Monday, June 30, 2008

The Great Fire

Murphy, Jim. 1995. The great fire. New York: Scholastic.


You may have heard the story of how Mrs. O’Leary’s cow started the great Chicago fire of 1871, but did you know that no one really knows what started the fire? The fire was first spotted by a friend of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. “Peg Leg” Sullivan stopped to rest on a wooden sidewalk after he stopped to visit the O’Leary’s and found that the they had already retired for the night. “Peg Leg” was nearly the first casualty of the night. When the fire broke out, he rushed to the barn to save the O’Leary’s livestock. Ironically, when his wooden leg became stuck in the floor boards, it was the O’Leary’s calf that saved him. What followed was a series of truly unfortunate events that led to one of the greatest US disasters. Jim Murphy’s book details the horror of the thirty-one hour fire and its aftermath that left 100,000 people homeless. With temperatures up to 1500 degrees, the fire consumed 17,500 buildings and 73 miles of street. One survivor remembered,

All the mansions were being emptied with the greatest disorder and the greatest excitement. Nobody endeavored to stay the flames now. A mob of men and women, al screaming and shouting, ran about wildly, crossing each other’s paths, and intercepting each other as if deranged. We tried to force our way along the avenue, which was already littered with costly furniture, some of it burning in the streets under the falling sparks, but it was next to impossible…I saw a woman kneeling in the street with a crucifix help up before her and the skirt of her dress burning while she prayed. We had barely passed before a runaway truck dashed her to the ground.

Why didn’t someone pull the firebox? Why were the firefighters sent to the wrong street? Why didn’t the O’Leary’s house burn? What really happened that October night in 1871? Suspense, intrigue, history – the true story of The Great Fire has it all!

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