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Ellen's Intro to America

Ellen Gibbons was 20 when she took off from Ireland. It was 1871. She arrived at the end of September and made her way to Chicago, a favorite destination for Irish émigrés.

By her own account, passed through the generations, within a couple weeks of her arrival, Chicago went up in smoke.

Historians agree that on Sunday evening, October 8, 1871, the Chicago Fire did indeed start in the barn of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick and Catherine O'Leary [where legend has it that a cow kicked over a lamp]. While the blaze ironically spared the O'Leary home, located on the city's West Side at 137 De Koven Street, much of the rest of Chicago was not so fortunate. Before the fire died out in the early morning of Tuesday, October 10, it had cut a swath through Chicago approximately three and one-third square miles in size. Property valued at $192,000,000 was destroyed, 100,000 people were left homeless, and 300 people lost their lives. [from "Did the Cow Do It?"]

According to the Irish of Chicago:

Like those in other parts of the United States, the vast majority of the early Irish immigrants in Chicago came to America in impoverished circumstances. Taking low-skilled and poorly paying jobs in brickyards, meatpacking plants, and the like, they settled in poor neighborhoods, like Bridgeporton the South Side or Kilglubbin on the North. It was in one such depressed neighborhood on the South Side that the Great Chicago Fire (1871) started in the barn of Irish immigrants Patrick and Catherine O'Leary.

Chicago Fire 1971 aftermath, from Jim's collection

What an introduction to the New World -- out of the frying pan and into the fire, literally. You have to wonder... where did she go? Who did she stay with? How did the devastation of her new community change her plans? Did it hasten her exit toward St. Louis? Or did the massive rebuilding of the city attract Frank Barrett to the area and lead to their marriage? Would I, in my current form, be here today if it weren't for the Chicago Fire?

3.5.05 (rev. 6.10.06)

: Ellen Gibbons
Arrival Date: 25 Sep 1871
Estimated Birth Year: 1851
Age: 20
Gender: Female
Port of Departure: Liverpool, England
Destination: United States of America
Place of Origin: Ireland
Ship Name: City of Brooklyn (Steerage Class)
Port of Arrival: New York

The Chicago Fire, October 8-10, 1871

The Irish of Chicago.

Inspecting the aftermath of the Chicago Fire 1871