Mark and I visited Southern Door today. I had made arrangements ahead of time for us to tour the Belgian Chapels in and around Brussels, WI. Alas, today was bitterly cold, overcast, and windy.
We were met at the door by Barb, a woman who grew up in this area and has been doing genealogies and research to preserve the memories of the Belgians that settled in this area. In the 1800s, on the same day as the great Chicago fire, both sides of Green Bay were caught up in a much larger fire called the Pashtigo fire. The reason it isn’t as famous is because the Belgians spoke Walloon and they couldn’t communicate about what had happened to them. The Chicago fire destroyed only a small fraction of the amount destroyed in the Pashtigo fire. Barb’s ancestors survived by going down into their well and passing their young child back and forth until the fire ended. When they climbed out of the well, everything they owned was gone. A group of 35 farmers and their families tried to hide under wet blankets in a cultivated field. All of them died. The fire traveled both underground where it sprouted up and in “dark balloons” that hit trees and other objects and burst into flame. After the fire, the Belgians built houses of brick, often with a small round window in the attic so that they could see at a distance if a fire was coming.
Barb took us east from the Belgian Heritage Center to see all the Belgian chapels in that direction. She said that if we come back in the fall when it’s really colorful, she’ll take us to see the Belgian chapels to the west. These chapels were built for various reasons. They could be built to worship in until a larger church was completed, or they could be built as a result of a vow. People built them in their yards and named them after various saints, depending on what the saint was a patron of. A man who got lime in his eye prayed that if his eyesight was restored, he would build a chapel to honor the patron saint of eyesight. Another whose child was missing promised to build a chapel to the patron saint of children if his child were found. His child’s body washed up on shore after 3 years, so he built the chapel.
This reminds me that next to the Belgian Heritage Center, which as I said before used to be a church, there’s a cemetery where one of the priests didn’t like the nonconformity of the gravestones, so he dug them all up, and lined them up neatly at a small distance from where the bodies are actually buried. There is now no way to identify the names of the people lying beneath the ground.
Before Barb parted from us, she recommended we eat at the Belgian Delight restaurant in Brussels and then go to the local grocery store and get a Belgian pie.