Daily Update: Saturday, October 8th, 2016

10-08 - Peshtigo Fire

With no Saints to honor, we remember that this date is the anniversary of the Peshtigo Fire in 1871, in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, very near the border of Upper Michigan. Today is also the anniversary of the death of Richard’s older sister Catherine, known in the family as Pookie (2006).

Peshtigo was a Wisconsin logging town with an estimated 1,700 residents. A dry summer had left the surrounding area tinder-dry, and several small fires were burning on any given day. At the Peshtigo lumberyard they were already hosing down the acres of cut wood to reduce the risk of fire. On the day of the Peshtigo fire in 1871 a cold front moved in from the west, bringing strong winds that fanned smaller fires and escalated them to massive proportions. In the words of Denise Gess and William Lutz, who wrote Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History (2003), in a firestorm “superheated flames of at least 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit … advance on winds of 110 miles per hour or stronger. The diameter of such a fire ranges from one thousand to ten thousand feet…. When a firestorm erupts in a forest, it is a blowup, nature’s nuclear explosion….” The fire was so intense it jumped several miles over the waters of Green Bay and burned parts of the Door Peninsula, as well as jumping the Peshtigo River itself to burn on both sides of the inlet town. Surviving witnesses reported that the firestorm generated a tornado that threw rail cars and houses into the air. At least one passenger train full of passengers fleeing the fire had all of its wooden cars ignite into flame while thundering down the tracks, and was derailed because the heat of the fire deformed the tracks. Many of the survivors of the horrifying and nightmarish firestorm escaped the flames by immersing themselves in the Peshtigo River (which was very shallow), wells, or other nearby bodies of water. Some drowned while others were scalded to death in the river. On the Door Peninsula, a chapel, and then a larger church, had been built to honor an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1859. When the firestorm that had jumped Green Bay threatened the Chapel, Adele Brise (the person who had seen the 1859 apparition) refused to leave and instead organized a procession to beg the Virgin Mary for her protection. The surrounding land was destroyed by the fire but the chapel and its grounds, together with all the people who had taken refuge there, survived the fire unharmed. By the time it was over 1,875 square miles of forest had been consumed, an area approximately twice the size of the state of Rhode Island; some sources list 1.5 million acres burned. Twelve communities were utterly destroyed, burnt to ashes. An accurate death toll has never been determined since local population records were destroyed in the fire, but between 1,200 and 2,500 people are thought to have lost their lives; in no other firestorm have so many Americans lost lives. The 1873 Report to the Wisconsin Legislature listed 1,182 names of deceased or missing residents. More than 350 bodies were buried in a mass grave, primarily because so many had died that no one remained alive who could identify many of them. The combination of wind, topography, and ignition sources that created the firestorm, primarily representing the conditions at the boundaries of human settlement and natural areas, is known as the Peshtigo Paradigm. This paradigm was closely studied by the American and British military during World War II to learn how to recreate firestorm conditions for bombing campaigns against cities in Germany and Japan. The Peshtigo Fire Museum, just west of U.S. Highway 41, has a small collection of artifacts from the fire, first-person descriptions of the event, and a graveyard dedicated to victims of the tragedy. A memorial commemorating the fire was dedicated on October 8th, 2012 at the bridge over the Peshtigo River. The chapel where Sister Adele Brise and others sheltered from the fire has become the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. The site is a Marian shrine, where visitors can make religious pilgrimages. (And if you have never heard of the Peshtigo Fire, it may be because the Great Chicago Fire, which killed some 300 people, happened on the same day, and got all of the press.)  Today is also the anniversary of the death of Richard’s older sister Catherine, known in the family as Pookie (2006).

When we woke up this morning to get ready for work, we were the only ones at the house; the front part of the house was lit up like a Christmas tree, there was a jug of cranberry juice and a bottle of vodka on the kitchen bar, and a broken wine bottle by the toaster. Our bank’s web site was down, so we could not get the amount of our paychecks deposits. I did my Book Devotional Reading, and when we left for work we stopped at the ATM for cash; I did my Internet Devotional Reading on our way to work. After the Pre-Shift Meeting Richard was on Mini Baccarat all day, and I was the Relief Dealer for the two Mississippi Stud tables and Three Card Poker. I was very late in being able to take my 7:00 am break, because the dealer on the Three Card Poker table had gone on her break and never came back; it turns out they had let her go home, due to a family emergency, but did not send a dealer to take her table. At 8:00 am I found that the web site for our bank was working, but when I requested the one-time security code via text message, the bank never sent me the code.

When we got home from work we had no morning paper. I set up my medications for next week (I have one prescription to renew on Monday), then I ate my lunch salad and continued reading Forensics: True Crime Scene Investigations by Zakaria Erzinçlioğlu. Richard paid the bills; he then got mad at me (I do not know why) and left the house in a huff to do the grocery shopping. I went to the Adoration Chapel to do my Weekly Hour of Eucharistic Adoration; during my Hour I finished reading the September 12th, 2016 issue of my Jesuit America magazine, and started reading the September 19th, 2016 issue of my Jesuit America magazine. When I got home we still did not have a paper, and Richard went to get one while I plugged our salary direct deposits and the bills Richard had paid in to my Checkbook Pro app. I then read the morning paper, then came to the computer to do today’s Daily Update. I am quite tired, and somewhat depressed; I have not seen my daughter in weeks, we have not heard at all from Matthew and Callie today, and Richard posted a thing to my Facebook timeline (I hate people posting anything besides birthday greetings to my timeline) about how much he wished he could have been out in the desert out west watching the Rolling Stones (instead of, presumably, going on our regularly scheduled vacation in a few weeks). In any case, I have now adjusted my Facebook settings to keep people from posting on my timeline, and I made a note to myself to change this before my birthday each year. And once I finish this Daily Update I will head to bed. And the First Quarter Moon will arrive at 11:35 pm, or about half an hour before my alarm clock goes off.

Tomorrow is the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Optional Memorial of Saint Denis, Bishop and Martyr, and Companions, Martyrs (died about 258), the Optional Memorial of Saint John Leonardi, Priest (died 1609), the Optional Memorial of Blessed John Henry Newman, Priest (died 1890), and the Remembrance of Venerable Pius XII, Pope (died 1958). We will work our eight hours, and I do not know what else will go on in the afternoon, if anything.

Our Parting Quote this Saturday afternoon comes to us from Paul Prudhomme, American chef. Born in 1940 in Opelousas, Louisiana, the youngest of thirteen children, he was named Paul on his birth certificate as a priest thought he should have the same name as a saint, but he instead went by the name Gene Autry Prudhomme during his youth. His father was a farmer, and the large family struggled to make ends meet during his childhood. Prudhomme opened his first restaurant in Opelousas in 1957, a hamburger restaurant called Big Daddy O’s Patio. The restaurant went out of business in nine months, which also saw the end of his first marriage. He became a magazine seller initially in New Orleans, and afterwards a number of restaurant jobs took him around the country. During this period he began creating his own spice mixes, and gave them away to customers. In 1970 he moved back to New Orleans to work as a sous chef at the Le Pavilion Hotel. He left after a short while to open Clarence Dupuy’s restaurant Maison du Puy. While there, he met his second wife, Kay Hinrichs, who worked at the restaurant as a waitress. In 1975 Prudhomme left to become executive chef at Commander’s Palace under Richard Brennan, Sr. Chef Paul turned the unsuccessful Garden District restaurant into a world-class destination for food. In 1979 he and his wife opened K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The restaurant was named as a portmanteau of their names, with Prudhomme working as head chef and his wife as the restaurant manager. For a while he attempted to operate the restaurant whilst still working at Commander’s Palace, but the demand in his new restaurant was such that he moved to work there full-time and also hired Emeril Lagasse to work in the kitchen. In 1980 he was made a Chevalier (Knight) of the French Ordre National du Mérite Agricole in honor of his work with Cajun and Creole cuisines. His cookbook Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen was published in 1984. It was subsequently given a Culinary Classic Book Award in 1989 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Prudhomme was credited with popularising cajun cuisine and in particular blackened redfish during the 1980s, and has been credited with introducing the turducken. Such was the popularity of the redfish in particular, and the number of other restaurants who began serving the dish, that commercial fishing of the species became restricted in order to prevent it from going extinct. During a summer residence in New York in 1985, Prudhomme’s pop-up restaurant was reported to the Board of Health which visited the restaurant and closed it before it opened, reporting 29 violations of the city’s health code. Prudhomme ignored the order and opened the restaurant anyway, resulting in the Board of Health threatening Prudhomme with time in jail if he continued to operate the restaurant. The city’s mayor Ed Koch appeared with Prudhomme at the restaurant to declare an end to what the media reported as the “Gumbo war”. The restaurant was quite successful during the five weeks it was open, with queues sometimes reaching four blocks long. In 1986 he released the first volume of a “video cookbook” on VHS, entitled Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen. That same year his wife was diagnosed with lung cancer. In 1987 he published The Prudhomme Family Cookbook; I have a copy of it among my cookbooks, and I look for used copies of it to give to friends and family. He opened a permanent restaurant in New York City at 622 Broadway in 1989, and again had lengthy queues for the restaurant of up to two hours. The second volume of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen was released on VHS in 1990. In 1992 he was charged with possession of a weapon while trying to board a plane at Baltimore / Washington International Airport after leaving a loaded revolver in his carry-on luggage. He later released a press statement saying that he had forgotten it was in the bag. Prudhomme had a long running issue with his weight, resulting in him working from an electric wheelchair on occasion. In order to lose weight, he wrote his 1993 cookbook, Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Fork in the Road, which he deliberately avoided marketing as a low fat cookbook in order to prevent customers from being put off by the premise after testing the recipes at K-Paul’s Kitchen in New Orleans. His second wife died in 1993. He made a guest appearance at the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, France, in October 1994. Beginning in 1995, he made four straight seasons seasons of cooking shows for New Orleans’ PBS affiliate WYES; Fork In The Road (26 episodes, 1995), Fiery Foods (26 episodes, 1996), Kitchen Expedition (26 episodes, 1997), and Louisiana Kitchen (26 episodes, 1998). In 2004, he traveled to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, along with 4,000 pounds of food and seasonings to cook for the troops stationed there. Following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Prudhomme was forced to close his restaurant. During the restoration efforts, he cooked for free at a relief center for the military and residents staying in the French Quarter; at one point his team cooked over 6,000 meals in ten days. He reopened the restaurant during the following October, as the premises were not extensively damaged by the storm. Bon Appétit awarded Prudhomme their Humanitarian Award in 2006 for his efforts following the hurricane. He did another cooking show for WYES, Always Cooking (26 episodes, 2007). In March 2008 Prudhomme was grazed by a .22-caliber stray falling bullet while catering the Zurich Classic of New Orleans golf tournament. He at first thought a bee had stung his arm, required no serious medical attention, and within five minutes was back to cooking for the golf tournament. He put out a biography DVD, Paul Prudhomme: Cajun Sensation, in December 2009. He married his third wife in 2010. In addition to being a chef, Prudhomme launched a range of products called Chef Paul Prudhomme Magic Seasoning Blends. The line included his signature Blackened Redfish seasonings. The product line is sold throughout the United States. and in over 30 countries worldwide (died 2015): “I don’t think life is to be taken too seriously. Take it too seriously, and it’ll getcha.”

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