My New Book

My new book, The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow, was published in 2002 by McFarland and Company, a major publisher of reference and academic books. It is a scholarly but still readable book that contains hundreds of endnotes and is heavily illustrated with dozens of pictures, photographs, and diagrams, almost half of which have never before appeared in a book about the fire. Its annotated bibliography includes hundreds of entries. The book has received favorable reviews, some of which are noted on the publisher's website. The book is also listed in, and more extensive comments are noted on this web site.

The following is a synopsis of the book:

Chapter One: A City on Fire

The first chapter tells of the conditions in Chicago as they existed prior to the fire. These included an unusually dry summer and a city that was built largely of wood. It also gives a brief account of the fire--its beginning, how it spread from the West Side of Chicago to the South and North Sides, until it eventually died out in the early hours of October 10.

Chapter Two: The Exoneration of Mrs. O'Leary

This chapter discusses the infamous Mrs. O'Leary. It sets forth my theory as to why Mrs. O'Leary could not have caused the fire.

Chapter Three: Debunking Other Myths

Contrary to popular belief, Mrs. O'Leary and her cow were not the only suspected causes of the fire. Indeed, even during the first weeks after the fire several causes were discussed. Hypotheses include people smoking in the barn, spontaneous combustion of green hay, incendiaries, and even a comet. In this chapter I discuss and debunk these and other theories as to the cause of the fire.

Chapter Four: The Real Cause

In chapter four I unmask who I feel started the fire.

Chapter Five: The Inquiry--Charade or Cover-up?

The inquiry investigation is discussed in this chapter. I tell of the initial optimism that the press felt as the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners began its work. As the days passed, though, with the Board eliciting virtually no information concerning the possible cause of the fire from its parade of witnesses, the press grew more and more disenchanted. By the time the inquiry ended, the newspapers were openly ridiculing the Board. By analyzing the inquiry transcripts, I set forth my theory that the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners could have determined the cause of the fire had they truly wanted to do so. I believe, though, that the Board, stung by criticism of the fire department, was more concerned with repairing its beaten reputation.

Epilogue: Mrs. O'Leary's Legacy

The Epilogue traces the life of Mrs. O'Leary after October 8, 1871, after her role in history was assured.

Appendix A: Questions, Mysteries, and Controversies

There are several mysteries associated with the Great Chicago Fire. When did the fire start? Were the firemen intoxicated that Sunday evening, thus causing the fire to spread out of control? These questions and others are discussed in this appendix.

Appendix B: Behind the Conclusions

An analysis of the inquiry transcripts, Chicago real estate records, and other primary source material was necessary in order to make certain conclusions relative to my theory as to the cause of the fire. This information is set forth in Appendix B.

Appendix C: "How it Originated"

In this appendix I discuss Michael McDermott's letter to the editor and accompanying affidavits of Mr. and Mrs. O'Leary and Daniel Sullivan. These were published in the October 20, 1871, Chicago Tribune.

Appendix D: Selections from the Transcripts

The annotated testimony of Mr. and Mrs. O'Leary, Daniel Sullivan, and ten other people is set forth in this appendix.

Appendix E: The Final Report

After the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners heard the testimony of fifty witnesses, it went off to write up its findings. The Board's report was published in the Chicago newspapers on December 12, 1871. The annotated report appears in this appendix.