Chicago, IL Theater Fire, Aug 1890



Chicago, August 26. -- Fire was discovered in McVicker's Theater, on Madison Street, between State and Dearborn Streets, at 3:30 o'clock this morning. As far as can be learned, it originated in a small smoking room under and to the west of the stage. The dry and inflammable material of the room furnished material for the blaze, and in a moment a fierce flame burst out through a side window in the alley. As soon as the firemen arrived on the scene, they directed a stream of water through the window from which the flames were coming. Smoke filled the entire building and, it is feared, badly damaged the valuable scenery of the Shenandoah Company, now performing in the building.
The fire made unexpected headway in the interior of the building, and in thirty minutes after its discovery made its way from the basement to the roof. The flames apparently enveloped the whole building, and at a few minutes before 4 o'clock were leaping from all the windows on the west and east sides of the theater. When seen what rapid headway the flames were making, additional help was summoned, and every effort directed to saving the front portion of the building, where a number of offices are located.
Nearly every occupant is a heavy loser, although none carried heavy stocks.
The flames burst from the rear of the building with such fury that they extended across the alley and threatened destruction of the Windsor European Hotel. Many guests of the hotel awakened and a panic resulted. People hastily grabbed clothing and made their way to the street. There was no occasion for the fright, however, as firemen guarded the hotel so well that the flames had no chance of communicating with the building.
Panice also seized the guests of the Saratoga Hotel, and the Bennett House, but the flames did not reach either of these places. Seven belonging to Fire Insurance Patrol No. 1 were in the auditorium at work when the roof fell in, shortly after 5 o'clock. They all escaped by a miracle. Not so fortunate were the men who were fighting the fire in the rear of the building. When the rear wall fell all the men of No. 7 were buried in the ruins. All were more or less hurt and Fireman JACK DUFFY had his skull fractured, and will probably die.
The total loss to the theater building and occupants is estimated at over $200,000. Horace McVickers, proprietor, says his own loss will reach over $100,000. Several stores on State Street caught fire, but the flames were soon extinguished, and the damage will be nominal.
The fire burned fiercely for about three hours. The walls remain standing, but the interior is gutted. The firemen were successful in keeping the flames from the front of the building, and the others there are not damaged at all by the fire.
The damage to the theater and its contents, including the scenery belonging to the Shenandoah Company, is estimated at $200,000; insurance only $100,000. Just how the fire started is shrouded in mystery. There are suspicions of incendiarism. The theater will be rebuilt at once and as quickly as possible.

Atlanta Constitution Georgia 1890-08-27