1889

Throwback Thursday: Great Seattle Fire 1889

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Great Seattle Fire Image One
Photo Credit: seattletimes.com

While the whole world discusses the Allied Invasion of Normandy, best known as D-Day, on this same date, fifty-five years prior, the Great Seattle Fire destroyed 29 city blocks, nearly all of its wharves and its railroad terminals. Because of the devastation, downtown Seattle is 20 feet above its original street level. The state of Washington suffered a trifecta of fires that summer as July 4th brought the Great Ellensburg Fire and August 4 brought the Great Spokane Fire, with a fourth fire occurring April 18 in Cheney, Washington.

From Wikipedia:

At approximately 2:30 pm on June 6, 1889, an accidentally overturned glue pot in a carpentry shop started the most destructive fire in the history of Seattle. The next day, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, operating out of temporary facilities in the wake of the fire, reported, incorrectly, that the incident began in “Jim McGough’s paint shop, under Smith’s Boot and Shoe Store, at the corner of Front and Madison streets, in what was known as the Denny block.” [A] correction two weeks later said that it “actually started in the Clairmont and Company cabinet shop, below McGough’s shop in the basement of the Pontius building.” but, the original error was often repeated, including in Murray Morgan‘s bestselling Seattle history book Skid Road (1951).

John Back Image Two
John Back 1885
Image Credit: historylink.org

From History Link:

[…] a man named John E. Back, inadvertently, started a fire in the basement of a downtown building at the southwest corner of Madison Street and Front Street (later renamed 1st Avenue). Five men were working in the cabinet shop including […] Back, age 24, described as a “short, thick-set blonde of mediocre intelligence.” [He] arrived in the United States from Sweden in 1887 and moved to Seattle in October 1888. The following day [he] was located and interviewed by a Post-Intelligencer reporter. […] shortly after the interview, [he] left Seattle.

British poet Rudyard Kipling happened to be touring Puget Sound at the time and arrived in Seattle by steamer shortly after the fire. He described the remains as “a horrible black smudge, as though a Hand had come down and rubbed the place smooth. I know, now, what being wiped out means.”

From the University of Washington

The spring of 1889 in Seattle had been beautiful. There had been little rain and temperatures were consistently in the 70s. Unfortunately, the unusually good weather proved to be disastrous, as the dry conditions conspired with a handful of other elements to allow for the worst fire in city history.

[…] John Back was heating glue over a gasoline fire. Sometime after 2:15p, the glue boiled over, caught fire and, spread to the floors, which were covered by wood chips and turpentine. He tried to put the fire out with water but, that only served to thin the turpentine and spread the fire further. Everyone got out of the building safely and the fire department got to the fire by 2:45p. By that time, there was so much smoke that it was hard to find the source of the fire and by the time it was found, the fire was out of control. The fire quickly spread to the Dietz & Mayer Liquor Store, which exploded […].

Great Seattle Fire Image Three
Photo Credit: seattlepi.com

Seattle’s water supply proved to be a major problem in fighting the fire. Firemen tried to keep the fire from spreading further by pumping water from Elliott Bay onto the Commercial Mill but, the tide was out and the hoses were not long enough to reach the side of the building closest to the fire. To add insult to injury, crowds harassed the fire fighters as the water pressure fell.

The fire burned until 3:00 am. When it was done, the damage was enormous. Thousands of people were displaced and 5,000 men lost their jobs. The city didn’t take much time to mourn. Within a month of the fire over 100 businesses were operating out of tents. Instead of relocating, most businesses decided to rebuild where they had been and rebuilding began almost immediately. Within a year, 465 buildings had been built, most of the reconstruction was complete and the businesses had reopened.

Movie Monday: 1889

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Leisurely Pedestrians Image One
Image Credit: wikipedia.org

I am going WAY back this time…back to the days of moving pictures and short films. Sticking with my five year increments, one-hundred & thirty years ago, William Friese-Greene, an English inventor, and professional photographer, shot a silent, actuality film in the Autumn of 1889. It was titled Leisurely Pedestrians, Open Topped Buses and Hansom Cabs with Trotting Horses.

From Wikipedia:

[…] shot by inventor and film pioneer William Friese-Greene on celluloid film using his ‘machine’ camera, the 20 feet of film […] was shot […] at Apsley Gate, Hyde Park, London. [It] was claimed to be the first motion picture [but] Louis Le Prince successfully shot on glass plate before 18 August 1887 and on paper negative in October 1888. It may, nonetheless, be the first moving picture film on celluloid and the first shot in London.

It is now considered a lost film with no known surviving prints and only one possible still image extant.

Leisurely Pedestrians Image Two
Image Credit: wikipedia.org

An article in This Is Bristol UK from December 17, 2009, (via The Wayback Machine) has an interview with David Friese-Greene, the great-grandson. From the article:

My great-grandfather was an idealist and a brilliant inventor, with 71 patents to his name but, he was a dreadful businessman. He died without ever having made a penny out of his inventions. He married his first wife Helena Friese when he was just 19 and incorporated her surname with his, because he felt it sounded more impressive. Tragically, Helena died at the age of 21 […].

It was during the late 1880s, shortly after Helena’s death, that Friese-Greene first began to experiment with the idea of creating moving pictures. […] in 1890, he patented [a] new device, which he dubbed the chronophotographic camera. Unfortunately, he was so pleased with his creation that, he wrote to the great American inventor, Thomas Edison, telling him what he had come up with and, even, included plans and designs […]. William never heard back from the inventor of the electric light bulb, though, the following year, Edison patented his own version of a movie camera and went down in many history books as the inventor of cinema.

In fact, William died a pauper but, [was] still passionate about his most famous creation. He was at a cinema industry meeting in London, which had been called to discuss the poor state of the British film industry in 1921. He had got to his feet to speak about his vision of how film could be used to create educational documentaries when he fell down dead. It is said he had just 21 pence in his pockets when he died.

In 1951, the movie The Magic Box was released. Starring Robert Donat, it was a biographical piece about Friese-Greene’s life.

There is additional information on this WordPress blog: William Friese-Greene & Me