Charles Lamp/Lemke

Charles “Karl” Lamp (or Lemke) was a German immigrant farmer in the Lower Sugar Bush with his wife, Fredricke, and five daughters. His very pregnant wife began having birth pains during supper on October 8, 1871.

Karl hitched the horses to a wagon and loaded his family—Fredricke holding the reins—when the frightened horses fled to Peshtigo ahead of the wall of flame. Karl ran after them, ignoring a burning in his side, and throwing off his burning shirt without slowing. A falling, burning tree or part of a rail fence hit one of the horses. Karl finally caught up and ran past the wagon to catch the frightened horse who had shucked its harness and was running away. His wife screamed. He turned to see his family and other horse engulfed in flames. They were dead before he could reach the wagon. Karl ran to a shallow brook nearby and threw himself into it.

After the fire, Karl stumbled upon a group of survivors who had also found refuge in the creek. He was blind and had a gaping hole in his side. Later in the day, two men in a wagon drove by, looking for survivors.┬áKarl was taken to the hospital but was so traumatized by the death of his family that he could not speak. A doctor told him the hole in his side would never heal and showed him how to dress and wrap it. Karl followed orders, but as far as he was concerned, his soul had died with his family. Eventually, his eyesight returned, the burned skin on his back was replaced by new,┬ápink skin, and his hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows began to grow back—though his once black hair was now pure white.

Karl was released from the hospital, but he had no desire to see his farm. He lived at a boarding house in Marinette. A friend, who owned land adjoining Karl’s, invited him to stay at his new farmhouse with another couple, the Dahls. Farming was challenging, but in 1873 there was evidence the land was healing. It was time to face his loss and his fears, and he visited his farm with a friend of the Dahl’s, Louisa Behnke. There were no buildings—only burned, fallen trees—but he was ready to begin again.

Karl and Louisa built their farm into one of the most prosperous in the Sugar Bush. They had seven children. Karl died in 1904; Louisa thirty years later. They are buried in the May’s Corner cemetery. The farm is still in the family, and many Lemkes live in the area.

A marker for Karl’s wife and daughters can be seen in the Fire Cemetery.