1871 – The Great Chicago Fire is extinguished

The Great Chicago Fire was not, despite early reports, started by Catherine O’Leary’s cow kicking over a lantern – the reporter who claimed that later admitted that he’d decided to sexy up the story a little. In fact, despite the fact that the fire started in the O’Leary’s barn (and failed to destroy either their house or the nearby Catholic church at which they worshipped), the O’Learys appear to have been scapegoats. The true culprit was likely a thief who set fire to the barn – the same man who first reported the fire, one Daniel “Pegleg” Sullivan.

The fire lasted for two days, and burned hot enough that it was impossible to enter parts of the area it affected for some days, even after it was extinguished. 125 bodies were recovered, but it is believed that they may have been less than half of the total deaths. The fire destroyed an area more than 2,000 acres in size, including about a third of the city’s buildings. Over $200 million of damage was done, and that’s in 1871 dollars. Approximately a third of Chicago’s citizens were rendered homeless by the blaze.

Chicago was rebuilt by architects such as Daniel Burnham, and within two decades, the city was bigger and better than ever before. Today, the former site of the O’Leary farm now houses the Chicago Fire Academy.

Referenced in:

Mrs O’Leary’s Cow — Brian Wilson

1968 – the Democratic National Convention opens in Chicago

In 1968, tensions were running high in America. The Vietnam War was dividing the population into pro and anti factions, and the Civil Rights struggle was doing the same. Both sides were becoming increasingly violent, and there were serious concerns that the nation might once again be riven by civil war.

With the assassination of Bobby Kennedy having removed the obvious front-runner from the competition, and the incumbent President refusing to stand for re-election, the Democratic Party was in chaos. But Robert J. Daley’s Chicago was a stronghold of the Democrats, and as Mayor, Daley promised that the convention would run smoothly.

Others disagreed. Thousands of protesters descended upon Chicago, intent on protesting against the war, for civil rights and against the forces of the Establishment. As the convention opened, violence simmered beneath the surface. It wouldn’t take much for it to erupt…

Referenced in:
She Is Always Seventeen – Harry Chapin

1927 – Charles Lindbergh completes the first solo non-stop trans-Atlantic flight

In the 1920’s, aviators were heroes. They were bold explorers and experimenters, pushing back the boundaries of the known. And none of them loomed larger in the public eye than Charles “Lucky” Lindbergh.

At the age of 25, this formerly obscure US Air Mail pilot was catapulted to fame and fortune when he completed the remarkable feat of being the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. Flying a custom-built single engine monoplane named The Spirit of St Louis, he took off from from Roosevelt Field on Long Island shortly before 8AM on May 20, and landed 35 hours later at Le Bourget Field in Paris.

This exploit won him the Orteig Prize, a sum of $25,000. He was also feted and decorated, receiving the Medal of Honor from the USA and the Legion of Honour from France, among other awards.

Referenced in:
Lucky Lindy – Tony Randall
All That Jazz – ‘Chicago’ cast
Lindbergh (The Eagle Of The U.S.A.) – written by Howard Johnson and Al Sherman