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Family Day | City on Fire: Chicago 1871

Saturday, October 16

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chicago was a city with a bustling business district and a rapidly growing population. The city was bursting at the seams to accommodate new residents, and houses were being built quickly out of wood and crammed tightly together. Even the few paved streets and sidewalks were made of wood. Although structures were advertised as “fireproof,” on October 8, 1871, the combination of strong wind, a regional drought, and a fire near DeKoven Street proved them wrong on an epic scale.

Spend the day with us at the Chicago History Museum to explore the history of the Great Chicago Fire in our newest exhibition, City on Fire: Chicago 1871. Discover the story of the Fire through accounts by people who lived through it such as Justin Butterfield, Claire Innis, Joseph and Anna Hudlin, and Catherine O’Leary. The day’s activities are designed for families with children ages 13 and under.

Free with general admission; RSVP not required



10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. – Rubble to Recovery cart experiences

10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. – Self-Guided Exhibition Tours with the Family Learning Guide

11:00–11:45 a.m. – “Celebrating Chicago” with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago
Founded after the Great Chicago Fire to boost citizen morale, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago has been thrilling audiences since 1872!

12:00–1:00 p.m. – Character-Led Tours with Lookingglass Theatre
Explore the City on Fire exhibition from the perspective of those who lived through it. Join actors from Lookingglass Theatre for an immersive character-led tours with Catherine O’Leary, Joseph Hudlin, and more!

12:00–2:15 p.m. – Chicago Mobile Makers Ideal Community Design Challenge
What would your ideal community have to keep residents safe and healthy? A fire station? A Hospital? Get creative with Chicago Mobile Makers and try your hand at designing with community in mind. Participants will work together to build a custom city that works for all people. As the day progresses, the cities will grow and take new forms as more perspectives are included in the design process!

12:30 p.m. & 2:30 p.m. – Bus Tours | Chicago Architecture: Glessner House and Clarke House
Hop on a coach bus for a round-trip visit to Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood and explore the architecture of the John J. Glessner House and the Henry B. Clarke House, which date from around the time of the Great Chicago Fire. Tours run one hour and are included with general admission. RSVP requested. Meet at the Museum’s Clark Street entrance to board the bus.

RSVP for 12:30 Tour      RSVP for 2:30 Tour

1:00–1:40 p.m. – ”Fire in Boomtown” with Amy Lowe and Megan Wells-Shunk 
Join musicians and storytellers Amy Lowe and Megan Wells-Shunk for a musical mix of commentary, theater and history as they recount the story of The Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The program amplifies the resiliency of Chicagoans to rebuild and recover following the losses from the conflagration.

2:15 p.m. Chicago Fire Department Visit

Letter drawing by Justin Butterfield (with his goat) of his Great Fire experiences, 1871. ICHi-063792
View of the 1871 Chicago Fire at night under full moon. Lithograph by F. Sala & Co., c. 1871. CHM, ICHi-063773
Front view of a Chicago Fire Department fire marshall helmet used during the Chicago Fire of 1871. CHM, ICHi-064110
"Memories of the Chicago Fire of 1871" by Julia Lemos, 1912. CHM, ICHi-062293
Harriet Jessie Peabody's doll, "Bessie," saved in the Great Fire, 1871. CHM, ICHi-064649
Broadside regarding aid after the Great Chicago Fire, 1871. CHM, ICHi-020590

The Details



16 th

10:30 a.m.–4:00 p.m.

Event Location

Chicago History Museum

1601 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60614

purchase tickets for Oct. 16
Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago's Stories