In many ways the story of the Chicago Fire is as remarkable as the well-known myths surrounding the disaster and recovery.
In 1871, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the country. It was home to the stockyards and to bustling industry. It was also the railroad hub of America.
The fire started in Catherine O’Leary’s barn on October 8, 1871. The fire swept across the downtown and the city’s North Side. It destroyed virtually everything its path, leaving the city looking like ancient ruins.
And within 20 years, it was all rebuilt. The city now had a population that had more than tripled to a million people.
The calamity revealed the city’s strength and resilience. But it also revealed some difficult truths.
“In a kind of darker way, it also reveals and deepens some of the existing class and social tensions of the time as well,” author Carl Smith said.
WGN’s Mike Lowe takes a closer look at some of the difficult subjects typically avoided when discussing the fire through the lens of triumph over tragedy.