Wood fragment reportedly taken from the charred remains of the door of Mrs. O'Leary's barn, the night of the Great Chicago Fire, October 9, 1871.
This wood fragment represents the woman who was long blamed for starting the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Said to have come from the barn door of Mrs. Catherine O'Leary, O'Leary, a poor Irish immigrant, lived with her husband, Patrick, and their three children at 137 De Koven Street on the city's Southwest side. She kept five cows and a calf in a barn behind their home and sold fresh milk for income. Although the fire started in or near the O'Leary barn, an investigation by the Chicago Board of Police and Fire Commissioners could not determine its exact cause. Nonetheless, Mrs. O'Leary became a scapegoat for the disaster, in large part because of her social and economic status. The blame lingered for more than a century. Finally, in 1998, the City of Chicago adopted a formal resolution absolving Catherine O'Leary and her cow of any guilt related to the fire.