Around this time of year, more than one hundred years ago, the
destructive, merciless Great Fire swept through our city's streets.
Legend says that on October 8, 1871, Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over
a lantern and started the blaze but we now know that the fire's
origins are unclear and that an intrepid report made up the O'Leary
story, thinking it made his report more colorful (Poor Mrs.
O'Leary!). However it began, over 300 people are reported to have
died, and more than 100,000 Chicagoans were left homeless.
The Lookingglass Theater's latest production - "The Great Fire"
- offers the perfect chance for families to explore the tragedy
that led to the rebirth of our city. Hugely entertaining, it
explores the myths surrounding the fire, following several
Chicagoans as they struggle to survive both before and as the fire
enflames their city. Writer and Director (and ensemble member) John
Musial has weaved together and reinterpreted actual accounts, one
of them from Charles Anthony (the inspiration for the characters
Arthur and Frenchy), the son of a Chicago Judge who recalled his
memories of the fire that he survived when he was just 15-year-old
in a 1919 publication. Anyone living in the city will appreciate
the antics of 7th and 8th ward (today's Pilsen) alderman James
Henry Hidreth, brought to life by the brilliantly versatile Cheryl
Lynn Bruce. Julia Lemus, played by Stephanie Diaz, recalls what
this disaster meant to the hundreds of working-class immigrants
trying to make a decent living in Chicago at the time.
The fire itself is portrayed by Lindsey Noel Whiting: she's a
nasty, backstabbing, heartless redhead in a white petticoat.
The Chicago Fire is appropriate for kids over age 8. Before you
go, familiarize your kids with the basic facts and story behind the
fire. I recommend The Great Chicago Fire, by Kay Olsen (available
on amazon.com), an engaging interpretation in comic book format.
After the show, be sure to visit the Great Chicago Fire exhibit at
the Chicago History Museum, where you can even find Julia Lemus'
painting of the fire. The Great Fire, now playing at Chicago's
Lookingglass Theater. For tickets, call 312-337-0665 or visit
Amy Bizzarri is a writer, teacher and mom. She blogs at
Amy Bizzarri is a mom of two living in Logan Square. She also blogs at tiramisumom.com.
See more of Amy's stories here.
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