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Latino State News

100th Anniversary of Chicago’s Stockyard Fire

In the basement of Warehouse 7 of the Nelson Morris and Co. plant in the Union Stockyards, a small fire grew into one that caused “the single greatest loss of professional big-city firefighters in U.S. history until September 11, 2001.”

That massive fire occurred 100 year ago today, and is referred to as “Chicago’s Forgotten Tragedy” and shares the name with former firefighter Bill Cosgrove’s book. Families of the lost firefighters often did not wish to talk about it, and since news media was not as it is today, the story started to get lost.

Cosgrove says it was not uncommon to have fires at the Stockyards, as the flammable chemicals used for meat production spilled onto the wood floors. Aside from the obvious, what made these fires so dangerous were the rickety brick buildings’ walls.

The fire was started by a faulty electrical socket, and in the end, it took 17 hours after the flames were extinguished to remove all the bodies of the firefighters buried in the rubble. That fire left behind 19 widows, and 35 children were without a father.

In remembrance, relatives of then Fire Marshal James Horan (Big Jim) place wreaths at the memorial erected in recognition of the blaze. It sits at what is now known as the Stockyards Industrial Corridor.