Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mrs. O'Leary's Cow and the Great "Chicago Fire": Tale No. 10

Chicago Goes up in Flames, 1871 
(Image: Lithograph by Currier and Ives via Library of Congress, 1872)

By David Rusk


Revised November 30, 2021
First Published by Black and Red United, May 18, 2017

Preface: This is the tenth in a series of Tales from Buzzard Point that explores the rich traditions and myths surrounding the legendary DC United soccer team and its fabled history at Buzzard Point. The Tales from Buzzard Point are historical fiction and parody. 

Note from Editor: As regular readers of Tales from Buzzard Point well know, the online files of the Evening Star have proved a treasure trove of lore about Buzzard Point. My most recent researches turned up this notable report from 1871.

Massive Fire Engulfs Chicago Resulting in Great Loss of Life


The Evening Star
October 10, 1871

The awful excitement in our city yesterday caused by the news of the conflagration in Chicago was as intense and unabated today. Long before the appearance on the streets of the Extra Star, issued about 12 noon yesterday, with the latest progress of the fire, throngs of people gathered about The Evening Star office to read the bulletins and discuss the great calamity to a sister city.

Extensive Destruction of Property Reported

By the light of today’s dispatches, we are enabled to state that the reports of yesterday were not much exaggerated. A very large part of the business portion of the city is in ashes, and it is estimated that at least 150,000 people have been rendered homeless. The fire was described as a roaring hell and a calamity by the mayor of Chicago. He has ordered the fire department and the police to restore calm to the city.

In many features the Chicago calamity has never been exceeded in any part of the world; even by the burning of Moscow in 1812 or the great fire in London in 1666.

Chicago authorities report that the fire started at about 9:00 p.m. on October 8, in or around a small barn belonging to the O'Leary family that bordered the alley behind 137 DeKoven Street. The shed next to the barn was the first building to be consumed by the fire when Mrs. Catherine O’Leary’s cow allegedly knocked over a lantern.

Illustration of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow Kicking over a Kerosene Lamp
(Image: Harpers Magazine via Wikipedia Commons)

Possible Origins Point to Buzzard Point

Local investigations by the Evening Star have today confirmed that not six months ago one Mr.Patrick O’Leary, husband of Mrs. O’Leary, had purchased a cow in this city from the Greenleaf Farm located at Buzzard Point.

The cow was reputed to be descended from the giant red bull that James Greenleaf had imported from Jersey in the 1790s. The red bull was killed in unparalleled circumstances but had serviced several cows before its death and its descendants are reputed to be prodigious milkers.

Extensive charitable efforts are underway among the residents of Washington City to succor survivors of the Great Chicago Fire, who will forever rue any visit to Buzzard Point.

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