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“The Conflagration of Moscow” Exeter Courthouse Fire 1841

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, March 8, 2019.

Charles Bell’s History of the Town of Exeter, New Hampshire, written in 1888, packs 250 years of town history between its covers. Lengthy chapters on the ecclesiastical, judicial and military history of Exeter are occasionally interrupted by short entries that warrant more investigation – none so much as the following. “In the spring of 1841 the court-house that had been moved seven years before into Court Street, was destroyed by fire. An exhibition called the ‘Burning of Moscow’ had just been held in it, and was the cause of this less extensive conflagration.”

Governor Bell, you have GOT to be kidding me. This type of coincidence is what makes the study of history so damn enthralling. To unpack this story, we’ll need to connect a stodgy Exeter court house to Napoleon’s invasion of Moscow in 1812, and the traveling panoramic autonomaton spectacle shows o…

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