Thursday, June 22, 2017

From the Ashes to the Baldpate

Hey everyone!

Today I found a very interesting key hanging from our rafters!

Key donated by Mr. and Mrs. Edward C. Band of Chicago, IL

This old skeleton key joined our collection in July of 1939 and has been with us ever since.  While it may look ordinary at first glance, a closer look at the tag explains that this key was brought from Germany to America and survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which if you ask me, is a quite feat considering the Great Chicago Fire was one of the worst fires in American history to have happened yet.

The Great Chicago Fire

Burning from October 8th to 10th, the Great Chicago Fire’s origin is surrounded in mystery. There are many theories about how the fire started, including the famous legend that Patrick and Catherine O’Leary’s cow knocked over a lantern which started the blaze, a legend that is often accepted as fact, despite denial from Catherine O’Leary and no actual proof. No one is really certain of how the fire started, but weeks without rain and damaged firefighting equipment are a recipe for disaster in a rapidly growing and people packed city. Eventually a rain storm aided the firefighters in putting out the fire on the 10th, but over 300 people had been killed and $200 million in damages had been sustained to the city by the time it was extinguished. This tragedy did have a positive side to it though, as it made builders more conscious of fire proofing buildings and the mass construction required to rebuild the city boosted the Chicago economy enough and drew in so many people, that only New York City rivaled it.

An artist's depiction of Mrs. O'Leary and her famous cow

In case you felt bad for the O’Leary’s, don’t worry! Catherine and her cow were exonerated by the city in 1997 and the Chicago Fire Department now uses the old O’Leary property to conduct fire safety training.

Come check out this key and many more in our key collection; each of them has an amazing story waiting for you to discover! 

Written by: 
Victoria, Museum Curator

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