters.
One figure has a bugle pointing upward toward the falling wall. The second is a truck man holding his ax up to protect himself. The third is an engine man directing his hose toward the raging fire, unaware that his life is about to end.
The granite base is sloped to depict the loading dock where the fire was fought. The wall around the base contains the names of the 530 Chicago firefighters who have died in the line of duty.
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Thread: Gone but NEVER forgotten
12-23-2004, 08:08 PM #1
Gone but NEVER forgottenIAFF-IACOJ PROUD
12-23-2004, 10:46 PM #2
December 22,1910 -- By Kolomay's account, it was 4 a.m. on another cold December morning, when a night watchman for the Nelson-Morris Meat Packing Co. discovered the fire in the basement of Beef Plant No. 7 and raced outside to pull an alarm.
It would later be determined the fire had started in a hide store room where an electrical short in a corroded switch box ignited surrounding flammable materials.
There was apparently no shortage of such materials in the grease-soaked lower floors of the mill, and the fire spread quickly into an adjoining warehouse.
It was a seven-story building, the top six floors a windowless wall of solid brick. A platform ran outside the width of the building from which meat could be loaded into refrigerated rail cars lined up along the platform. A wood canopy hung over the loading dock to protect dock workers from the weather.
It was through the large freight-house doors on this loading dock that the first fire crews attacked the blaze, slowed at first because the water main feeding the hydrants had been shut off to avoid freezing. Once they solved that problem, they tried to advance beyond the entrance, but low water pressure from the notoriously inadequate stockyards water mains, coupled with limited access to the building from the cramped dock, made the task difficult.
According to Kolomay, that was still the situation when Horan arrived on the scene about 5:05 a.m. and exchanged harsh words with the chiefs on the scene about their lack of progress, then ordered Engine 59 into the building, taking the lead himself.
"You'd better back down, chief," one of the battalion chiefs warned Horan, fearing the collapse of the wall. Moments later, that's what happened: a loud explosion followed by six stories of bricks crashing through the canopy.
Ten minutes after arriving at the scene, Horan was dead. It would be 14 hours before his body was recovered. The bricks were so hot they burned through the gloves of firefighters trying to dig through them to retrieve their fallen mates, forcing them to retreat and pour water on the pile.
When the floors of the building later collapsed as well, the recovery was made even more grisly by the barrels of meat and hams that were strewn among the debris.
The wall collapse was blamed on expansion of superheated gases, although some suspected the highly explosive saltpeter, used in pickling meats, stored on the premises.
The captain of Engine 39 died with his son that day. Six of seven members of Truck 11 were killed. Fire chiefs came from as far as Ireland to mourn the victims.
The story still fascinates Cattorini, a captain of Engine 39 himself at one point. He's especially intrigued by the water problems at the scene that day.
1910, December 22-23: Chicago Union Stock Yards Fire
Twenty one firemen, including the Fire Marshal, were killed as the result of a collapsing wall.
From the Fire Marshal's Report:
"On December 22nd, 1910 at 4:09 a.m., a still alarm was given by Engine Company No. 59, simultaneously with box alarm No. 2162. At 4:42 a.m., a 4-11 was struck by Chief Burroughs and at 5:12 a special call was given by Chief Seyferlich for five more engines and two Chiefs of Battalion at 5:14 a.m. for five more engines and two Chiefs Donahoe and McDonnell at 5:20 a.m., five more engines at 6:57 a.m., ten more at 7:37 a.m., and five more at 7:59 a.m. This was that terrible fire in Warehouse No.7 of the Nelson Morris and Company's plant at the Union Stock Yards, which resulted in so many fatalities and threw the whole community into deepest mourning, for the roster of the dead was appalling, and included the Fire Marshall, his Second Assistant, three Captains, four Lieutenants, eleven Pipemen and Truckmen and one Driver. The property loss at this fire amounted to $400,000 approximately, which, needless to say, was insignificant, compared with that great loss the whole community sustained. Fifty Engine Companies and seven Hook and Ladder Companies worked at this fire and it was struck out by Chief Seyferlich at 6:37 o'clock a.m., December 23rd, 1910."
Last edited by E40FDNYL35; 12-23-2004 at 10:53 PM.ALL GAVE SOME BUT SOME GAVE ALL
NEVER FORGET 9-11-01
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