The Carrington Event of 1859 is considered to be among the largest space weather events of the last 150 years. We show that only one out of 14 well-resolved ice core records from Greenland and Antarctica has a nitrate spike dated to 1859. No sharp spikes are observed in the Antarctic cores studied here. In Greenland numerous spikes are observed in the 40 years surrounding 1859, but where other chemistry was measured, all large spikes have the unequivocal signal, including co-located spikes in ammonium, formate, black carbon and vanillic acid, of biomass burning plumes. It seems certain that most spikes in an earlier core, including that claimed for 1859, are also due to biomass burning plumes, and not to solar energetic particle (SEP) events. We conclude that an event as large as the Carrington Event did not leave an observable, widespread imprint in nitrate in polar ice. Nitrate spikes cannot be used to derive the statistics of SEPs.