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A City Ablaze: Chicago and the Great Fire of 1871 - Term Paper Example

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There are not many people in the country of the United States of America that have not heard of the city of Chicago.Indeed,it boasts many honors, including the fact that forty million people visit it annually to take advantage of all that it has to offer…
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A City Ablaze: Chicago and the Great Fire of 1871
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Download file to see previous pages It is the third largest city in the United States, home to 237 square miles of land and over two million residents as of 2010 (City of Chicago). Its history dates back to the late 1770s and includes such events as the “roaring twenties”, when gangsters and crime ran rampant in the streets, and the first Ferris wheel, which made its debut at the 1893 World Exposition (City of Chicago). However, before Al Capone walked its streets, before the Ferris wheel was constructed, and before it swelled to become home to its two million residents, the city of Chicago endured the Great Fire of 1871. The picturesque skyline of Chicago today that is seen by its over forty million visitors looked quite different on October 8, 1871, when pitch-black smoke and leaping flames jumping from one house to another ignited the city and send people running in a panic through its streets. It should be noted that the residents of Chicago were not strangers to fire. Between 1858 and October 1871, there were nearly 3,700 fires, including eight that were considered “major loss” infernos (Cowan 15). The growth of Chicago between the first non-Native Americans and the Great Fire had happened quite swiftly. There were those that said it was too fast; many buildings were slapped together without thought to safety (Bales 11). Though stone was used in some buildings, wood had still been the main building medium of choice due to readability and price (Bales 11). Also, though the city had grown, the fire department had not. Pleas for more fire hydrants and attempts to explain the limited means of the department in fighting fires had gone unheard (Bales 13). These two factors combined alongside a drought (only 0.11 inches of rain had fallen since July 4, 1871), to create almost the perfect backdrop to a roaring blaze (Bales 16). Chicago would soon take its place in the history books of the United States forever for the fire that would burn through its streets. October 8, 1871, began just as any other day in the city. Firefighters were exhausted from having already battled a blaze the previous day, one that had taken seventeen hours to put out (Cowan 16). A mill had caught fire, along with its surrounding lumber and coal yards, and aided by a strong south wind had taken out at least two streets of the city buildings (Cowan 16). The fire had severely depleted the supply of coal needed to pump water from the hoses, and the hoses themselves were in precious supply after many were destroyed (Cowan 16). Firefighters did not know that this was just the tip of a fiery iceberg, and much worse awaited them. History details are sketchy on what citizens of Chicago had been doing. It was a Sunday, so it may be assumed that most went to church, while others went on about their Sunday business. Chores, however, still needed to be taken care of, which may have prompted the legacy of the fire being started by a cow owned by the O’Leary family kicking over a lantern, almost before the flames had died on the ruined city (Bales 53). The fact that the fire started in the O’Leary barn around 9:00PM and on that day was not disputed (Cowan 17). The cause, however, was more difficult to find, and remains to this day an elusive mystery, considered one of the greatest “whodunits” of Chicago (Bales 6). Though three viable theories would emerge, all of these put the cause down to an unfortunate occurrence, whether from a stray spark, a casually tossed-away cigar, or some other means that quickly engulfed the O’Leary barn and the surrounding area (Cowan 16). The flames spread to nearby houses, barns, ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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