Sunday, May 1, 2011

Exonerating Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow

Popular legend has it that the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871 was the result of Mrs O’Leary’s cow kicking over a lantern in a straw-filled barn. This legend was immortalized by that song of Boy Scouts everywhere:

One dark night when the world was all in bed
Old lady Leary took a lantern to the shed
When the cow kicked it over she winked her eye and said
They’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!

A few words on behalf of the innocent bovine: As dreadful as that fire was (look up mileage burned) it is not the worst fire in American history. That was the Great Peshtigo, Wisconsin Fire that took place the same day less than 100 miles north. That fire burned out 1800 square miles (an area more than half the size of the state of Rhode Island) and killed over 2000 people. I thought it was an extraordinary coincidence. Students of astronomy would say it was no coincidence since there were several other terribly destructive forest fires in several other Midwestern states that same day. The most likely explanation is a series of meteorites hitting the earth simultaneously. The possibility of meteorites doing even more severe damage than that is I believe one of the best arguments in favor of continuing the space program.

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