Great Fire of 1871 - CHICAGO BURNS

CHICAGO BURNS (Illustration) American History Awesome Radio - Narrated Stories Famous Historical Events Social Studies STEM Nineteenth Century Life Disasters

John R. Chapin created this artist’s illustration of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Originally published in Harper’s Weekly, the 1871 drawing depicts a scene facing toward the city’s northeast, looking across the Randolph Street Bridge.  Its caption is: "Chicago in Flames—The Rush for Lives Over Randolph Street Bridge." Image online via Wikimedia Commons.


People were awakened by the fire. Many left their homes with shawls and blankets around them. One of the few close-up illustrations depicts a family in anguish.

People fleeing death spent the night among the cemetery dead - at Potter's Field, near Lincoln Park - close to the Lake Michigan shore.

The Chicago Tribune was burned out of its building. Citizens, in a panic, tried to flee over the Randolph Street Bridge.

There was a heartbreaking loss of life as entire families were unable to escape. A hundred thousand people who had enjoyed an unseasonably warm and beautiful Sunday were homeless by Sunday night.

Fleeing people thought they’d be safe in Lake Michigan. They weren’t. Some never came out of the water. James H. Goodsell, an eyewitness, describes the scene (on page 29) in his 1871 book, History of the Great Chicago Fire:

The intense heat from the burning buildings, even the flames from them, reached the water, and even stretched out over it, and the flying men, women, and children, rushed into the lake till nothing but their heads appeared above the surface of the waters; but the fiery fiend was not satisfied. The hair was burned off the heads of many, while some never came out of the water alive. Many who stayed on the shore, where the space between the fire and water was a little wider, had the clothes burned from off their backs.

In addition to damaged lives, Chicagoans had to contend with a destroyed city. Many of the wooden buildings were gone or had to be demolished.

Overwhelmed, the people could barely fathom their losses. (Eighty-seven years later, they would endure another disastrous fire—at Our Lady of the Angels School—in which 92 children and three nuns died.)

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Sep 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Jun 29, 2019

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"CHICAGO BURNS" AwesomeStories.com. Sep 01, 2002. Jan 23, 2020.
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