1871 – Stanley finds Livingstone

David Livingstone was one of the greatest British explorers of the Victorian era, who spent years in Africa, initially as a missionary, and only later as an explorer. He conducted the first detailed investigation of the Zambezi River, which he hoped would serve as a trade route to open up the interior of the continent. Later, he made another expedition to try to find the headwaters of the Nile. At the time of his meeting with Stanley, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, he had been out of contact with Europe for six years on the latter expedition.

Henry Morton Stanley was a Welshman who had worked as a journalist in the United States, and considered himself American enough to fight in the Civil War (on the Conferedate side). His mission to find Livingstone was a self-conceived stunt done more for fame and fortune than any more humane reason.

After their meeting, the two went their separate ways, although each of them remained in Africa. Livingstone died less than two years later (he had contracted malaria in the course of his explorations); Stanley wrote a book about their meeting, and his fame was such that he was one of the cheif agents of King Leopold of Belgium in the claiming of the Congo for his nation. Stanley was racist even by the standards of his day (Richard Burton, another explorer and no saint, wrote that Stanley “shot negroes as if they were monkeys”). Many regard him as the model for Kurtz in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness“.

Oh, and chances are that he made up saying “Dr. Livingstone, I presume”, too.

Referenced in:

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume — Moody Blues

1871 – The Great Chicago Fire is extinguished

The Great Chicago Fire was not, despite early reports, started by Catherine O’Leary’s cow kicking over a lantern – the reporter who claimed that later admitted that he’d decided to sexy up the story a little. In fact, despite the fact that the fire started in the O’Leary’s barn (and failed to destroy either their house or the nearby Catholic church at which they worshipped), the O’Learys appear to have been scapegoats. The true culprit was likely a thief who set fire to the barn – the same man who first reported the fire, one Daniel “Pegleg” Sullivan.

The fire lasted for two days, and burned hot enough that it was impossible to enter parts of the area it affected for some days, even after it was extinguished. 125 bodies were recovered, but it is believed that they may have been less than half of the total deaths. The fire destroyed an area more than 2,000 acres in size, including about a third of the city’s buildings. Over $200 million of damage was done, and that’s in 1871 dollars. Approximately a third of Chicago’s citizens were rendered homeless by the blaze.

Chicago was rebuilt by architects such as Daniel Burnham, and within two decades, the city was bigger and better than ever before. Today, the former site of the O’Leary farm now houses the Chicago Fire Academy.

Referenced in:

Mrs O’Leary’s Cow — Brian Wilson