About This Item
historically important, one of a kind great chicago great fire documented relic or artifact in the form of a heavy cast zinc figural exterior residential gutter spout. the female quasi grotesque mask or canephoraesque remains amazingly intact, with a heavily pitted surface, discoloration and distortion of detail caused by the intense heat produced by the fire. the protruding full-sized head was originally affixed to wood clapboard, which burned away, leaving only a partially intact and badly burned wood wood sheathing plank (a portion of the copper spout is attached to the sheathing). most of the casting detail and tongue are badly damaged. the rare and exceptional relic was passed down through multiple generations within the same family before being released into public hands. the artifact measures 13 x 6 x 10 inches. the exact address of the mansion from which the figural spout was originally apart of was not made known. the great chicago fire burned from sunday, october 8, to early tuesday, october 10, 1871, killing hundreds and destroying over 3 square miles of downtown chicago. the fire was considered one of the largest u.s. disasters of the 19th century. interestingly, the fire began the same day as several other fires destroyed towns and forests in wisconsin and michigan. the fire started at about on sunday, october 8, in or around a small barn that bordered the alley behind 137 dekoven street. the traditional account of the origin of the fire is that it was started by a cow kicking over a lantern in the barn owned by patrick and catherine o’leary. in 1893, michael ahern, the chicago republican reporter who wrote the o’leary account, admitted he had made it up as colorful copy. the barn was the first building to be consumed by the fire, but it is important to note that the official report could not determine the exact cause. the fire’s spread was aided by the city’s use of wood as the predominant building material, a drought prior to the fire, and strong winds from the southwest that carried flying embers toward the heart of the city. more than ⅔ of the structures in chicago at the time of the fire were made entirely of wood. most houses and buildings were topped with highly flammable tar or shingle roofs. most chicago architects modeled wooden building exteriors after another material using ornate, decorative carvings. all the city’s sidewalks and roads were also made completely out of wood. the city did not react quickly enough, and at first, residents were not concerned about it, not realizing the high risk of conditions. the firefighters were tired from having fought a fire the day before. the firefighters fought the flames through the entire day and became exhausted. as the fire jumped to a nearby neighborhood, it began to destroy mansions, houses and apartments, most made of wood and dried out from the drought. after two days of the fire burning out of control, rain helped douse the remaining fire. city officials estimated that more than 300 people died in the fire and more than 100,000 individuals were left homeless. the city’s fire department received the first alarm when a fire alarm was pulled at a pharmacy while the fire was still small. when the blaze got bigger, the guard realized that there actually was a new fire and sent firefighters, but in the wrong direction. soon the fire had spread to neighboring frame houses and sheds. superheated winds drove flaming brands northeastward. when the fire engulfed a tall church west of the chicago river, the flames crossed the south branch of the river. various factors contributed to the spread, notably the firewood in the closely packed wooden buildings, ships lining the river, the city’s elevated wood-plank sidewalks and roads, and the commercial lumber and coal yards along the river. the size of the blaze generated extremely strong winds and heat, which ignited rooftops far ahead of the actual flames. the attempts to stop the fire were unsuccessful. the mayor had even called surrounding cities for help, but by that point the fire was simply too large to contain. when the fire destroyed the waterworks, just north of the chicago river, the city’s water supply was completely cut off, and the firefighters were forced to give up. as the fire raged through the central business district, it destroyed hotels, department stores, chicago’s city hall, the opera house and theaters, churches, and printing plants. the fire continued spreading northward, driving fleeing residents across bridges on the chicago river. there was mass panic as the blaze jumped the river’s main stem and continued burning through homes and mansions on the city’s north side. residents fled into lincoln park and to the shores of lake michigan, where thousands sought refuge from the flames. philip sheridan, a noted union general in the american civil war, was present during the fire and coordinated military relief efforts. the mayor, to calm the panic, placed the city under martial law, and issued a proclamation placing sheridan in charge. as there were no widespread disturbances, martial law was lifted within a few days. although sheridan’s personal residence was spared, all of his professional and personal papers were destroyed. the fire finally burned itself out, aided by diminishing winds and a light drizzle that began falling late on monday night. from its origin at the o’leary property, it had burned a path of nearly complete destruction of some 34 blocks to fullerton avenue on the north side. once the fire had ended, the smoldering remains were still too hot for a survey of the damage to be completed for days. eventually the city determined that the fire destroyed an area about four miles long and averaging 3/4 mile wide, encompassing more than 2,000 acres. destroyed were more than 73 miles of roads, 120 miles of sidewalk, 2,000 lampposts, 17,500 buildings, and $222 million in property—about a third of the city’s valuation. of the 300,000 inhabitants, 100,000 were left homeless. between two and three million books were destroyed from private library collections. the fire was said by the chicago daily tribune to have been so fierce that it surpassed the damage done by napoleon’s siege of moscow in 1812. some buildings did survive the fire, such as the then-new chicago water tower, one of five public buildings and a bungalow that survived within the disaster zone. the o’leary home and holy family church, their parish church, were both saved by shifts in the wind. after the fire, the city recovered 125 bodies. final estimates of the fatalities ranged from 200–300, considered a small number for such a large fire. in later years, other disasters would claim many more lives: at least 605 died in the iroquois theater fire in 1903; and, in 1915, 835 died in the sinking of the excursion boat eastland in the chicago river. the great chicago fire remains chicago’s best-known disaster, both for the magnitude of the destruction and the city’s recovery and growth. in the days and weeks following the fire, monetary donations flowed into chicago from around the country and foreign cities, along with donations of food, clothing, and other goods. these donations came from individuals, corporations, and cities. new york city gave $450,000 along with clothing and provisions, st. louis gave $300,000, and the common council of london gave 1,000 guineas as well as ₤7,000 from private donations. cincinnati, cleveland, and buffalo, all commercial rivals, donated hundreds and thousands of dollars. milwaukee, along with other nearby cities, helped by sending fire-fighting equipment. additionally, food, clothing and books were brought by train from all over the continent. almost immediately, the city began to rewrite its fire standards, spurred by the efforts of leading insurance executives and fire prevention reformers such as arthur c. ducat and others. chicago soon developed one of the country’s leading fire fighting forces. land speculators, such as gurdon saltonstall hubbard, and business owners quickly set about rebuilding the city. donations of money, food, clothing and furnishings arrived quickly from across the nation. the first load of lumber for rebuilding was delivered the day the last burning building was extinguished. by the world’s columbian exposition 22 years later, chicago hosted more than 21 million visitors. the palmer house hotel burned to the ground in the fire 13 days after its grand opening. its developer potter palmer secured a loan and rebuilt the hotel to higher standards across the street from the original, proclaiming it to be “the world’s first fireproof building.” in 1956, the remaining structures on the original o’leary property at 558 w. dekoven street were torn down for construction of the chicago fire academy, a training facility for chicago firefighters. a bronze sculpture of stylized flames, entitled pillar of fire by sculptor egon weiner, was erected on the point of origin in 1961.