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Chicago History Museum Commemorates 150th Anniversary of Great Chicago Fire in New Exhibition

Jul 15 2021

The Chicago History Museum will commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 in its newest family friendly exhibition. The devastating grief and subsequent growth sparked by the destruction of the fire is remembered in City on Fire: Chicago 1871, opening to the public on Friday, October 8, 2021.

“The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was a pivotal event in the city’s history, setting it on a path of unmatched resilience and constant evolution that still defines Chicago today,” said Julius L. Jones, lead curator for the exhibition. “We are honored to tell this important Chicago story in a way that helps our visitors draw parallels to the present-day.”

Beginning on October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire burned through the city for three days. After the flames subsided, recovery efforts exposed deep social and economic inequities as more than 100,000 people became homeless, and society placed blame upon the Irish immigrant O’Leary family. 150 years later, City on Fire: Chicago 1871 highlights the crucial events and conditions before, during, and after the fire.

Designed for families, City on Fire: Chicago 1871 explores the impact the fire had on the city and its people. The exhibition will take visitors through events and conditions that led to devastation and recovery and shed light on what life was like in 1871. Following the detailed path of the fire, from the O’Leary’s barn north and east through the city, visitors will be immersed in the destruction of the fire and the decisions that civilians were faced with as they fled danger. Visitors will learn about recovery efforts that called for reformed fire safety procedures that are still in use today, underscoring the deep and lasting impact the fire had on Chicago’s past and present.

“The Chicago History Museum is committed to sharing Chicago stories and connecting our diverse communities through shared experiences,” said Donald Lassere, president and CEO of the Chicago History Museum. “While the devastation of the Great Chicago Fire was felt by all in the city, the rebuilding efforts exposed inequities. We are honored to facilitate this important discussion and welcome visitors to City on Fire: Chicago 1871 to learn more about this monumental event in our city’s history.”

City on Fire: Chicago 1871 features more than 100 pieces from the museum’s collection, interactive multimedia elements, and personal stories from the O’Leary and Hudlin families, and other survivors of the fire. A large-scale reproduction of a cyclorama painting depicting the breadth of the fire’s path across the city is the pinnacle of the exhibition, on display for the first time in generations. The original was a main attraction during the 1893 World’s Fair, standing nearly 50 feet high and 400 feet long, it occupied its own building on Michigan Avenue for spectators to gather and observe. Historic heirlooms and cherished personal belongings damaged in the fire will also be on display.

For more information on City on Fire: Chicago 1871 please visit:

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