The In truth, they do not know how

The Great Chicago Fire burned from October 8 to the 10, in 1871. It all but destroyed the City of Chicago. Jim Murphy says in The Great Fire of 1871 “It was one of the most colossal disasters in American history”   The fire started in the O’Leary’s barn at 137 DeKoven Street and then moved to the shed that was connected to the barn. The shed was full of two tons of coal and a large supply of kindling wood. In truth, they do not know how the fire started, but there are many ideas. How did the fire start? Many reporters said that Catherine O’Leary’s cow tipped over the lantern that  started the fire. The reporters did not know how it started so they made something up that sounded real. A couple years later, a man named Louis M. Cohn confessed that he accidently knocked over the lantern and ran away scared. The only thing that we know as true, was that the fire did start in or near the O’Leary’s barn. Yet, the O’Leary’s house and yard were not damaged by the fire. The O’Leary’s were in bed before the fire started. Their friend named Daniel “Peg Leg” Sullivan stopped by around 8 o’clock that evening, but they were not in the barn.  Shortly after 8:30pm he noticed flames shooting out the side of the barn. Sullivan attempted to get the five cows, one horse, and calf out of the barn and barely made it out alive himself. There was no way that O’Leary’s could have started the fire since they were nowhere near the barn when it started on fire. Mr. O’Leary tried to stand up for his wife, but the reporters did not care what he said. The weather created the perfect conditions for fires. It was dry, there was a drought in July and rained less than three inches in October and the winds were strong in the city, which made fires spread easily.  Another reason fires were so common was that three fourths of the houses were made from wood. Sidewalks, streets, and buildings were also made from wood. Chicago was ready to burn being built primarily out of wood. Everything was dry and was easy to catch fire in all times.Fighting fires was very common during this era. There were on average, two fires per day over that year. They also had twenty fires the week before the O’Leary’s barn caught on fire. The Fire Department in the city of Chicago was really understaffed. There was not many firefighters in the town and the fire happened at night. The firemen did respond quickly, however the fire alarm sent the firemen to the wrong address. During this time, the fire spread quickly because no one was there to stop it. Once the firemen finally got there, there was not much that they could do except run the other way. The fire burned approximately for 30 hours. According to Murphy, “The Great Fire would have burned until it ran out of city, then continued its hungry march across the prairie” (95). It began to drizzle and then turned into a steady rain.Most of the surrounding houses caught fire right away. The fire completely destroyed the heart of Chicago. The amount of damage caused was about $200,000,000, which is about $4 billion in present value. The area burned by the fire was over four miles long and one mile wide. It destroyed 17,500 buildings, 2,000 lampposts, and 73 miles of street. They found 300 people who were killed from the fire, but believe more people drown in the water and their bodies were never found. All that was left were parts of buildings and some streets. There were very few buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire. These buildings included St. Michael’s Church, Chicago Water Tower, Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, St. Ignatius College, and Holy Family Church. St. Michael’s Church and the Pumping Station were both crammed in the fire, but the exteriors survived. They rebuilt the rest of the building on the four walls they had. After the fire many things were lost.Many people were mourning the loss of a loved one.  Many homes were burned to the ground.  About 100,000 people were left homeless. Some of them found temporary shelter, some left the city, and the remaining homeless found shelter under army tents. People also struggled to find food and drinking water. Donation of various goods began pouring in from all over the world. Schlitz brewery shipped barrels of fresh water to the city. Many other businesses gave food and others gave wood and other appliances. People came from all over to help rebuild the city. There were many job offers in the city of Chicago. According to Murphy  “The demand for carpenters and bricklayers soared, and farmers from as far as 150 miles came to get jobs. Salaries also rose, with unskilled laborers commanding two dollars a day, while carpenters and bricklayers got anywhere from five dollars to ten dollars a day, (which was amazing money in 1871.)”Most of the towns people were told that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, Daisy, started the fire by kicking over a lamp in the barn. The story kept changing. The gossip spread all over town. No one knew the real cause of the fire. Many curious tourists came to gawk at the O’Learys property. L. L. Owens says in The Great Chicago Fire “Every year near the anniversary of the fire, reporters would show up on her doorstep wanting new quotes about the event. Every year, she would send them away with no comment.” Feeling pretty persecuted the O’Learys eventually sold their property and fled from the area. They even made a song about how it happened. The song went like this:Late one night, when we were all in bed,Old Mother Leary hung a lantern in the shed, And when the cow kicked it over, she winked her eye and said,”There’ll be a HOT time on the old town tonight.”FIRE, FIRE, FIRE!


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