Friday, October 7, 2011

This Day in History October 8, 1871

This was a tragedy that occurred on this day in 1871.  You've probably heard of the great Chicago fire.

This is the cow that probably did not start the fire.  Legend says that a cow in the O'Leary barn kicked over a lantern.  While we do not know for sure, no one really knows.  It had been a dry summer, and the buildings were made of wood and built close together.  It does seem that the fire began in  their barn, but it could have been humans (it would be like humans to blame a cow, wouldn't it?) or even a comet.   The fire did begin just after 9:00 P.M.  Fire was common in Chicago--it averaged two fires per day in 1870, and the week before the great fire saw 20 fires.

The fire itself last two days.  There was much devastation:

  • 200-300 people dead
  • 17,450 buildings desroyed
  • 100,000 people left homeless
  • $200 million dollars worth of damage ($3 billion in 2007 dollars)
Rain began to fall after two days of fire and devastation.  Amazingly, the city recovered very well.  Its water, transportation, and sewage systems had remained intact.  By 1893, Chicago was a major hub--the site of the World's Fair.  The population was 27.5 million by that point.

Interestingly enough, the Chicago City Council exonerated Mrs. O'Leary and her cow in 1997.  As you can imagine, Mrs. O'Leary became a recluse after the fire.  I'm sure that people blamed her for the fire, and she lost any friends she may have had.

I am so glad that these kind of fires do not seem to happen in this country any more.  We now have wildfires, and I know they are devastatiing.  But I cannot imagine what it must have been like to try to put out that fire back then.  It must have been so frightening.  Thank God I live where I do when I do!

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