“The Great Calamity” 144 years ago – Shield Nickel Coin

Today, the Shield Nickel Coin remembers “The Great Calamity” as the Chicago fire of 1871 became known.

The Reading Eagle newspaper printed the following stories:


Great Fire in Chicago.

(special to the Daily Eagle.)

Chicago, Oct. 9.

At 11 o’clock on Saturday night, a fire broke out in this city, in the vicinity of Clinton and Canal and Van Buren and Jackson streets, which, with a strong breeze, burned a number of small wooden tenement houses and two-story frame groceries, saloons, etc. Many persons escaped with difficulty. Another large fire was burning at Wells and Adams streets, which was finally extinguished, when all the engines rallied around the larger one. Several lumber yards, a planing mill, a large coal yard, etc. , were burned.

About 2 am on Sunday the flames were checked, after four blocks had been burned completely. The whole district was ablaze in 30 minutes, only four or five buildings remaining uninjured. Mrs. Margaret Hadley was burned to death. The loss is immense.

At 9:45 on Sunday evening, another fire broke out in the Western Division, and four blocks of closely built frame buildings were soon destroyed. Trains were sent to other cities for engines, but the fire spread with fearful rapidity until twenty blocks, mostly the homes of poor people, some 300 buildings, were destroyed.

The strong wind sent showers of sparks over the city, and the watch tower of the Court House caught, but it was extinguished. There is a fearful panic, and only God’s mercy can save the city. The people, weeping and wailing, fill the streets.

The vessels in the river are catching fire in all directions, and flying brands fill the air. Every bell is ringing the alarm. The telegraph office is in danger. The cars and freight house of the Chicago, Alton and Fort Wayne R. R. are swept away by the fire, and people are rushing from their houses barely in time to save their lives.

A number of lives are reported lost, and the loss of property will foot up to millions of dollars.


Later from Chicago.

The Whole Business Portion of the City in Ruins.

Chicago, Oct. 9—11:10 am

The fire swept everything from the Chamber of Commerce to the lake and river. The whole business portion of the city is in ruins. The Mayor of Chicago has called for assistance and supplies from all quarters.

All the telegraph offices, Court House, Sherman, Briggs, and Tremont Houses, Post Office, Board of Trade, Rock Island Depot, Pacific Hotel, Field, Leiter, Jr., Farwell, in fact everything is burnt from 12th street north, and from Canal on the west side, to the Lake. All the City Banks burnt. All the business part of the city is gone. The fire is still raging. The water has given out and the firemen are exhausted.

The loss is more than five hundred million dollars. All business is suspended.

The firemen of Milwaukee and other cities are preparing to go to Chicago.


Still Later

Chicago Doomed.

Chicago, Oct. 9—1:30 pm

The entire business portion of hte city of Chicago is destroyed. All the banks, Express and Telegraph offices, and all the newspaper offices except the Tribune, six elevators adn the water works are burned. There is no water in the city. Not less than 10,000 buildings have already been destroyed. The fire has burned a distance of five miles and is still raging. The wind is blowing a gale.

It will be almost impossible to get any further reliable particulars for some time, as there is only one wire working and that only from the suburbs. Loss so far $600,000,000.


The Fire in Chicago

Chicago, Oct. 9—Midnight.

The Tribune building, which stood so long, finally succumbed and was destroyed, with six of the largest elevators, the immense depots of the Michigan, Southern and Illinois Central Railroads, more than twenty churches, and much of the shipping in the river.

Reinforcements of firemen are arriving from other cities.

The fire is still raging. The wind has changed and is driving the fire southward.

Nearly all the city is destroyed, and but few buildings remain standing.

Millionaires have been reduced to poverty. The water supply is cut off, although it is hoped the water works are saved. The gas works are blown up. The railroad trains are crowded with citizens fleeing for safety, while the streets in the unburned districts are full of furniture and goods from the burned portion. The streets are filled with famishing people, and the large supplies of food and clothing which are on their way to the city from all quarters are anxiously looked for.

The United States government has ordered General Sheridan to forward government provisions and clothing from St. Louis and elsewhere.

Many buildings were blown up with gunpowder to check the spread of the flames.

Hardly a business house is left, and all the banks, hotels, theatres and newspaper offices are destroyed.

Hundreds of horse and cattle perished in their stables.

It is almost certain that many human beings have perished in the flames.

All the bridges are burned.

Cincinnati, St. Louis, Oswego, and other cities, are sending relief, which the Erie and other railroads forward free of charge to Chicago.

It is feared that $2,000,000 of government money in the sub-Treasury is destroyed.

The improvised telegraph office is again abandoned, and another will be opened further southward.


Relief for the Sufferers.

New York, Oct. 10

The awful calamity which had befallen Chicago has stirred up the inhabitants of her sister cities to efforts for the relief of the sufferers. In Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, St. Louis, Louisville, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Wheeling, Albany, Brooklyn, and other cities, the authorities, the commercial and other bodies, and the people, have set to work. Cincinnati sent on the first supply of provisions for the destitute last night.


Latest from Chicago

New York, Oct 10.

Latest accounts from Chicago state that the wind has changed and is blowing the fire in all directions. The whole city must go.

Telegraphic communication is suspended.

General Sheridan will send 1000 wall tents, 100,000 government rations, and two companies of infantry to Chicago.


The Shield Nickel Coin shows with an image from the west side of the Great Chicago Fire of October 9, 1871.

Shield Nickel Coin