Saturday, May 05, 2007

How many People Died in the Chicago Fire?

I often find myself asking this question whenever the topic of the fire comes up.

You hear about the devastation, the rebirth, the cow, but rarely do you ever hear about victims. That omission just doesn't fit with how Americans tend to relate to disasters, including historic ones.

For instance, doesn't it seem like there would have been some notable memorial for the victims of the fire erected by now given the great standing this event has in our city's history?

Or, if there were no victims, isn't that a remarkable aspect of the fire that's worthy of greater attention?

The Newberry Library took a stab at answering the question in 2003. Basically, they don't know how many. Maybe about 300. Their remains were probably left and built over. You can find the full explanation here.

[I just stumbled across this photo of a recent memorial statue erected at the site of the (supposed) start of the fire.]

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Landmarks Commission here.


Michaelangeloh said...

They say gone but not forgotten.Id say most have forgotten except for a very few.The events that happened long ago of disasters are yet archived but there is no emotional attachment or loss personally so most say that was too bad condescendingly and backpeddle.Who will remember anyone after so long?Only those connected or from people who ask about historical events.The rest? Couldnt care less.

Laura Louzader said...

When first I moved to Chicago 20 years ago, I was walking through the Lincoln Park Zoo with a local friend, who told me that many "aftershock" victims- those who died not in the fire itself but of disease and cold in the gruesome aftermath-were buried there for there had been no time to bury them properly.

I don't know how true that is and I can't verify it. However, it's known that the fire left thousands homeless in the freezing, wet winter, and they were forced to camp on the beaches, and wherever else they could. National authorities responded as quickly as they could, but this was 1871, and they couldn't get food and supplies out to these people with any real speed, though they gave it their best shot. And, of course, the vaccines and medicines we have now were just not available. Forget about decent housing- they ended up in tents just like the New Orleans evacuees. But this was not for the lack of effort on the part of the authorities, who did everything that could be done.

All in all, the response was heroic in view of the limitations of the era, and they did a lot better for the survivors then we did for the hapless denizins of New Orleans. Nevertheless, the misery and suffering, and resulting casualties, of the survivers, were extreme.

I can't walk around the Lincoln Park Zoo without being whelmed in sadness.

Turf said...

There is a certain coldness to Lincoln Park Zoo, but it is the same anywhere there has been a tragedy or a disaster, there is always a feel to places like that which defies explination.

tesco car insurance said...

It is a shame that events like these are forgotten, it is a part of history and the peole who died and the services that helped should be remembered, there are many tragedies that are forgotten, people look at the first world war where 10 million lost their lives but it was only a few years apart from the influenza epidemic that took 20 million lives but this is all but forgotten. It is a sad shame that these people are forgotten.

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