Late one night, when we were all in bed
Old Mother Leary left a lantern in the shed
And when the cow kicked it over, she winked her eye and said,
“There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.”
St. Michael in Old Town
I learned this song about the Great Chicago Fire as a kid, and I didn’t even grow up here (I’m from Kansas, where we have our own cows to worry about). We didn’t get any historical or geographical context when learning the song…I just knew there was a forgetful old lady somewhere whose clumsy cow knocked over a gas lamp while she was sleeping…and that little spark set the whole town ablaze.
Of course, no one knows what actually started the fire — Billy Joel was no help either — but it doesn’t really matter. How Chicago recovered and rebuilt is the real story!
But the areas of downtown that survived the fire are real treasures. And our Near North food tasting and cultural walking tour stops at one of them: St. Michael in Old Town, a gorgeous Catholic church that was one of only seven to make it through the blaze. (It also happened to be the tallest building in the city until 1885.)
The church sits on land that was donated by another Michael, who’s very important to the city — he even has a major street named after him. Do you know who it is?
Find out this and more from one of our amazing guides on the Second City Classic Neighborhood Food Experience (previously the Gold Coast & Old Town Food Tour & Near North Cultural Walking Tour).