Archive ID: 2018-074-069

Postcard of funeral procession for crib fire victims

Date Created: 1909-03-15

Donor: Raymond Mulac

Media Type: Postcard

Language: English


This postcard depicts the funeral procession for the victims of the “Chicago Crib Disaster” of 1909. Chicago has a series of “cribs” that are offshore structures that house and protect water intake points in Lake Michigan for use for drinking water by the city of Chicago. On the morning of January 20, 1909, a fire, possibly triggered by an explosion, occurred on a temporary wooden crib structure which provided sleeping and meals for workers digging one of the water tunnels. The crib was located about a mile-and-a-half offshore at approximately 71st Street. The temporary crib provided accommodations for 90 people, but there may have been more present at the time of the disaster, possibly due to the use of unrecorded day laborers. One early estimate put the death toll at 47 and the number of those rescued at 48, although a coroner’s jury later estimated 60 deaths and this postcard suggests 70. Deaths were caused, not only by the fire (and possible explosion), but also by trampling and exposure or drowning in the icy cold waters of Lake Michigan.

The Crib Fire was described by one newspaper as “South Chicago’s Greatest Tragedy.” Initially most of the recovered bodies were brought to Murphy’s Undertakers located at 110 East 92nd Street (now 3265 E. 92nd). When the boat bringing the bodies from the crib approached the 92nd Street dock, crowds of people arrived searching for information about the victims. The bodies, however, were terribly burned and missing limbs, so the boat delayed docking until canvas body bags could be secured to avoid shocking the public. Ultimately, 47 bodies were brought to Murphy’s, all but one unidentifiable. A number of the bodies were never recovered.

A funeral for the victims was held on January 23, 1909. Two religious services happened that morning. A Catholic service was held at Immaculate Conception church with priests from several surrounding parishes participating. A Protestant service was held at the South Chicago Presbyterian Church at 91st and Exchange, also with multiple ministers from local congregations participating. A local paper, the Daily Calumet, estimated that the crowd gathered to view the funeral procession numbered 25,000. Although the funeral procession was scheduled to depart from the South Chicago Police Station (seen in the photo) at 89th and Exchange Avenue at 1:00 pm, the police ordered the procession to leave twenty minutes early due to the overwhelmingly large crowds. Stores in South Chicago were closed from 12:30 to 1:30. At 1:00, church bells in the community rang for 15 minutes. Forty-seven hearses, each with four policemen as pall bearers, lined up for the trip to Mount Greenwood Cemetery. The victims were buried there in a mass grave. The contractor of the company involved, George Jackson, paid for the funerals. Although there was controversy over the lack of safety measures, including lifeboats or adequate life vests on the structure, as well as the careless storage of dynamite, the coroner’s jury would later exonerate both the city and the construction company due to an inability to determine the cause of the fire.

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