Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow

Informant, originally from Chicago, excitedly sat up from couch to tell this story:

Informant: Ok! So Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow is allegedly responsible for the Great Chicago Fire which happened in 1871. Basically all of the downtown and a bit of the north side burned down completely because all of the buildings were made of wood. [Gesticulating wildly to indicate the massive disaster, then bends closer to whisper next part.] No one knows what started the fire but the legend is that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern. [Then excitedly] There are songs about it and everything!

Informant’s excitement over stories about the origins of his town and his favorite sports team from his home town, indicate what it really important to him, and perhaps to other Chicagoans. He was not as excited about a ghost story more typically associated with the roads around his town and neighborhood than the stories about Chicago itself. To be a Chicagoan, or to be a Cubs fan, is clearly a larger identity than simply to be someone who lives in a city, or a specific suburb.

One song, as indicated by the Informant, about Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow can be found on this website the Informant showed me:

Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow (lyrics, music, and their variations, heard here).

The Informant indicated that the second set of lyrics, starting with “5 Nights Ago” was the one he was most familiar with.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Kid’s Pages. “Old Mother Leary (or “There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”).” . (accessed April 29, 2014).