On the night of October 8, 1871 the fire started off burning slowly in Patrick O’Leary’s barn, located on the West Side of Chicago. A handful of signs had been given to Chicagoans, but unfortunately the fire was still extremely destructive. Although there are many theories and a false legend to how this major tragedy started, the beginning is still unclear. Chicago was a city ready to burn because of the excess amount of wood used to construct the buildings, homes, and even a number of streets and sidewalks.
On Sunday night, Mathias Schafer, the fire patrol’s night watchman, caught a glimpse of a fire in the distance. Once he spotted the fire, he conveyed the information to William Brown to alarm the nearest fire station. Regrettably, he signaled the wrong station, which was located about a mile further away. This created such a problem because supplies were transported by cart and wagon at this point in time. Soon after, Schafer discovered his error and called Brown to signal alarm box 319, instead of alarm box 342 which was alerted earlier, but Brown did not, thinking this would make the situation even more complicated.
The O’Leary family, who had little money and were Irish immigrants, owned land on the Western outskirts of Chicago. Unfortunately for them, the fire began to burn in their barn. Ironically, numerous bushels of timothy hay had been delivered to the O’Leary’s barn the day the fire started, helping the fire ignite. The intensity of the fire grew once the timothy hay began to burn. The O’Leary family and various surrounding neighbors testified that the O’Leary family was in bed around 8:30. The fire was first reportedly sighted after 9:30. Before 11:00, the fire was officially reported out of control by Chief Marshal Williams.
The citizens from Chicago apprehensively waited to discover the origin of the fire. On Monday, while the fire was still burning, Chicago’s very own Evening Journal was able to produce a limited number of newspapers...