Deputy Dave’s Drink of the Day – The Chicago Fire and a Irish Cow
On this day in 1871, flames spark in the Chicago barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary, igniting a two-day blaze that kills between 200 and 300 people, destroys 17,450 buildings, leaves 100,000 homeless and causes an estimated $200 million (in 1871 dollars; $3 billion in 2007 dollars) in damages. Legend has it that a cow kicked over a lantern in the O’Leary barn and started the fire, but other theories hold that humans or even a comet may have been responsible for the event that left four square miles of the Windy City, including its business district, in ruins. Dry weather and an abundance of wooden buildings, streets and sidewalks made Chicago vulnerable to fire. The city averaged two fires per day in 1870; there were 20 fires throughout Chicago the week before the Great Fire of 1871.
The city’s fire department received the first alarm when a fire alarm was pulled at a pharmacy while the fire was still small. Soon the fire had spread to neighboring frame houses and sheds. Superheated winds drove flaming brands northeastward.
Once the fire engulfed a tall church west of the Chicago River, the flames crossed the south branch of the river. The closely packed wooden buildings, ships along the river, the city’s elevated wood-plank sidewalks and roads, and the commercial lumber and coal yards along the river all contributed to the growth of the inferno. The size of the blaze generated extremely strong winds and heat, which ignited rooftops far ahead of the actual flames. As the fire raged through the central business district, it destroyed hotels, department stores, Chicago’s City Hall, the opera house and theaters, churches, and printing plants. The fire continued spreading northward, driving fleeing residents across bridges on the Chicago River. There was mass panic as the blaze jumped the river’s main stem and continued burning through homes and mansions on the city’s north side. Residents fled into Lincoln Park and to the shores of Lake Michigan, where thousands sought refuge from the flames.
The attempts to stop the fire were unsuccessful. The mayor had even called surrounding cities for help, but by that point the fire was simply too large to contain. When the fire destroyed the waterworks, just north of the Chicago River, the city’s water supply was cut off, and the firefighters were forced to give up
The fire finally burned itself out, aided by diminishing winds and a light drizzle that began falling late on Monday night. From its origin at the O’Leary property, it had burned a path of nearly complete destruction of some 34 blocks to Fullerton Avenue on the north side
Despite the fire’s devastation, much of Chicago’s physical infrastructure, including its water, sewage and transportation systems, remained intact. Reconstruction efforts began quickly and spurred great economic development and population growth, as architects laid the foundation for a modern city featuring the world’s first skyscrapers. At the time of the fire, Chicago’s population was approximately 324,000; within nine years, there were 500,000 Chicagoans. By 1893, the city was a major economic and transportation hub with an estimated population of 1.5 million. That same year, Chicago was chosen to host the World’s Columbian Exposition, a major tourist attraction visited by 27.5 million people, or approximately half the U.S. population at the time.
In 1997, the Chicago City Council exonerated Mrs. O’Leary and her cow. She turned into a recluse after the fire, and died in 1895.
In celebration of Mrs O’Leary and her infamous cow, I give you Deputy Dave’s Drink of the Day: The Irish Curdling Cow
3/4 oz Bailey’s® Irish cream
3/4 oz bourbon whiskey
3/4 oz vodka
2 – 3 oz orange juice
Pour irish cream, vodka, and bourbon into a highball glass. Add some ice and mix in the orange juice.0
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