Did you know that the site where the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 is now home to the Chicago Fire Academy?
When I was visiting Chicago over this past New Year’s holiday, a friend, knowing that I worked for the National Fire Protection Association, drove me to the corner of Dekoven and Jefferson Streets in Chicago where the blaze began.
There’s a beautiful bronze sculpture called “Pillar of Fire” by artist Egon Weiner on the site.
Site of the origin of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871
The great Chicago fire began October 8, 1871, in the O'Leary barn on DeKoven Street. Fanned by a strong wind, in a city largely built of wood structures, the blaze raged for nearly 30 hours. Flames spread so far as Fullerton Avenue, before finally dying out in the early morning rain, October 10. Almost everything in the path of the fire had been destroyed.
Designated a Chicago Landmark on September 15, 1971, by the City Council of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, Mayor, Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks
Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate this fire, which killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. NFPA has been the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week since 1922. You can learn more about this year’s campaign “Prevent Kitchen Fires” and download lots of free resources by visiting www.firepreventionweek.org.
Like any good story, the 'case of the cow' has some truth to it. The great fire almost certainly started near the barn where Mrs. O'Leary kept her five milking cows. But there is no proof that O'Leary was in the barn when the fire broke out - or that a jumpy cow sparked the blaze. Mrs. O'Leary herself swore that she'd been in bed early that night, and that the cows were also tucked in for the evening.
But if a cow wasn't to blame for the huge fire, what was? Over the years, journalists and historians have offered plenty of theories. Some blamed the blaze on a couple of neighborhood boys who were near the barn sneaking cigarettes. Others believed that a neighbor of the O'Leary's may have started the fire. Some people have speculated that a fiery meteorite may have fallen to earth on October 8, starting several fires that day - in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Chicago.
What do you think? Do you still blame Mrs. O’Leary’s cow? Let us know by clicking the "Comments" link below.