Susan and the “Big Blow”
March 30, 2013 § 3 Comments
On this week when Christians and Jews observe major traditional celebrations, I am reminded once again that despite the fact that Susan did not practice conventional religious rites, in one way she personified the core teachings of all faiths. Time and again she came to the aid of the poor, the disenfranchised, and the needy. I refer to her benevolence in Chapter 9 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, and in my continuing research into her life, I have uncovered even more examples of how she shared her time, money, and compassion. One very dramatic story that surprisingly has not been passed down as part of the Susan lore occurred in August of 1910 in Wallace, Idaho.
In the summer of 1910, a devastating series of forest fires engulfed Idaho, Montana, and Washington. The inferno culminated on August 20–21 in what is known as the “Big Blowup” (click here for more details). According to the U.S. Forest Service, 3 million acres of land were consumed, at least 85 people were killed, several small towns were destroyed, and one-third of Wallace, Idaho, was burned. Visiting some of her mining interests, Susan was in a hotel in Wallace on the night the fire struck the town. After hastily grabbing some of her possessions, she fled on the last train to Spokane, Washington. Two days later Susan returned to Wallace where she gave aid to the injured and consoled the survivors.
Stories like this illustrate Susan’s enigmatic personality. The term wealthy socialite, the usual characterization that is applied to her, does not fit the image of a woman walking through smoke and devastation to aid others. As the chapter titles in Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House imply, she assumed many roles in her life time. I discovered yet another Susan persona through this story. She was a gifted writer. The letter she wrote to her cousin Florence describing the ordeal in Wallace vividly describes the horror Susan experienced. It was published in Springfield newspapers, and I will post it in its entirety next week.