Chicago Fire, 1871

Chicago; The Full Story of the Great Fire
by Alexander Frear

Lake street was rich with treasure, and hordes of thieves forced their way into the stores and flung out the merchandise to their fellows in the street, who received it without disgrace, and fought over it openly. I went through the street to Wabash avenue, and here the thoroughfare was utterly choked with all manner of goods and people. Everybody that had been forced from the other end of the town by the advancing fire had brought some article with him, and as further progress was delayed, if not completely stopped by the river, the bridges of which were also choked, most of them, in their panic, abandoned their burdens, so that the street and sidewalks presented the most astonishing wreck.

Valuable oil paintings, books, pet animals, musical instruments, toys, mirrors, and bedding were trampled under foot. Added to this the goods from the stores had been hauled out and had taken fire, and the crowd breaking into a liquor establishment were yelling with the fury of demons as they brandished champagne and brandy bottles. The brutality and horror of the scene made it sickening.

A fellow standing on a piano declared that the fire was the friend of the poor man. He wanted everybody to help himself to the best liquor he could get, and continued to yell from the piano until some one as drunk as himself flung a bottle at him and knocked him off it. In this chaos were hundreds of children wailing and crying for their parents. One little girl in particular I saw whose golden hair was loose down her back and caught fire. She ran screaming past me and somebody threw a glass of liquor upon her which flared up and covered her with a blue flame.


As Others See Chicago, Compiled and Edited by Bessie Louise Pierce
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1933