Take A Peek Inside The Home Of The Son Whose Mom’s Cow Burned Down Chicago?
This is a "rabbit-hole" story. Like every major city, my hometown, Chicago, has stories and then there are legends. It's just that given Chicago's, shall we say, colorful past, even by those standards, this one is a doozie.
Growing up. the story we all heard was that the Great Chicago Fire burned a good portion of the city in 1871, and that it may have been started by Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern and up went the barn and soon, the city. Years later, the newspaper reporter who wrote the account admitted it was made up, but given the times, and prejudices, people bought into it.
Mrs. O'Leary was a target of both anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sentiment. This story was circulating in Chicago even before the flames had died out, and it was noted in the Chicago Tribune's first post-fire issue. In 1893 the reporter Michael Ahern retracted the "cow-and-lantern" story, admitting it was fabricated, but even his confession was unable to put the legend to rest. Although the O'Learys were never officially charged with starting the fire, the story became so engrained in local lore that Chicago's city council officially exonerated them—and the cow—in 1997. -wikipedia
One possible explanation for what really happened had someone trying to steal some milk and while running away knocking over the lantern, or a more likely scenario was several men were gambling inside the barn and knocked over the lantern and ran. This happened in early October of 1871, and it had been a very dry, hot summer. There were massive fires in Wisconsin, Michigan, and even Ontario at just about the same time. Most homes were made of wood and almost all these fires were related to wood going up in flames.
The O'Leary house was on Dekoven Street, a short one-block street. The house is gone now, but, here's the kicker. On the location sits the Chicago Fire Academy.
Catherine O'Leary's son was Jim O'Leary and as an adult, he ran a saloon that also had a bowling alley, Turkish bath and even a gambling hall inside. While Mrs. O'Leary home didn't survive the fire, Big Jim O'Leary's mansion still stands, a few miles to the southwest in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. The current owners were trying to sell it, but the house was taken off the market earlier this year.