Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Chicago Fire: Is the Cow to Blame?

In all of American, and even world, history, no bovine is more infamous than a cow, belonging to Patrick and Catharine O’Leary, that was accused of starting what Fire Marshall Robert A. Williams called a "hurricane of fire and cinders.”   One of the worst urban disasters in American History (until the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906) the fire destroyed 73 miles of streets, more than 17,000 buildings, and left a 3rd of the population homeless. Even as the fire cut a swath through the city, neighbors and newspaper reporters quickly placed the blame on the O’Learys and their cow. In the early hours of October 9,  1871, newspapers first reported that the blaze started when the cow, as Catharine milked it, kicked over a kerosene lantern.

What's a fire without a camp song (Lyrics)

But did the Cow do it?

You are part of a special inquiry by the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners to determine how the fire started, could it have been prevented, and who is to blame?

Read the primary source narratives assigned to you in class and then answer these questions on a seperate sheet or in the space provided on the back.

Track the path of the fire and read accounts of the people who lived through it, in this interactive timeline and map.

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