The Great Chicago Fire

We have all heard of The Great Chicago Fire, but do you know what actually happened on the day the fire ignited? Do you know how many people were affected? And one of the most common questions of all – what does Mrs. O’Leary’s cow have to do with all of the commotion?

It all started after a series of smaller fires the week before. Around 9pm on Sunday, October 8, 1871, an enormous fire erupted in the city of Chicago. The famous legend, outlining the cause of the fire, points toward Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. It is said that there was an oil lamp burning in Mrs. O’Leary’s barn at 137 DeKoven St, which was eventually kicked over by her cow. This lamp caused some straw to burn up in flames, followed by the whole barn. Although this legend cannot be proven, it is quite true that as the fire spread east and north, panic reined through the streets and the citizens grabbed everything they could carry as they ran outside.

The next day, the firemen continued to fight the blaze, with little luck. All hope was lost once the fire reached the heart of downtown Chicago. It was only until the morning of October 10 there was a huge rainstorm, which finally extinguished the fire. By looking at the smoking Chicago ruins, it was easy to see the tragic damages, devastated families and horrifying injuries. In total, there were more than 300 people dead, 100,000 people left homeless, and the entire central business district of Chicago was completely burnt to ground level.

So, why did this fire happen and why did the city erupt in flames so easily? The biggest problem in the year of 1871 was the extreme warmth, which caused the ground to be very parched. The lack of rainwater took a great toll on the city, especially since it was made almost entirely of wood. Since wood was the cheapest building material, every detail was constructed or trimmed in wood. Even the sidewalks and signs were made of wood. The whole city of Chicago was just waiting to be leveled by the blaze, and eventually burned like a match.

After 40 years of hard work and determination, the construction workers witnessed their creations burn to a crisp. Their families fled from the dangerous blaze, along with 340,000 others. The wooden buildings were leveled, such as theatres, banks, offices and hotels, as time went on. Some say Chicago was swallowed by the hot fire started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.

Despite this horrible tragedy, the citizens of Chicago were determined to rebuild their large city. They received their first load of lumber the day the blaze died down. Now, we look at Chicago and see an enormous city with some of the most famous buildings in the world. It’s hard to believe that this gigantic, beautiful city was ever engulfed in flames. Many illustrations of The Great Chicago Fire were created, which can still be viewed today, as not many photographs were taken during the commotion.

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