The Bell of the Great Chicago Fire

Dear loyal readers, I have a scrumptious treat to share with you!

We don’t know much about Henry Rincker, Chicago’s own bell founder, and his metallurgical output in the mid-nineteenth century, but we know he did cast a bell for the combined courthouse and city hall. This government building, constructed in 1853, was destroyed in the infamous Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The bell played an important role as the tragedy was unfolding; just as bells rang the alarm for fire in medieval European towns, so this bell rang for five hours before the building collapsed and the bell tumbled down. The fate of the bell is unknown.

So where’s the treat? A series of historical images of the courthouse in good times and in bad, including one amazing pic of the bell upturned on the ground—with a person standing inside! The size comparison shows just how large the bell was. Also notice the flared lip (bottom, here upturned) of the bell. That shape deviates from the less flared Gothic bell shape we are more accustomed to today in carillon and change ringing bells. The flared shape may reveal Rincker’s roots in German bell casting, but I’m not sure. I’d have to consult my sources on that one.

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