Destructive Fires Burned Seattle, Chicago and Maine

 

• Seattle In 1889, fire swept through the city and destroyed most of the structures in the business district— 29 square city blocks of wooden and brick buildings. Once the inferno cooled, the city rebuilt from the ashes with amazing speed. New mandates required building construction of brick or steel. Regraded landscapes transformed Seattle as street levels were raised by 22 feet. My father, Hans Pederson, a builder in the right place at the right time, contributed to the rapid growth of Seattle in the first third of the 20th century.

Chicago It is difficult to imagine the scope of the great  fire of 1871 that destroyed 18,000 buildings and left 100,000 people dead. Yet from the ashes the World’s Columbian Exposition Company brought pride back to Seattle as it developed the 1893 World’s Fair.

 

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Ruins of the Great Fire at Portland, Maine 1866 courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

• Portland, Maine Five years  before the Great Chicago Fire, Portland’s fire was the largest yet seen in an American city. As a Yankee,  I am reminded every Fourth of July of  Portland Maine’s fire of 1866. Josephine Detmer describes the scene in the Greater Portland Landmarks book, Portland.

“On July 4, 1866, as the city was preparing to celebrate Independence Day and the end of the Civil War, disaster again struck and Portland suffered the greatest fire calamity the country had seen up to that time. Parades, fireworks, and a balloon ascension had been planned to enliven the festivities. Tragically, the holiday which had begun so happily, ended in a night of terror and destruction.

“A flicked cigar ash or perhaps a tossed firecracker started a small fire in a boat yard on Commercial Street. From the boat yard the blaze spread to a nearby lumber yard and then to Brown’s Sugarhouse on Maple Street (considered impregnable). It jumped the brick walls surrounding the building and melted the steel shutters on the windows and the roof of galvanized iron and tar. The building became a roaring inferno. A strong south wind whipped the flames to uncontrollable fury. Water was pumped from the city’s reservoirs, wells, and even the harbor. It was a useless effort. Firefighters were powerless in the face of the conflagration which raged all night, sweeping diagonally across the heart of the city from Commercial Street to Back Cove and to Munjoy Hill where it finally burned itself out.”

Fashionable Victorian buildings that replaced the original structures brought a modern face to Portland’s commercial district,  but the colonial homes that had brought history and dignity to the waterfront area were gone forever.

Immigrants, Seattle, Travel, History, Family, Writing, and Maine

 

Pederson-Cover-Front

Features excerpts of our wide-ranging lives

 

All  the themes covered in my updated book are finally published after years of work. For decades I believe my mother’s tale that Danish immigrant Hans Pederson left us penniless. Then I uncover the truth about my father’s wealth and prolific contributions to Seattle. I discover my mysterious father’s boom to bust life in the early 1900s as I grapple with family secrets and heartbreaking deception in this very personal memoir. My coming-of-age journey from Seattle to Singapore, Shanghai, Honolulu, New York, New Jersey, Maine and North Carolina.

 

Available on Amazon. Please check our Facebook page!

 

 

 

World War II and The Shanghai American School

U.Mich Peony Garden

Mysterious Builder of Seattle Landmarks at the University of Michigan Peony Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Mike and I traveled  to the impressive University of Michigan in early May to join a reunion of the Shanghai American School (SAS) —  part of the conference, “China Between Two Worlds.”

Hans Pederson died when I was one month old. My mother remarried when I was two. We left Seattle, and so the mystery of the noted builder who was my father grew for the next 70 years. My new “Dad” took us to China where he was an agent for the Standard Oil Company.  As well as Seattle history, the “Mysterious Builder” describes my Far Eastern early childhood in Shanghai, Honolulu, and Manila, along with Dad’s attempts to do business there during the turmoil of the pre and post-war World War II years.

The Michigan conference described “China Between Two Worlds” partly through the memories and photographs of American expatriate families —the missionaries, doctors, and businessmen in China between 1927 and 1949; years that bridged the Chiang Kai Sheck and  Mao Tse Tung regimes withWorld War II in between.  We, the children of these families, had all lived in China. We had lived those photos. We had felt that sense of straddling two cultures.

Such freedom we had. Missionaries upcountry had put their children on the train for Shanghai to board at the Shanghai American School sometimes at the tender age of nine. My husband, a day student at seven, roamed freely around Shanghai with his older brother, jumping over sampans on the Whangpo River. I, however, a five-year old girl, stayed with my amah. Conscious of her bound feet, I never ran away from her, because she never could have caught me.

Most business families were evacuated from Shanghai as we were in 1939, and most expatriates as well by the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on  December 7, 1941. The Shanghai American School closed from 1941 to 1946. It was another story for the missionary families in smaller cities upcountry. Some of them were interred in Japanese Prison Camps.

Japanese cruelty towards the Chinese was legendary. Brutality, in fact, was a part of Japanese military training. But one or two people at our reunion had filtered out the cruelty and remembered basically happy childhoods in prison camp, even though they were always hungry.

European and American prisoners organized their camps into rotating teams with specific jobs. With plenty of teachers around, the children had good schooling. They fielded sports teams and put on plays. They always invited their captors to sit in the front row. A few western camps run by Japanese consular officials, were seemingly able to maintain discipline without excessive cruelty.

And so we learned, sometimes there is light within the darkness.

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