- (For nearly one and a half centuries,
the cause of the most notorious fire in U.S. history has been a source
of "heated" controversy. Some researchers suggest that a disintegrating
comet ignited the blaze. But the electrical theorists say that evidence
most often IGNORED offers the best clues.)
- "With the heat increased the wind,
which came howling across the prairie, until at last there arose a perfect
hurricane. Mighty flakes of fire, hot cinders, black, stifling smoke, were
driven fiercely at the people, and amid the terrible excitement hundreds
of them had their very clothes burned off their backs, as they stood there
watching with tearful eyes the going down of so many houses". -- James
Goodsell's History of the Great Chicago Fire, October 8, 9, and 10, Published
1871 by J.H. and C.M. Goodsell.
- Sunday evening, October 8, 1871 marked
the beginning of one of the most devastating fires in U.S. history. Legend
has it that "The Great Chicago Fire" resulted from an agitated
cow kicking over a lantern in "Mrs O'Leary's barn". The dry leaves
and parched wood of Illinois in early autumn were the perfect kindling
for a wildfire, and the fire spread with extraordinary rapidity, consuming
homes and buildings, leaping from rooftop to rooftop with the speed of
a locomotive. Between October 8 and 10, an estimated 350 people perished.
The fire destroyed the homes of up to one-third of the city's population,
about 1,600 stores, 60 factories, and 28 public buildings. Four square
miles of the city burned to the ground.
- Contrary to popular folklore, the Chicago
fire is not the worst in U.S. history. It was not even the worst to occur
on October 8 that year. The same evening -- in fact, at the same time,
about 9:30 -- a fierce wildfire struck in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, over 200
miles to the north of Chicago, destroying the town and a dozen other villages.
Estimates of those killed range upward from 1200 to 2500 in a single night.
It was not the Chicago fire but the simultaneous "Peshtigo Fire"
that was the deadliest in U.S. history.
- And there is more. On the same evening,
across Lake Michigan, another fire also wreaked havoc. Though smaller fires
had been burning for some time -- not unusual under the reported conditions
-- the most intense outburst appears to have erupted simultaneously with
the Chicago and Peshtigo fires. The blaze is said to have then burned for
over a month, consuming over 2,000,000 acres and killing at least 200.
- Concerning the Michigan outburst, it
is reported that numerous fires endangered towns across the state. The
city of Holland was destroyed by fire and in Lansing flames threatened
the agricultural college. In Thumb, farmers fled an inferno that some newspapers
dubbed, "The Fiery Fiend." Reports say that fires threatened
Muskegon, South Haven, Grand Rapids, Wayland, reaching the outskirts of
Big Rapids. A steamship passing the Manitou Islands reported they were
- There can be no doubt that weather conditions
at the time favored wildfires. But never before, and never since, has the
U.S. seen such wildly destructive SIMULTANEOUS conflagrations. This "coincidence",
combined with many unusual phenomena reported by eyewitnesses, has led
some to conclude that an extraordinary force, one not of the earth, was
a more likely "arson" than either a misbehaving cow or a regional
- In 1883, Ignatius Donnelly, author of
Ragnarok: the Rain of Fire and Gravel, suggested that in early historic
times our Earth suffered great catastrophes from cometary intruders. To
this claim he added: "There is reason to believe that the present
generation has passed through the gaseous prolongation of a comet's tail,
and that hundreds of human beings lost their lives". He was referring
to the conflagration of 1871.
- Is there plausible evidence that a comet
may have caused the Chicago fire and its regional counterparts? In 1985,
Mel Waskin, who had earlier discovered Donnelly's work, published a book,
Mrs. O'Leary's Comet, suggesting that a comet did indeed spark the October
8th fires. More recently, Robert Wood, a physicist and aeronautical engineer
formerly with Douglas Aircraft and McDonnell Douglas, gained attention
from the Discovery Channel and other media for proposing the same idea.
- The proponents of the cometary explanation
cite many fascinating details confirmed by eye witness reports: the descent
of fire from the heavens, a great "tornado" of fire rushing across
the landscape and tearing buildings from their foundations, descending
balls of fire, a rain of red dust, great explosions of wind accompanied
by blasts of thunder, buildings exploding into flame where no fire was
burning, and a good deal more. Some of the parallels with the later Tunguska
event are impossible to miss. (Link: http://www.rense.com/general69/tun2.htm)
- It seems that the records of the conflagration
hold many clues that are almost never mentioned in scientific discussion
of the Chicago fire. Over time the clues have virtually disappeared. They
have disappeared because they are not meaningful to minds conditioned by
popular ideas about how the "Chicago fire" started and what is
"scientifically" possible. Within these habits of perception,
the most important evidence will often go unnoticed or unremembered.
- NEXT: The Chicago Fire (2): Where was
- To be continued