The Newberry commemorating 150th anniversary of Great Chicago Fire with special event Friday

Chicago Scene

Legend has it that the Great Chicago Fire started in Mrs. O’Leary’s barn when her cow kicked over a lantern and the city caught fire. Spreading northeast from as far south as Taylor Street, raging as far north as Fullerton, the Great Chicago Fire devastated Chicago and displaced about 100,000 Chicagoans. The fire left such a profound effect on Chicago has earned one of the four stars on Chicago’s city flag.

The Newberry has a vast collection of maps, photographs, letters, and diaries documenting eyewitness accounts of the fire, it also has ties to the fire. One of the accounts has to do with a building standing on the site of what is now the Newberry Library was one of only a few surviving buildings.

The Ogden Mansion on the site of what is now the Newberry

A home with ties to a Chicago’s mayor, it survived the Great Chicago Fire despite being made entirely of wood. Witness accounts of staff and family wrapping the entire house in water and cyder-drenched rugs, drapes, and cloths were the keys to its survival. This and many more are just some of the many stories made available for this special event at the Newberry.

“The South Side and West Side played a major part in helping the city to rebuild as the fire only went down to about Taylor or Roosevelt and as far north as Fullerton,” Director of Exhibitions Paul Durica said.

The Newberry commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire with a special event on Friday, October 8.

“During this special event, guests can experience the story of the fire and the Newberry’s connection to it through a magic lantern show. – a popular nineteenth-century entertainment in which narration and music interact with an engaging project of images,” their website states.

Map of the devastation of the Great Chicago Fire

For more information on the ‘Through the Flames and Beyond’ event at the Newberry, click here.

This in-person program will take place on Walton Street, right outside the main entrance of the Newberry.

Reaction to the Great Chicago Fire

For more Chicago Scene fun, follow @tomwgnchicago on Instagram.

The Ogdens’ family friends and servants swaddled the Ogden home in water- and cider-soaked blankets to protect it from the Great Chicago Fire. Illustration by Kathleen Judge, 2021.

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