Baraboo Fire Forty Years Ago: Incident of the Days When ‘Shanghi’ Chandler Was a Resident Here

By Peter Richards.  Lodi, Wisconsin.

Baraboo News, Dec. 21, 1911.

While eating my dinner one Sunday afternoon some forty years ago, [c. 1871, Ed.]in my home at the head of Oak street, everybody got up from the table in great haste and ran out of doors.  To learn what was the matter I followed the family whom I saw in the street gazing down town.

“What’s up?” said I.

“Fire!” was the only answer I got and so I donned my coat and hat and started down town.  The crowd stood in front of the bank and volumes of smoke came apparently from the roof of the same.  This, however, I soon discovered to be incorrect for it came from the roof next west of the bank on Third avenue and from the rear of the bank on Oak street.

I do not know much about the fire apparatus of that day and so I am inclined (sic) to think there was none; be that as it may, the usual crowd was on hand and crazy as ever.  Goods were brought out into the street to meet destruction in other ways.  These goods consisted of drugs, medicines and dry goods of all sorts, and also chemicals.  The building extended from the front on Third street around the bank to the Oak street front, probably greatly damaging Mrs. Gowan’s building on Oak street and the one next west on Third.

If some enthusiastic fire fighter upset a chest of tea to get the chest to carry out a lot of lamp chimneys, it was one attempt at salvage.  If others threw crockery, glass and china ware from an upper window to the ground and carefully carried bundles of brooms and other nonbreakable articles down to the street in their hands, why it was only the usual way of saving things at a fire.

Of course everybody wanted to do some useful act to save the popular firm of Long & Camp from loss.  The salvage, however, was not very great and it is to be hoped that the insurance was ample to cover the loss though I have my doubts about that. 

The reflection from the fire shining into Dr. Mills’ drug store on the corner where Baringer now is, seemed at times to fill the store from the floor up with a solid mass of flames.  It was hard to understand why it did not go up with the rest, but it was probable because the bank stood intact between the fire and the Mills property.

The fire burned from 1 o’clock to 4 or 5 in the afternoon.  The drug store containing much in the way of oils and chemicals made the fire a hot one during the time.  If any one should ask me the season of the year this store burned I might guess in the early fall, say September or October.  Some one else might guess it was far ways from that in point of time, as the vernal equinox, so the reader can take my statement as I think it was September or October.

Sang Annie Laurie.

I can single out only one man as a worker at this fire and that man was the inevitable and always irrepressible “Shanghai” Chandler.  He was everywhere working like a Trojan and doing as good and sensible work as any man on the grounds.  And when at about 5 p.m. the fire was under control and the crowd began to disperse, Chandler appeared on the roof of the bank begrimed with soot and dirt and began to sing.  The crowd below began to laugh but not long.  “Shanghai” paid no attention to the laughter and soon the crowd began to listen.  When he had finished his rendition of “Annie Laurie” a hearty round of applause went up to him, during which he made his bow and gracefully retired from view to be seen again when some other disaster or striking occurrence made it incumbent on him to be on hand to do what he could for the benefit or amusement of the people of the village. 

T.D. Long and A.K. Camp were at that time owners of the store, R.A. Orvis, having retired some time before.  Mr. Long has long since passed away while Mr. Camp is still living in Milwaukee whither he moved soon after the burning of the store.  Mr. Long was a brother-in-law of the late Judge E.W. Young and it was he who brought the house now occupied by Dr. Riley and family from Newport where it stood on the bank of the Wisconsin river.  The house was, I believe, originally put up by F. Longely, who afterwards came to Baraboo and put up the house on the corner of Second street directly south of the Walbridge property, which he occupied with his family for a long time.