Fires, Cows, and Faulty History


On today’s date in 1871, a fire began in the barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary of Chicago. Two days later, 7,450 buildings had been destroyed and 100,000 people were homeless. A big chunk of the business district was in ruins.

Never mind that the weather conditions were dry. We forget that all those buildings, as well as the streets and sidewalks were made of wood. Forget that there had been numerous fires in Chicago before this one, so fires were nothing new.

Who got the blame for the fire?

Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. 

I guess I should note that over one hundred years later, the Chicago City Council exonerated Mrs. O’Leary and her cow.

But it is a sad reflection on our history that a massive fire was not blamed on poor planning, but on a woman and a cow, neither of whom had any power or influence in 1870’s Chicago.


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