These days, people can buy a ticket to ride a train and have a private room with a bed and bathroom in it to make their trip more comfortable. Since I have taken a train trip from Seattle, Washington to Chicago, Illinois, I can tell you that paying the extra money for that private cabin is really a good idea. We traveled in in a seat among the other passengers, and while the seat was pretty comfortable, it was not comfortable to sleep in. My parents traveled on the Amtrack too, and they did get a private cabin, so their experience was probably much better than mine, although I loved the trip…just not the sleeping part of it. Of course, even with the comfort my parents had on their trip, it was nothing compared to the Gilded Age, when the very rich had their own car on the train.
The Gilded Age was a time when the very rich went to great lengths to let all of the “less fortunate ones” know that they had wealth. The Gilded Age took place mostly from 1887 to 1900, with some earlier exceptions. One of the main objectives of life during the Gilded Age, if one could afford it, was to see and be seen in the most luxurious ways possible, and the railway was no different. Commercial air travel didn’t exist then, and cars were very slow. So, when the nation came into the age of the rails, the wealthy made sure that extreme luxury there was no exception. By the 1870s, private railroad cars…some extravagantly decorated…were the most fashionable way to travel. I suppose it would have been like the very rich on ships, but they could stay a little closer to home, and still travel. The people would never travel in humble wooden coach seats, which I can understand, but most people had no other choice. Money bought comfort.
With great fanfare, the very rich boarded their own entire rail cars, where the walls were lined in velvet, the upholstery plush, and the decor much like that of a fancy parlor at home. The private cars had bedrooms, running water, and a private water closet. Now expense was spared to make sure that the wealthy car owner was never out of the lap of luxury. It seems like a cruel way to act, but I suppose it is simply the way it is.
Nurses are the cornerstone of medicine in many cases. Yes, we must have doctors, but nurses are the support system that allows doctors to do their jobs. One such example was a woman named Mary Ann Bickerdyke. She was born on July 19, 1817 in Knox County, Ohio, to Hiram and Annie (Rodgers) Ball. She was married in 1847 to Robert Bickerdyke. The couple and their family moved to Galesburg, Illinois. After her infant daughter died suddenly, she vowed to learn more about medicine, studying herbal medicine at Oberlin College. Mary Ann was widowed in 1859. She was alone and the mother of two sons, who were in their adolescent years.
Widowed just two years before the Civil War began, she supported herself and her sons by practicing as a “botanic physician” in Galesburg. When a young Union volunteer physician wrote home about the filthy, chaotic military hospitals at Cairo, Illinois, the citizens of Galesburg collected $500 worth of supplies and selected Bickerdyke to deliver them. She left her sons with a neighbor, and after seeing the horrible conditions for herself, Bickerdyke decided that she was needed there, so she stayed as an unofficial nurse. Her never ending energy, and her dedication made her just the heroine the Union soldiers needed in those awful war years. She organized the hospitals and cleaned up the filth that served only to breed germs, and in doing so, she gained the respect and appreciation of Ulysses S. Grant.
While there, she worked alongside another famed Civil War Nurse, Mary J. Stafford. When Grant’s army moved down the Mississippi River, Bickerdyke went too, becoming the Chief of Nursing and setting up hospitals where they were needed. Bickerdyke’s goal during the Civil War was to more efficiently care for wounded Union soldiers. She insisted on cleanliness, was dedicated to improving the level of care, and unafraid of stepping on male toes. That, in itself, was almost unheard of in that era. She was adamant about scrubbing every surface in sight, reported drunken physicians, and on one occasion ordered a staff member, who had illegally appropriated garments meant for the wounded, to strip. Though she antagonized male physicians, staff, and soldiers alike, in the name of better patient care, she won most of her battles…a good thing for the wounded soldiers.
Union General William T. Sherman was especially fond of the volunteer nurse who followed the western armies. It is said that she was the only woman he would allow in his camp. When his staff complained about the outspoken, insubordinate female nurse who constantly disregarded the army’s red tape and military procedures, Sherman threw up his hands and exclaimed, “Well, I can do nothing for you, she outranks me.” Running roughshod over anyone who stood in the way of her self-appointed duties, when a surgeon questioned her authority to take some action, she replied, “On the authority of Lord God Almighty, have you anything that outranks that?” I guess Sherman was right when he said that she outranked him.
To the wounded soldiers, Bickerdyke was an angel. They affectionately called her “Mother” Bickerdyke, and she called them her “boys.” The soldiers would cheer here when she appeared. She was more loved than the celebrities of our day are for some fans. During the war, she worked closely with Eliza Emily Chappell Porter of the Northwest Sanitary Commission, worked on the first hospital boat, helped build 300 hospitals and aided the wounded on 19 battlefields including the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Vicksburg, and Sherman’s March to the Sea. When the war was over, she rode at the head of the XV Corps in the Grand Review in Washington at General William T. Sherman’s request. Afterwards, she worked for the Salvation Army in San Francisco, and became an attorney, helping Union veterans with legal issues. Later, she ran a hotel in Salina, Kansas for a time before retiring to Bunker Hill, Kansas. She received a special pension of $25 a month from Congress in 1886. She died peacefully after a minor stroke November 8, 1901. Her remains were transported back to Galesburg, Illinois and she was interred next to her husband at the Linwood Cemetery. In memory of Bickerdyke’s selflessness, a statue of her was erected in Galesburg, Illinois. Two ships…a hospital boat, a liberty ship, and a cemetery in Kansas were named after her.
For many years, levee systems were built along rivers to hold back flood waters. They work very well…until they don’t. When a levee ruptures, the resulting flood is usually devastating. From June through August of 1993, the midwestern United States received an unusually large amount of rain…far more than normal. The rain led to severe flooding, particularly along the Illinois and Missouri shores. Then, on July 22, 1993, the levee holding back the flooding Mississippi River at Kaskaskia, Illinois, ruptured. The town’s people were forced to flee on barges. In all, more than 1,000 levees burst in late July, but, the incident at Kaskaskia was the most dramatic event of the flood. The town, which was virtually an island, was protected by a levee that the town attempted to shore up even after the bridge connecting the town to the riverside was wiped out by the rising river. At 9:48am, the levee broke, leaving the people of Kaskaskia with no escape route other than two Army Corp of Engineers barges. By 2pm, the entire town was underwater.
The rupture of the levee at Quincy, Illinois, left no way to cross the Mississippi River for 250 miles north of Saint Louis. In Grafton, Illinois, flood waters reached two stories high. Other towns fared somewhat better, but the flooding was bad everywhere. In Saint Genevieve, Missouri, the entire town turned out in a desperate attempt to raise the levee. Prisoners were even brought in to assist the effort. The river crested at a record 49 feet, just two feet below the improved levee. The flood inundated 1 million acres of prime farm land and wreaked havoc on the area’s economy. Miles of wheat fields were too saturated to harvest that season. In addition, the herbicides from the farms washed down the river and severely damaged fish farms in Louisiana. Many other people lost their jobs when barge traffic on the river was suspended for two months. The Mississippi flood of 1993 caused $18 billion in damages and killed 52 people.
Levees can save lives, but when levees fail…people die, and property is destroyed. Sometimes, there is some warning, but other times, the flood that was expected, brings with it an unexpected consequence. And I can’t think of a worse unexpected consequence, than having far more water inundate an area that the flood could possibly have brought in. That was the case in 1993, and especially the case in Kaskaskia, Illinois. No one was prepared for the massive amount of water, and for 52 people, there was no way of escape.
Much has been learned over the years about fire safety and about the things that can be extremely hazardous. Unfortunately, as with most things humans learn about, this information came at a price. Just before midnight on April 4, 1949, in Effingham, Illinois, at Saint Anthony’s Hospital, a fire broke out. I can’t imagine a worse place to have a fire, than a hospital or nursing home, because not everyone can just stand up and file out of the building in a safe and orderly fashion. In addition to that, there were not as many fire safety regulations in place back then. The resulting disaster caused the death of 74 people at the hospital.
This fire became the example of the special hazards that hospitals can present for a fire disaster, and it was that reason for the regulations to be updated. The safety of the patients was paramount, and something had to be done. The hospital was operated by the Sisters of Saint Francis, who lived at the convent next door to the hospital. The was constructed mainly out of wood and brick. It housed 100 beds. Parts of the building dated back to 1876. By 1949 the facility was completely outdated. It contained open corridors and staircases. Many walls and ceilings were covered with oilcloth fabrics and combustible soundproof tiles. The building lacked sprinklers, as well as fire detection and alarm systems. Because the hospital was built of wood and brick, and much of it was an open floor plan, there was little to stop the progression of the fire. The combustible building materials gave no resistance to the advancement of the flames.
At the time of the fire, there were 116 patients and ten staff members were on duty. Many of them were trapped on the upper floors when the fire engulfed the lower floors. This number included eleven newborn infants and the nurse who stayed behind with them. A total of 74 people died, including patients, nurses, nuns, a priest and Frank Ries, the hospital superintendent who ran into the flames to try to rescue his wife. The Effingham Volunteer Fire Department, with its 26 men and three pumpers were fighting a losing battle. They simply didn’t have the resources they needed to put out a fire of this magnitude. Eleven other fire departments also responded. but little could be done.
The cause was never determined, but investigators found many safety issues with the building. Something had to change. In response to the fire, Governor Adlai Stevenson ordered the evaluation of all the hospitals in the state to identify and mitigate fire hazards. The impact of the fire went beyond Illinois as hospitals across the United States made many of the fire protection improvements that are standard today. It is sometimes a matter of live and learn in this life, but it is very sad that it takes something as tragic as this to look into the possible fire hazards that can quickly end a life.
I think that were it not for the danger involved, I could be a storm chaser. I love to watch the shows about storm chasers and about tornadoes themselves. I suppose the main reason I like those shows is that you can watch the awesomeness of nature’s storms, but you don’t really have to deal with the reality of the loss of life and damage to property. It seems more like a scene from a movie. Nevertheless, the reality is that in a real storm situation, tornadoes kill and they damage property. The first recognized storm chaser was David Hoadley, who began chasing North Dakota storms in 1956. Hoadley used data from area weather offices and airports to calculate the possible areas for tornadic activity. Hoadley is considered the pioneer storm chaser and was the founder of Storm Track magazine. With storms such as the Tri-State Tornado which occurred on this day, March 18, 1925, and many others that followed, I’m sure that Hoadley could see that there was a need for someone to find a way to predict the path of these deadly storms.
The March 18, 1925 tornado traveled across the tri-state area of eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and southern Indiana, killing 695 people, injuring some 13,000 people, and causing $17 million in property damage. It became known as the Tri-State Tornado, and it shocked the nation. The tornado first touched down in Ellington, Missouri at about 1:00pm, but the worst hit area was southern Illinois. More than 500 of the 695 people lost dies in Illinois, including 234 in the city of Murphysboro and 127 in West Frankfort.
In all, the Tri-State Tornado traveled 219 miles in it’s path of destruction, and was on the ground more than three hours. It ripped through 164 square miles and was more than a mile wide. It traveled at speeds of more than 70 miles per hour. There has never been a worse tornado in the history of the United States. Years after the Tri-State Tornado, scientists discovered the cyclic nature of tornado-producing thunderstorms. These storms are able to produce one tornado after another, in a seemingly continuous damage path, that could easily be mistaken for a single tornado, when they were actually a family of tornadoes. Of course, with all the time that had passed, and the lack of things like Doppler Radar to see what the storm really was, it is nearly impossible to determine 91 years later whether or not the Tri-State tornado was one or a family of tornadoes, it remains in the history books as the longest-tracked and deadliest single tornado in recorded history. I have to wonder if David Hoadley, or someone like him had been able to predict these storms, maybe the loss of life would have been much lower.
These days, when a new president makes the move from their current home to the White House, it is a huge production. Very little of the packing is actually done by the first family. Things were much different in 1861, when President Abraham Lincoln was moving to Washington DC. When Abraham Lincoln moved to Washington DC, he packed his family’s belongings himself. His wife Mary was in Saint Louis on a shopping trip, so she would join him later in Indiana. It was on this day, February 11, 1861 that Abraham Lincoln boarded a two car private train…probably the only special thing about this transition. After an emotional speech to his fellow Springfield, Illinois citizens, Abraham Lincoln moved to Washington DC. The day was cold and rainy…much like the mood as Lincoln left his friends. He spoke to a crowd before departing: “Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young man to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being…I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.” One of the people who attended the speech, said that the president-elect’s “breast heaved with emotion and he could scarcely command his feelings.”
It’s hard to say if Lincoln had an inkling that he was not just saying “goodbye for now” to the citizens of Springfield, Illinois, or not, but there is no doubt that he knew that his presidency was going to be difficult…to say the least. Since his election, seven southern states has seceded from the Union. The nation was in the middle of a national crisis. President Lincoln knew that the nation was quite likely heading for a civil war. In short order, he was proven to be correct, when our nation embarked on one of the most bitter wars it ever fought…waged against its own people, over slavery.
When Lincoln said that it was possible that he would never return to Springfield, he was ironically very correct. While he returned in body, he did not return in life…as we all know, because he was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, and died at 7:22am the morning of April 15, 1865. Booth opposed Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves, and maybe felt like killing him would somehow change that. Of course, it did not. After his passing, Lincoln’s body made a two week train trip back to Springfield, Illinois for burial, taking a route that would allow the people to pay tribute along the way. Memorial services were held at different towns when the train passed through them. It was the only time he rode in the new private train car that had been built just for him.
After writing about the worst winter ever, I began to look into other severe weather that made a big impact on a lot of lives, and might possibly have had an impact on my own family. I came across a tornado on this day, March 18, 1925 that was and still is the deadliest tornado in history. This tornado touched down at 1:00pm near Ellington, Missouri, and over the next 3 1/2 hours it tore across 3 states and 219 miles, finally ending up in Outsville, Indiana at 4:30 pm, where it hit one house and then dissipated. A tornado traveling this distance is virtually unheard of, but as we all know from this even…not impossible. This tornado was an F5 on the Fujita Scale. In all, the Tri-State Tornado, as it has since been called, hit more that 19 communities in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, while making an almost straight path across the 3 states.
I don’t know if any of the 695 people who perished in the most deadly tornado in history, were related to me or not, but in studying my family history, I can say the I had family in those areas. In all likelihood, one or more of them were related, and when I think of the horror of their last moments, whether they were related or not…well, it is beyond horrible. In Missouri, 13 people lost their lives. In Illinois, 541 people lost their lives, with 234 in Murphysboro alone, which is a record for a single community, and there were 33 deaths at the De Soto school, which was a record for such a storm, and with only bombs and explosions taking higher school tolls. In Indiana 76 people lost their lives. The numbers are not exact. Some accounts say 630 and others say 689, while still others say 695. I find that in itself sad. It is always sad when lives lost go unaccounted for. In all, there were 2,027 injuries and 15,000 homes destroyed. I have been looking over the victims lists, and some of the last names are familiar to me, but I can’t say that these people were or were not related to me. Also, the lists that I found, were not complete lists. It may take a bit of research to know for sure.
It doesn’t really matter whether I am related to any of the victims or not, the reality of this kind of devastation is beyond horrible. Of the 19+ communities, 5 were virtually destroyed along with more than 85 farms. I did find out that at the time of the Tri-State Tornado, my great great grandmother was living just 36 miles north of its path. One of the names might have been a cousin or nephew. Even knowing there is a possibility makes me sad. It is very hard to think about the family members of the victims who are left behind.
With graduation behind us for another year, the thoughts of many graduates turn to the traditional graduation trip. It is supposed to be the first step into real freedom the young adult takes. The trips can be as varied as the graduate taking them, and of course, the cost they can afford. My thoughts go back to my own graduation trip. I felt very blessed to be one of the few that got to take such a trip. When I graduated, the graduation trip was not the common thing to do, and in fact, I don’t know of any of my friends that took one. Nevertheless, my parents wanted to give me something special, while not just sending me off alone into the unknown. So, they arranged for me to fly out to my older sister, Cheryl’s house in Plattsburgh, New York, for the Christmas and New Years holidays.
I had never flown, much less flown alone, so this was a big deal for me! My flight was to take me to Chicago, Illinois, where I would change planes and fly on into New York City. My sister and her husband, at the time, would pick me up in New York City. I was very excited about this trip…and I felt very grown up, but at the same time a lot like a Kindergarten child on the first day of school. It was a really tough place to be. The flight was not really the thing that I was concerned about, but rather the change of flights. I believe I had 45 minutes or so between the flights, and I was worried that I would not get there in time.
When my flight arrived in Chicago, and after my initial surprise at the fact that the runway crossed over the highway, which I found very cool by the way, I began my journey over to the connecting flight’s gate…running!!! I’m quite sure I looked very much like the scared Kindergarten child I felt like, but that was something I didn’t really care about at the time. The thought of missing my flight and trying to figure out what to do about that all by myself, in Chicago, was not a prospect I relished,…so I ran. When I arrived at my gate, I found myself 30 minutes early…with nothing to do.
I thought about all the airport that I had run through and not bothered to look at…with a little bit of regret. Still, with only the 30 minutes left, I decided that I probably should stay right where I was. The rest of the trip went very smoothly and I had a wonderful time with my sister and her family. I think I really did some growing up at that time, and I can honestly say that I don’t run to the connecting flights anymore, although there have been a couple that we cut a little close. My graduation trip was a trip I will always remember, and forever be grateful to my parents for sending me on.