#382: The House that Would Not Burn

October 6th, 2014

It was a bust. You’ve probably read that by now.

It didn’t ignite. It fizzled. The city and a performance artsy theater place brought tens of thousands of people downtown on a cold October night for a fire festival that forgot the fire.

We stood on the State Street Bridge, just early enough to get a spot right on the railing. We stood and laughed and joked in the night river breeze as the crowd milling on the bridge became a group became a mass became a crush.

We stood in the cold watching a house not burn.

The intent, we later learned, was that the three Victorian mock mansions Redmoon Theater floated in the middle of the river would burn away. Underneath would be symbols of modern Chicago, of vibrancy and life exploding phoenix-like from the ashes of the city that was.

From what I understand, the one that worked was quite pretty. The other two, eh.

We were by an eh.

The crowd watched in awe as, one by one, the fire cages towed behind kayaks burst into flame, each one signifying a different neighborhood. We rubbed our hands in anticipation as a bowl cantilevered from the bridge was lit, then lowered. An eerie and beautiful children’s choir slipped past on a silent barge. Flame-spewing steamboats slowly made their way to our particular of the three floating mansions.

The steamboats chugged off, leaving our attention turned to the mansion to watch it burst into flames.

It didn’t.

“Electrical problems,” the announcer said after 45 minutes or so. I guess they built the house to code on accident.

“We’re switching to manual ignition,” he said after an hour. I guess that means one of the repairmen who boated out to the tiny barge had a lighter and a rag.

People mumbled, groaned and left. Eventually the little fritzes of light spattering inside the house caught one side of it, but soon that petered out.

I guess I shouldn’t bitch. Aside from $350,000 of city money and the opportunity cost of whatever else we would have done on a Saturday night, I didn’t pay for the thing. And it would have been weird to celebrate a tragedy like that.

But it’s sad and awkward not to have a catharsis, to come so close to tragedy and not quite see it through. And that night, a crowd that became a group became a mass became a crush was left not quite satisfied, just with an uneasy feeling that would not end.

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