Chicago, IL Wabash Avenue Fire, Mar 1898
Occupants of the building included the Conover Piano company, the Presbyterian board of publication, Wallach & Co., photographic supplies, Olmstead Scientific company, school apparatus, National Music company, Emerson Piano company, Chicago Cottage Organ company, ALFRED BERIT, music publishers.
The fire started in the part occupied by Sweet, Wallach & Co. on the sixth floor, where a large amount of chemicals were stored, which exploded, causing the flames to spread with great rapidity.
Three hundred girls were employed by this firm. They were thrown into a panic and many unfortunates were trampled under foot by their comrades in their frantic efforts to escape. Cut off from elevators and stairways the frantic occupants began jumping from the windows. Though firemen held nets to catch them a number were crushed on the stone sidewalks. According to eyewitnesses, as many as ten jumped at once and others were seen to fall back into the flames.
The fire quickly spread to the lower floors and the heat became so intenst that plate glass was broken in windows across the street a block away on either side, and firemen had to direct streams of water on them to prevent them catching fire.
A panic was created in the Wellington hotel across the street, and with much difficulty some guests were prevented from jumping from the windows.
Half a hour after the fire started the floors had all fallen, followed by the walls.
The heat twisted the steel girders of the Union Elevated Street railway loop and 200 feet of it will have to be rebuilt.
A six-story building adjoining was badly damaged. It is occupied by the Educational Publishing company, the Ideal Music company, the New Haven Clock company, the Waterbury Watch company, H. H. Butler & Co., R. C. Waichbrodt, Turkish rugs, and others.
The burned building had two elevator shafts, one in the front and one in the rear, and reaching from the third floor to the roof was a light shaft, which gave the flames a chance, and it was because of this shaft that the fire spread with such rapidity.
It is estimated that 400 persons were at work in the building when the fire broke out.
Inmates of the building were thrown into a panic and on several floors a wild stampede began for stairways and elevators.
The elevator men, however, were cool headed and both made several trips, carrying a number of frightened occupants to safety. Ten minutes after the explosion all escape for inmates by stairs and elevators was cut off. There remained only windows and a single fire escape, a narrow iron railing not over eighteen inches from side to side. This was speedily covered with a string of people, some on one side and some on the other. As they scrambled down in frantic haste, many of those who could not reach the fire escape made their way to the front windows and it was out of these that CLARK, SMITH and BINZ hurled themselves to death.
CLARK was a bookkeeper for the Olmstead company on the top floor. He might have escaped had he not remained to put the books in the vault.
MILES SMITH, salesman for the Olmstead Scientific company, hesitated some time before taking the leap, but like CLARK, understood that it was his only chance. He was instantly killed, his body being horribly mangled.
EDWARD BINX, cashier for Sweet, Wallach & Company, was also a victim of his desire to save others and protect his books from harm. As the stairways were in flames, there was nothing left but the window, and to this he went.
The big crowd on the street watched him in silent terror as he stood deliberating.
The building was a big mass of roaring flames and BINZ'S face and hands were badly burned before he jumped. He pondered over the matter but a few seconds, then his form shot downward through the cloud of flame and smoke an in the drawing of a breath, he was as lifeless as the stones over shich his blood and brains were splattered.
One fireman distinguished himself by a daring rescue. He was upon a ladder close to the building, when he heard a cry ringing above the roar of the flames. Steadying himself upon the ladder, he peered into the dense smoke. Just then the wind cleared the scene. The fireman saw a man in the window of the fifth story carrying an inanimate form. That rescuer was about to throw the unconscious human being into the street.
The fireman put up his hands as a signal to wait until he was ready, and bracing himself upon a ladder, the heroic fireman waved to the rescuer to drop the unconscious man to him. With a shock that nearly knocked the man from his position upon the ladder, the body of the man struck the fire fighter, but it did not get away from him. He held the unconscious man through all the swaying and swinging of the ladder.
Hastily descending, the fireman turned his unconscious burden over to the police and returned to his post. The man who saved the unconscious man disappeared and it is supposed that his dead body will be found in the ruins.
The report that the Wellington hotel was damaged during the fire is without foundation. The hotel is a half a block from the burned building and no damage to the structure nor panic among the guests resulted.
The Daily Review Decatur Illinois 1898-03-17
THREE MORE BODIES.
RESULT OF DAY'S SEARCH OF THE RUINS OF CHICAGO FIRE.
Chicago, March 17. -- Three burned and mangled bodies were today taken from the ruins of yesterday's fire. This brings the number known to be dead to six, while fourteen persons are still missing. The bodies recovered today have been identified as CHARLES A. PRICE, cashier; HENRY R. NELSON, chemist; and MRS. E. M. HARRIS, book-keeper, all employed by the W. A. Olmstead Scientific company.
The Daily Review Decatur Illinois 1898-03-18