Great Chicago Fire

Week 4: The Great Chicago Fire


Read K – 3: The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 by Kay Melchisedech Olson

4 – 6:  The Great Chicago Fire by Janet McHugh OR The Story of the Chicago Fire by Conrad Stein OR I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 by Lauren Tarshis  (If you read this third book, be sure to read “Walking in Oscar’s Footsteps” and “Questions and Answers about the Chicago Fire and More” at the end of the book.)

7 – 8: The Great Fire by Jim Murphy


  • Why did Chicago burn so quickly? (poor houses made of wood, sidewalks made of wood, streets paved with wood)
  • Where did the fire start? (O’Leary barn)
  • What mistake did the firemen make? (went to wrong neighborhood)
  • Why were the fire fighters so tired? (there had been a drought and they had had to battle many fires in the previous days; they were exhausted and hadn’t gotten enough sleep)
  • Did people die in the fire? (yes, over 300)
  • How did the fire finally stop? (it started to rain)
  • T/F It was about 50 years before Chicago was finally rebuilt. (F)

Questions for Grades 7 – 8:

  • Who was blamed for the fire? (Catherine O’Leary, firefighters)
  • Did reporters present information on the fire in an unbiased way? (no)


K – 3: Create a shadow box of the Great Chicago Fire.   If you like you can type the words “Great Chicago Fire” on google images for ideas of how things might have looked then.

4 – 6: Write your own short story of a character or family trapped in a building during the Chicago Fire.

7 – 8: Reporters during the time of the Chicago fire often did not just report the facts – they often made the O’Learys, firefighters, or “the Irish” scapegoats for the start or spread of the fire.  Why do you think it was tempting to place the blame on someone?  How do you think the fire started?  Do you believe newspaper reporters of today look for scapegoats, stretch the truth, try to influence their readers, etc.?  Or do they just report the facts?  Write an essay addressing all of these topics.

Copyright March 8th, 2016 by Gwen Fredette




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Filed under Post Civil War Era

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