The Web of Memory

The subject of The Eyewitnesses chapter is the written accounts, drawings, and paintings by those who experienced the fire first-hand. Media Event examines how the fire was reported in the contemporary press, popular images, and "instant" histories. Fanning the Flames deals with the fiction, poetry, drama, songs, and visual works produced by writers, composers, and artists inspired by Chicago's destruction. The O'Leary Legend examines the most well-known public memory of the fire, while Souvenirs discusses the many things that became special objects of remembrance. Commemorating Catastrophe surveys the ways in which the city of Chicago has remembered the fire in civic ceremonies over the years, and how the Chicago Historical Society has organized fire-related events and exhibitions, including this one.


    • I write this from memory, after the lapse of over eight years. But the events of that memorable night were so burned into my mind and heart that they are seemingly as fresh and vivid today as when they were occurring.

      Fire Narrative of James O. Brayman

    • "All sit here and write whatever comes into your heads!"

      A Chicago newspaper editor to his reporters, in John McGovern, Daniel Trentworthy: A Tale of the Great Fire of Chicago

    • Flames! flames! terrible flames!What a fearful destruction they bring. What suf'fring and want in their train follow fast,As forth on the streets homeless     thousands are cast,But courage! courage! From the mid'st      of the furnace we sing.

      George F. Root, Passing through the Fire

    • Late one night, when we were all in bed,Mrs. O'Leary lit a lantern in the shed.Her cow kicked it over,Then winked her eye and said,"There'll be a hot time in the      old town tonight!"

      Popular Song Lyric

    • My children grieve over their little treasures and their books, and I cry with them. I saved my baby's portrait and my Mother's and husband's--my silver, my India and lace shawls, and a few silk dresses, my photograph album, and a little jewelry. The above is my stock in trade, and I feel as if my life were beginning again.

      Letter of Mrs. Aurelia King

    • Therefore the men of Chicago resolved that the twenty-fifth anniversary of her destruction by fire should not pass without such a demonstration as should convince the world that she is very much more alive than ever.

      G. W. Steevens, The Land of the Dollar