Saturday, March 12, 2016
March 12, 1849 -- Carnage on the River
March 12, 1849 -- A year after the Illinois and Michigan Canal joined the Chicago River to the Illinois River, an event occurred that must have caused some questioning of the wisdom of that engineering feat. It had been a snowy winter, followed by a rapid thaw and three days of rain. The interior of Illinois was waterlogged, and the rivers and streams were over their banks. At about 10:00 a.m. a massive ice dam on the south branch of the Chicago River gives way with results that are devastating. There are at least 90 vessels of various sizes on the river, and most are swept from their moorings and pushed toward the lake. As the mass of ice, water, and entangled ships swept along, a small boy is crushed to death at the Randolph Street bridge. A little girl meets death as a ship's mast falls into a group of onlookers. Late in the afternoon a man is spotted waving a handkerchief form a canal boat about ten miles offshore, but there are no undamaged boats to send to his rescue. 40 vessels are completely wrecked, a dozen float free on the lake, the lock at Bridgeport is totally destroyed, and not a single bridge is left spanning the river. Three weeks later cholera breaks out and before the year is out, 678 Chicagoans will die from the disease.