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On October 8, 1871, a devastating disaster happened in Chicago, Illinois, destroying peace and silence in the community. The destructive fire spread quickly and lasted for two days throughout the district of Chicago, burning about 3.3 square miles of the Chicago area. This tragedy, took about 300 lives, destroyed homes of 100,000 residents, caused the destruction of thousands of buildings and around $200 million worth of damage, and has been a legend and a part of Chicago’s history. It was called the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Below are some interesting facts on the Great Fire of Chicago or alternatively download our comprehensive worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
- The Great Fire of Chicago started on October 8, 1871, at around 9 o’clock in the evening until the morning of the 10th.
- The two-day legendary fire was estimated to have killed 300 people and left 100,000 homeless, cost around $200 million in damages, and destroyed a 3.3-square mile part of the city.
- Many victims were never found, including those who had drowned in the lakes and rivers. There were 300,000 residents needed basic necessities and many of them lost their workplace.
- Luckily, the Chicago Relief and Aid Society extended help and charity to the victims of the devastating fire. Donations from different parts of the world also came, including fresh water from the Schlitz brewery.
- This catastrophic incident in Chicago has turned into legend. During that time, people believed that the burning started because of a cow kicking a lantern over. This accident ignited a barn and caused the rapid spread of the fire.
- The legend says that Catherine O’Leary was milking her cow that night, which kicked the lantern and set their farm on fire. But, Mrs. O’Leary denied that she was milking the cow that night. A historian named, Tim Samuelson, agreed that that Catherine O’Leary was telling the truth because evening is not the best time to milk cows.
- There were also rumors regarding the suspects of the fire. Mike Ahern, who was a writer, said that a family living nearby were hosting a party. It’s believed they trespassed into the cow-shed to steal some milk. Using a lantern to see what they were doing, they knocked it over when running away to avoid being caught.
- In fact, Mike Ahern also claimed to have started the O’Leary tale causing the fire. So, he wrote the milk theft story in 1911 for the Chicago Tribune.
- According to historians, some of this legend is real. They agree that the fire indeed started in a barn. This barn belonged to a Chicago residents Patrick O’Leary and Catherine O’Leary. They lived at 137 De Koven Street, which is in the southwestern part of the city.
- It is true that the couple had a cow. But, historians doubt that this cow was what caused the devastating fire. So, the Committee of Police and Fire of Chicago officially pardoned Mrs. Catherine O’Leary for the legend assigning her blame. Tales and stories may have been written, but historians doubt the reliability of these sources.
- Historians pointed out some conditions that may have caused the raging fire.
- First, many residents had poorly constructed wooden houses.
- Second, even the surroundings of the sidewalks were made of wood.
- Third, scarce rainfall during the summer made conditions in the city very dry.
- Fourth, a fire ripped through the four city blocks.
- And fifth, high winds of 30mph blew on the night the fire broke out.
- The fierceness of the fire was underestimated, so when the fire department arrived, it was already out of control. Firefighters were also exhausted after fighting the Peshtigo fire incident that same day along Michigan Lake. The scene that greeted them was overwhelming: A fire having burnt a four-mile long and 1-mile wide area of the city at terrifying speed.
- The fire started in the west of Chicago, spreading to the streets downtown, going to the east and north of the city, almost reaching Fullerton Avenue. Still, a large part of the city remained intact, including the house of the O’Learys, which had large metal doors.
- Most of the residents were left with burnt homes, destroying documents of their insurance policies, so they had no way to claim their compensation to rebuild.
- After a month, the newly elected mayor, Joseph Medill, promised to implement a stricter building code and fire code.
- The city still had intact railways and boats, so the rebuilding of the city happened relatively quickly. Luckily, Chicago was the nation’s lumber capital and a transportation hub, which benefitted a rapid rebuild.
- In the aftermath of the fire, significant and great innovations, such as fireproof buildings, were created and used in line with the national fire code. If you can visit Chicago today, it is a world-class city.
The Great Chicago Fire Worksheets
This bundle contains 11 ready-to-use Great Chicago Fire Worksheets that are perfect for students who want to learn more about the Great Chicago Fire which occurred on October 8, 1871. It was a devastating disaster which happened in Chicago, Illinois, destroying peace and silence in the community. The destructive fire spread quickly and lasted for two days throughout the district of Chicago, burning about 3.3 square miles of the Chicago area.
Download includes the following worksheets:
- The Great Chicago Fire Facts
- Word Search
- Fill in the Blanks
- Causes of the Great Chicago Fire
- Effects of the Great Chicago Fire
- True or False
- Your Rights
- Coloring Page
- Crossword Puzzle
- Prayer for the Victims
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Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.