James W. Milner

James W. Milner's letter is October 14, 1871, just four days after the fire ended.

Dear Bannister,

Your letter, as you have learned is usual with letters to me, has waited for its answer. Since it arrived, the world as it is to people of this vicinity, has changed; an age has closed, and a new epoch, obscured in doubt and uncertainty, is about to begin. The fate of Gomorrah has come upon a city, better by far, than most of the cities of this land or the world. The busy, peopled streets, the pleasant stores with their wide inviting doors, with cheerful cordial gentlemen within, that you and I can so readily recall to mind, before our eyes in fact are now stumbling pathways, through heaps of blackened bricks and dusty ashes, with silent people wandering among the ruins.

You can scarcely imagine the desolation. If a man wants his mind impressed with what the end of the world will be, let him come here.

The suffering has been very extensive. At a cautious estimate nearly one fourth of the people are burned out. Many lost members of their families in the fire, young children have been separated from their parents for days. Women who had never before lacked comfort, spent Monday night in the open air, with an hour's heavy rainfall. I saw a great many ladies sitting on the sidewalk with their heads bowed over, asleep, with children around them.

The complication of losses, affecting first buildings and goods, insurance companies, importers and jobbers on the seaboard, mortgage securities, burned money, depreciation in real estate, throwing men out of employment, and a hundred other things make the summing up a large amount.

Outside property will depreciate most and longest. Evanston is a great sufferer. The institute has lost their building on the corner of Lake and Market Sts, upon which they depended, as I am informed, for the salaries of their faculty.

The Academy has lost everything, not a leaf left. Fire-proof is a relative term, relating to a certain number of degrees Fahrenheit. 2372 degrees, you know, Humboldt says, melts granite. Mortar and brick will crumble at a good many degrees short of that. Dr. Andrews said he went into the city during the progress of the fire, with ex. Gov. Bross, they surveyed the fireproof Tribune Building, now shuttered closed,--iron and stones, only, exposed to the advancing fire. The Gov. went back quite confident in the safety of the building. It is now a broken, shuttered shell.

The Illinois Stone suffered less than the Lockport, N.Y. Stone. Green, new walls suffered the least. A building, on the corner of LaSalle and Monroe, is in a perfect state of preservation, front, walls, and roof. It was quite new, and had not had the inside, woodwork complete.

The general sentiment and feeling of the people is an honor to humanity. The business men are cool and cheerful. A quiet determination to accept the situation, and steadily weather it through to better times, is the prevailing feeling. There is no whining, no "Black Friday" hair tearing, and insanity, but a grand manliness of feeling that shows American character of the highest type. In fact, like an individual character made deep and earnest by the experience of real trouble, so Chicago, superior before in her energies, enterprise and liberalities, with the froth and foam of vanity and ostentation cut away by this calamity, will mature a deeper earnester manliness of character, so that the next Buckle or Dilke, looking for high types of human nature, developed in modern civilization, will need to come to Chicago. I am getting prophetic.

For all the sensational accounts in the papers, there has been no disorderly gatherings, and nothing approaching a riot. The presence of soldiers is, undoubtedly, a good thing as so many men thrown idle, with the unsettled condition that such ruin induced in their minds, makes every precaution advisable....

Yours truly,

James W. Milner