Old Family Fire 1
THE OLD FAMILY FIRE
My mother's mother's mother's father, Roswell Mason, was born in New Hartford, New York,
September 19, 1805, the fifth of thirteen children of Arnold Mason and Mercy Coman Mason.(1)
Arnold was a successful farmer and a captain of the New York Volunteers in the War of 1812. He
was also a contractor and contracted to carry stone to some of the locks being constructed near
Albany for the Erie Canal in 1821. There the 15-year-old Roswell helped his father by driving a
team hauling stone all of that summer. He met Edward Gay, assistant engineer in charge of that
part of the canal from Albany to the Mohawk River, and in 1822 was given a job as rodman in
Gay's engineering party. The relationship was congenial, and several years later one of Roswell's
sons was named Edward Gay Mason. He continued working as an engineer on various canal
projects, often with Mr. Gay, and in 1825 was working on the Morris Canal near Parsippany,
Delivered to The Chicago Literary Club January 27, 1997
Manly W. Mumford, 1997
Roswell and other engineers often spent the night while travelling
from Morris to the work on the canal with a contractor named Royal Hopkins. One of Hopkins's
daughters, Harriet Lavinia, noticed him and thought to herself, "You are a very nice young man,
but I shouldn't like to marry you."(2) She married Roswell on September 6, 1831. Later, rather
than admiring the young engineer's efficient use of time and motion, she was heard to express
concern that Roswell had not had to go out of his way one step to woo her because she lived on
the very road that he used to travel to and from work. Yet she took consolation from the thought
that, although he obtained her hand with too little trouble, she had given him trouble enough since
then.(3) Toward the end of her long life this same woman was heard to declare, when her
accounts refused to balance, "No one can tell me that mathematics is an exact
They moved to Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, where Roswell was
working on, and in time, supervising, the Pennsylvania Canal between Jersey City and
Phillipsburg; Harriet wrote the following in a letter to her parents: "We had a wretchedly fatiguing
ride, the road equaled only by Canada roads for its roughness. There are very few settlers along
the valley, not a church for more than forty miles. We rode most of the night. After daylight the
driver sounded his horn as usual to announce the coming of the stage and wolves howled in
answer from the hill at the foot of which was the stage house."(5)
At one time
during his work on the canals, Roswell wore a broad-brimmed hat which caused one villager to
mistakenly tell her son, "There comes the new minister." The son replied, "That's no Methodist
minister; that's Mr. Mason; he pays men big wages for good work; he's a thousand times better
than any Methodist minister."(6)
Roswell started his railroad career on the survey
crew for the Housatonic Railroad from Bridgeport to New Milford, Connecticut, and became
chief engineer of that railroad in 1837. He stayed with that company until 1846 when he was
appointed chief engineer of the New York and New Haven Railroad; when it was completed he
was appointed superintendent. According to family legend he had a difference of opinion with
the board of directors by insisting that the new railroad should condemn a wide enough strip of
land for two sets of tracks, one for trains in each direction, rather than the less costly alternative
of a single set with occasional sidings where a train could wait until the main line was clear of
The Illinois Central Railroad had originally been planned to run
from Galena to Cairo via Freeport, Dixon, LaSalle, Bloomington, Clinton, Vandalia, Richview
and Jonesboro -- more or less down the middle of the State. However, a land grant from
Congress was required to make the project financially feasible, and this was not politically feasible
because various Eastern interests saw no benefit to their states. Senator Stephen A. Douglas,
who lived in Chicago and had invested heavily in real estate there, managed to have the bill
revised to include a branch to this City, and thereupon the Eastern interests were more interested
as they believed that such a connection would send more traffic along the railroads being built
toward Chicago from the East. The 245 mile branch to Chicago from Centralia (but 106 miles
from Cairo) was nearly as long as the 277 mile main line between Galena and Centralia. It would
pass through no settlements, but near Urbana and Bourbonnais.
The land grant
was made on September 20, 1850, to the State of Illinois to assist in the construction of the
railroad, and consisted of alternate, even numbered sections for six miles on both sides of the
road, with the provision that the road must be completed within ten years. To compensate for the
loss of the land, Congress ordered that the odd numbered sections be sold for $2.50 per acre
instead of the $1.25 otherwise applicable.(7) The railroad agreed to haul government troops and
property, including the mail, at reduced rates and to pay seven per cent of its gross receipts into
the State treasury.(8)
In 1851, before any track was laid, Roswell Mason was
appointed Engineer-in-Chief of the Illinois Central, which was the largest railroad yet built. At
that time the only railroads in Illinois were the Chicago and Galena, extending 40 miles to Elgin,
and another from Jacksonville to the Illinois River. By 1860 the State was criss-crossed with
them. See the map at http://www.outfitters.com/illinois/history/ilrails.html.
Long John Wentworth, (later the Mayor) was the
publisher of the Chicago Daily Democrat and ran an article in that journal welcoming
Roswell to the City and speaking of him in glowing terms. Apparently to make him seem even
more important, Wentworth referred to him as "Colonel" Mason, although he had never seen any
military service. The honorific title stuck as it might to a Kentuckian, and throughout the rest of
his life he was known as Colonel Mason. In addition, Roswell decided that he should have a
middle initial, and adopted the letter B for the purpose; he never had a middle name.
At first he stayed in a hotel during the winter of 1851-2 and then, with his family, moved into a
house on Michigan Avenue between Lake and South Water Streets for a few years and later
moved out onto the prairie along Michigan Avenue south of 12th Street.
Determining exactly where the railroad would be built took personal observation of the territory.
Colonel Mason wrote about this experience some thirty years later, describing a round trip of 23
"Leaving Chicago Nov. 10, 1852, we went by packet-boat on the Illinois &
Michigan Canal to La Salle, thence by steamer on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to Cairo,
arriving at St. Louis on the 14th and Cairo on the 17th of November, a very comfortable journey.
But our plan was to return by private conveyance near the line of the road to Chicago. Leaving
Cairo on the 18th, we reached Vandalia on the 23rd, and Decatur the 25th, with our team nearly
exhausted, and unable to go any further. The roads were so bad it was thought nearly impossible
to get through and it was determined to go to Springfield and then by railroad, which had just
been completed to Alton, and then by the Illinois River and Illinois & Michigan Canal to Chicago.
We found it difficult to get a team to take us to Springfield; but an offer of $15.00 [remember that
$15 was enough to buy 5 or 10 acres of some of the world's best farm land] induced a liveryman
to agree to take us through to Springfield, about 40 miles, in a day. Leaving Decatur Friday
morning, Nov. 26, we toiled through mud, water and ice to a small town within twelve miles of
Springfield, arriving there about dark, with our team tired out and entirely unable to go any
further. The train left Springfield Saturday morning at eight o'clock; and an offer of $15.00 more
induced a man who had a good team to agree to take us there in time for the train, or else forfeit
the $15.00, we agreeing to go at once or let him fix the time of starting; he named two o'clock in
the morning as the time to start. So getting a little rest We were under way at two o'clock. It
was then very cold and ice of considerable thickness formed on the water, cutting the horses' legs
quite badly to go through it. And in some cases the driver would go through on foot and break
the ice before driving through it. We arrived at Springfield about twenty minutes before the train
left. He earned his $15.00 and we had a comfortable journey from there to St. Louis where we
stayed over Sunday and took a steamer Monday morning for La Salle, thence by packet-boat to
Chicago, where we arrived December 4, 1852."(9)
To attract men to work on
part of the railroad, an advertisement was posted in New York reading as follows:
As many as 10,000 men were working on the project at one time.
Som e we re recruited in New York and others directly from Ireland.(11)
On the 12th Division of the
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD
Wages, $1.25 per Day
New-York only $4.75
By Railroad and Steamboat to the work in the State of
Constant employment for two years or more given. Good board can
obtained at two dollars per week.
This is a rare chance for persons to go West, being
permanent employment in a healthy climate where land can be
and for fertility is not surpassed in any part of
Men with families
For further information in regard to it, call at the Central
Corner of Courtlandt St.
R.B. Mason, Chief Engineer
the availability of land were published in both English and German.(12)
part of Colonel Mason's letter about the building of the railroad reads:
the entire line was put under contract and was completed on the
27th of September, 1856, but owing to the few settlements it was very difficult to get men and
teams and supplies to them. Agents were sent to New York and New Orleans to get men, and in
some cases their fare was paid, with the promise of refunding it out of their work. But these
promises were frequently entirely disregarded. Some men would not even go on to the work a
few miles only from the steamboat landing; others would come on perhaps at evening and get
their supper, lodging and breakfast and start off the next morning for other quarters; but
notwithstanding these drawbacks many men were procured in this way."(13)
mentioned in this letter was the problem of keeping the workmen sober. Family legend tells that
Colonel Mason, though not a prohibitionist, found it necessary to prohibit the sale of liquor within
a mile of the right of way in order to have crews capable of working.
poster that drew men from New York was accurate about the cheap land (one acre for two days'
pay at the price Congress had fixed; Illinois Central land went for up to twelve dollars per acre
(14) or almost ten days pay), its advertisement of a healthy climate neglected to mention cholera.
"Men at work one day were in their graves the next. Many panic-stricken workmen fled from the
camps at the first signs of the epidemic."(15)
According to family legend, another
railroad was building a line from east to west that would cross the tracks of the Illinois Central.
Its builder, a Mr. Mattoon, offered to bet Colonel Mason that his men would get there first.
Colonel Mason declined to wager money, but proposed that the winner have the privilege of
naming the station to be located at the crossing, which would be important sometime though
empty prairie just then. The working crews made a race out of it, and the Illinois Central won.
Colonel Mason then named the station after Mr. Mattoon.
Village of Mason, Illinois, (on the Illinois Central's branch to Chicago, of course) a few miles
south of Effingham, was named after Colonel Mason; but, with a 1990 population of 1,411, it is
of considerably less note than the City of Mattoon with its 18,441.
that did not deter Colonel Mason was the refusal of the Michigan and Southern Railroad to permit
the Illinois Central to cross its tracks at Grand Crossing (now 75th Street and South Chicago
Avenue). One night "a crew of husky Illinois Central trackmen descended upon and overpowered
the Michigan and Southern Watchman. The rays of the morning sun showed a new grade crossing
completed and ready for use." Each railroad ignored the other's use of the crossing until a
collision in 1853 that left 18 dead and 40 hurt.(16)
In 1859 Colonel Mason helped
to create a corporation called "South Branch Dock Company," and was its first president. This
company developed the lumber district by making slips and docks for the unloading of lumber
from the ships that brought it from the forests of Wisconsin, Michigan and even Canada. There
were twelve miles of such slips and docks, mostly in the area along a mile of river frontage west
of Halsted and south of 22nd Street. "There more than a dozen short canals, each over a quarter
mile long, fingered north from the river. Along these canals were hundreds of standard lots
measuring 244 by 100 feet. Each one had 100 feet of canal frontage, and at the back of each was
a railroad siding connecting the lot via the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy with every railroad line
in the City. Once a wholesale dealer had purchased a shipload of lumber at the cargo market, the
entire vessel floated down the river to a dock at one of these yards. A crew of ‘lumber shovers'
then unloaded and stacked the lumber on the owner's lot. There the boards sat until some retail
dealer purchased them for shipment to another city, whereupon they had only to be moved no
more than a couple of hundred feet to the railroad car that carried them to their final
Family legend tells that Colonel Mason built the first bridge across the Mississippi at
Dubuque, but that legend was not clear whether he built the first bridge across that river, and built
it at Dubuque, or that of the bridges at Dubuque his was the first. My quandary was settled when
I learned that the Rock Island Line built a bridge that first carried a railroad across the river from
Rock Island to Davenport on April 22, 1856.
In 1865 Colonel Mason was
appointed by the State legislature as a member of a commission of four engineers to work with
the Mayor of Chicago to deal with the City's sewage which then drained into Lake Michigan and
made many people sick. Following the commission's recommendation, the Illinois and Michigan
Canal was deepened, pumping works were established at Bridgeport and the summit of the canal
was lowered so that the Chicago River was turned around to drain into the Illinois River. So now
you and I can drink the water as well as swim in Lake Michigan without fear of
During the spring and summer of 1869 Colonel Mason invited a number of
other civil engineers to his office to discuss the founding of an engineers' club. There resulted an
organization initially called the "Civil Engineers Club of Chicago" and then the "Civil Engineers
Club of the Northwest" until 1880 when it became the Society of Western Engineers. Colonel
Mason was the first president. In 1938 that organization commissioned one C.A. Mottier to write
his biography, a copy of which has furnished much of the information in this paper.
Nominally a Republican and also a temperance man, Colonel Mason was elected Mayor of
Chicago on November 2, 1869 on the People's Ticket in a public revulsion against corruption in
public office. "It was a time of easy morals and easy money. Roswell B. Mason, the Illinois
Central Builder, was in the mayor's chair. The Tribune and the Evening Journal
called him an honest man presiding over a den of thieves. Gambling thrived and brothels
operated freely. Barrel houses and concert saloons were spread through the town. Councilmen
were accused of making fortunes from paving, bridge and tunnel contracts. Taxes shot up 400
per cent in ten years."(18)
The reform that happened in Mayor Mason's term was
more architectural than political.
"Besides the fact that the Great Chicago Fire
started around 9 o'clock on Sunday evening, October 8,  somewhere in or very near the
O'Leary barn, the exact particulars of its origins are unknown. But, given the dry summer and the
careless way the city had been built and managed, a kick from a cow would have been sufficient
but by no means necessary to burn Chicago down."(19) As recently as January 7, 1997, The
Chicago Tribune carried a front page story of an amateur historian who cast serious doubt on
the cow legend by pointing out that, due to an intervening building, one Peg Leg Sullivan, the
principal witness to the earliest part of the fire, could not have seen the beginning of the fire from
his front porch where he said he'd seen it.
"Chicago averaged about two fires a day
the previous year, including twenty in the preceding week. The largest of these occurred just on
Saturday night. Firemen still might have been able to contain the Sunday blaze but for a series of
technological and human failures in the alarm system. The fire, driven by a strong wind out of the
southwest, headed straight for the center of the city. It divided unpredictably into separate parts
by hurling out flaming brands on the superheated draft it generated, leaping the South Branch of
the Chicago River around midnight. . . . By 1:30 it reached the Courthouse tower, from which the
watchman barely escaped through the burning stairway by sliding down the banisters. When city
officials realized that the building was itself doomed, they released the prisoners from the
basement just before the great bell plummeted through the collapsing tower."(20)
Mayor Mason was called out at midnight by a man on horseback in a tone of distress, "Mayor,
come give orders to save the city."
As the fire threatened the courthouse which
was also the city hall, Mayor Mason gave the order to release the jail's prisoners. According to
family legend, when he saw a large black man who was being held on a murder charge trying to
escape custody, he ordered his son, "Seize him!" The son, who was not large, did his best, but
when he grasped the fleeing man the latter knocked him down with one blow of his fist and ran
Mayor Mason stayed in his office in the courthouse as it began to burn,
sending telegrams to Milwaukee and Detroit begging for fire engines; to many other cities he sent
a telegram reading, "Before morning one hundred thousand people will be without food or
shelter. Can you help us?" He left when the bell in the tower came crashing through.
To return to his home on Michigan Avenue south of Twelfth Street he had to cross the river
northward on the Wells Street Bridge and then southward on the Rush Street Bridge. On the
way, he directed the destruction of buildings on Wabash Avenue and Harrison Street to prevent
the fire from going farther south and east, arriving home about 4:30 A.M. According again to
family legend, Mayor Mason was so disheveled and begrimed with soot, and looked so haggard,
that his wife Harriet did not recognize him and refused, for several minutes, to let him enter his
From the many materials pertaining to the fire on the Chicago
Historical Society's Internet page I quote the following: "Chicago just before the fire was much
like the catastrophe that befell it. The city struck many as a titanic natural force in itself,
unpredictable, unstoppable, all-consuming, and impossible to ignore."(21)
fire itself may be considered the least significant of three major phenomena; the other two are the
extent of the charitable help received from many parts of the country and of the world, and the
will with which the citizens rebuilt -- but they didn't re-build, they built a new and better
Among Mayor Mason's proclamations issued on Monday were the
WHEREAS, In the Providence of God, to
whose will we humbly submit, a terrible calamity has befallen our city, which demands of us our
best efforts for the preservation of order and relief of suffering, be it known that the faith and
credit of the City of Chicago is hereby pledged for the necessary expenses for the relief of the
suffering. Other executive orders established the price of bread, banned
smoking, and forbade wagon drivers from charging more than their normal rates.
Public order will be preserved. The police and special police now
being appointed will be responsible for the maintenance of the peace and protection of property.
All officers and men of the Fire Department and Health Department will act as special
policemen without further notice.
The Mayor and Comptroller will give
vouchers for all supplies furnished by the different relief committees.
headquarters of the City Government will be at the Congregational Church, corner of West
Washington and Ann Streets.
All persons are warned against any
act tending to endanger property. Persons caught in any depredation will be immediately arrested.
With the help of God, order and peace and private property will be preserved.
The City Government and the committee of citizens pledge themselves to the
community to protect them, and prepare the way for a restoration of public and private welfare.
It is believed the fire has spent its force, and all will soon be
R.B. MASON, Mayor
GEO. TAYLOR, Comptroller
CHAS. C.P. HOLDEN, President Common Council.
BROWN, President Board of Police
[October 9, 1871, 3
In consequence of the great calamity that has
befallen our city, and for the preservation of good order, it is ordered by the Mayor and Common
Council of Chicago, that no liquor be sold in any Saloon until further orders. The Board of Police
are charged with the execution of this order.
R.B.Mason, Mayor. Chicago,
Oct. 9. 1871.(23)
Two days later came the following controversial proclamation:
The preservation of the good order and peace of the city is hereby entrusted to
Lieut. General P.H. Sheridan, U. S. Army. Illinois Governor Palmer later maintained that this action amounted to a
violation of the sovereign rights of the State, and persuaded the Illinois House of Representatives
to adopt a bill so declaring; the bill failed in the Senate.(25) Family legend tells that Mayor
Mason had first asked the Governor for National Guard troops without success due to political
antipathy. Then he requested troops from his friend Phil Sheridan, who happened to be
commanding general of the nearest U.S. Army base. Governor Palmer's recollections differ. The
need to protect the citizens against lawbreakers was clear.
The Police will act in conjunction with
the Lieut. General in the preservation of the peace and quiet of the city, and the superintendent of
Police will consult with him to that end.
The intent hereof being to preserve the
peace of the city, without interfering with the functions of the City Government.
Given under my hand this 11th day of October, 1871.
Three family letters
written immediately after the Fire have been preserved. Sarah Caroline Mason Miller, (the
Mayor's daughter and my great grandmother) wrote the following to her sister, Mrs. James
Trowbridge, wife of the Presbyterian minister in Riverside, Illinois, on Tuesday, October
Dear Ally-- .... About an hour after you left a barn was set on fire on the
corner of Michigan Ave. and Peck Court, and intense excitement prevailed through all our
neighborhood. We sent all our pails, tubs, coalscuttles, everything that would hold water. So did
everyone living near, and water was passed up from the lake to the burning building by a line of
men hastily formed -- another line passing down the empty vessels -- and the fire was soon put
out. Poor Father looked utterly discouraged and gave orders to have the carriage to take us all to
He immediately issued a proclamation that all alleys should be
guarded by day as well as by night. The night guarding had been done before. Oh, this blessed
rain. How thankful we are for it, and it still continues. God has opened the wonders of heaven.
How continually He is giving us new causes of thankfulness and joy. ....
next day her husband wrote the following letter to his mother, Mrs. Abner Miller of
Westmoreland, New York:
Chicago Wednesday Oct. 11,
My Dear Mother
I thank God that our dwelling has been
spared - & that my dear wife and children are safe. We have passed through a dreadful calamity.
But we have just cause to rejoice that we are as well off as we are. Do not be alarmed about us.
My stores books and office are all gone, but these, or all that is needful of them, with health I can
in time replace. I write on my back & therefore with a pencil because I am unwell, but I hope I
shall be out tomorrow. Sadie with the children are at her sisters, Mrs. Trowbridge, in Riverside,
about 12 miles out. We thought it safer for them to leave yesterday until the city is more quiet.
Already people are commencing the work of rebuilding or at least making contracts for that
purpose. I hope you are well and that I shall still be able to keep you comfortable.
Your affectionate son, Henry G. Miller
When donations from
elsewhere started to come in to help the victims of the fire, a group of members of the City
Council tried, in the Chicago tradition, to gain control of the distribution of the money and goods.
Mayor Mason suspected that this group hoped to enrich themselves and with a group of
businessmen, took action to prevent it, issuing the following proclamation on October
I have deemed it best for the interests of the City of
Chicago to turn over to the Chicago Relief and Aid Society all contributions for the suffering
people of this city. This society is an incorporated and old established organization having
possessed for many years the entire confidence of our community, and is familiar with the work to
be done. The regular force of this society is inadequate to this immense work, but they will
rapidly enlarge and extend the same by adding prominent citizens to the respective committees,
and I call upon all citizens to aid this organization in every way possible. The next week Sarah Caroline
Mason Miller wrote the following to her mother-in-law, Mrs. Abner Miller:
confer upon them a continuance of the same power heretofore exercised by the Citizens
Committee, namely, the power to impress teams and labor, and procure quarters, so far as may be
necessary for the transportation and distribution of contributions and care of the sick and disabled.
General Sheridan desires the arrangement, and has promised to cooperate with the association. It
will be seen from the plan of the work as it is detailed below, that every precaution has been taken
in regard to the distribution of contributions.(26)
Chicago, Oct. 21st, 1871
be too anxious about us. We are cheerful and happy. We shall have less to live on than we had
before, but we can live on less. We are so thankful, oh! so very thankful, for our home spared
from the fire. And we are all well, which is a great mercy. Your son's credit is good, and he will
borrow money and go about rebuilding immediately. Of course we shall be in debt for some years,
but our new buildings will rent well, and we shall gradually work our way out of debt as we did
before. We believe, dear Mother, that 'all things work together for good to those who love God,'
and that these losses are among the 'all things' that are for our good. I hope we shall be better
Christians, and if we are made purer, more like our blessed Saviour by our trials, then surely they
are 'blessings in disguise'
* * * Ally and Carrie are still in
Riverside. Nellie and little Harry are at home. Carrie was not frightened, and not half as much
excited as you would have supposed. Most providentially she slept all night, the worst night of
the fire, and when she waked and found us packing up our things in such haste, she enjoyed the
fun of it and brought all sorts of things to put in the trunks. We had on our hats and shawls for
three or four hours, all ready to run when word should come that it was necessary, and each one
had all that we could carry in our hands. Carrie had a big wax doll of Ally's and kept saying "I
must save Ally's doll, whatever is lost," but I still don't think she realized the danger. When they
told us that the fire was sweeping off in another direction, and our house was safe for the present,
Carrie was disappointed not to go, and said "Now we've got our trunks all packed I think we'd
better go travelling somewhere."
However after that, there were buildings fired
near us, and on Tuesday afternoon I took the children and seven trunks containing our silver,
jewelry and clothing to Riverside, Mr. Miller and Aunt Maria De Forest staying in the house.
Father's family move in here tomorrow.....
Have I told you
that my brother Ned went to England a few weeks ago, on business. As soon as he heard of the
great Chicago fire he telegraphed that he would come home immediately. We expect him this
week. Poor fellow. He will hear such sad news when he comes. His office with everything in it is
burnt. Then he will feel dreadfully, as we all do, to have Father's house, our dear old home, rented
to strangers. But worst of all, his wife was prematurely confined last Thursday, and the baby
which they have expected so lovingly, lived only four hours. Julia has been very sick, but is better
now, and we hope she will recover, but she will be weak a long time. What changes in a few
In the North Presbyterian Church, the church of which we were
members so many years, of one hundred and twenty-six families who had homes of their own,
only seven have homes left.. The rest are all burnt out. I could fill pages writing about the fire but
I have not time.
* * * Henry, and his partners, are all at work in
their new office (our parlor). I am glad enough we can spare it for them. We enlarged our house
just in time. The sign, "Miller, Frost & Lewis", hangs by the side of our front door. Don't you
hope they will get plenty of business. I think they will. I can recommend them as good
We hear every day from friends who were burned out. Many who
were rich have been clothed by charity. Large amounts of clothing and provisions have been sent
here from many different places, but there are so many thousands of destitute people that it is all
needed. It is feared there will be great suffering during the winter, but every precaution is being
taken against it. The money that has been sent us, except what is absolutely required to relieve
present distress is to be kept for the use of sufferers during the winter. God has blessed us in
opening so many hearts and hands to relieve us in our great distress.
Mayor Mason's term expired two months after the fire, and a group of citizens asked him to run
for another term. He declined. Family legend tells that he threw up his hands in horror over the
prospect of serving again. He was succeeded by Joseph Medill, owner and publisher of The
Chicago Tribune, who, not surprisingly, ran on a "fireproof ticket."(27)
old letter to Mayor Mason tells of the reaction of Sally Hewit, who was taking care of his wife
Harriet during an illness. Wrathfully Sally came downstairs to stop the excessive noise that some
of the eight Mason children were making just as he entered the house, "'At last I shall see Mr.
Mason cross,' she said to herself, 'He ought to be cross with those brats.' But all you did was
smile and say, 'Well children, I don't believe I'd make so much noise when Mother's sick.' 'And
the worst of it was that that angel of a man stopped the noise that way and when I told him I had
never been so disappointed with him in my life and it was wicked in him not to have been cross,
there really wasn't anything to scold him about!'"(28)
According to another
family legend, well after the Fire, The Chicago Tribune started a rudimentary society
page. On one occasion it ran an innocuous story of a ladies tea given by Mrs. Mason and her
daughters. Mayor Mason saw this at breakfast, and, interrupting his meal, tucked the newspaper
under his arm, took his hat and walking stick from the front hall closet, and walked briskly over to
the Tribune offices. There he demanded to see Mr. Medill at once, and was immediately
ushered into the latter's office. Mayor Mason showed the article to Mr. Medill, saying, "I hope,
sir, that I shall never again have to ask you to refrain from publishing information about my
family." Mr. Medill replied, "Of course, sir. It was an inexperienced reporter who wrote this, and
I promise that my newspaper will never again mention your family."
and Harriet's eight children, four of the five sons and Henry G. Miller, the husband of their
daughter Sarah Caroline (and my great grandfather) became members of The Chicago Literary
Club. They delivered an aggregate of 25 papers. Edward Gay Mason was President of the Club
during the 1878-79 season.(29)
Mayor Mason continued active in civic affairs,
including serving on the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, as a ruling elder of the
Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, and as president and a member of the board of
McCormick Theological Seminary. He died January 1, 1892 at the age of 86.
(1) Much of the material herein was adapted from the Biography of Roswell B. Mason
by C.H. Mottier, 1938, published by the Society of Western Engineers of which Roswell Mason
was a founder and first president.
(2) Mason Trowbridge, Family Annals, 1958, privately published. p.71.
(3) Trowbridge, p.72.
(4) Trowbridge, p.82.
(5) Mottier, p.74.
(6) Trowbridge, p.72.
(7) Robert P. Howard, Illinois, A History of the Prairie State, William R. Eardmans
Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1972, p. 244.
(8) Howard, p. 244.
(9) Mottier, p. 18 et seq.
(10) Herman Kogan and Lloyd Wendt, Chicago, a Pictorial History, Bonanza Books,
New York, 1948, p. 101.
(11) Mottier, p. 28
(12) Howard, p. 245.
(13) Mottier, p. 22.
(14) Howard, p. 250.
(15) Mottier, p. 28.
(16) "Why Such Problems? Because the Iron Horse Got Here First" by John Carpenter,
Chicago Sun-Times, Sunday, November 19, 1995 p. 16, quoting the railroad's official
(17) William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis, W.W. Norton & Company, New York,
(18) Kogan and Wendt, p.101.
(19) "The Great Conflagration" essay, The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of
Memory, Copyright © 1996 by the Chicago Historical Society and the Trustees of
Northwestern University, last revised 10-8-96, available on the Internet at http://www.chicagohs.org/fire.
(20) "The Great Conflagration."
(21) "A Bird's Eye View of Pre-Fire Chicago" essay, The Great Chicago Fire and the
Web of Memory at http://www.chicagohs.org/fire.
(22) "Official Actions" The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory, http://www.chicagohs.org/fire/rescue/
(23) "Official Actions"
(24) Kogan and Wendt, p.125.
(25) Robert Cromie, The Great Chicago Fire, Copyright 1958 by Robert Cromie,
McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. New York, Chapter 22, pp. 270 et seq.
(26) Mottier, p. 43.
(27) Cromie, p. 282.
(28) Trowbridge, p.83.
(29) The Chicago Literary Club, The First Hundred Years, 1874 - 1974, 1974, p.
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