Saturday, October 8, 2011

Some sources on the Great 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!"

Today is the 140th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire. I wrote a post about the event a couple of months ago which you can find here.

Here's a partial bibliography:
  • History of Chicago, from the Earliest Period to the Present Time by Alfred Theodore Andreas, 1886, in three volumes is as comprehensive a history of the city as you are likely to find, pre-1886 of course.
  • The Great Chicago Fire, by Robert Cromie, McGraw Hill, 1958, is a compelling narrative of the eponymous cataclysm.
  • Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis, 1973, by Harold M. Mayer and Richard C. Wade, University of Chicago Press, is the classic illustrated compendium of Chicago history that includes important pre and post fire panoramas taken from the Court House.
  • Lost Chicago, by David Lowe, Houghton, Mifflin, 1975, is an elegy for a bygone city.
  • The Great Chicago Fire, by David Lowe, Dover Publications, 1979, edited by the author of Lost Chicago, is a collection of first hand accounts of the event.
  • Smoldering City, Chicagoans and the Great Fire, 1871-1874, by Karen Sawislak, University of Chicago Press, 1995, is a thorough examination and critique of the recovery from the fire and the re-building of Chicago.
And here are three excellent web sites about the Great Fire:
  • Chicagology is an independent web site dealing with many aspects on the city with an especially useful section devoted to the Great Fire. Its image Gallery contains an indispensable collection of photographs and engravings of pre-fire buildings.
  • The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory web site, the work of the Chicago History Museum, is the most comprehensive site devoted to the fire.
  • The PBS series The American Experience, devoted an episode to the Chicago Fire. Here is the accompanying site which features a chronology of the event.

Other than a good reading list, what would be the best way to commemorate the event? Well for my part, I'd like to remember an Englishman, one A.H. Burgess, who was so moved by the tragedy of the Great Fire that he proposed a donation not of money, or food, or supplies, but of books.

Said Mr. Burgess:

“I propose that England should present a Free Library to Chicago, to remain there as a mark of sympathy now, and a keepsake and a token of true brotherly kindness forever…”

The 8,000 plus books that made their way across the waters would become the foundation of the Chicago Public Library which was founded as a result of the donation in 1872, the year after the Fire.

One hundred forty years later the kindness of you and your great country has not been forgotten. Thank you Mr. Burgess, wherever you are.

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