Old Lady Leary Left Her Lantern in the Shed
May 16, 2007 8:53 AM   Subscribe

The Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory compiles a fascinating array of primary sources about the 1871 fire that destroyed 4 square miles of the city of Chicago, killing hundreds and leaving nearly one out of five residents homeless. Explore 3D images, music [embedded], children's drawings, and personal recollections. See also a pictorial survey of the damage, including fused marbles and metal hardware, related documents and images at the Library of Congress, and an exoneration of Mrs. O'Leary and her bovine companion, along with a suggestion by John Lienhart that police corruption and class struggle were more to blame than a cow [embedded audio].
posted by Miko (9 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting side note: The familiar Chicago Fire song is a parody of a popular song, "A Hot Time in the Old Town," composed by a Theodore Metz. He wrote it in the minstrel style about a fire in New Orleans, several years after the Chicago Fire had taken place. Apparently the song didn't become associated with the Chicago Fire until it appeared in a movie in the 1930s - can't find any detail about this movie yet. An interesting song history.
posted by Miko at 9:03 AM on May 16, 2007

I'd love to hear some sort of recreation by the fire department using the current rules and procedures. I wonder if this would get past a full still or still & box if it were to happen today.
posted by @homer at 9:16 AM on May 16, 2007

Great post, Miko. Thank you. The article about Mrs. O'Leary was especially intriguing:

"Kate O'Leary, unfortunately, never got to enjoy any of this. She bemoaned her own losses by the fire, which included all the animals in the barn except the calf, but otherwise she tried to avoid the unwanted attention, including offers from promoters. She and her family moved to a series of homes around 50th and Halsted, where journalists would seek her out for interviews in early October. She would ignore them or chase them away, and they in turn would make up stories that revived the old stereotypes about the unwashed poor."

Of course I had heard the legend of Mrs. O"Leary's cow, but hadn't, until now, thought much about what the aftermath must have meant for her and her family.
posted by LeeJay at 9:27 AM on May 16, 2007

On the same day as the Chicago Fire a much greater loss of life and property occured during the lesser known Peshtigo Fire.
posted by X4ster at 9:31 AM on May 16, 2007

The 1937 Hollywood blockbuster "In Old Chicago" tells the fictionalized story of the O'Leary family in the aftermath of the fire.
posted by Floydd at 9:34 AM on May 16, 2007

posted by chimaera at 9:39 AM on May 16, 2007

Cool, Floydd...Nothing in the soundtrack listing looks like "Hot Time," but it's a lead.
posted by Miko at 9:55 AM on May 16, 2007

The Great Chicago Fire was weaksauce. The Peshtigo Fire is the new hotness. (no pun intended)
posted by Bonzai at 9:57 AM on May 16, 2007

"Copyright © 1996"

The best of the web for 11 years and counting! It's good to know that some things on the net stand the test of time and do not just lie of link rot.

Way to go, Carl!
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:04 PM on May 16, 2007

« Older Vigilante Justice is Blind   |   Brotherly Love. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments