Peshtigo Fire Memorial

The Deadliest Fire in American History: Our Visit to the Peshtigo Fire Museum

When most people think of the worst fire in American history, the Chicago fire of 1871 comes to mind. However, there is another that holds the title of deadliest fire – the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871. To learn more about this historic event and see displays of the lifestyle at the time, be sure to stop by the Peshtigo Fire Museum.

This museum is dedicated to telling the story of that deadly fire and how it impacted the entire city and surrounding area. If you’re interested in history, or if you want to learn more about this famous fire and see exhibits of artifacts from the area, then this is definitely a stop to add to your bucket list!

The Peshtigo Fire Museum is filled with artifacts from the fire offering visitors a peek into the lifestyle of the people who lived there when the firestorm roared through killing as many as 2,000 people.

Ready to learn more about one of the most fascinating historic places in the area?

Here are five interesting facts about the museum and the great fire that occurred on October 8, 1871….

1. The blaze burned for seven hours and consumed everything in its path

The fire that raged through the town of Peshtigo consumed about 3,000 acres of land.

Within a period of seven hours, the fire had consumed everything in its path, including homes, businesses, trees, and plants.

Since it was an unusually dry summer at the time of the disaster, the fire burned hot and fast.

Many eyewitnesses described it as looking “like a tornado”.

The blazing speed of the flames consumed all the available oxygen, leaving some people to struggle for breath and others burned on the spot.

Some who tried to flee were engulfed in flames and killed.

The inferno burned through 1.2 to 1.5 million acres in the Peshtigo WI area, skipped over the waters of Green Bay and set fire to parts of Door and Kewaunee counties.

It is estimated that around $169 million in damage was caused, which is comparable to the destruction of the Great Chicago Fire (which happened on the exact same night!)

2. There is a mass grave and memorial for victims of the fire

The cemetery is located next to the museum and toward the back is a large grave site with a plaque that provides information and serves to memorialize those who died on that fateful October day.

It is believed that there are approximately 350 people buried in the mass grave.

Some were so badly burned that it is said that, “one could not tell man from woman or child from adult”.

Their charred remains rest in peace in this spot along with others who may not have been so badly burned but were unidentified.

3. A priest risked his life to save the church tabernacle

One interesting fact is that the tabernacle from the local Catholic Church survived the disaster.

Many believe that the only reason the tabernacle survived is that Father Pernin, the local priest, risked his life to save it.

After retrieving the case, he made his way to the river and pushed it in as far as it would go in an effort to save it from burning.

After the fire, the tabernacle was found unharmed even though everything around it was burned.

4. Some ran to the river, but even the water wasn’t a guarantee of safety

The Peshtigo River served as a refuge for many people who were trying to escape the flames.

However, because of how hot and fast the fire was burning, it is said that “flames darted over the river as they did over land” and that “the air itself was on fire”.

Many people were too afraid to get into the river because it was cold or because they couldn’t swim.

Of those that did get in, some were still burned by flames, sickened and even blinded by smoke, or died from hypothermia.

5. The actual cause of the blaze is unknown…although there are a few theories

There are many theories as to what actually caused the fire, but one often repeated theory is that a spark from a train engine started the blaze.

This is a scary fact when you consider how many people were affected by this one spark.

It’s hard to believe that something so small could cause such destruction, but that is one of the things that makes this event so fascinating.

Other theories suggest that the fire was caused by a lightning strike or even arson.

However, the true cause of the fire may never be known.

Tips For Visiting The Peshtigo Fire Museum

If you’re planning a trip to this Peshtigo, Wisconsin museum, let me give you some interesting info and helpful tips we learned from our recent visit.

1. The museum is now located in the first church built after the fire

The museum is located at 400 Oconto Ave, Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and is on the same grounds as the former Catholic Church that was destroyed in the fire all those years ago.

2. The museum is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day

You will find the Peshtigo Fire Museum open from Memorial day to Labor day, 10am-4pm. So if you’re planning a visit make sure it falls within those dates and times.

3. Consider stopping in the spring or fall

Spring and fall are perfect times to visit this beautiful area of the state, and it may also be a better time to visit the museum.

We took our latest trip to Peshtigo in July and not only was the museum VERY busy, but it was also incredibly hot inside!

I’m not sure if they don’t have air conditioning or if it wasn’t working, but after being in the museum for just a short time we needed to go outside for air.

I will say that there were fans being used (although they didn’t seem to help much on this sweltering day), and the basement was much cooler.

4. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated

The museum website states that admission is donation based, so technically you might be able to enter for free, but donations help support the preservation, history, and heritage of the people who endured the deadliest fire and continue to allow the storytelling for (hopefully) generations to come.

5. Plan on spending a few hours here

There is so much history housed in this museum! So, if you like to see authentic artifacts and displays, be sure to allow at least a few hours at this site.

The museum alone could take you most of that time but don’t forget to take a walk in the cemetery too.

Last Thoughts About The Peshtigo Fire Museum

The Peshtigo Fire Museum preserves artifacts and displays that tell the story of the people who lived through this tragedy, and it’s a great way to honor their memory.

This is an important part of American history, and I’m glad we took the time to learn more about it.

Have you ever visited the Peshtigo Fire Museum? If so, what did you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


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