[After the December 17, 1835, NYC great fire] Like everyone else in the city, I was awake the whole night. Half the First Ward has burned down.
It was Dante's Hell: ice and fire together. A horrible racket of bells pealing, of fire-engines clattering, of houses collapsing. At midnight the sky was like a red dawn. Today every New Yorker who knows how to read mentions The Last Days of Pompeii.
I am thankful that I won't be required to describe what I saw. Memory too crowded with fiery images. Wall Street in flames. A freezing wind full of fire--an anomaly.
Suddenly the new Merchants' Exchange vanishes in a long wave of flame. A moment later I was able to see through the walls to the statue beneath the dome of Alexander Hamilton [in the church graveyard.]
From nowhere, a half-dozen young sailors raced into the building and tried to save the statue. They pulled the figure off its pedestal but then the police forced them out of the building just in time for with a hissing sigh the dome fell in and Hamilton was seen no more (his would-be rescuer was a young officer from the Navy Yard--a banker's son, who else?).
A group of Irish approached [Leggett and I] and said, "They'll be making no more of them five-per-cent dividends, with they now?".... Leggett grinned and gave [the speaker] a thumbs-up.
In the side streets the shopkeepers were gloomily digging among the ashes to see what the fire had spared. In Pearl Street there are miles of scorched cloth stacked on the side-walls. In Fulton Street furniture. Nearly every street like an open bazaar of ruined good. The poor steal whatever they can, particularly food...as do the pigs, who have declared themselves a national holiday and are now rampant.... The only contented sound in the city is their squeaking and snorting as they turn up delicacies where once were taverns, grocery shops, homes."
Image (click to enlarge) - View of the Great Fire in N.York, Dec. 16th & 17, 1835, as seen from Williamsburg (sic), by Nicolino Caly, circa 1835. Medium gouache on paper mounted on canvas, on stretcher, 7.7 × 11.5 in, collection of the New York Historical Society.