Audio Conversation: Jeff Wade

Listen to or download the 34-minute conversation.
(Our discussion of the Common Council files begins at the 19:24 mark of the conversation.)

Jeff Wade is a Graduate Intern at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Northeastern Illinois University. We spoke about IRAD's collections, and he showed me the 1865 document that asked for the fireproof safe that evidentally saved the Common Council files from the 1871 Chicago Fire. Graduate students from Illinois' state universities support various aspects of the State's archive and research needs. Jeff assisted me during the summer months while I read hundreds of Common Council files on microfilm. Later, he pulled the dozens of documents I photographed for this Web Site.

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The two-page document requesting a fireproof safe to protect the city's official papers.

Chicago, Aug 21st 1865

To the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Chicago in Common Council Assembled,

The undersigned respectfully represent unto your honorable body, that the documents and records of the City of Chicago are in a shamefully unsafe condition. A fire accidentally or purposely kindled in his office would destroy the municipal records and create a vacuum which could not be filled. The municipal history of Chicago contained in twelve large volumes, is kept in a dry wooden closet, which a match could ignite and which, if left undisturbed for a quarter of an hour, would be consumed with all its precious contents. The official bonds of city of of city officers, amounting in the aggregate to over a million dollars, are kept in a paper box. There are 1400 Saloon Bonds, 700 day Bonds, 700 Express bonds, 400 Double Team Bonds, 300 peddler Bonds, and 300 Hack and Runner Bonds equally well secured. All the Assessment Rolls for the improvement of streets and Alleys, Returns of Elections, ordinances, and the thousand and one accumulations of this office are all at the mercy of fire, and of the evil disposed. Chicago has become a vast city. What was well enough and safe enough for a city of two thousand inhabitants will not do for a city of two hundred thousand. What is needed is a vault, fire proof, and capacious enough for the wants of this office for a decade. If this be impracticable, a large and suitable safe should be at once secured, in which could be placed the records and some of the more valuable papers. A Business man who should conduct the affairs of his counting room, in this regard, as loosely as does the City of Chicago, would assuredly meet with some great commercial disaster, and by his conduct would justify the withdrawal of public Sympathy. “I respectfully ask that this communication be by your honorable body referred to some appropriate Committee with such instructions as you in your wisdom shall think proper to give.”

Respectfully submitted
A.H. Bodman
City Clerk

All document presented courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.

The 1852 watercolor rendering of the City Cemetery fence, mentioned in the conversation as my favorite finding among the Common Council files.

Returning the 1865 document back to the IRAD stacks.