Evening Journal Register Chicago Fire First Report


An Early Reference of the “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” Explanation

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This extremely scarce newspaper extra – one of only two “extras” published in Chicago on that day — was printed sometime during the afternoon or early evening of Monday, October 9. The Great Chicago Fire had begun the night prior, at approximately 9pm, which was, according to the paper, “caused by a cow kicking over a lamp in a stable in which a woman [i.e. Mrs. O’Leary] was milking.” This unsubstantiated myth, blaming a poor, Irish Catholic immigrant, would persist for decades. Indeed, the very next day they switched to a cigarette as the cause!

 The newspaper gives an account of the areas under flame, detailing many of the buildings already destroyed, including the City Water Works, the Armory, Gas Works, Post Offices, newspaper offices, court houses, breweries, churches and more: “The scene of ruin and devastation is beyond power of words to describe. Never, in the history of the world, has such a scene extended, terrible and complete destruction, by conflagration, been recorded; and never has a more frightful scene of panic, distress and horror been witnessed among a helpless, sorrowing, suffering population.” The damage to the city would prove extraordinary: the fire killed approximately 300 people, burned roughly 3.3 square miles of the central portion of the city, destroyed over 17,000 buildings and left more than 100,000 residents homeless (about one third of the population).

 The final paragraph of the Extra notes the exigencies caused by the fire of printing the paper on a borrowed press: “We are under great obligation to the Interior Printing Company, 15 and 18 Canal Street, for accommodations by which are enabled to issue this extra.”

OCLC cites but three extant examples (Newberry Library [i.e. the Graff copy], Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Knox College); an additional example is located at the Chicago History Museum.

Excellent condition:  the finest we have encountered!   

(Newspaper – Chicago Fire) Evening Journal-Extra … The Great Calamity of the Age! Chicago in Ashes … The Conflagration Still in Progress … Chicago is burning!  Chicago: October 9, 1871. Broadside newspaper extra, printed recto only, approx. 12-3/4 x 7-1/2 inches; matted.  [Graff 1271]  WITH a contemporary, hand-colored map of Chicago, by Rufus Blanchard, showing the burnt district.

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