Saturday, December 24, 2016

December 24, 1961 -- Christmas at Fort Dearborn

Christmas Cheer for Fort Dearborn by Paul Strayer
December 24, 1961 – The Chicago Daily Tribune tells the story of the first Christmas tree in Chicago, cut down somewhere near Division Street in 1804.  According to the paper’s account the commander of Fort Dearborn, Captain John Whistler, “decided his garrison should have a holiday tree to lift morale.  His men and their families were weary of the bitter cold and the ice on the lake to the horizon.”  (I’m looking at the lake from the window up here on the north side, and I completely understand.)  The tree was dragged across the frozen river to the garrison that stood at what is now the corner of Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue.  “On Christmas day, with a few feeble candles glowing on the tree, the garrison sat down to its first Christmas dinner,” the article continues.  Guests included John Kinzie and his family and another trapper who lived across the river, Francis Ouilmette.  In the middle of the celebration a friendly group of Indians, led by Chief Black Partridge, made a visit and the group was invited to stay and “partake of the feast.”  Imagine those first inhabitants of what would become this great city, huddled together dozens and dozens of miles away from anything remotely resembling civilization, sharing a quiet communal moment in the darkness and cold of the wilderness night.  It’s enough to make us thankful for what we have.  Have a very merry Christmas.

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