Rush Street Bridge Accident, Chicago


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, November 21, 1863

We have brought our passion for old newspapers to this WEB site by posting our entire collection of Harper's Weekly to this site. You can browse this collection, and gain new perspective on the war. The papers include pictures and reports created by the people who watched the events happen.

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Russian Ball

Russian Ball

Marching Song

Marching Song

Droop Mountain

Battle of Droop Mountain


Rebel Guerrillas

East Tennessee

War in East Tennessee

Rush Street Bridge

Rush Street Bridge Accident

Under Fire

First Time Under Fire

Soldier's Story - Gettysburg


War in Tennessee

Blood Hounds

Hunting Men with Blood Hounds


Ballroom Dancing



William Hammond

William Hammond

Baldness Cure

Illinois Central

Illinois Central Railroad



NOVEMBER 21, 1863.



they removed him under charitable pretenses, and searched his pockets in the passage for the key of Alfred's room.

To their infinite surprise and disappointment it was not upon him.

The fact is, Mrs. Archbold had snatched it from him in her wrath, and put it in her own pocket. How far her suspicions went, how much her spies had discovered, I really don't know; but somehow or other she was uneasy in her mind, and, seeing Hayes in such a state, she would not trust him during her absence, but took the key away with her.

The Robin and Garrett knew nothing of this, and were all abroad; but they thought Rooke must have the key; so they proceeded to drink with him, and were just about to administer a really effective soporific in his grog, when they and all the merry party were suddenly startled by violent ringing at the bell, and thundering and halloaing at the hall-door. The men jumped to their feet and balanced themselves, and looked half wild, half stupid. The women sat, and began to scream: for they had heard a word that has terrors for us all; peculiar terrors for them.

This alarm was due to a personage hitherto undervalued in the establishment.

Mr. Francis Beverley had been THINKING. So now, finding all the patients boxed up, and their attendants romping in the drawing-room, he lighted seven fires, skillfully on the whole, for practice makes perfect; but, singular oversight, he omitted one essential ingredient in a fire, and that was the grate.

To be plain, Mr. Francis made seven bonfires of bed-curtains, chairs, and other combustibles in the servants' garrets, lighted them contemporaneously, and retired to the basement, convinced he had taken the surest means to deliver his friend out of Drayton House; and with a certain want of candor that characterizes the weak, proceeded to black his other bad masters' shoes with singular assiduity.

There was no wind to blow the flame; but it was a clear frost; and soon fiery tongues shot out of three garret-windows into the night, and lurid gleams burnished four more, and the old house was burning merrily overhead, and ringing with hilarity on the first floor.

But the neighbors saw, pointed, wondered, comprehended, shouted, rang, knocked, and surged round the iron gate. "Fire! fire! fire!" and "Fire!" went down the road, and men on horseback galloped for engines; and the terror-stricken porter opened and the people rushed in and hammered at the hall doors, and, when Rooke ran down and opened, "Fire!" was the word that met him from a score of eager throats and glittering eyes.

"Fire! Where?" he cried.

"Where! Why, you are on fire. Blazing!"

He ran out and looked up at the tongues of flame and volleys of smoke. "Shut the gate!" he roared. "Call the police. Fire! fire!" And he dashed back, and calling to the other keepers to unlock all the doors they had keys of, ran up to the garrets to see what could be done. He came out awe-stricken at what he saw. He descended hastily to the third floor. Now the third floor of that wing was occupied principally by servants. In fact, the only patients at that time were Dodd and Alfred. Rooke called to the men below to send Hayes up to No. 75 with his key directly: he then ran down to the next floor; of which he had keys; and opened all the doors, and said to the inmates with a ghastly attempt at cheerfulness, belied by his shaking voice, "Get up, gentlemen; there is a ball and supper going on below." He was afraid to utter the word "fire" to them. The other keepers were as rapid, each on his beat, and soon the more rational patients took the alarm and were persuaded or driven out half dressed into the yard, where they cowered together in extremity of fear; for the fire began to roar overhead like a lion and lighted up the whole interior red and bright. All was screaming and confusion; and then came a struggle to get the incurable out from the basement story. There was no time to handcuff them. The keepers trusted to the terror of the scene to cow them, and so opened the doors and got them out anyhow. Wild, weird forms, with glaring eyes and matted hair, leaped out and ran into the hall, and laughed, and danced, and cursed in the lurid reflection of the fires above. Hell seemed discharging demons. Men recoiled from them. And well they did; for now the skylight exploded, and the pieces fell tinkling on the marble hall fast as hail. The crowd recoiled and ran; but those awful figures continued their gambols. One picked up the burning glass and ground it in his hands that bled directly: but he felt neither burn nor cut. The keepers rushed in to withdraw them from so dangerous a place: all but one obeyed with sudden tameness: that one struggled and yelled like a demon. In the midst of which fearful contest came a sudden thundering at a door on the third floor.

"Christ! What is that?" cried Rooke.

"It is Mr. Hardie," screamed the Robin. "You have left him locked in."

"I told Hayes to let him out long ago."

"But Hayes hasn't got the key. You've got it."

"No, no. I tell you Hayes has got it."

"No, no Murder! murder! They are dead men. Run for Mrs. Archbold, somebody. Run! Here, hammers, hammers! for God's sake come and help me break the door. Oh, Rooke, Rooke!"

"As I'm a man Hayes has got the key," cried Rooke, stamping on the ground, and white with terror.

By this time Garrett had got a hammer, and he and Wales rushed wildly up the stairs to batter in the strong door if they could. They got to the third floor, but with difficulty; the smoke began to blind them and choke them, and

fiery showers fell on them, and drove them back, smarting and choking. Garrett sank down gasping at the stair-foot. Wales ran into the yard uttering pitiful cries, and pointing wildly upward: but before he got there a hand had broken through the glass of a window up in the third floor, the poor white hand of a perishing prisoner, and clutched the frame-work and tore at it.

At this hand a thousand white faces were now upturned amidst groans of pity and terror such as only multitudes can utter. Suddenly those anxious faces and glistening eyes turned like one, for an attempt, wild and unintelligible, but still an attempt, was about to be made to save that hand and its owner out of the very jaws of death.

Now among the spectators was one whose life and reason were at stake on that attempt.

Mrs. Dodd was hurrying homeward from this very neighborhood when the fire broke out. Her son Edward was coming at nine o'clock to tea, and, better still, to sleep. He was leaving the fire brigade. It had disappointed him; he found the fire-escape men saved the lives, the firemen only the property. He had gone into the business earnestly too; he had invented a thing like a treble pouch hook, which could be fastened in a moment to the end of a rope, and thrown into the window, and would cling to the bare wall, if there was nothing better, and enable him to go up and bring life down. But he had never got a chance to try it; and, per contra, he was on the engine when they went tearing over a woman and broke her arm and collarbone in the Blackfriars'-road: and also when they went tearing over their own fire-dog and crippled him. All this seemed out of character, and shocked Edward: and then his mother could not get over the jacket.

In a quarter of an hour he was to take off the obnoxious jacket forever, and was now lounging at the station smoking a short pipe, when a man galloped up crying "Fire!"

"All right!" said Edward, giving a whiff. "Where?"

"Lunatic Asylum. Drayton House."

Guess how long before the horses were to, and the engine tearing at a gallop down the road, and the firemen shouting "Fire! fire!" to clear the way, and Edward's voice the loudest.

When the report of fire swept townward past Mrs. Dodd, she turned: and saw the glow.

"Oh dear," said she, "that must be somewhere near Drayton House." And full of the tender fears that fill such bosoms as hers for those they love, she could not go home till she had ascertained that it was not Drayton House. Moreover, Edward's was the nearest station; she had little hope now of seeing him to tea. She sighed, and retraced her steps, and made timid inquiries, but could gain no clear information. Presently she heard galloping behind her, and the firemen's wild sharp cry of fire. An engine drawn by two powerful brown horses came furiously, all on fire itself with red paint and polished steel gleaming in the lights: helmeted men clustered on it, and out of one of these helmets looked a face like a fighting lion's, the eyes so dilated, the countenance in such towering excitement, the figure half rising from his seat as though galloping was too slow and he wanted to fly. It was Edward: mother and son caught sight of one another as the engine thundered by, and he gave her a solemn ardent look and pointed toward the fire: by that burning look and eloquent gesture she knew it was something more than a common fire. She trembled and could not move. But this temporary weakness was followed by an influx of wild vigor; she forgot her forty-two years, and flew to hover round the fire as the hen round water. Unfortunately she was too late to get any nearer than the road outside the gates, the crowd was so dense. And, while her pale face and anxious eyes, the eyes of a wife and a mother, were bent on that awful fire, the human tide flowed swiftly up behind her, and there she was wedged in. She was allowed her foot of ground to stand and look like the rest—no more. Mere unit in that mass of panting humanity, hers was one of the thousands of upturned faces lurid in the light of the now blazing roof. She saw with thousands the hand break the window and clutch the frame: she gasped with the crowd at that terrible and piteous sight, and her bosom panted for her fellow-creature in sore peril. But what is this? The mob inside utter a great roar of hope; the crowd outside strain every eye.

A gleaming helmet overtops the outer wall. It is a fireman mounting the great elm-tree in the mad-house yard. The crowd inside burst in a cheer. He had a rope round his loins; his face was to the tree. He mounted and mounted like a cat; higher, and higher, and higher, till he reached a branch about twelve feet above the window and as many distant from it laterally: the crowd cheered him lustily. But Mrs. Dodd, half distracted with terror, implored them not to encourage him. "It is my child!" she cried, despairingly; "my poor reckless darling! Come down, Edward; for your poor mother's sake, come down."

"Dear heart," said a woman, "it is the lady's son. Poor thing!"

"Stand on my knee, ma'am," said a coal-heaver.

"Oh no, Sir, no. I could not look at him for the world. I can only pray for him. Oh, good people, pray for us!" And she covered her face, and prayed and trembled and sobbed hysterically. A few yards behind was another woman, who had arrived later, yet like her was wedged immovable. This woman was more terror-stricken than Mrs. Dodd: and well she might; for she knew who was behind that fatal window: the woman's name was Edith Archbold. The flames were now leaping through the roof, and surging up toward heaven in waves of fire six

feet high. Edward, scorched and half-blinded, managed to fasten his rope to the bough, and, calculating the distances vertical and lateral he had to deal with, took up rope accordingly, and launched himself into the air.

The crowd drew their breath so hard it sounded like a murmur. To their horror he missed the window, and went swinging back.

There was a cry of dismay. But Edward had never hoped to leap into the window; he went swinging by the rope back to the main stem of the tree, gave it a fierce spang with his feet, and by this means and a powerful gesture of his herculean loins got an inch nearer the window; back again, and then the same game; and so he went swinging to and fro over a wider and wider space; and, by letting out an inch of cord each swing, his flying feet came above the window-ledge, then a little higher, then higher still, and now, oh sight strange and glorious—as this helmeted hero, with lips clenched and great eyes that stared unflinching at the surging flames and gleamed supernaturally with inward and outward fire, swang to and fro on his frail support still making for the window—the heads of all the hoping, fearing, admiring, panting crowd went surging and waving to and fro beneath; so did not their hearts only but their agitated bodies follow the course of his body, as it rushed to and fro faster and faster through the hot air starred with snow-flakes and hail of fire. And those his fellow-men for whom the brave fireman made this supernatural effort, did they know their desperate condition? Were they still alive? One little hour ago Alfred sat on the bed, full of hope. Every minute he expected to hear the Robin put a key into the door. He was all ready, and his money in his pocket. Alas! his liberator came not: some screw loose again. Presently he was conscious of a great commotion in the house. Feet ran up and down. Then came a smell of burning. The elm-tree outside was illuminated. He was glad at first; he had a spite against the place. But soon he became alarmed, and hammered at the door and tried to force it. Impossible. "Fire" rang from men's voices. Fire crackled above his head. He ran about the room like a wild creature. He sprang up at the window and dashed his hand through, but fell back. He sprang again and got his hand on some of the lighter wood-work; he drew himself up nearly to the window, and then the wood gave way and he fell to the ground, and striking the back of his head, nearly stunned himself; the flames roared fearfully now; and at this David, who had hitherto sat unconcerned, started up, and in a stentorian voice issued order upon order to furl every rag of sail and bring the ship to the wind. He thought it was a tempest. "Oh hush! hush!" cried Alfred, in vain. A beam fell from the roof to the floor, precursor of the rest. On this David thought the ship was ashore, and shouted a fresh set of orders proper to the occasion, so terribly alike are the angry voices of the sister-elements. But Alfred implored him, and got him to kneel down with him, and held his hand, and prayed.

And, even while they kneeled and Alfred prayed, Death and Life met and fought for them. Under the door, tight as it was, and through the keyhole struggled a hot stifling smoke, merciful destroyer running before fire: and the shadow of a gigantic figure began to flicker in from the outside, and to come and go upon the wall. Alfred did not know what that was, but it gave him a vague hope: he prayed aloud as men pray only for their bodies. (The crowd heard him and hushed itself breathless.)

The smoke penetrated faster, blinding and stifling; the giant shadow came and went. But now the greater part of the roof fell in with an awful report; the blazing timbers thundered down to the basement with endless clatter of red-hot tiles; the walls quivered, and the building belched skyward a thousand jets of fire like a bouquet of rockets; and then a cloud of smoke. Alfred gave up all hope, and prepared to die. Crash! as if discharged from a cannon, came bursting through the window with the roar of an applauding multitude and a mother's unheeded scream, a helmeted figure rope in hand, and alighted erect and commanding on the floor amidst a shower of splinters and tinkling glass. "Up men for your lives!" roared this fire warrior, clutching them hard, and dragged them both up to their feet by one prodigious gesture: all three faces came together and shone in the lurid light; and he knew his father and "the wretch," and the wretch knew him. "Oh!" "Ah!" passed like pistol shots; but not a word: even this strange meeting went for little, so awful was the moment, so great are Death and Fire. Edward clawed his rope to the bed; up to the window by it, dropped his line to fireman Jackson planted express below, and in another moment was hawling up a rope-ladder: this he attached, and getting on it and holding his own rope by way of baluster cried "Now men, quick, for your lives." But poor David called that deserting the ship, and demurred, till Alfred assured him the captain had ordered it. He then submitted directly, touched his forelock to Edward, whom he took for that officer, and went down the ladder; Alfred followed.

Now the moment those two figures emerged from the burning pile, Mrs. Dodd, already half dead with terror for her son, saw and knew her husband: for all about him it was as light as day.

What terror! what joy! what gratitude! what pride! what a tempest of emotions!

But her fears were not ended; Edward, not to overweight the ladder, went dangling by his hands along the rope toward the tree. And his mother's eyes stared fearfully from him to the other, and her heart hung trembling on her husband descending cautiously, and then on his preserver, her son, who was dangling along by the hands on that frail support. The mob cheered him royally, but she screamed and hid her face

again. At last both her darlings were safe, and then the lusty cheers made her thrill with pride and joy, till all of a sudden they seemed to die away and the terrible fire to go out; and the sore-tried wife and mother drooped her head, and swooned away, wedged in and kept from falling by the crowd.

Inside, the mob parted and made two rushes, one at the rescued men, one at the gallant fire-man. Alfred and David were overpowered with curiosity and sympathy. They had to shake a hundred honest hands; and others still pressing on, hurried them nearly off their feet.

"Gently, good friends, don't part us," said Alfred.

"He is the keeper," said one of the crowd.

"Yes, I'm his keeper: and I want to get him quietly away. This excitement will do him harm else; good friends, help me out by that door."

"All right," was the cry, and they rushed with him to the back door. Rooke, who was about twenty yards off, saw and suspected this movement. He fought his way and struggled after Alfred in silence. Presently, to his surprise, Alfred opened the gate and whipped out with David, leaving the door open. Rooke shouted and halloaed: "Stop him! he is escaping!" and struggled madly to the door: now another crowd had been waiting in the meadows; seeing the door opened they rushed in and the doorway was jammed directly. In the confusion Alfred drew David along the side of the wall; told him to stay quiet, bolted behind an outhouse, and then ran across country for the bare life.

To his horror David followed him, and with a madman's agility soon caught him.

He snorted like a spirited horse, and shouted cheerily. "Go ahead messmate; I smell blue water."

"Come on then," cried Alfred, half mad himself with excitement, and the pair ran furiously, and dashed through hedges and ditches, torn, bleeding, splashed, triumphant; behind them the burning mad-house, above them the spangled sky, the fresh free air of liberty blowing in their nostrils, and rushing past their ears.

Alfred's chest expanded, he laughed for joy, he sang for joy, he leaped as he went; nor did he care where he went. David took the command, and kept snuffing the air, and shaping his course for blue water. And so they rushed along the livelong night.




ON page 748 we illustrate the falling of the Rush Street Bridge at Chicago, an accident which took place on 3d instant. Our illustration is from a photograph by Mr. Alschuler. A Chicago paper thus describes the event:

A few minutes before five o'clock last evening the iron bridge across the river at Rush Street broke in two while turning, and precipitated twelve human beings and at least fifty cattle into the river. Several were drowned. Owing to the fact that it was growing dark at the time of the accident, and to the bustle and confusion incident to the scene, it was impossible to gather full particulars of the catastrophe. The following is all that could be ascertained:

A herd of fat cattle, numbering about one hundred and fifty, was being driven over the bridge, in a northerly direction, at a quarter before five o'clock. About sixty of them were on the bridge, the remainder having crossed over, when the tug Prindiville, having two small vessels in tow, came steaming down the river, and blew the whistle as a signal to open the bridge. A minute afterward, and before having arrived within dangerous distance, the captain saw the cattle crowding over, and immediately reversed the screw, signaling the fact to the vessels in tow at the same moment. But it was too late. The bridge-tender saw the tug approaching, and, apprehensive of a collision, he commenced to swing the bridge,, the north end of which was covered with cattle, the south end being empty. Of course this gave an immense preponderance to the former, and no sooner did the bridge swing clear of the bearings at the abutments than the north end descended. It sunk very slowly till it had dropped eight or nine feet, and then the whole weight of the structure being rested on one edge of the platform the bridge broke in the middle with a tremendous crash, precipitating every thing into the river, the two pieces falling right across the channel, one on each side, and leaving but one narrow space through which a vessel can pass.

There were on the bridge at the same time two drovers, one of them mounted on horseback; James H. Dole, commission-merchant in this city; one woman with a child; a boy: and about four other men. The scene was indescribably terrible. Several of the cattle were jammed in among the broken material, being horribly mutilated, and sending forth most distressing sounds of agony. Human beings were struggling in the water, shrieking for help, and all around them were the uninjured cattle swimming about, and threatening mischief to their human companions in misfortune. The brig Goble was lying just below at the time, and her captain, Lewis Berry, sent off the first boat to the assistance of the sufferers. Other boats were quickly dispatched to the scene, and then the work of rescue began. This was not easily accomplished, as the animals were very thick in the water, and it was almost impossible to move among them for the purpose of aiding first the passengers. In consequence of this, and the rapidly increasing darkness, no one knew with certainty the number of those in peril. The following is believed to be the correct record of saved and lost.

The bridge-tender leaped from the platform overhead to the one below. He fortunately was not struck by any of the splinters, and escaped with only a few bruises received in falling. His assistant is believed to be lost.

Mr. Dole escaped almost by a miracle, falling into the water unharmed, and was picked up almost immediately. The horse and buggy were lost. The animal was a rather valuable one—worth four hundred dollars.

One elderly gentleman secured one of the planks which formed the floor of the bridge, and swam ashore by its aid; three other men were picked up by the boats. The boy was also saved. He said there was a woman walking alongside him when the bridge broke. Nothing was seen of her. She is in all probability lost, with her child. It is feared that both drovers were lost. nothing having been seen of them since, and the cattle were last evening roaming about the streets of the North Division, with no one to take care of them.

The horse on which the drover was riding was taken in tow by the Goble's boat and hoisted on board the vessel. He was soon claimed and taken away. In attempting to get him ashore the plank slipped and he again fell into the river. The task of effecting a second emersion was much more difficult than the first. The animal was nearly drowned.

The majority of the cows swam to the dock without aid, and were pulled on land by the by-standers. Of the others, two were seen to drown, and five others were killed after reaching the dock, their injuries being of such in nature as to render recovery impossible. Several others remained inextricably fixed in the wreck, their moanings being plainly heard to a late hour last evening.




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