Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chicago Fire and Laura Voigt

Family stories always have a shred of truth...we hear that all the time in our genealogical circles. However, when we hear a story from the one who experienced it, how much of it is that "shred?" 

Laura VOIGT was born 4 April 1866, in Chicago, Illinois. She was five years old at the time of the Chicago Fire in October of 1871. Laura VOIGT married Edwin Luther BUSCHICK on 25 September 1889. 

I barely remember my grandma BUSCHICK who I affectionately called grandma BooBoo; I was six years old when she passed away 13 September 1951 at age 85. Grandma BooBoo was my peppermint grandma. She always had a star candy in her pocket to give me when I visited. I remember she was soft spoken, had white hair twirled up in a bun, and she was always smiling.
Laura Voigt Buschick 1866-1951.
Grandma had many stories of growing up in Chicago north of the Chicago River in a neighborhood that is now part of the "Mag Mile." I don't remember many stories, but parts of one has stuck with me -- she survived the Chicago Fire.

Grandma told of how her family had to quickly leave their home with very few belongings and how some Indians had led them to safety. 
Family tale: The Indians supposedly had befriended her father for when they were traveling through, they would stop at the VOIGT's for water and to rest before the next leg of their long journey to Michigan. The Indians saw the flames and came to the rescue. Grandma would add being put in a large hole and wet rugs were put over them. 
How much of a "shred of truth" is this? I have no idea, but it made for a great story to tell us grandkids. Over the years, this story was reinforced by my mom and her sisters who repeated it many times -- of course, with just a few minor adjustments each time it was told. As a kid, I never thought much of what grandma said. Then a couple years ago, Bob and I went on Chicago Genealogical Society's bus tour of the city's 1871 burn area. 

The bus took us to many significant spots around Chicago tracing the progression of the conflagration from where it started to where it ended. Along the way and at each stop, our historian/genealogist explained what was important about it and the timeframe was within those few days. It was a very interesting and informative tour.

I couldn't wait for the bus to visit the burn area on the north side of the Chicago River where my ancestors were living at the time. Both grandparents' families -- VOIGTs and BUSCHICKs -- lived in the burn area near the Water Tower and Pumping Station. The Water Works as it was called actually survived the fire and is now a landmark and symbol of survival.

We toured that area, then our bus took us north into neighborhoods where there are buildings and houses that survived and had their own historical stories. On our way back to our tour's starting place, we passed the Old (Chicago) City Cemetery a few blocks north of where my grandma lived. 

Our historian explained how people in the neighborhoods tried to escape the fire by running into the city cemetery which is now part of Lincoln Park. Some years before the fire ravaged the area, the city cemetery was cleared due to health concerns. Graves were opened and the interred were taken to other cemeteries "outside" of town. Many of the opened graves had not yet been filled in. It was in these holes people jumped to get away from the fire. Some people didn't survive this sanctuary, but many did. Hearing that, my mind flashed back to what grandma said she remembered...a large hole

Could it be my VOIGT family was one of those surviving families? I can only guess, but it does bring that shred of truth closer to being for real. They were in the right area. 

Some stories of horrendous experiences can be read about on the webpage The Great Chicago Fire & The Web of Memory.

The darken area on this left-side map is the burn area. Ward 15 is where Pearson and Rush Sts. (X) are located (green area), but the 1870 census has 16th Ward on it. This is a pre-fire map. It shows Pine St.(Michigan Ave. today) and Chicago Ave. where the Chicago Water Works is (0).

The correct address of where grandma died is 2365 Chase. It's a two flat on the corner of Chase and Western Ave. Both obits say the place of her home at the time of the Chicago Fire is Pearson St. and Michigan Ave., but in 1871, Michigan Avenue was actually Pine St. (Laura's memorial can be found on Find A Grave Memorial # 66604751.)

I found grandma's obituary/death notice pasted in the funeral book (above on the left). Funeral was held on 16 September. I don't know what newspaper these came out of. The notice on the right is from the Chicago Daily Tribune (14 September)

I checked the 1870 Federal Census in Chicago, but couldn't find what street the enumerator was on when recording the family.

1870 Census -
Henry VOIGHT 47 Carpenter b. Baden Owned his home US Citizen
Anna 36 Keeping House b. Darmstadt
Linna 14 b. Illinois [must be Helena shortened to Lynna or Lena]
Emma 12 b. Illinois
Bertha 8 b. Illinois
Laura 4 b. Illinois
Henry 1 b. Illinois
[and Laura's grandparents]
Frederick ARNOLD 66 b. Darmstadt US Citizen
Gertrude 69
(Year: 1870; Census Place: Chicago Ward 16, Cook, Illinois; Roll: M593_209; Page: 25B; Image: 54; Family History Library Film: 545708)

Both notices said her home at the time of the fire was at Pearson St. and Michigan Ave. This would have put her home right in the path of the fire. The certificate below, shows her place of birth to be Rush and Pearson Sts. In 1943 when this was issued, would grandma have gotten that correct? That is about a block west of Pine St.... Close enough and still within the boundaries or the burn area.

Laura born to Henry and Anna (ARNOLD) VOIGT 4 Apr 1866. Place of birth was Rush and Pearson Sts., Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. This is a delayed birth certificate signed affidavit by Laura's sister Helena KAISER in October 1943. Laura was about 10 years younger than her sister.

I'll probably never know if the VOIGTs were one of the families who ran to the cemetery. How does one find the truth? If there is anyone out there who can add to this story, I would love to hear from you. I'm not the only grandchild she told this story. There must be more who can fill in some of the blanks. 

In 1871, Laura's future husband...Edwin Luther BUSCHICK, 5, lived with his family further north on Hurlbut St. which also was in the burn area. That area burned last. St. Michael's Catholic church, a historical building, is on that street, too. Hurlbut is now named Cleveland Ave. I never heard any stories of his surviving the fire.

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