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Fannie Belle Becker
This anthology of eyewitness recollections of the great conflagration is drawn from the Chicago History Museum's collection of some two hundred of them. While a few of these have been published before, most have not. They were selected to offer a range of experiences, outlooks, and styles of expression. The narratives are listed in alphabetical order by author. They have been lightly edited for clarity, though in most instances the original syntax, spelling, and punctuation have been maintained.
Fannie Belle Becker (later Fanny Dement), ten at the time of the fire, wrote "My Experience of the Chicago Fire" almost exactly two years after the event.
Saturday evening Oct the 8th 1871 there was a large Fire in Chicago it was probably the largest Fire ever in that city then it was the lumberyard burning there was a great many people out to see it. They stayed untill a late hour and so were very tired but did not get much rest for Monday morning at three o'clock I was awakened and told to Dress for the Fire was all around us and we would soon be burnt out. My ma put all her valubals into her sewing machine and locked it up and threw some things in to her trunk. I carried ma's fur box (with furs in it), and, account book, and a parasol, and, a little lady called Jennie. And perhaps some of my little friends in Fruit-Port have made her [acquaintance] but some of you may not know who little Jennie is so I will say that she is a little China doll a Christmas present when I was Five years old and I will always keep her as a Relic of the Chicago Fire. We could not save the Sewing Machine but did save the trunk. We had a gentleman friend who helped us; we all went down right away but ma stayed, she said that she would stay as long as she could. So we went around the corner to monroe street and waited and when she came she brought a large hair Matrass. The air was so full of cinders and was so hot that it almost stifled her. We could not get an express man to carry the things for there were none to be had. So our friend drew our trunk and a trunk that belonged to a friend of his who was out of the city. He lashed the two together and lashed the Matrass on top of the trunks, and then drew them along. The trunks both has castors on. When we got to the corners of Dearborn street ma told me to go Down on Jackson st. a few blocks away to the house of a friend and see if they thought the fire would come there and if not we would go there and stay. And Just as I was about to start a man who had been standing near and heard what ma said told her that he would see me safe there. Ma thanked him and said we would not trouble him but he said it was no trouble and walked along beside me. He said he would take my account book I did not like his looks and so told him that I could carry it myself, and, as we went through a crowd just then I dodged away from him and ran and I have not seen anything of him since. When I got to the house they had all their things packed and out on the side walk and, in a little while ma came and then we went back to monroe st and then as the Fire came on we went on toward Lake Michagan as we went on we came to our friends brothers house we stayed here until the fire drove us out then the heat was so intense that it drove us down to the waters Edge and then my uncle who was with us (and, had arrived Saturday) took his hat and poured water on the things to keep them from burning but thousands and thousands of dollar's worth of goods were burned right there on the waters Edge. Although our things were saved we sat there until I was almost blind with the dirt and cinders that filled the air I could not open my eyes, so that when I walked ma had to lead me. I did not have anything to eat from Sunday afternoon until Monday afternoon at about four o'clock. Then we went out to the City limits on the South side to the house of a friend I stayed here two days and then I went out in the country with my cousins, and stayed there one week and then I came to Fruit-Port [Michigan]. I shall ever remember with thankfulness my reception by my little friends in Fruit-Port. I almost went barefoot and without any good clothes. I was well treated and one of them even took off her over shoes and let me wear them that I might go out in the cold weather and play. Never while I live will I forget my friends in Fruit Port.