Review of the Great Boston Fire.
A book having a decided hearing on firefighting, and especially setting forth in an accurate manner the situation which prevailed during the burning of the greater portion of the business section of a great city, is one just from the press of the Houghton, Mifflin company, entitled “1872. The Great Boston Fire.” While the book is new the contents are old. they being comprised of letters written by an eye witness of the fire to a friend sojourning in I’ranee.
While the book is, perhaps, put forth largely because of the literary merit of the letters, and the accurate historical picture it affords of Boston in the early seventies, it is one, nevertheless, which a fireman might well thoroughly study because of tin bearing it has on his work. Mr. Murdock, the author, though a lawyer, appears to have had a keen appreciation of firefighting startegy. He unquestionably was a keen observer of conditions during that terrible occasion.
The letters disclose that he went from place to place during the fire noting what was, or was not, being done at each point. It is doubtful if any man obtained a more comprehensive idea of what was going on. The story of the outbreak of tin fire and the various causes which contributed to its spread arc set down with accuracy. Other than relating what he saw the author accumulated much information from special records the newspapers and magazines of the day and conversations with Bostonians of that time. It seems probable that the facts of a great conflagration have never been more thoroughly and accurately observed than Mr. Murdock observed tin facts of the great Boston fire.
But the book is by no means a statistical weighing of the facts of the occasion. The author tells the story as it might have appeared to one of the thousands of men who roamed the streets during that fateful night except that the writer litis a genius for observation and the recording of details. He gives a graphic account of the destruction of Winthrop square, the burning of Trinity church and the plan used to save Hovey’s store and the Old South church. He mentions meeting Chief Engineer Damreli at the city hall and also the mayor, and details the failure of the attempted use of explosives. He recounts the current gossip in the street, in business offices and in the club, mentioning many wellknown citizens by name so that the reader learns something of the spirit with which the men of the day faced the crisis.
Beside the vivid picture of the fire Mr. Murdock has furnished many unusually interesting and pertinent notes showing the embarrassments which beset the fire department at the time. It is evident that lack of standardization of hose and hydrant connections were a handicap to visiting companies then as now’. Altogether the book is not only an interesting piece of narrative and description but a genuine contribution to the history of American cities and the former methods of dealing with a municipal crisis.