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Not the Soccer Team, the Other Fire

By Shannon in News on Oct 8, 2006 2:58PM

Panoramic photograph of the fire
Nothing gets us raging (pun intended) with city pride more than telling people about the Great Chicago Fire. Today marks the 135th anniversary of the fire's two-day rampage. And what a rampage it was!

In the weeks before the fire, severe drought cracked the wooden sidewalks and made Chicago a tinder box. All it took was one heavily disputed incendiary incident -- hey, all we know for sure is that it started on DeKoven Street somewhere -- to kick off the deadly blaze. For further confusion, a recently unearthed journal from a fire company says the fire may have started about half an hour earlier than previously thought. From that starting point, the fire quickly spread northeast to the Loop, gutting businesses and stately hotels left and right. It did the unthinkable and jumped the river, destroying residential homes of rich and poor alike, crowding people across (wooden) bridges into Lincoln Park and beyond. The blaze kept on until slackening winds and a light drizzle put it permanently to bed Tuesday morning. Only about 300 people died, but countless beautiful buildings were lost, not to mention the huge financial blow taken by the entire city. Only six buildings survived on the North Side. Bankers and magnates were delighted to find their private safes unharmed, only to open them up and have the money and papers inside burn on contact with the still-hot air.

What may be even more astounding than the damage caused by the fire was how quickly we bounced back. We had shit to prove, people. New York was all over us, and we had to reestablish ourselves as a dynamic powerhouse. So we pulled up our britches, borrowed some money, put donations from around the country to good use, and started anew. From that horrible disaster came the magnificent Palmer House (an earlier version was finished only 13 days before the fire), the reverence for the Water Tower, stricter building codes, and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. There's no doubt we came back stronger than ever before.

Image via the Library of Congress.