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A Reminder of a Tragic Fire

On December 22, 1910, one of the greatest disasters to strike an American fire department took place in Chicago. Around 4:00 a.m. that day, a night watchman noticed black smoke pouring out of the six-story Nelson Morris meatpacking company’s Beef Plant No. 7 in the Stockyards District. Several fire companies rushed to the scene, and Chief James Horan arrived at 5:05 a.m. to personally direct the response. Within minutes, the east wall of the plant suddenly collapsed. In that instant, the chief and twenty other firefighters were killed along with three Nelson Morris employees, leaving behind nineteen widows and thirty-five orphaned children just before Christmas. It was the single greatest loss of professional big-city firefighters in US history until September 11, 2001.

Learn more about this Chicago tragedy in our blog post, which uses images and artifacts from our collection to tell the story of a highly respected fire chief who was killed in action.

Clockwise from top left: Firemen spray water over railroad cars onto a fire at Nelson Morris and Company, Chicago, December 22–23, 1910. DN-0056315, Chicago Daily News collection, CHM. CFD chief James Horan wears his helmet at the scene of a fire, Chicago, 1910. DN-0008863, Chicago Daily News collection, CHM. Horan’s fire marshal helmet, which was sealed at the bottom after his death. CHM, ICHi-168838 and ICHi-168840.

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