Peshtigo, Wisconsin: the Great Fire and Miraculous Tabernacle
About the Great Peshtigo Fire:
Many Americans are aware of what is called the “Great Chicago Fire“. It lasted two days, October 8 to October 10, 1871, and destroyed thousands of buildings, killed an estimated 300 people and caused millions of dollars in damages. Accounts of how the fire started in Chicago vary—Mrs O’Leary’s cow did not kick over a lantern—although that legend continues on.
What is not so well known is a much greater disaster that took place on the same day and at the same hour in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. That fire destroyed entire towns over an area of 2400 square miles with a death toll of over 2,500 people (the exact number was never known and was possibly much higher).
In the case of the Peshtigo fire, the town was a lumbering center that had very poor land management as might be expected of that era. It had been an unusually dry summer and fires had cropped up here and there throughout the area. Due to the slash and burn logging techniques the town was ripe for what happened, although few would have thought the devastation to be so complete.
The winds that day whipped up a fire that was so intense, with literally tornadoes of fire, that people were incinerated on the spot and sand turned to glass. Many tried to find refuge in the river, but logs floating down the river burst into flames. The church and virtually all the town was destroyed.
The final death toll was 1,200 – 2,500 (exact number unknown), 2400 square miles burned (1.3 million acres), 17 towns destroyed and about 2 billion trees destroyed.
Then came two miracles:
The Pastor of Saint Mary’s Church in Peshtigo was Fr. Peter Pernin, a Canadian missionary priest who also served another parish in nearby Marinette. Upon seeing the fire, he rushed to the church to save the tabernacle with the host inside. He drove away towards the river in a wagon. Upon reaching the river he pushed it an as far as it would go in hopes of avoiding the flames and was then forced to leave. The tabernacle was later discovered sitting upright on a log although everything around it had been burned. Even more amazing, the tabernacle was un-damaged and the host inside was perfectly intact.
The tabernacle is now on display in the Peshtigo Fire Museum. Their website has a great deal of interesting information about the fire, including accounts of the survivors.
Peshtigo, Wisconsin: The Great Peshtigo Fire
At the same time of the fire, Adele Brise, a local woman who had been receiving visions of Jesus Christ was praying in the chapel in nearby Robinsville. As the fire approached, she led a procession with a statue of the Virgin Mary around the chapel. Then came a miracle: the fire went up as far as the chapel and stopped abruptly. The chapel was preserved.
Click here to read about Adele Brise and the Shrine of our Lady of Good Help in Wisconsin (the only Church-approved apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the U.S.A.)