The Cause

The Cause

This drawing by artist Marshall Philyaw shows how the fire might have started in the O'Leary barn. Although purely conjecture, it is conjecture based on the inquiry testimony of Daniel Sullivan and Dennis Regan. Both men testified that they were in the O'Leary home on the evening of October 8, but before the fire started. Sullivan told the fire officials that he had been to the barn "hundreds of times." He also testified that the barn had a wooden floor and that the boards were wet. Perhaps the men left the O'Leary house together and walked to the barn to relax for a few minutes before going home. Did Sullivan's peg leg slip on the wet wood, causing him to stumble and drop his pipe into some hay or wood shavings? Or did he trip over Dennis Regan's feet? Perhaps Regan, relaxing against the wall of the barn, suddenly stretched out his legs as Sullivan hobbled by, causing him to lose his balance and fall. No one knows what really happened in the barn on October 8, 1871, but the evidence seems clear that the fire was not caused by Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern.