FIRES AND OTHER DISASTERS
When last we checked, folks conducting a series of polls about the best and biggest as part of observances of Illinois’ bicentennial had decreed that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum was the Prairie State’s best museum. Now, voters have decided that Lincoln’s assassination was the state’s most heartbreaking moment. Fair enough. The Great Chicago Fire finished second in a contest no one really wants to win, but we’ll quibble with that one. Sure, 300 or so people perished thanks to Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, but the city quickly rebuilt to become the Midwest’s dominant metropolis. There are some folks (not us) who might suggest we’d be better off without Chicago, but regional biases notwithstanding, the fire, strictly on death toll, can’t compare to the 1925 Tri-State tornado that killed more than 600 people in southern Illinois (the tornado finished third), or the capsizing of the excursion boat S.S. Eastland, which rolled onto its side in the Chicago River in 1915, killing 844 (the Eastland tragedy finished seventh) or the 1903 Iroquois Theater fire, also in Chicago, which killed twice as many as the Great Chicago Fire and remains the deadliest single-building blaze in U.S. history, not counting the World Trade Center tragedy. The theater fire didn’t crack the list, nor did relocation of Indians to lands west of the Mississippi during the 19th century, when we figured that Native Americans were just getting in the way. Both pretty heartbreaking events, we think.