New York City, NY Gable Wall Collapses, Aug 1873




Ten minutes before seven yesterday the west gable wall of a building in course of reconstruction
at No. 821 West Eleventh Street, about 100 feet from Hudson Street, fell without previous warning, tore in its descent the joists of three floors which were approaching completion, and buried twenty workmen in the jagged, dusty debris of bricks, mortar, and timber. The noise this avalanche of timber, stone, and brick made, coupled with the shrieks of those unfortunate enough to suffer, and the cries of terror from those who witnessed the disaster created an excitement that in a few minutes spread over the entire west side. As it was, the disaster was from the first underrated. It proved one of the most terrible accidents on record. Officers Gallagher and Maloney, of the Ninth Precinct, were on the ground a few moments after the wall fell. Instantly they rapped an alarm and sent to the station house for assistance, and before they were reinforced they had rescued several laborers from beneath the ruins. Sergeant John A. Croker, who was in command during the absence of Captain Washburne, comprehended the nature of the disaster and immediately telegraphed to Bellevue Hospital for every ambulance that could be spared. He then summoned the members of Hook and Ladder Company No. 5, who ran to West Eleventh Street, under the command of Foreman J. Van Norden, and, calling out a full section of men, with sergeants Smith and Bird, was but a few minutes in enforcing order and in isolating the portion of the block in which the accident occurred from the crowd that flocked to it.
The firemen and police immediately organized and set to work bravely. Nerved to energy by the agonizing cries of the wounded, and indifferent to the stifling dust and a tottering wall overhead, they cleared a passage through the debris, and in half an hour five dead workmen and all the wounded were drawn out. Warden Brennan had three ambulances at his disposal when Sergeant Croker's despatch arrived, and was at the Charles Street Station house with them before the first injured man arrived. Police Surgeon Ensign and Dr. Westcott were in their shirt sleeves and ready for work as the first stretcher passed into the station house, and rapidly and quietly cared for the sufferers, and as soon as possible forwarded them to Bellevue Hospital. The day room of the station house was a complete shambles at one time, and the unfortunate workmen were dreadful to look at. Owing to the penetrating dust which arose when the wall and timbers fell, all were suffering from asphyxia and were begrimed beyond identification, while their wounds were filled with dust and fragments of brick and stone, rendering the dressing of their injuries a difficult and tedious task. By half past one o'clock, however, the last wounded man had been rescued, and news came that the firemen were only a few feet from two dead bodies.
This work was done under great difficulties. At the place where the accident occurred what remained standing of the gable wall tottered and threatened every moment to overwhelm the excavators, and on the arrival of Deputy Superintendent Dudley, General Inspector McGinnis, of the First District; and District Inspector Purdy, of the Fourth District, from the Department of Buildings, work was delayed for twenty minutes to have the threatening wall proped up.

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