Washington, DC Knickerbocker Theatre Roof Collapse - Congressman Leads Rescue


Barkeley, Kentucky Representative, Brings Out Numerous Victims.


With Superhuman Effort, He Frees Victim Still Alive. – Not His Son.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29. – Among the leaders in the work of rescue amid the ruins of the Knickerbocker theatre throughout the night was Representative Alben W. Barkley, Democrat, of the first Kentucky district.

Those about him, striving frantically to dig through tons of re-enforced concrete, broken steel girders and piles of snow, while piteous cries and shrieks for help came from those pinned beneath the debris, saw in their tall, heavy-set co-worker only a calm deliberate fearless leader.

They knew not that down in his heart he strove to keep back a conviction born of fear that the next body reached every time would be that of his own fifteen-year-old son, Murrell.

In the street outside, hysterical, praying, Mrs. Barkley waited – with what emotions only a mother can understand.

Young Murrell had left for the theatre only half an hour before the roof caved in. Word of the disaster quickly reached the Barkley home, a block and a half distant, and mother and father rushed madly to the scene.

Dashes Into Ruins.
Stationing his wife in a safe spot, and pleading with her to be brave, Representative Barkley dashed into the ruins and placed himself at the head of one of the groups of rescuers. Three hours and a half he forgot all fatigue and cold, though he had trudged four miles through the snow from the house office building to his home only a short while before, as he brought out numerous victims, mangled but alive, and took turns as stretcher bearer when a dead body was found.

When a light fell on the face of one body, the Congressman helped carry our, he saw his friend and colleague of several years ago, former representative Barchfield, of Pennsylvania.

Between 12 30 and 1 a m. the Kentuckian’s heart stopped. There before him was his boy so far as identification was possible. A lump rose in his throat.

A Crushed Body.
Only the head and an arm were visible. A twisted girder on top of broken concrete and almost covered in snow crushed the remainder of the body to the floor.
The hair was the color or Murrell’s. The eyes were his. The coat was like Murrell’s.
But blood and dirt on the upturned face made positive identification difficult.
With his own almost superhuman effort, aided by those about him, to whom he then revealed his discovery, the debris was lifted sufficiently to release the lad, unconscious but breathing faintly.

Stretch-bearers took the boy to the street, the Congressman keeping pace, smoothing away the matted hair from the forehead, and anxious to tell the waiting mother her boy lived.

One close look under the lights of the street and back again into the utter depths of despair. The lad was not Murrell.

Hears a Voice.
Another half an hour of work among the ruins gave him the task of stretch-bearer several times. Shortly after one o’clock as he emerged from the collapsed structure he heard a voice.

“Hey, daddy, hey, daddy”

Murrell stood in the street, clasped in his mother’s arms, unhurt.

He had discovered on his arrival at the theatre that he had seen the picture once in a downtown theatre so he went around to spend the evening with a friend, a son of Representative Joseph W. Burns of Tennessee nearby. He had gone home the minute he heard of the disaster, but his parents were gone in search of him. He knew where they where and what were their fears. But in the confusion he had been unable to find wither his mother or father earlier.

The Bridgeport Telegram, Bridgeport, CT 30 Jan 1922