Thursday, 28 April 2011

Fair Baltimore, the Beautiful City

This is the Hot Corn Band's excellent version of The Baltimore Fire, commemorating the devastation of that city in 1904. H L Mencken escaped becoming a crispy critter by a whisker. I first encountered this song on the awesome US/Canadian collaborative folk album, The McGarrigle Hour.

There is some doubt traditionally pretended as to whether the conflagration directly killed anybody at all; but although the death toll was remarkably low, the 'no dead' claim turns out to be very much of the "But few of any sort, and none of name" variety. No prizes for guessing the race of the charred corpse later pulled from the harbour - presumably dead of fright, or suicide, or independently spontaneous combustion, or something like that. Bah!

The great tragic fault shown up by this fire was the complete lack of standardization in firefighting equipment specs, so that neighbouring forces couldn't fit their equipments to Baltimore hydrants when they arrived to help. As I understand it, this seems to have been chiefly an issue of every local government laying down different specifications, with a side-helping of patent law abuse by certain equipment providers who thought their interest lay in mutual incompatibility with all competitors. After the resulting visit from Nemesis, a national standard was installed.

I know of nothing so numbingly fair and savagely terrifying as wildfire, and this song has always hit me at the very base of my spine.

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