Local Family Events and Resources to Mark the 150th Anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire

Continue the learning about the fire inside and outside the Chicago History Museum City on Fire: Chicago 1871 exhibit walls.

Chicago History Museum has teamed up with community partners to create exciting and enriching family-friendly events that give families many different ways to explore the history of the Great Chicago Fire and experience the city both as it was and as it is today.

The museum’s new exhibit, City on Fire: Chicago 1871, reveals how the Great Chicago Fire not only destroyed the city but magnified the social inequities in existence at the time.

In order to bring those history lessons to modern-day Chicago, the exhibit and the resources the Chicago History Museum has pulled together, both inside and outside the museum, are all intended to help parents talk with their kids about the big event that changed Chicago forever. It’s also a great way to learn about the groups of people left out of the rebuilding and how change can still be made 150 years later.

Community Events

Daily

The Great Chicago Fire Family Walking Tour

  • Hours: times vary
  • Cost: $99 for a group of up to 6
  • Where: Tours depart from the Chicago Architecture Center, 111 E. Wacker Drive, Chicago

Take a 90-minute tour of the Chicago Loop with a trained Education Guide to explore the lessons learned after the fire and relics from that era we can still see today. This tour is intended for children ages 8 and up and their families.

At Home Learning Resources

If you want to continue learning about the Great Chicago Fire at home, there are plenty of resources designed for families.

American Red Cross

Use the graph to draw your home’s floor plan and plot your home fire escape routes.

Chicago Fire Department

Have fun learning fire safety with hands-on activities found online under Tint Tot Hot Spot.

National Fire Protection Association Lessons from History: The Chicago Fire of 1871

Featuring Casey Grant from the National Fire Protection Association and best-selling author Lauren Tarshis of the I Survived book series, kids 8 and older can learn about this historical event.

WTTW The Great Chicago Fire: A Chicago Stories Special

See this seismic event as never before, using vivid animations, elaborate re-creations, and interviews with historians and the descendants of eyewitnesses. Recommended for ages 11 and up.

Books

The Chicago Public Library has many books about the fire. Here are a few most recommended by librarians (with descriptions provided by the books’ publishers):

Children of the Fire by Harriette Gillem Robinet

  • Best for ages: 8-12

A young Black girl named Hallelujah lives through the great Chicago fire with courage and resourcefulness.

Emmi in the City: A Great Chicago Fire Survival Story by Salima Alikhan

  • Best for ages: 8-12

Emmi, a German immigrant, is living in Chicago when the Great Fire breaks out and, separated from her father, she finds herself with her neighbors, Cara and Seamus, braving the smoke and flames trying to escape the danger of the burning city while searching for their parents.

Fiery Night: A Boy, His Goat, and the Great Chicago Fire by Sally M. Walker

  • Best for ages: 8-12

Justin Butterfield insists on bringing his pet goat Willie when his family is forced to flee the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 by Lauren Tarshis

  • Best for ages: 7-10

One boy struggles to stay alive as Chicago burns.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 by Kay Melchisedech Olson

  • Best for ages: 9-12

In this epic graphic novel, dramatic illustrations and fast-paced text provide a “you-are-there” experience.

The Great Fire by Jim Murphy

  • Best for ages: 9-12

By weaving personal accounts of actual survivors together with the carefully researched history of Chicago and the disaster, Jim Murphy constructs a riveting narrative that recreates the event with drama and immediacy.

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