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Great Chicago Fires: Historic Blazes That Shaped a City (Illinois) Paperback – July 26, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-1893121072 ISBN-10: 1893121070 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

David Cowan was born in Chicago in 1963. He co-authored (with John Kuenster) the critically acclaimed book about the Our Lady of the Angels school fire, To Sleep With the Angels: The Story of a Fire (Ivan R. Dee, Inc.). A U.S. Air Force veteran and former award-winning newspaper reporter, he holds degrees in journalism and political science from Southern Illinois University. Now a firefighter and independent journalist, Mr. Cowan has written for major newspapers and magazines and appeared in numerous television documentaries about historic fires. He lives in Chicago with his wife, writer and historian Ursula Bielski, and their daughter, Eva.

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Product Details

  • Series: Illinois
  • Paperback: 169 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Claremont Press; 1 edition (July 26, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1893121070
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893121072
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 9.9 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,486,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on November 30, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book discusses such conflagrations as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the Iroquois Theater Fire, Columbian Exposition Fire, Chicago Stockyards Fire, etc. The book is full of pictures, some of which have apparently not been published elsewhere.

The account of the Our Lady of the Angels School Fire is particularly engrossing. We learn about a troubled boy who probably set the fire. The fire burned for some time, unnoticed. Then the stairwell caught fire, sending smoke into the second-floor hallway, and trapping the children and teachers. Soon the hallway flashed over. So did the cockloft above the classrooms. Yet the firefighters heroically managed to pull at least 150 children, out of the windows, and out of the jaws of certain death. There are several photos of the recovery of the bodies after the fire.

Discussion of the McCormick Place Fire of 1967 includes a telling picture of the failed roof truss (p. 106). This served to remind us that steel in general, and long, unsupported steel trusses in particular, do poorly in large fires. (This later was a major factor in the collapse of the WTC towers on 911).

This book is not limited to spectacular, single fires. There is also discussion of several non-famous individual fires, as well as the many fires that were ignited during the 1960's race riots, especially following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
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Format: Paperback
As one of the nation's largest cities, one would expect many fires, but Chicago has suffered more than it's share. Just about every type of building in the windy city has burned at one time or other. These include theaters, hotels, schools and warehouses, not to mention the city itself, which lost some 18000 buildings in the well known 1871 conflagration. All of these and more are included here. And the book is relatively short, so it can be read at a single reading, or one can select chapters of interest.

I was also pleased to discover so much new detail here. I had thought it likely that much here would be no more than a retelling of familiar fire stories, but that was not so. I have studied these fires, and still learned a lot. For instance; Lloyds of London cancelled all policies in Chicago one year before the great fire because of its condition. The Iriquois Theater was built with historic building fires in mind, but the owners cut corners to open early. The mayor of an Illinois town who died in the La Salle hotel blaze of 1946 was going to stay elsewhere, but was sent to the La Salle by mistake. These are but three fascinating facts from this work on 'Great Chicago Fires'.
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Format: Paperback
Virtually everyone's heard of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that devastated the burgeoning city, but have you ever heard of 1910 Stockyards Fire that took the lives of 21 firefighters plus three civilians? How about the 1950 accident and fire involving a streetcar and gasoline tanker truck that incinerated the streetcar's driver and 32 passengers? How about the 1968 race riots, when rioting African-Americans (enraged at the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King) set fires, and then attacked responding fire fighters? Well, if you read this book you would know all about these!

Overall, I found this to be a very good book that covers a very wide range of interesting fires. It has a great deal of information on the various fires, and the text is written in an interesting manner. Also, along the way, the reader is treated to many great black-and-white photos.

[By the way, if you are interested, check out my Listmania! list, Death and Destruction in Illinois, for books on other Illinois disasters.]
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