P99 The Great Chicago Fire of 1871

This photo, which was taken at the corner of State and Madison street, shows the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of October 8 and 9, 1871.  The fire destroyed  more than 3 square miles and killed around 300 people.  Commonly the fire was blamed on a cow (owned by Mrs. O’Leary) that knocked over a lantern.  Due to a strong wind and a preponderance of wood buildings the fire spread too quickly to be contained. By the time the winds died down and thanks to a light rain that developed, the fire burned it self out … but not before more than 17,000 buildings were destroyed.

There was no ABC, CBS, NBC or CNN back then but this disaster got top coverage.  In fact it got so much coverage that three other monstrous fires on the same day went relatively unpublicized.  The Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin still considered to be the deadliest fire in American history killed as many as 2,500 and destroyed a dozen villages … The Great Michigan Fires hit the cities and surrounding areas of Manistee, Port Huron and Holland.  By coincidence there was also a large portion of the downtown area of Urbana, Illinois destroyed by a fire on October 9.

By 1882, noting that several witnesses reported fire balls in the sky it was theorized that in fact all of these fires may have all be the result of a meteor shower.  Imagine that poor cow getting pinned with this bad rap.


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