Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Fire in Joy

I had a dream yesterday morning that our kitchen was on fire.  For reasons I don’t understand and will leave to a dreamologist or psychiatrist to analyze, I discovered the fire but was paralyzed to act.   I did alert Steve, however, and he used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire.

After telling Steve about it, I put the dream out of my mind until this morning.  That’s when I discovered an eerie coincidence while going through some research notes from several years ago.  Yesterday was Feb. 21.  According to my notes, in the early morning of Feb. 21, 1892, exactly 119 years earlier, my great-great grandfather’s hardware store and residence in Joy, Illinois, were destroyed in a fire.

This great-great grandfather, Jasper Riggs, was the father of G. Oliver Riggs, who at the time of the fire was living in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, teaching music at the Iowa Wesleyan Conservatory of Music.
A line drawing of G. Oliver Riggs, from about 1892.
An article in the Feb. 26, 1892 Aledo Democrat described the event:

Early Sunday morning the people of Joy and vicinity were aroused from their slumbers by the alarm of fire.  It was soon discovered that the store of Love & Church was in flames and all efforts to save anything were in vain.  In a few minutes the Joy store owned by N.H. Derr was also in flames.  The people knew that the residence and hardware store of Jasper Riggs would be the next to go and no time was to be lost.  By this time all Joy and vicinity had flocked to the scene, and in a few minutes the hardware and household goods were moved into the street.  The building was soon in flames, and the people now turned their attention to the grocery store of Geo. Braucht.  Every article was removed from the building, and by hard work on the part of both men and women the building was saved.  In two hours from the time fire was discovered, the three principal business houses of Joy were in ashes.  The household goods and hardware of Mr. Riggs were badly damaged.  How the fire originated is not known.

Another newspaper article further explained the damage caused by the largest fire Joy had ever experienced.  Nothing was saved from the one-story Love & Church store; losses were estimated at $4,500, and the firm did have insurance (interestingly, one of the policies was through William N. Graham, father of Islea Graham, who would later marry G. Oliver).  The other general store, owned by Dr. N.H. Derr, was a total loss, as was his stock of drugs, but he was said to have $3,500 in insurance.

Jasper, the article explains, did not have any insurance on his household goods or hardware stock, and the man who owned the building, J.H. Crane, had no insurance, either.

I had never heard anything about this event until I stumbled across the articles while looking up something else a few years ago.  I am curious about the household goods lost in the fire.  Were there photos of Jasper from his service in the Civil War?  Letters from him to Rebecca, whom he married while on leave from service in the 45th Illinois Infantry?  Baby photos of G. Oliver and his sister, Daisy?  The Riggs family is known for keeping photos, concert programs, and other memorabilia.  The earliest photo we possess is from 1885, of the band G. Oliver organized in Esbon, Kansas; the others all were taken after 1892.

It must have been devastating to experience such a loss, especially in the dead of winter.  I don’t know where Jasper, Rebecca and Daisy lived immediately after the fire.  They did have relatives in the area, so it’s likely they stayed with family.

Later newspaper articles informed me that by mid-June, the Riggs family had moved into a house in Joy that became available after the death of its occupant, Mrs. Sallie Morrow.  And by the end of June, Jasper had moved his hardware stock into Crane’s newly completed building.

I wonder if either man took out any insurance this time?

(A side note: the reason I came across the notes about the fire is because I’ve been trying for weeks now to organize my research and writing files.  It’s slow and not-so-steady progress.  If there was a fire in my office, I’d be in big trouble; I have no genealogy insurance.  It would, however, eliminate the organization problem.)

1 comment:

  1. I got chills reading about the dream fire and then discovering the real fire so many years ago. Did you get chills, too?