Could a comet have caused the Great Chicago Fire of 1871?

Could a comet have caused the Great Chicago Fire of 1871?

Could a comet have caused the Great Chicago Fire of 1871?  For three days, October 8-10,  1871, Chicago was burning. It was a rain of fire and terror as the wood buildings burned to the ground.

Ironically, the O’Leary house (Mrs. O’Leary of the famous cow and lantern theory) was left standing on DeKoven Street. The Water Tower also remained. Most of what was then Chicago was in ruins.

At the same time, there were  fires burning in other parts of llinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. The Great Peshtigo Fire (in Peshtigo, Wisconsin) is still considered one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

There were also fires in Urbana, Illinois and Holland, Michigan.

Could they all be attributed to weather conditions? It had been a hot, dry summer throughout the Midwest. It was a hot, dry and windy autumn day. One spark could have started a fire!

Is there a possible extraterrestrial explanation?

According to Wikipedia there is the comet theory. The fragments of Comet Biela breaking up in the atmosphere may have caused a meteor shower along Lake Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

While this theory is also highly contested, it sounds alot like Tunguska to me!

One must be careful, however, to examine the evidence. Further research is needed. But this has, as they say, sparked my interest……


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  • 1. Wikipedia is not a source. Go to Aquinas Wired for a fuller discussion.

    2. Unless the argument is that some embers from meteorite fragments could set off all those fires, there would have had to have been a hell of a crater to have an event on the scale of even the meteorite crash in Russia on Feb. 13, 2013 (see, for instance, this story on what the fragments contained). I suppose that some meteorological archeologist would have found it by now, or, instead of the mythology of the cow, there would have been reports of a big shooting star and boom.

  • Dear Jack-- Yes, even discredited Wikipedia discounts the comet theory.

    Still, there is the question of those October fires. Further research is needed....

    Thank you for reading, and your comments. Much appreciated!


  • Great post.

    I read a book some decades ago suggesting this theory, and I'm not ready to rule it out. The simultaneous fires, especially the disaster in Peshtigo, is, at the least, relevant to the discussion. I recall vividly a section of the book quoting eye witnesses who said they saw blue flames in the basements and lower floors of some burning buildings. It suggests methane or some flammable gas that came with a comet could have been present. I'm sorry that I don't remember the book, but a search of Amazon turns this up: Mrs. O'Leary's Comet: Cosmic Causes of the Great Chicago Fire Paperback by Mel Waskin; Academy Chicago Publishers (January 1, 1985)

    Here's a useful review:

    "It's strange this book doesn't get more attention. The author has compiled an astonishing amount of evidence, some corroborated recently by an astronomer who was trying to figure out the whereabouts of a fragment that broke away from a comet, indicating that this fragment broke up in the atmosphere over the Great Lakes some years ago and not only triggered and aided the Chicago fire but started a few other major fires in the region that night. Bluntly, if the author ISN'T right there's still plenty of eyewitness reporting from all the fires and testimony from Chicago firefighters that just doesn't jibe with a normal set of fires. Something very weird happened.

    "For a dopey seeming little book sitting on the fringes of Amazonland the implications of all this are tremendous. Impacts are not the only possible problem; tons of methane (without any impact)can just suddenly drop down from the sky smothering many (one town had multiple deaths not caused by fire or smoke inhalation) and causing fires that are nearly impossible to control--as if we don't have enough to worry about anyway!"

    Go to:

    I'll await word from Aquinas.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    Dear Dennis--Thank you for reading and commenting. That book does sound interesting! Indeed, something very weird happened. More research is needed.

  • I've been trying to reach Neil deGrasse Tyson for his take on this theory, but so far no luck. Nice blog, WG.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    AW, thanks for stopping by! That would be fun if Neil deGrasse Tyson could join the party, too. Would love to know his thoughts. The comet theory (and Tunguska similarity?) is like something out of the X-Files! Yes, more research is needed.

  • Comet Biela is described in Ragnarok: Age of Fire and Gravel, free online, e. g.-

    Donnelly unfortunately didn't understand the role of plasma in space or the electrical nature of comets-
    There were many things witnessed going on that night across the tri-state area that sound like electrical effects.

  • In reply to Forrest Bishop:

    Dear Forrest--Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciate your links, as well. Yes, I must investigate this further.

    Hopefully, I will have a follow-up post soon.

  • Dear Weather Girl,

    You’re very welcome. I did some research on this about a year ago for a talk I gave, called
    “Scapegoats and Sky Monsters” [Excerpt]

    “ It had been a long hot furnace of a summer, a drought the likes of which no one could remember. One sultry night in October, about half past nine, a fire broke out in the city. The Old Town was as dry and ready as a box of matches…

    The fire swept across huge swaths of the city, burning down for several days. ...Yet, within just a few hours of its beginning, a scapegoat, an arsonist, had been located and identified. There was even a trial afterwards. The defendant was found guilty of course, as patsies always are.

    But this was no ordinary fire. As they put the fire out in one building, another building behind the fire line would suddenly burst into flames for no good reason. Eyewitnesses said that strange colored lights- blue, red, green- were seen dancing along the cornices of buildings. Stone and brick buildings melted away. Granite, iron and glass were found afterwards, melted and fused together into peculiar shapes…

    But the Great Chicago Fire was by no means the hottest time in US history. In fact, it wasn’t even close to being the most deadly of the hundreds of fires that broke out across Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois on that very same night, about half past nine.

    …These curious and alarming details have been all but lost to us while songs have been written about the scapegoat. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow would have had to have been a teleporting poltergeist to pull all that off. Either that or Mrs. O’Leary’s lantern was the size of three states...

    But the fantasy scapegoat comes with his own dangers. He misdirects our attention and hides the real threats from us…

    Although I may know it, I’m not going to invoke the true name of the monster from outer space that burned Chicago. He has a rather long name and this is a short talk. But it behooves us to learn his name and nature, because one day, as surely as the Sun, this monster sky god is going to return…“

    If you’re into deep research, there may still be unseen eyewitness accounts in the basements of Chicago newspapers. Maybe some folks named in the articles have saved some of the strangely-formed pieces of fused glass, metal, and stone. The trial transcripts of Mrs. O’Leary still exist, afaik. The people who built the memorial at the fire station near her old place might know something too, judging by its design. Good luck on your mission! :)

  • In reply to Forrest Bishop:

    Thank you again, Forrest--for your passion, and your support.

  • Part1of 3

  • In reply to warrenfairchild:

    Thank you for reading, and the link!

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