More legend than fact, Catherine O'Leary's cow is attributed to starting the great Chicago fire of 1871. The cow reportedly kicked a lamp over in a barn while Catherine was milking it on Oct. 8.
However, Kelly Hoogendoorn of Hadley, Minn., can't point to a cow concerning the great Grand Haven fire of Oct. 1, 1889. The fire, which broke out at about 1 that morning, reportedly began at an ancestor's business, the Mull meat market.
“An incipient blaze was discovered in the rear of a frame building adjoining the west side of the Cutler House on Washington Street, occupied by Mr. Mull as a meat market,” the Grand Haven News reported in its Oct. 1, 1889, edition. “A strong breeze was blowing from the southwest and the flames soon spread to the grocery store of Mrs. N. Slayton, and the drug store of Mr. Baar.”
The approximate location of Mull's is where West Michigan Pawn, 228 Washington, exists today.
Hoogendoorn, who was raised in Walker, was in Grand Haven a week ago snooping around for the truth concerning the 1889 fire. She had with her news clippings claiming the origin of the blaze was a business owned by her great-great-great grandfather, Arie Ira Mull.
A city resident and businessman, Mull was born April 18, 1815, in the province of Holland, the Netherlands. And if it wasn't Arie Ira Mull's business, it was one of his sons'.
The origin of the fire remains somewhat elusive, as reports of the blaze published in national newspapers pointed to Slayton's grocery store next door. But, Grand Haven and Ottawa County news reports published the day of the fire consistently point to Mull's meat market as the starting point.
The fire was reported to have started at Mull's when an overheated chimney or fire beneath a kettle triggered the blaze. By the time the inferno was snuffed out, 52 structures in downtown Grand Haven had been destroyed, 500 citizens were left homeless and a monetary loss was estimated at $800,000 — nearly $32 million in today's bucks.
Strangely, it seemed there was little left from the ashes concerning Mull's meat market to be uncovered today — who owned it, who operated it, etc. — until Hoogendoorn surfaced.
Leo C. Lillie, author of the book “Historic Grand Haven and Ottawa County,” and other local historians refer to the business as “Mull’s Meat Market,” but provide no further detail.
Newspapers of 1889 available online via the Library of Congress reveal the business referred to as “Mull Bros.” in several articles about the fire. A few articles call it “Irie Mull's Meat Market.”
“Irie” was Arie (Ira) Edwin Mull, son of Arie Ira Mull Sr. The identity of the other brothers of “Mull Bros.” were Hubertus and Peter Mull.
This is substantiated by documents provided by Hoogendoorn, which show Arie and Hubertus Mull moved to Grand Rapids right after the fire and reopened the Mull Bros. meat market on Bridge Street in 1890. Peter, a “professional butcher,” moved there as well to work with them.
It's possible Arie Ira Mull Sr. may have owned the Grand Haven meat market at one time but passed in onto his sons. Thus, the “Irie” noted in news articles could have meant the old man, who was 74 when Grand Haven burned, but he didn't run the store then.
Are you confused enough?
One thing for sure, Daniel J. Mull — another brother, who was Kelly Hoogendoorn's great-great grandfather — had no role in the 1889 Grand Haven fire. Daniel, co-owner of a Fruitport sawmill and resident of Grand Haven, died May 29, 1885.
On the morning of May 29 at around 11:30 a.m., while cleaning sawdust and debris away from a lumber edger, Daniel Mull's sleeve caught in machinery, pulling him under a saw and cutting halfway through his head, killing him.
He left two children, one of which was Kelly Hoogendoorn's great-grandfather — who, believe it or not, was also named Ira Edwin Mull.
Now, back to the Mulls burning down Grand Haven.
Ironically, one of the structures consumed in the Grand Haven fire was the Methodist Episcopal Church, where Daniel had once been an active member and superintendent of the Sunday school.
Whether of not the great Grand Haven fire of 1889 started at Mull's meat market or not doesn't seem to matter, as everyone knew it was an accident. But, in this case, it's hard to blame a cow kicking over a lantern.
“And I am not responsible for damages my ancestors caused,” Hoogendoorn joked.