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Potter Palmer and the fire

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The beginning of the 1870s was glorious for Potter Palmer. He had achieved great wealth and success, but he had one empty space in his personal life. He lacked a partner to share his life. He filled this void with the daughter of a business associate Henry Hamilton Honoré and his wife Elizabeth J. Carr Honoré. Their daughter Bertha Matilde Honoré (1849-1918), nicknamed Cissie, was a beautiful, intelligent and accomplished young lady. Bertha and Potter fell in love, and they were married on August 11, 1870. She was 21, and he was 44. As a wedding gift to Bertha, Potter built the 1st Palmer House Hotel. They lived in the Potter Palmer Mansion on 1350 North Lake Shore Drive.

The splendid life of the young Palmer family and the lives of everyone in Chicago were turned upside down on October 8-10, 1871. The Great Chicago Fire leveled the city. Palmer’s 95 buildings on State Street were totally destroyed. His mansion survived, but in three days his fortune was gone.

Palmer wanted to leave Chicago, and who could blame him. The devastation was so great that he couldn’t imagine the city would recover. Bertha reminded him that he owed a debt of gratitude to the city that had given him so much. She encouraged him to stay and help rebuild the city. He listened to her because he knew she was right.

Because of his integrity, Palmer was able to obtain a loan of $11.7 million dollars. He rebuilt the Palmer House Hotel. He reconstructed his other large buildings. He increased his real estate holdings, and he was worth $25 million, more than the $7 million he had at the beginning of the decade.

To be continued…

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