Nonfiction Core Text:
Jim Murphy's primary source-based account (Scholastic, 1995) of the October 1871 conflagration that virtually wiped Chicago from the map is fully voiced by Taylor Mali. Weaving together technical details with firefighters', journalists', and ordinary citizens' accounts of their personal physical and emotional traumas as they unfolded across the 24 hours of the fire, this version of the long-mythologized event carefully repairs earlier historians' class- and gender-biased reports. Modern listeners will not be surprised to hear that some men fled and some women hauled traditionally man-sized loads in the face of the flames, but they will be fascinated by how very modern some of the responses to the disaster seem: the mayor of Chicago, for instance, called for help-and received it-from fire departments as far away as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Murphy carefully explains how specific mistakes led to the fire becoming so quickly out of control, as well as how political precepts of the era worked to keep these facts from public view. This is excellent social history as well as suspenseful storytelling. The diversity and multitude of personal accounts is presented in both text and voice so that there is no sense of frustration in the changes of viewpoints, but rather a better appreciation of the event as a dynamic experience from which we still have much to learn.
Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Did the Cow Do it? Explore the possible scenarios about the Great Chicago Fire on this website.

The Web of Memory: Read accounts of eyewitnesses through statements, pictures, drawings, and more.