Sunday, June 26, 2022

CHICAGO: The Hotel Langham Destroyed by Fire on Saturday Evening, March 21, 1885.

At 8:00 o'clock in the evening of March 21, 1885, fourteen fire engines poured water on the Hotel Langham, at the corner of Adams Street and Wabash Avenue, which was engulfed in flames. The fire originated in one of the tower rooms. At the time, the house's restaurant contained about 100 guests at dinner, and as many more were in their rooms. The people in the restaurant had no problem getting out, but several persons in the upper rooms had very narrow escapes.

The fire spread uncommonly, and flames burst through the roof before a second alarm was rung. A general alarm was given half an hour after the broke out, but all the engines which could be brought couldn't get the fire under control. 

Mrs. Belknap, an elderly lady, committed suicide by jumping from the fourth story and landing in the alley. Subsequently, a cry was raised that the walls were falling and that Bullwinkle's Fire Insurance patrolmen were inside the building. A portion of the south wall was seen to totter, and it came down with a crash. 
Patrolman John Carroll Walsh
Two Bullwinkle's Fire Insurance patrol members barely escaped the tumbling bricks and falling timbers. Two others were pinned fast but, after strenuous efforts, were finally extricated. The legs of both men were severely bruised. Patrolmen Edward Jones, 30, and John C. Walsh, 32, are believed to have suffocated beneath the walls. Walsh left a widow and three very young children.

Policeman Marks saw two domestics at one of the second-story windows after it was supposed all the guests had been rescued. He rushed up a burning staircase and a few moments later appeared, dragging out both women, who had been rendered unconscious by smoke inhalation.

The firemen never ceased their efforts to rescue the two missing patrolmen. In about four hours, they were found in the basement of the building next to the hotel. They were buried under broken flooring and fragments of the fallen wall. They were taken out alive and survived their injuries.

The escape of Mrs. J.A. Murray and the child was almost miraculous. The lady occupied a room on the fifth floor and was unaware of the danger until it was too late to attempt to descend the stairway. She reached the fire escape but at each floor found the hole in the grating too small to admit the passage of herself and her infant. Therefore she was compelled four times, with the flames swirling around her, to lay her baby on the platform, lower herself over the edge, and reach up for the baby. Mrs. Murray reached the ground without assistance and, a quarter of an hour afterward, had wholly recovered from the effects of her traumatic experience. 

The hotel was a total loss and was erected immediately after the great fire. While substantial looking on the outside, it had been called a fire trap. It was formerly known as the Burdick House, the Crawford, and finally, the Hotel Langham.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Thanks for yet another interesting story of Chicago history, Dr. Gale.

  2. Hello Dr. Neil Gale, My name is Helen Murray, and I am the great-granddaughter of John Carroll Walsh, who, as you know, died in the Hotel Langham fire in 1885. I just saw your article on the Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal website. Just thought I’d touch base. It is a history I learned as a child. And I was delighted to see his photo, which is very familiar to our family. Some years back I spent many hours viewing March 1885 Chicago newspaper microfilm of this event – back when that meant loading spool after spool on the CPL machines. Thanks for sharing this story with a new bunch of people.


The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is RATED PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Advertisements, spammers and scammers will be removed.