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One Hundred and Forty Five Years ago….

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I love window shopping. You just never know what you may find in a local antique mall. Whenever I get the chance to go out and discover, I go, as I always learn something new or a unique item will catch my eye and voila….a new blog subject is born…

Recently, while browsing the aisles of Modern Mantiques in Downtown Las Vegas, I came across a violin in a case. I inquired about it with the owner of the store. It was actually recovered from the Chicago Fire of 1871. I was an avid member of the orchestra throughout elementary, jr. high, and high school and have a great appreciation for classical music and the instruments used to create such magical masterpieces. Seeing an actual artifact from the fire was just amazing. Instruments are so delicate- but this one had a story to tell for sure.




In October 1871 a huge fire began on the streets between Jefferson and Clinton. Rumor has it that it all began in a farmhouse owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary of 558 W. Devoken Street of Chicago Illinois. Apparently, her cow kicked over a lantern in the barn, igniting the blaze. However, there are other apparent causes of the fire floating around, such as a meteor, or just the fact that they had had a very dry summer. The conflagration (large fire…a new word for me too) killed over 300 people, destroyed over 17,000 structures and left over 100,000 people homeless. It lasted almost three days. The devastation is unimaginable to us in this day and age…But with the recent wildfires in the California area….this really hit home for me. Several business were burned and homes also lost…but nothing like what happened in Chicago.


After the fire- rebuilding began and Chicago started to grow into a modern industrial metropolis. Many new buildings were built amongst the surviving buildings… Here are a few of the buildings that did survive.

Old Water Tower located at the Magnificent Mile
St. Michael’s Church
Old St. Patricks Church


The town went into martial law and the U.S. Army was put in charge, as mass looting and lawlessness was rampant. Luckily, the city rebuilt fairly quickly, as it was in a prime location and had ample access to railroad and shipping waterways that were able to bring in new building supplies. The world’s first modern skyscrapers were built by architects and Chicago became a major economic hub. It also experienced a huge increase in population.


Today, on the site of the O’Leary property, you will find the Chicago Fire Department Training Academy (Quinn Academy). In 1997, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution to exonerate Catherine and her cow.

At the time of the posting of this blog, the violin has since received a new home…adorning a wall somewhere out there in the world. Sadly, it has been unable to play beautiful music for a very long time, but it continues to tell an important story of a major historical event that transformed our countrys’ landscape.

Johannah Back
I have been a picker\collector\decorator my whole life. I grew up in an eccentric family of artists and collectors. I studied Interior Design- but never finished my degree, as being a mom of two amazing children always seemed to close the door on my college pursuit. I know what inspires and motivates me.

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