It’s not very often that we get chances to do things over in life. I won’t say it never happens, but for most of us, it’s few a far between. What’s in the past is done, and anything you may want to change, from the major life choices to the small tweaks, are stuck as they were. Cities get second chances even less frequently, what with stone and metal being less flexible than most people. Chicago did get the chance to remake itself, though at a very high price.
No one knows exactly what started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. We all know the old story about Old Lady O’Leary and her cow, but that’s just a story. Well, a story and a song. Now, the fire did start near the O’Leary house, with some pointing to the barn specifically. But weather a cow, a drunk gambler, or something else, the fire started and grew.
Though Chicago did have a fire department at the time, a number of factors led to a slow response as the fire continued to spread through the densely populated downtown. By the time the fire department was on hand, there was little they could do. Once the fire spread to the city waterworks, there was even less they could do but wait for the fire to burn itself out. It eventually did, almost 24 hours later. From this darkest moment, Chicago got its second chance. The city was badly burned, but not destroyed, not at all. The city began to rebuild itself quickly, with an eye on protection against fire.
But fire safety wasn’t the only thing the city decided to do as it rebuilt. Rather than try and build the city back up as it was, but safer, the city decided to dream a little bigger. Rather than a simple recreation, the city that emerged was something new. Grander, bigger, with more of an eye on making the buildings, and thus the city, more exciting and beautiful. Within twenty years, the city was back on its feet and hosting the World Colombian Exposition. Residents took to calling Chicago the Second City.
While the skyline of today is again rather different from that of the 19th Century, the focus on architecture remained. From the impossibly tall Willis Tower, to the old Chicago Tribune Building, to Aqua, the tallest skyscraper designed by a woman, Chicago is still a gorgeous city. The old spirit of the Second City still survives today.