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Oct. 10: The Great Chicago Fire was extinguished on this day in 1871

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Late one night, when we were all in bed,
Mrs. O'Leary lit a lantern in the shed.
Her cow kicked it over, then winked her eye and said,
"There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight!"

There really was a Catherine O'Leary, her home really was Ground Zero for the fire, and she really did have a cow. But no one knows how the Great Chicago Fire started on Sunday, Oct. 8, 1871 -- though it's possible that Mrs. O'Leary's cow really did kick over a lantern. Whatever the cause, the fire was devastating. It raged throughout Monday and into Tuesday before finally being put out.

The calamity left homeless a mind-boggling one-third of Chicago (pop. 324,000), laid waste to its business district (17,000 buildings destroyed), and killed 300 people. Yet reconstruction gave Chicago a tremendous boost it might never have gotten otherwise, and in less than a decade, the population was 500,000.

A handful of structures were spared and are still standing, including St. Michael's Church in Old Town and the Chicago Water Tower and Chicago Avenue Pumping Station.

Illustration published in 1886. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Chicago Water Tower. (Photo credit: David Fewtrell, aka DaveF(Footy), Flickr)

Chicago Avenue Pumping Station. (Photo credit: Bob Segal, aka rjseg1, Flickr)

St. Michael's Church. (Photo credit: Steve Kuenstler, aka Kunst Images, Flickr)

On This Day, previously:

Oct. 9: Secrets of the Washington Monument, which opened to the public 125 years ago
Oct. 4: Debut of suburban icon 'Leave It to Beaver' and its opposite, '90210'
Sept. 26: On 'Brady Bunch' anniversary, we tour every room of its house

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