Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fire and Flood

Chicago Fire 1871The Great Chicago Fire of '71 just missed St. Patrick's church on West Adams Street. Some folks say it was divine intervention, but I'll tell you the truth -- it was the Devil and a beer pump. A few years before the fire, the owner of a brewery located further down the block decided to open a drinking establishment next to the church.

Well, old Scratch favored this arrangement. He could have a drink in the saloon during services, and keep an eye on who was coming out early. He liked it so much, in fact, that he covered the cost of running a pipe directly from the brewery to the saloon. The place soon became known for its cheap, reliable supply of beer, both winter and summer. It didn't hurt that one of its regulars, who smelled slightly of sulphur, also often treated churchgoers to a pint or two.

I used to stop by there on business trips. Scratch was always up for a card game, didn't mind sharing his clients, and I knew enough not to bet anything I couldn't easily replace. The Sunday night that the fire broke out, he'd strolled out with a parishioner named O'Leary, and I was left with a room full of gaming enthusiasts.

About an hour later, one of the patrons spotted flames and shouted a warning. When it became clear that the fire could not be contained, most of the customers fled. The owner asked me why I did not panic as had the rest. I replied, "Because sir, the means of your salvation is at hand."

"I have yet to see you enter that church," said the owner, "I did not take you for a religious man."

"It doesn't take a religious man to see the practicalities of this situation," I replied. "My Wizard Water© is super-saturated, you know, and will more than double any liquid it is added to. And you sir, have several large tanks and a pumping mechanism at hand."

"A few bottles?!" he cried. "I'll buy all you've got!"

I advised him that two bottles would be enough, but he insisted on purchasing my entire stock. I sold it to him, but the look in his eye worried me and I left the premises as quickly as possible.

I was about three blocks away when the flood caught up with my wagon. My suspicions were correct -- the owner must have added every bottle to his brew tanks. The foamy water raised the wagon as high as the rooftops and carried it for several miles, until I was able to lasso the town hall steeple in Cicero, to the south. St. Pat's, built of solid brick and mortar, survived intact and in place. The wooden brewery and saloon survived too, but floated free. They are now situated about five miles south of the church. The pastor regards this as one of the few blessings caused by the great fire.

Scratch was not pleased. It was bad enough to have his favorite tavern relocate without his say-so; even worse that the credit went to Someone Else. I'm afraid he suspects that I had something to do with the removal. I could argue that Scratch was not entirely blameless in the matter, either, but he is disinclined to look kindly on the truth. Maybe that's why we get along.

Still, I'll wait until St. Pat's has another beer vendor for a neighbor before going back. Sharing affinities with the Devil is not a good enough reason to visit Chicago, unless you're running for office.

copyright ©2011 Laurie J. Anderson, all rights reserved.

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