Exhibit: Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Chicago Fire in 3-D

Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Chicago Fire in 3-D is on display now in Harold Washington Library Center's 9th floor exhibit foyer.

Chicago Fire ruine
First National Bank, ruins, stereograph, 1871, Chicago Collection of Cecilia Cooper, Photograph 1.79

About the Exhibit

On October 8, 1871, a fire began in a barn or alley around 137 S. DeKoven Street on the Near West Side. Several factors contributed to the fire’s rapid and destructive spread: a long summer drought, wood frame construction, lumber yards hugging the river, problems with the city’s water pumping system and strong winds blowing from the southwest. Flames and embers leapt across the South Branch of the Chicago River and spread to the Central Business District and the Near North Side as far as Fullerton Avenue. The Great Chicago fire burned for three frightful days.

150 years later, Chicago Public Library commemorates this historic event that left more than 100,000 people homeless, destroyed over three square miles of property, and left around 17,500 buildings in ruin. As soon as the ruins cooled, photographer George N. Barnard was on the scene. A great number of his images were distributed internationally as stereographs by multiple companies. Viewed as three-dimensional through a stereoscope, these cards with two slightly different perspectives of the same picture graphically illustrated the fire’s staggering destruction to the world.

The exhibit showcases a selection of stereographs from the Library’s Archival Collections that depict city views before and after the flames.