Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fires, Carousels and Trapped Tourists

Imagine this: You are perusing souvenirs, listening to the hum of voices and carnival rides on the shore as you wander the pier. You are making your way toward the music playing on the far end of the pier which juts out over the Atlantic. It is dark, you have a tan from the warm sun and are wonderfully exhausted from swimming in the cool water. You're thinking about heading back to your hotel room when you hear yelling. You look to shore to see flames billowing from windows and people running. Everyone on the pier begins to move toward the shore in one swift flood but then the crowd slows and stops. There is the sound of wood breaking, flames cracking and you realize you are trapped. The entrance to the pier destroyed in a frightening display of courage by people bent on saving your life and the lives of those around you from the impending flames.

What really gets me about this scenario is that it has happened more than once. In 1907 some brilliant problem solvers tore up the entrance to the wooden pier saving countless lives and protecting the remainder of the pier from the flames.

In 1969 this scene was repeated, again leaving people on the pier safely watching waves of flames spiraling out of downtown Old Orchard. It's a frightening scenario and since I first read about it in an old postcard history of Old Orchard I can't shake it.

In 1909 a storm wiped out half of the pier. When a handful of men went out to what remained of the pier in a small boat a storm came up, trapping them with only a wood stove and a few quilts. After twenty four hours without relief someone noticed a power line running to shore and signaled the men. They were able to send cans of food and water out to their man made island. In the end a brave local took a small dingy out, carefully maneuvering it around the iron pilings in order to bring the six men back over the rough water. They were stranded for sixty hours.

I'm working on a feature article assignment for a nonfiction course and have been doing research into these exciting moments of Old Orchard history. The article is actually about the carousel that was destroyed in the 1969 fire, but I can't help but get caught up in the rest of the timeline and will probably write these stories more extensively in the future as well.

Vacationland is currently waking up and getting prepared for the upcoming tourist season. Looking at all of these photos makes me apprehensive as I anticipate the incoming barrage of tourists, but also excited. In the wintertime Old Orchard is a ghost town and although the dog and I have enjoyed having the beach to ourselves I'm also looking forward to the bustle and hustle of the tourist season (as well as the opportunity to escape it by driving North to visit family elsewhere.)

This is a unique area to live in full of interesting history.

People Trapped in 1909

Old Photos of Old Orchard and the 1969 Fire

(The bottom link is the source of the photos I chose here and deserve all credit for them.)

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