About the Author
Dick Bales is an attorney, employed as Assistant Regional Counsel of the Wheaton, Illinois office of Chicago Title Insurance Company. He has been interested in the Great Chicago Fire for more than twenty-five years, ever since he wrote a paper on the cause of the fire for a college course in Historiography.
Bales specializes in the rather arcane subject of legal descriptions--how land is legally described. He knew that the Chicago office of Chicago Title Insurance Company had land records that survived the fire. He also knew that the Chicago Historical Society had the original transcripts of the Chicago Fire inquiry. Why not, then, put all of this together? That is, using his legal description expertise, he decided to analyze pre-fire Chicago land records and other primary sources. He would then reproduce to scale the O'Leary property and surrounding area. Finally, he would examine the inquiry transcripts through the template of this diagram.
Easier said than done. The transcripts are in four volumes, all handwritten. The writing ranges from adequate to almost illegible. Bales spent two years at the Chicago Historical Society, transcribing all 1168 pages into a notebook computer. Even before he was finished, though, he knew that he was onto something. Clearly there were serious discrepancies in Daniel "Peg Leg" Sullivan's testimony. The inquiry board failed to question the many inconsistencies found in Sullivan's and others' testimony. More disturbing, though, was his eventual conclusion that the Board very likely could have determined the cause of the fire.
Bales' findings were published in the Spring, 1997 issue of the Illinois Historical Journal. (See Suggested Reading) The article kindled worldwide interest in the fire. The Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Washington Post, and the London Times wrote about his research. Bales did radio interviews with the BBC and National Public Radio and television interviews with all four network stations. His picture appeared in People magazine. His work eventually earned him the ultimate accolade: his research became a Jeopardy game show question.
Bales has continued his study of the Great Chicago Fire. Since the article was published he has uncovered even more fascinating information concerning the cause of the fire. He has written the definitive book on this 130-year-old mystery that fully sets forth these new developments.