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CAC’s Jen Masengarb partnered with WBEZ’s Curious City to research this story in response to a question submitted by curious citizens. Listen to the broadcast.

So much of Chicago’s identity—even one of the four stars on the city’s flag—is connected to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It’s an interesting thought experiment to imagine how the city would be different without the fire that destroyed more than 3 square miles and 18,000 buildings, killed some 300 people and left 100,000 homeless.

CAC’s Jen Masengarb was interviewed for the story—along with dozens of historians, authors and experts—by reporter Robert Loerzel. They all took a stab at answering the hypothetical question submitted to WBEZ’s Curious City by listener Kevin Borgia. His question sparked an interesting debate on the impact (or not!) of one of Chicago’s defining historic events. Jen weighed in on several aspects of the story, including architectural styles that were lost in the fire such as Greek Revival and Italianate.

“Once you open up what might have happened, the possibilities are endless.”

– author Carl Smith


Read the full article with photos and maps to learn about common myths about the Great Chicago Fire and to find out what Chicago might have looked like if the city hadn’t burned.