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Richard F. Bales

Pen Name: None

Connection to Illinois: Bales is an attorney, employed as Assistant Regional Counsel of the Wheaton, Illinois office of Chicago Title Insurance Company.

Biography: Richard Bales is Assistant Vice President and Assistant Regional Counsel for Chicago Title Insurance Company. As a member of the Education Committee of the Illinois Land Title Association, he has lectured on title insurance throughout the state. He has written articles for the Chicago Bar Association, DuPage County Bar Association, and Illinois State Bar Association. Some of his articles were reprinted in the book ''Land Surveys: A Guide for Lawyers and Other Professionals'', which was published by the American Bar Association in 2012. Bales published A Guide to Residential and Commercial Surveys in Illinois in 2004; it was updated and reissued in 2011. He authored ''The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow'', wherein he claims to have solved the mystery of who started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The book also inspired specials on a Discovery Channel Unsolved History episode and an episode of the Weather Channel’s When Weather Changed History. He is working on The Forgotten Literature of Nelson Algren and on a biography of George Wellington “Cap” Streeter, a notorious land ownership criminal for which the Chicago neighborhood of Streeterville is named.


Primary Audience(s): Adult readers; Children

Richard F. Bales on WorldCat :

Selected Titles

The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow
ISBN: 9781476604763 OCLC: 894938747

McFarland, Jefferson, NC : 2013.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 swallowed up more than three square miles in two days, leaving thousands homeless and 300 dead. Throughout history, the fire has been attributed to Mrs. O'Leary, an immigrant Irish milkmaid, and her cow. On one level, the tale of Mrs. O'Leary's cow is merely the quintessential urban legend. But the story also represents a means by which the upper classes of Chicago could blame the fire's chaos on a member of the working poor. Although that fire destroyed the official county documents, some land tract records were saved. Using this and other primary source information, Richard F. Bales created a scale drawing that reconstructed the O'Leary neighborhood. Next he turned to the transcripts--more than 1,100 handwritten pages--from an investigation conducted by the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners, which interviewed 50 people over the course of 12 days. The board's final report, published in the Chicago newspapers on December 12, 1871, indicates that commissioners were unable to determine the cause of the fire. And yet, by analyzing the 50 witnesses' testimonies, the author concludes that the commissioners could have determined the cause of the fire had they desired to do so. Being more concerned with saving their own reputation from post-fire reports of incompetence, drunkenness and bribery, the commissioners failed to press forward for an answer. The author has uncovered solid evidence as to what really caused the Great Chicago Fire.

The Great Chicago Fire and the myth of Mrs. O'Leary's cow /
ISBN: 0786423587 OCLC: 50129289

McFarland & Co., Jefferson, N.C. : ©2002.

"In this comprehensive and painstakingly detailed study, author Richard F. Bales disproves not only the O'Leary story (along with other popular fabrications of the time), but the commissioners' report as well. Using rare land tract records and more than 1,100 handwritten pages of transcript from the 1871 investigation, Bales uncovers solid evidence of official indifference, a bungled inquiry aimed at preserving reputations rather than pressing for answers - and the possible source of the spark that leveled a city."--Jacket.