This cowbell is claimed to have belonged to Catherine and Patrick O'Leary's cow, Daisy, who was blamed for starting the Chicago Fire of 1871 in the O'Leary's barn at 137 DeKoven Street. According to reports upon donation, a neighborhood boy and family friend Matthew Burke retrieved the cowbell and gave it to sister Ems Burke (later Mrs. Robert L. Henderson) for safekeeping. Matthew Burke's grand-niece donated the cowbell to the Chicago Historical Society upon Mrs. Henderson's death in April 1940.
This cowbell represents popular folklore surrounding the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It began on the evening of October 8th and burned for 36 hours, destroyed one-third of the city's residents, and killed 300 Chicagoans. In the wake of the destruction, Mrs. Catherine O'Leary, a poor Irish immigrant, was blamed for starting the fire when one of her five cows kicked over a lantern. in 1998, the City of Chicago adopted a formal resolution absolving Catherine O'Leary and her cow of any guilt related to the fire. This is one of several artifacts, including more than one cowbell, in the collection that were donated on the claim that they bore authentic connections to the O'Leary barn, the cow and the start of the blaze.