The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow

The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow


View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Usually ships within 1 week


The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow by Richard F. Bales

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 swallowed up more than three square miles in two days, leaving thousands homeless and 300 dead. Throughout history, the fire has been attributed to Mrs. O’Leary, an immigrant Irish milkmaid, and her cow. On one level, the tale of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow is merely the quintessential urban legend. But the story also represents a means by which the upper classes of Chicago could blame the fire’s chaos on a member of the working poor.
Although that fire destroyed the official county documents, some land tract records were saved. Using this and other primary source information, Richard F. Bales created a scale drawing that reconstructed the O’Leary neighborhood. Next he turned to the transcripts—more than 1,100 handwritten pages—from an investigation conducted by the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners, which interviewed 50 people over the course of 12 days. The board’s final report, published in the Chicago newspapers on December 12, 1871, indicates that commissioners were unable to determine the cause of the fire. And yet, by analyzing the 50 witnesses’ testimonies, the author concludes that the commissioners could have determined the cause of the fire had they desired to do so. Being more concerned with saving their own reputation from post-fire reports of incompetence, drunkenness and bribery, the commissioners failed to press forward for an answer. The author has uncovered solid evidence as to what really caused the Great Chicago Fire.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786423583
Publisher: McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers
Publication date: 04/18/2005
Pages: 350
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Richard F. Bales is Assistant Regional Counsel for the Wheaton, Illinois office of Chicago Title Insurance Company. This title insurance company maintains the only set of land records that survived the blaze of 1871. Bales’ initial conclusions concerning the cause of the Great Chicago Fire earned him the Illinois State Historical Society’s Harry E. Pratt Memorial Award.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Foreword 1

Preface 3

1 A City on Fire 9

2 The Exoneration of Mrs. O’Leary 51

3 Debunking Other Myths 85

4 The Real Cause 112

5 The Inquiry-Charade or Coverup? 139

6 Mrs. O’Leary’s Legacy 165

7 Afterword 176

Annotated Bibliography 309

Index 335

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Great Chicago Fire And the Myth of Mrs. O'leary's Cow 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Bales, I think that this book is wonderful! I learned things I never knew before. Thank you for your time with my interview! Sincerely, Tracy Windett, Red and Blue Newspaper