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Prairie Birds to the Rescue! Great Chicago Fire, October 8-9, 1871

Locomotive, 1871.

As the Great Chicago Fire raged out of control the night and early morning of October 8-9, 1871, Mayor Roswell B. Mason made a desperate plea over the telegraph wires for additional firefighters and equipment. Those heeding the call included members of Bloomington’s Prairie Bird engine company, the pride of the city’s fire department.

This image shows the American Standard locomotive No. 97 that carried the Prairie Birds and their steamer on a flatbed railcar to Chicago. The locomotive engineer was 39-year-old Samuel L. Hawks, who it was said made the 127-mile run to Chicago in two-and-a-half to three hours, a record or near-record time way back then. The Bloomington firefighters returned home safe and sound on October 11.

Bill Kemp

Bill Kemp

Bill Kemp is the Librarian at the McLean County Museum of History

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