enter name and hit return
1885 STATE STREET MACHINE SHOP FIRE
Tuesday Evening edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
5 May 1885
"Glass House" Catastrophe
HEADLINE is as follows:
THE FIRE. This Morning's Calamity in State Street. A Complete Man Trap.
Many Lives Lost, but the Number of Fatalities Still Unknown -
The Disaster Caused by the Bulging of a Wall - Work of the Firemen.
At The Smoldering Ruins. The Flames Break Out Again -
What the Authorities Say About the Catastrophe -
The Death Roll as Far as Ascertained - The Losses and Insurances.
Some Of The Scenes and Incidents:
At twenty minutes past nine this morning an alarm was sent out to Fire
Headquarters for the South Ferry station. Within half an hour after there
were four alarms and two special calls, which hurried eighteen fire companies
to the scene of a disaster, the extent of which will probably not be known
for some days. Fronting 200 feet on State Street is a building known as the
"State Street Machine Shop," but it is in fact only a portion of a series of
irregular but connected buildings which occupy most of the space of the
interior of the block bounded by Atlantic Avenue and State Street and Hicks
and Columbia Streets. The principal entrance to these buildings is on
Atlantic Avenue. It is a gateway which passes beneath a two story frame
building. The left portion on the ground floor is occupied by Mr. George L.
ABBOTT, the agent of the owner of the property destroyed. The annexed
diagram, which is a facsimile of the one in Mr. ABBOTT'S office, gives an
idea of the location and size of the structures which are now in ruins:
Mr. ABBOTT, the agent, was at first declined to talk about the occurrence,
and refused to state the name of the owner until he was impressed with the
fact that it would have to be divulged. Fire Marshall THORNE informed him
that the best course he could pursue was to give the reporters all the facts
that he could. He thereupon stated to the Eagle man that the buildings were
owned by Mr. Nathan CUSHING, at Boston, who has been telegraphed and is on
his way to the city. All of them were furnished with steam power, and
according to Mr. ABBOTT, Mr. CUSHING'S insurance on the buildings and
machinery is about $70,000.
This is the third time that a fire has occurred on these premises. The
buildings stand upon the site of the old glass house, which was burned down
some years ago.
THE INJURED AND MISSING.
The following is a lit of the missing, so far as could be ascertained up to a
late hour this afternoon:
Daniel LOUGHERY, aged 42. He was the engineer of the building and lived in
it with his wife, Mary and one child aged 6 years. The wife and child were
not in the building at the time of the crash, but LOUGHERY was. His remains
were subsequently discovered beneath the debris. He had held his position 6
Edward BUTLER, aged 25 of State Street. He was employed on the third floor
and is believed to have fallen through and to have been killed. His brother
Daniel, was at the fire making inquires about him, but nothing could be
ascertained concerning him.
Edward LANGTRY, aged 42, employed by William Durst, metal skinner on the
fifth floor, believed to be in the ruins.
John MITZ, aged 26, residence not known, reported missing.
Henry DURST, aged 55 of 31 Marion Street, New York.
Adolph MARTIN, aged 25, married one child.
Fred EGGLER, aged 22, WIlliamsburgh, worked for Mr. HINE.
John McGRATH, aged 15, residence unknown.
Among the INJURED are the following:
Bernard STORK, fireman, No. 4 Engine Company, severely injured about the head
by falling bricks and removed to Long Island College Hospital. His injuries
are not necessarily fatal.
Michael F. GROGAN, fireman, 4 Engine Company, burned about the face, hands
and body. Removed to Long Island College Hospital. Injuries are not of a
Patrick DOUGHERTY, fireman, Hook and Ladder Company No. 3, severe internal
injuries, received by being caught under a piece of timber. Doubts of his
recovery are entertained.
Henrietta HAAS, aged 58, of 55 Atlantic Avenue, severely bruised about the
body. She was caught under some falling bricks, and would doubtless have
been killed had not Dr. PALMER, of the Health Department, together with
fireman DUFF, rescued her.
Mary MOORE, residence unknown, slight injuries.
Samuel DUFF, fireman of No. 8 Engine Company, bruised about the body;
injuries not serious.
James FAY, fireman, severely burned. His hair, eyebrows and mustache were
taken entirely off. Removed to the Long Island College Hospital, where
doubts of recovery are entertained.
Emma HAAS, daughter of Henrietta HAAS, of 55 Atlantic Avenue, left arm
injured. She could easily have escaped, but went back to get a bird and was
caught beneath a piece of timber. Removed with her mother to the Long Island
Mary WATTS, aged 18 of Union Hill, NJ, worked for Milo HINE, left leg badly burned.
James PAFF, worked for H.L. JUDD.
Rose PARTRIDGE, employed in the button factory.
It is impossible at the time of writing to estimate the number of people who
are under the ruins. The general impression is that there are about twenty,
but in all probability there are more. At one o'clock, Firemen RUDDY and FAY
were taken out, and the firemen were searching for more bodies.
On the East side of the gateway entrance is a row of flats running from 57 to
63 Atlantic Street. They are owned by Mr. LINDENBERG, and are mostly damaged
in the rear, where the wings from the main building on State Street almost
connected with them. Building No. 5 on the diagram is where the accident
occurred through some mismanagement of the jacks, as it is alleged, but the
careful investigation which will be made in the case will probably elicit
some clearer information on the subject.
HENRY L. JUDD & CO., window shade roller manufacturers, had the whole of the
top or fifth floor. They also occupied floors in the main building which
fronted on State Street. They alone employed about three hundred hands. The
fourth floor was occupied by C.W. BUTLER & CO., tin dealers, who had
one-half, and BENJAMIN MOORE & CO., calsom finish makers, who had the other
half. WILLIAM DURST, metal spinner, had half of the second floor, the other
portion was not occupied. GEORGE YOUNG had half of the first floor as a
machine shop, and WILLIAM DANIELS, a machinist, the other half. Those were
all the occupants of the building where the calamity occurred. Those who
rented space in the other portions, according to the statement given to the
Eagle reporter by Mr. George L. ABBOTT, the agent, are:
Thurber, Whyland & Co., scouring soap.
Charles Schwitter, watch cases.
J.U. Gerow, pencil cases.
The Columbia Rubber Works.
George Whittaker & Co.
Roy & Co., watch cases.
Howard and Mohl, gold refiners.
C. W. Butler & Co., tinsmiths.
William Durst, metal spinner.
Baker & Monroe, machinists.
P.H. McGann, oleo margarine (not occupied).
Albert Hinrichs, metal specialties.
Elliott & Ludlam, rod trimmings.
At the HOSPTIALS...
Despite the many wild rumors about those injured, but few person could be
found under medical treatment. At the Long Island College Hospital the
reporter ascertained the following facts:
Mrs. HAAS, a German woman sixty years of age and somewhat infirm, was in her
apartments at 53 Atlantic Avenue with her daughter when without any warning
the wall fell in on her and she was crashed through the first floor. Here,
after some moments she was reached by Foreman Samuel DUFF, of Engine 3, with
some firemen and extricated. In assisting the old lady out from the debris
Foreman DUFF was considerably burned on the head and hands and sustained
great risk in his efforts as the bricks and burning wood was falling all
around him. Mrs. HAAS was shortly after conveyed to the Long Island College
Hospital where it was found that her collar bone was fractured, as was one of
the bones of her right arm. She may recover, but her age may militate
against it and make treatment difficult. Coroner MENNINGER was in attendance
in case of any fatality, and believed Mrs. HAAS would recover.
Mary MOORE, a girl employed at Hinde's button factory was led by a police
officer to the dispensary of the hospital, suffering from injuries to the
knee. To a reporter she said: There were about seventeen of us working in
the room on buttons. I was making eyelets. Suddenly Mamie RILEY cried out,
"There's fire somewhere!" and pointed to black smoke coming through a little
window at the end of the room. We all got scared and began to shout "FIRE!"
The flames, she continued, come first from a tenement house. She herself was
burned about the knee in escaping, and when the walls began to fall the girls
rushed out. She is confident that Mamie RILEY, Mary Ann McGRATH, Annie
HIGGINS, Aggie DOWNS and Katie McKEON fell in the ruins. She herself was one
of the first out of the ruins, and saw all the others come out but those.
After persistent questions she remained steadfast in her assertions that they
had not escaped from the building. She was able to walk home after surgical
treatment, her chief injury being a burn on the knee.
Four young men walked into the Long Island College Hospital at one o'clock
inquiring for missing friends. One of those was Henry ROESSLES of 96 Elm
Street, who was engaged as foreman for William DURST, the entrance to whose
metal spinning factory was at 55 Atlantic Street. The related the following
experience: "I had ten men at work and the first thing we knew of anything
wrong was that the wall caved in on us. There was a shout and a rush and
everyone ran for safety. We didn't see any fire, nor any smoke either, but
simply hard a rumble and then down came the walls on our work. The only way
I could see to escape was to tear up some flooring which I did, and dropped
through to the floor below, where I got out. The others got down by the
stairway, then out of windows on Columbia Place. As soon as we got together
we watched for each other and could only muster five men, and we were the
first out. Those who fell in the ruins are Fred EGER, 22 years of age,
single; Adolph MARTIS, 25 years of age, married; John McGRATH, 15 years of
age, and Henry DURST, 55 years of age, an uncle of the proprietor of the
works, who did laboring work about the shop. I saw all who were in the room.
They were near the wall that caved in and I don't see how they could escape.
We have searched everywhere and can find no trace of them. As that part of
the floor where they were fell in directly after I got through the floor,
they must have gone down in the ruins." "Have you any idea how the fire or
accident originated?" asked the reporter. "Yes. They were raising the
building 55 Atlantic Avenue, and were taking out old and rotten posts and
putting in new ones. Last week they raised the building three inches. One
of the posts that they were putting in must have given way, from the location
of the cave in, and then the fires from the tin shop, which were upset, set
fire to the wood or stuff laying around."
LOWRY, the engineer of the building, who made periodical visits to the
various floors, was on the third floor at the time of the crash, as nearly as
could be learned, and ran to the roof to see what was the matter. That was
the last seen of him. He lived in the building 55 Atlantic Avenue.
Fireman Michael F. ROGAN, of Engine 4 occupied a cot in the accident ward in
the hospital with his head bandaged. His body is much bruised and at two
o'clock the surgeons had not made a close examination into his injuries. He
could not move his left leg, and believed both his arms were broken. He was
running through an archway when it collapsed and the brickwork and masonry
fell on him. His head was abraised, but not seriously. ROGAN was able to
converse and seem to be in good spirits.
An elderly man, without a hat on, was inquiring wildly at the two hospitals
for James PAFF, who worked in the hardware factory of H.L. JUDD. At the
Third Sub Station House he was reported missing.
Rose PARTRIDGE, a girl working at Hinde's button factory is reported as
missing. None of the girls who escaped have seen her, and her friends have
searched for her everywhere in vain.
Statements of Persons Who Escaped.
Milo HINE, who occupied the top floor for the manufacture of buttons, made
this statement: "At nine o'clock I was in my room directing the work of my
employees of whom there were forty, mostly women. The first we hared of the
accident was when we heard a crash, and this was followed by part of the
flooring giving way. In one of the corners of my room there was a ladder
leading to the roof and all the employees made a rush for it because they saw
it was useless to attempt to escape in any other way. There was a panic
among the women for a time and two or three of them fainted, but the men
succeeded in restoring order, and then in a single file, the employees
climbed the ladder and gained the roof. After that but little difficulty was
experienced. The girls marched out in good order, gained the roof of the
adjoining building, which was not injured, and reached the street by
descending the fire escapes. The women who fainted were carried out by two
of my men and myself. They recovered by the time we gained the roof and went
down the fire escapes themselves without any assistance. I am sure that we
all escaped, and that not one of the persons of my room may be classed among
William GILDERSLEEVE, of 135 Atlantic Avenue, who was working in the shop of
G.A. Young & Co., on the ground floor, when the crash occurred said: "I was
standing in the shop between 9 and 10 o'clock this morning when seven or
eight bricks fell from the ceiling at a point a few feet from where I was.
Then the timber began to spread. There were with me in the shop at he time a
man named William SANDFORD, who lives on Bergen Street and a youth who come
to work this morning for the first time and who was known as George. The
three of us made a rush for the boilers over which we climbed and succeeded
in gaining the window facing on State Street, through which we scrambled in
double quick time. We had no sooner got out than the whole building came
down with a mighty crash. I am sure that if we had been int he place one
minute longer we would at this time be under the ruins. It was the most
miraculous escape I ever heard of, and you can rest assured that I am by no
means anxious to undergo another such experience."
William SANDFORD, who was with Mr. GILDERSLEEVE, made a statement as follows:
"Ten tons of silica which were to be used in the manufacture of Pride of the
Kitchen soap, were brought into the building yesterday. The structure was so
rickety that it is surprising that it did not tumble long ago. It was a
common saying among the people who worked in it that they risked their lives
every time they entered it, and when the silica was brought in we joked each
other as to whether the old place was strong enough to stand the heavy
weight. It would have been all right if the propping up of the ceiling on
the ground floor had been done in a decent way, but it was not. You see one
of the "jacks" was bigger than the others and when driven into place the
effect was to life the ceiling somewhat and render the other supports
practically worthless. It was the clumsiest piece of work I ever saw. In
our wing of the building there were at least sixty persons employed and I
will be very much surprised if more than forty of that number made their
escape. In my opinion, at least twenty were caught beneath the falling
timbers and buried beneath the ruins. Most of them, I should say, were
Mr. Charles SCHWETTER, who manufactured gold watch cases on the third floor
of the rear extension, running through to State Street had seen the fire when
the flames struck his own portion of the building. "There was no difficulty
experienced," he said, "in securing the safety of the one hundred persons in
my employ. They all filed out in good time and were on the sidewalk before
that portion of the building occupied by them had caught fire at all. The
smoke was dense and the stairs rickety, but otherwise there was no
inconvenience. As to the stock, which was valuable, I could not save any of
it. An attempt was made to secure some specially valuable articles,
particularly a large burnishing arrangement, but it got too hot to be handled
and had to be left to its fate. I don't know, of course, about the other
portions of the building, but I think I can say that there was little
likelihood of any lives being lost."
WIlliam BRADLEY, who lives at 322 Hicks Street, right in the rear of the
burned building, was at his window when the fire broke out. "It was just
twenty-five minutes to nine," he said, "and I had looked out of the window to
see if the day was clearing when the flame from the third floor of the
extension immediately opposite to my house, burst through the window and
quickly spread from its woodwork to the adjoining brickwork. It fell in
after a quarter of an hour's burning. It was ten minutes afterward when the
first engine arrived. Everybody who knows anything about the origin of the
fire says that the department was very slack in responding to the call. It
was a full twenty-five minutes after the fire broke out before the engines
arrived. When the fire had made good headway I saw Mr. WESTON grab some
tools or something from the floor and run down the stairs. It looked to me
as if all the employees had got out in good time. There are half a dozen
stories as to the way the fire broke out and no two of them agree,
substantially. There was some plumbing work being done in the rear and it is
possible that the fire from the furnaces used may have caused the fire."
Mr. WESTON who had escaped from the burning building at great peril, was
found in the immediate neighborhood in a borrowed hat and coat. He did
contract work for the Judd Manufacturing Company, and employed a number of
hands on the third floor of the building. His premises were int he extension
abutting in the rear of the western portion of the burned building: "I don't
care to have my name in the papers," Mr. WESTON said, "and would prefer not
to say anything about the fire at all. I know that all my employees got out
in good time. When I saw the fire most of the girls jumped to their feet and
were about rushing pell mell for the door. That would have caused a panic
and possibly loss of life, but I quieted them without much trouble and got
them all out before the fire struck our part of the building at all. My own
escape was undertaken in quicker fashion. My coat and hat were not nearby
and I had to get out without them."
From another source the reporter learned that the building had been partially
burned last August; that it was entirely without fire escapes and was
constructed of flimsy materials.
Inspector McKELLAR said that he would leave to the Fire Commissioners the
work of arranging for the searching of the ruins. While they were talking a
fireman ran out and saluting the Chief said: "We've just found the body of
the engineer, LOWRY. The man is all smashed up." The body, when taken out,
presented a ghastly appearance; the features were discolored and distorted.
The wounds on the head and body bore evidence to the fact that the
unfortunate man's death must have been almost instantaneous. The remains
were taken away to the Morgue.
7 May 1885
Thus the work progressed. At noon the laborers rested for an hour, and
then went at it with renewed vigor. Reinforcements arrived, bringing the
total working force up to forty-seven men all under Superintent GOFF, who
urged them energetically, and saw that no one lagged. A little after
1 o'clock a charred and shapeless mass was brought to light. Drs. PAGE and
COCHRANE, who were on the ground all day, said it represented human remains.
It was utterly unrecognizable, but from the place it lay Mr. DURST Thought it
must be the body of Frederick EGGER, one of his missing wormen, a young man of 22.
A little later what seemed to be the charred trunks of two bodies were disinterred
from under all that was left of a beam which had once upheld the tinshop floor.
For the moment no on thought they were bodies, but the two physicains held that
there could be no question about it. For half an hour more the diggers delved,
then between a broken girder and the western wall they found another body, wholly
unrecognizable. The remains were gathered up, wrapped in canvas and place beyond
the gaze of the curious crowd, and the work went on. A moment later the spades
unearthed a shattered lathe, such as the metal spinner used. Beneath it lay a
body but little burned, as compared with the other. It was recognized at once
as that of Adolph MATTES, another of William DURST'S workemn. He was a young man
of 26 years of age and lived with his wife and little child at No 372 Hicks street.
He had just started the machine when the crash came, and went down with it. This
was a little af!
ter two o'clock. The body had hardly been removed when the gang working in the
northeast corner found another.....
.... Superintendent GOFF instructed the men to proceed with care, and they dug
quickly down in the soapy mass to find in the center of it the body of Henry DURST.
He was uncleof the man who owned the metal spinning shope, 56 years old and a bachelor.
STATE Street FIRE..Part 2
STATE Street FIRE..Part 3
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