Chicago, IL The Great Fire, the fire - part two
The origin of the fire is not known, or rather we have no means of ascertaining by what agency the first building was ignited. The story about the old woman who went into her stable to milk her cow by the light of a kerosene lamp, which lamp said cow kicked over, is a pure fabrication. No such woman or cow probably existed, save in the imagination of some manufacturer of canards.
The fire first broke out, it is well known, in a small stable to the rear of a frame building on the north side of De Koven street, almost half-way between Jefferson and Clinton streets. The cottage belongs, (for yet it stands isolated in the midst of ruin, a strange fact!) to a laboring man and his family. The famous stable at the rear contained their little stock, a horse and several cows. Perhaps we might more properly call the building a barn. They never milked their cows later than 5 A. M., and 4 1/2 P. M. in order to be in full readiness to dispose of their milk in time for their neighbor's breakfasts and suppers. On the Sunday in question the cows were milked as usual by the wife and daughter, and at an hour when daylight rendered the use of lamp or candle unnecessary.
Witnesses prove beyond a doubt that the family were all in bed, without exception, before the fire broke out, when they rushed to the barn only to find it too late either to extinguish the blame or to liberate the animals.
It is, therefore, certain that neither old woman, cow or kerosene lamp had anything to do with the fire whatever. It is also highly incredible that incendiarism on the part of the owners of the frame house on De Koven street should have originated the conflagration. Neither is it at all likely that the fire was anything but wholly accidental, notwithstanding rumors. The Journal of Commerce remarks, that in a high wind smokers might step aside in the lee of this little edifice to light their pipes and cigars. At least from the situation of the house, they would be more likely to stop there for the purpose of striking a match than at any other part in that neighborhood. A spark alighting on this tinder of hay and shingles, and tanned by the wind, would soon wrap the slight barn in flames.
From this point the fire spread East, West, and North, with incredible swiftness, and when aid arrived the fire had taken so strong a hold upon the slight structures in the neighborhood, that all efforts to check it proved unavailing. All the buildings on De Koven street, from Jefferson to Clinton, were burned level with the pavement, if we except the little dwelling house in the rear of the fatal barn, which stands perfectly uninjured among the charred remains surrounding it.
As the fire extended, it gained in strength and fierceness, spreading faster and faster and,. as is always the case, the flames seemed to increase the power of the wind which gained power and fury in proportion.
The fire department worked bravely and well in this neighborhood. The fire did not extend further West than Jefferson street, and. all the buildings on that side were rescued, although several caught fire from the intense heat. About two squares and a half were saved on the other side of the street through the gallant efforts of the firemen. But the furious wind now commenced to catch up burning shingles, showers of charcoal sparks, and fire-brands of all kinds, carrying them towards the North-east with terrible effect. From Clinton street to the South branch of the Chicago River, including Canal street, Beech street, and the railway tracks, the whole space was covered with lumber-yards, wooden buildings, quantities of coal, and, in short, everything that would make a good fire. With the exception of a few buildings at the corner of De Koven and Canal, and a few on Canal itself, everything was burned to ashes, the very streets being scorched and blackened. But the remainder of the West side of the city was saved. The fire had reached the portion devastated by the flames in the conflagration of Saturday night. North of Harrison and Van Buren streets was the blank space upon which the fire of the previous evening had spent itself, and the skeleton walls and scorched brick afforded it nothing to feed upon. Were it not for this fact, the south side would have been altogether destroyed as completely as the north had been. As it was the fire ate up more than fifty squares of the West Division, also devouring four or five of the bridges to the south side.