The Fire Was Not Started by a Cow

By | Oct 8, 2010

October 8, 1871 was a Sunday morning when a fire started around a small barn behind 137 DeKoven Street. The barn was owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. By the time that the fire was under control, three days later on October 10th, a great part of the City of Chicago was destroyed.

Chicago Republican reporter Michael Ahern reported that the fire was started by a cow owned by the O’Leary’s kicking over a lantern. In 1893 Ahern admitted that he had made it up because he thought it would make colorful copy.

It has been determined that the fire destroyed an area about four miles long and averaging 3/4 mile wide. This was an area of more than 2,000 acres. About a third of the valuation of the city’s properties were destroyed with nearly a 1/3 of the cities population left homeless.

A small number of people died as a result of the fire with the final estimate to be between 200-300.

One of the buildings that was not destroyed was the house owned by the O’Leary’s.

A bronze sculpture of stylized flames entitled Pillar of Fire by sculptor Egon Weiner was erected on the point of origin in 1961.


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