The Great Chicago Fire Part 2

About the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, history of the disaster and destruction that supposedly started at the O'Leary farm.

The Disaster: Chicago was primed. The night before in Farewell Hall, George Train, world traveler and lecturer, opened his address with fateful words: "This is the last public address that will be delivered within these walls!" Those who attended the lecture were still thinking about those words on Sunday, for late Saturday night 2 fires had destroyed 4 square blocks.

The O'Learys had company Sunday evening--their neighbors Daniel Sullivan and Dennis Rogers. When they left, the O'Learys retired early, about 8 o'clock. Sullivan didn't go straight home but sat down across the street in front of Thomas White's place. It was balmy and the bit of breeze was pleasantly cool.

From where Sullivan sat, O'Leary's barn was in his line of vision and at 8:30 he saw flames. Immediately he rushed across the street yelling "Fire!" Already the flames were licking at the stored hay and trapped animals. Though Sullivan worked slowly because of a wooden leg, he did manage to loose the tethered cows before the fire got too hot. There was no sign of life within the darkened O'Leary cottage.

Several people tried to turn in an alarm before 9:00 P.M. but the alarm boxes were locked and citizens couldn't get the keys from sleepy storekeepers. Flames spread quickly to the adjoining houses of the Daltons and Lees, then on to others. By 9:30 an entire block was ablaze. By 12:30 A.M. Monday, fires had broken out in all 3 of Chicago's districts. Fanned by increasing winds, nothing could stop the hungry flames.

The sun came up Tuesday morning, October 10, on the blackened ashes of a once great city. On 73 mi. of her streets 17,500 buildings were gone. So were the lumber mills, bridges, and the $1-million courthouse. The Chicago Fire will live in memory as long as Mrs. O'Leary's legendary cow, said to have started the holocaust by kicking over a lantern.

Aftermath: Within weeks of the fire, victims had received $4,820,148.20 from individuals, businesses, other States, foreign countries, and the U.S. Government. Philadelphia reported that it had requests for relief from an astounding 14 million people who claimed to be victims of the fire. By 1871, Chicago had 6,000 new shanties, 2,000 new homes, and 500 new mansions.

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