Archive ID: 2018-074-070

Postcard of Crib Fire site

Date Created: 1909-02-03

Donor: Raymond Mulac

Media Type: Postcard

Language: Polish


Postcards in the early 20th centuries sometimes focused on disasters as well as neighborhood scenes. This postcard, with a note written on the back in Polish, depicts what became known as the “Chicago Crib Disaster.” 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. The fire occurred while two work shifts were sleeping and another was at breakfast, meaning there were fewer men in the tunnels; otherwise, the death toll could have been higher. 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. A few days after the disaster, the “largest public burial in South Chicago history” took place and hearses took the mostly unidentified bodies to Mount Greenwood Cemetery where they were buried in a mass grave. 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 later exonerated both the city and the construction company. The postcard view shows the aerial tramway which transported workers and supplies to the crib. Because the tramway was damaged in the blast and fire, it could not be used to get the workers to safety. The crib structure is visible out in the lake in the distance.

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Disasters   Environment   Historic Events   Lakes/Rivers/Wetlands   1900-1919 (WWI Era)   South Chicago   Other/Unknown   Postcard   2018-074   Buildings   Docks   Fires   Indiana   Intermediate Crib   Lake Michigan   Lakes   Photographs   Piers   Polish