With record rainfall this month and severe flooding across the region, it’s hard to imagine a summer day dry enough to set the city ablaze.
But that’s just what happened in May of 1934, when Chicago had seen less than 4 inches of rain since the beginning of the year, one-third of what was normal. On a day when temperatures reached 92 degrees and the humidity was only 25 percent, the Union Stock Yards caught fire.
The massive South Side slaughterhouse helped Chicago develop its reputation as “hog butcher to the world.” And the fire that wreaked havoc on the stockyards that day was the most destructive fire the city had seen since the Great Fire of 1871.
The damage was estimated at $10 million and included six square blocks of surrounding property, two banks, a radio station, and a partially melted “L” platform. According to Fire History, this blaze left 1,200 people homeless, 25 hospitalized, 3 missing and 1 dead.
Jeff Stern is a fire-fighting enthusiast who claims to have visited all 141 of the city’s firehouses then in service before he turned 13. Today he’s on the board of the Fire Museum of Greater Chicago. In 2009, 75 years after the conflagration, Stern detailed how it started, spread and became a 4-alarm fire in less than 10 minutes.
You can hear this nail-biter of a story in the audio above.
Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Jeff Stern spoke at an event presented by Culinary Historians of Chicago in December of 2009. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.