Horan finally reaches the top
James Horan was finally appointed fire marshal in
1906 by Mayor Edward Dunne and reappointed in 1907 by
Mayor Busse but he was not to have the position
long. Horan died on Dec. 22, 1910, along with
firefighters in a fire at the stockyards.
Until 9/11 the Chicago Stockyard fire ranked as one
of history's worst in loss of fire fighters' lives.
The stockyard fire killed men
three companies, as well as fire
chief Horan and his second assistant fire marshal,
William J. Burroughs. Another two dozen were
injured. Some suffocated and others, like Horan, were
falling walls. The fire caused
$750,000 in damage to the warehouses and stock of
Morris & Co., a packing company.
Horan was not at the scene as a hands-on firefighter. He heard the second call come in and drove to
the fire in his car, wearing street clothes. Mayor Busse
came to the fire too but remained at a
distance from the blaze.
the time of the explosion, Horan and some of his men
were sheltering beneath a canopy attached to the
warehouse. Another group manned hoses from atop the
canopy. One of the hose men felt the wall going and
shouted out in time for the men atop the canopy to
jump off and escape but the six-story exterior wall
fell too quickly for those below to react.
Tons of burning bricks and debris covered them in
seconds. A few firemen tried to
remove bricks but their supervisor called them back. The fire was too close and the
pile of bricks much too high. When the fire
was once out, it would take seventeen hours to
remove the bodies. For Big Jim to go out at
the scene of a fire probably had a certain fitness
to his men.
hours before the fire, Horan had addressed the city
council about the need for a high-pressure water
supply in the stockyards. So risky was a fire in
the stockyards that many insurance companies would
not write policies for buildings located in the area
or if they did, imposed a high premium on coverage.
the six years before the fire, multiple studies
recommended a high-pressure system for the
stockyards, but the city council would not approve
the funds. So low was the water pressure
during the stockyards fire that
some hoses had streams smaller than a half-inch in
diameter, there was no water for locomotives leaving
the stockyards and properties in the surrounding
neighborhood were without water.
Council had killed a proposed ordinance that would
have let the stockyards build a water system for its
accusing the stockyards of trying to procure
was interesting to read newspaper accounts of the deaths of fire chiefs
and James Horan. Both were held in affection
by Chicago, admired and respected for their bravery
and dedication to fire fighting. Swenie had lived a
long life and died in his bed while Horan died at
age 51 and in tragic circumstances. Horan
stories reflected surprise and deep grief in every
quarter. Additionally, it was obvious that
James Horan had a charismatic appeal to Chicago that
elevated him to celebrity status. Had he lived, his popularity could
carried him into politics. I wonder if he
James Horan biography
James J. Horan (1859 - 1910), an
Illinois native, was Chicago's most popular fire
chief in the early 1900s. His nicknames were Big
Jim and Sunny Jim. At the time of his death he
had been married for four years to his second wife,
Margaret Ellen Mahoney Horan (1877 - ), with whom he
had two children who were preschoolers when he died.
With his first wife, Katie Ryan (1860-1895) he had three children,
one of whom died in infancy.
Horan prospered as a fire chief.
In 1910 he owned his home and employed two live-in
servant girls. As a young man he boxed as a
hobby and grew up to be a sports enthusiast with a
special love for Cubs baseball. He admired the coaching style of