“Good heavens to Betsy, it was the cow that started it all and the heavenly rain that ended it.”
The Great Chicago Fire burned for three days and nights in October of 1871 rendering more than 100,000 homeless and killing 300. The city’s firefighters valiantly battled the blaze block by block, while a relentless northeast wind pushed the fire on. On the third day, the fire reached the water works on the river, consuming the building and cutting off the firefighters’ supply of water.
“The whole earth, or all we saw of it, was a lurid yellowish red,” wrote one survivor. “Everywhere dust, smoke, flames, heat, thunder of falling walls, crackle of fire, hissing of water, panting of engines, shouts, braying of trumpets, roar of wind, confusion, and uproar.”
Only the rain that began to fall from the heavens above ended it all.
Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was blamed for the fire. A week later, Mrs. O’Leary was heard to exclaim to her neighbor, “Good heavens to Betsy, how could one cow cause so much damage?”
A reporter for Harper Magazine heard the comment and published it the following week.
Thereafter, in stunned disbelief, one hundred thousand Chicagoans repeated the phrase, “Good heavens to Betsy,” in thanks to the divine intervention of the rain that ended Betsy’s fire.