Chicago Pre and Post Fire Photos by Waterman

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Two larger format albumen images of the old and new Madison School, located in Chicago prior to and after the great Chicago fire of 1871. The first Circa 1870 shows the original school pre-fire. This image is trimmed to the mount and measures 13-1/2 x 10-3/4. The second shows the post-fire constructed school and also measures 13-1/2 x 10-3/4 with Waterman's blind stamp mount recto. Circa 1870 and 1878 respectively. An excellent piece of Chicago, Illinois history.

On October 8, 1871, at around 9pm on a Sunday evening, a fire began in a barn outside Chicago, owned by Mrs. Katherine O'Leary. Driven by a strong wind out of the southwest, the flames headed straight for the center of the city, with branches of flame shooting in several directions. The fire spread quickly because of plank sidewalks, high winds and the Chicago River itself igniting from the massive amounts of pollution in the greasy river. By 1:30am it reached the Courthouse tower; the watchman barely escaped by sliding down the banisters through the burning stairway. City officials, realizing that the building was doomed, released the prisoners from the basement just before the great bell plummeted through the collapsing tower.

Only an inch of rain had fallen since July 4th of that year and a major fire a day earlier had left the water reserves dangerously low. By 3:30am, when the roof collapsed on the pumping station, any firefighting efforts became useless. Rain began to fall on Tuesday morning, and the flames finally died out, leaving Chicago a smoking, steaming ruin.

The fire took the lives of more than 200 people, destroyed over 2,000 acres of land, about 18,000 buildings and some $200 million in property, roughly one-third of the city's value.

Ironically, the O'Leary cottage remained unscathed, standing in front of the ashes of the barn. Legend has it that Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern which started the blaze in the barn, that quickly spread to the rest of Chicago. Later investigation has dispelled that theory, though it does seem clear that the blaze did, indeed, begin in that barn. On that same day, 400 miles (600 km) to the north, the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin burned to the ground, as did the town of Holland, MI, on the other side of Lake Michigan. The Peshtigo fire took an even greater toll than the one in Chicago, with more than a thousand lives lost.

$500  No. 3124
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