The Great Chicago Fire

On the evening of Sunday, October 8, at 9:32 pm, the Great Chicago Fire began. It did not end until about 10 am the following Tuesday morning. According to Richard's Illustrated and Statistical Map, the fire covered 2,320 of the 22,400 acres that were part of the city of Chicago, with the exact area destroyed marked in red on the map. In the inset, "Statistics of the Fire," it lists the principal edifices destroyed, including churches, synagogues, banks, hospitals, and schools.

The growth of Chicago from a town of 4,865 people in 1840 to a city of 334,270 people in 1871 is described in the left inset. Not only is a short history of the city from the acquisition of the first land in this place in 1795 till 1871 included, but even estimated value of receipts in 1871. We can see the growth of such a small town to a great city – which took about 31 years – and then its destruction – which took only 36 hours – in the same document. The inset on the right side, with its list of edifices destroyed and estimated total loss, shows the difference 36 hours can make.

A map inset claims that, in comparison to other great fires of modern times, like several fires in London, the destruction of Moscow, a fire in Hamburg, Germany, and the great fire in New York, the Chicago Fire covered the largest area and created the greatest loss for the city. The New York fire of 1835 on the 16th of December, the most destructive fire in the country up to then, covered about 52 acres of ground and destroyed 674 warehouses.

The map, with its red markings, gives us a sense of place. Images show Chicago after the fire, the ruins of Pacific Hotel and the Court House, and an image of the fire as it is burning. A picture of the residence of Maun Ogden, the only house saved on the North-side, is also included.