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.

Chicago History Museum Events

Family Day: City on Fire: Chicago 1871

Saturday, Oct. 16

  • Hours: 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Cost: Free with museum admission

Designed for families with children ages 13 and under, the day’s activities include a hands-on workshop with Chicago Mobile Makers where families can design their ideal community, experience live musical and storytelling performances celebrating Chicago and have the chance to get up close and personal with a fire engine from the Chicago Fire Department.

Throughout the day, Lookingglass Theater actors will offer character-led exhibit tours featuring the stories of Catherine O’Leary, Joseph and Anna Hudlin, Claire Innes and Justin Butterfield.

What to expect:

  • 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Rubble to Recovery cart experiences
  • 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Chicago Mobile Makers-Ideal Community Design Challenge
  • 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Self-guided tours with a specially prepared family guide
  • 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Chicago Architecture on the Glessner House and Clarke House
  • 11 a.m. – “Celebrating Chicago” with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. Founded after the Great Chicago Fire to boost morale, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago has been thrilling audiences since 1872!

Designing for Healthy Communities with Chicago Mobile Makers

Saturdays, Nov. 13, Feb. 19 and March 19

  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Cost: Free with museum admission

Participants will use their curiosity to envision a healthy community. They will work together to build a custom city that works for all people. As the day progresses, the cities will grow and take new forms as more perspectives are included in the design process.

Community Events

The Great Chicago Fire Family Walking Tour

Daily

  • 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.

Bus Tour – The Great Chicago Fire: Disaster and Recovery

Sundays, Oct. 10 & 31

  • Hours: 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Cost: $50
  • Where: Tours depart from the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St., Chicago

Follow the path of Great Chicago Fire’s path of destruction and discover the resiliency of the city to recover with the Chicago History Museum and Chicago Architecture Center. Starting near the source of the fire on DeKoven Street, now the Chicago Fire Department Training Facility, head to its northern boundaries in Lincoln Park. Along the way, learn about “fireproof” buildings that burned, the few structures that survived, and resilience of everyday residents to rebuild the city.

The Great Chicago Fire Anniversary Walk

Saturday, Oct. 9

  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Cost: Free
  • Where: Tour departs from the Chicago Fire Academy, 558 W. DeKoven St., Chicago

Walk 10 miles starting at the site of Mrs. O’Leary’s barn at DeKoven and Jefferson. Participants will walk the perimeter of the Great Chicago Fire counterclockwise.

Open House Chicago-The Great Chicago Fire Family Tours 

Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 16-17

  • Hours: 11 a.m., Noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m.
  • Cost: Free
  • Where: Begin as Chicago Architectural Center, 111 E. Wacker Drive,Chicago

Commemorate The Great Chicago Fire with this unique experience designed for families. Take a tour of the Chicago Loop with a trained education guide to explore the lessons learned after the fire and relics from that era still visible today. This tour is intended for children ages 8 and up and their families. Signup at the CAC while visiting the center during Open House Chicago when it will be open to all to visit. Maximum capacity per time slot: 10.

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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