150th Anniversary of the Great Chicago FireStefano Espositoon October 8, 2021 at 12:15 am

The Water Tower, located at 806 N. Michigan Ave. in the Gold Coast neighborhood, is seen in this photo, Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 14, 2021. The Water Tower had survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

On Oct. 8, 1871, a terrible fire burned through Chicago, causing untold destruction. Now the city is honoring the 150th anniversary of the disaster.

Few other historical moments have defined the city as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Despite the catastrophic disaster, the residents banded together to rebuild the city and later commemorate their success with the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

The fire broke out Oct. 8 on DeKoven Street in the O’Leary family’s barn. No one knows for sure exactly what caused the flames to spark. Rumors claimed Catherine O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern, which started the blaze, but that story has been proven false. The fire did start, however, in that barn on the Southwest Side.

From there, the fire spread north, leaping across the river not once but twice. It burned across downtown and then headed for the North Side. Finally, on Oct. 10, firefighters extinguished the inferno.

The result of the fire devastated the city. Over 300 people had died while another 100,000 were left homeless. The flames destroyed over 17,000 buildings, causing millions of dollars in damages.

Instead of abandoning their city, the residents joined together and rebuilt Chicago. Thousands of donations poured in from all over the world. By 1893, the city looked bigger and brighter than ever, just in time to welcome guests to the World’s Fair.

Now 150 years later, the Chicago Sun-Times and other institutions are honoring the anniversary of the fire.

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