Price Gouging at Its Best

From Frank Harris‘s first-person account of the Great Chicago Fire:

By the early morning the fire had destroyed over a mile deep of the town and was raging with unimaginable fury. I went down on the lake shore just before daybreak. The scene was one of indescribable magnificence: there were probably a hundred and fifty thousand homeless men, women and children grouped along the lake shore. Behind us roared the fire: it spread like a red sheet right up to the zenith above our heads, and from there was borne over the sky in front of us by long streamers of fire like rockets; vessels four hundred yards out in the bay were burning fiercely, and we were, so to speak, roofed and walled with flame. The danger and uproar were indeed terrifying and the heat, even in this October night, almost unbearable.

I wandered along the lake shore, noting the kind way in which the men took care of the women and the children. Nearly every man was able to erect some sort of shelter for his wife and babies, and everyone was willing to help his neighbor. While working at one shelter for a little while, I said to the man I wished I could get a drink.

“You can get one”, he said, “right there”, and he pointed to a sort of makeshift shanty on the beach. I went over and found that a publican had managed to get four barrels down on the beach and had rigged up some sort of low tent above them; on one of the barrels he had nailed a shingle, and painted on it were the words, “What do you think of our hell? No drinks less than a dollar!” The wild humor of the thing amused me infinitely and the man certainly did a roaring trade.

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